Visiting hours

There are some things that won’t change anytime soon, and one of these is the certainty that a woman will be made to wait outside a police station in order to deliver a plastic bag of food, cigarettes and love.

At visiting times there are whole groups of them, circles of black, standing, sitting on pavements, fanning crying children, silently doing battle.

When there is a rumour that a detainee has injured himself inside the cells, and that the other detainees are rising up, and the riot police have returned from their sabbatical then the women are less silent.

Police trucks line the front of the police station, next to them are two army jeeps, men standing on something are silhouetted in the darkness and a crowd gathers and watches, impervious to the commands of a police officer in plain clothes and an irate army officer to disperse.

Men are gathered in the entrance of the building (a residential tower block). Some are uniformed but some are unshaven and aren’t wearing coats and have a hand towel on one shoulder and are gesticulating at people in the crowd with only one hand.

The army officer swears by god that he “won’t move any of them until the crowd leaves”.

A young woman holding a child is unmoved. Shouts something at him. The officer repeats his promise and churlishly turns away from her before crossing his arms across his chest and adopting a sentry position.

Around the corner there is a small crowd gathered, of young men and boys. They are watching a young woman perched on an electricity box using a bottle of Miranda to tap on the window of the police station several metres off the ground. Inside the harshly lit room there is a ceiling fan going and every so often riot police helmets and red military police berets come into view.

The window is slid open by a balding man who has police written all over him. He exchanges words with the woman then slides the window shut again. The woman taps again, screaming something inaudible at the crowd. Her headscarf slides off, she doesn’t bother to pull it back up, goes back to knocking.

Below her in the crowd two riot police are having a cigarette. One of them is dressed in full uniform except that he is wearing a dark blue Puma tracksuit top. The white of the insignia reflects in the light. Further along behind the woman tapping on the window a middle-aged woman is at on the ground with her head in one hand staring at the ground. Another woman puts her arm round her shoulders and, strangely, laughs as she shouts something at the woman tapping at the window.

Eventually the window is slid open again. A man appears and talks to the woman and the crowd. She passes him a plastic bag of something through the iron bars on the window. Someone else wants to pass a bag to someone inside. It won’t fit through the bars and the bald headed cop takes each item out one by one. The woman leaves and a military police officer takes her place.

A young uniformed policeman has ventured out into the crowd. He is holding a sturdy looking stick but is hesitantly imploring the crowd. “Help us everyone, please. Help us”. The balance has changed.

The prisoners were moved. It took six vans to move them all. Maybe for once they were giving them space in the vans or maybe they were holding too many men in the police station in the first place and that’s why trouble started.

There are rumours that they’ll be taken to a nearby military academy; the same academy a Tahrir protestor says he was taken to during the revolution, handed over by the police. Not just him, the taxi driver driving him.

He joined other civilians there, was made to strip down to his underwear and beaten and kept for over a week. The same academy from which screams were occasionally audible after curfew. The same academy chatting deaf students stream out of now every afternoon, also keeping secrets amongst and from us

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