Sunday 29 March 2020

Armchair detectives

After the horrible discovery of Polina Rahman’s lifeless body, everyone breathed a sigh of relief when 18-year-old Agnes Revesz was found safe and sound in Bugibba.

But the relief was quickly replaced by anger when the public realized that this was one of those typical teenage escapades involving an older boyfriend, and that Agnes seemed to have been oblivious (or indifferent) to the fact that her family and the whole island were all looking for her.  I saw comments from exasperated parents to the effect that, “If she were my daughter, first  I would have given him a good hiding, and then I would do the same to her”.

For a few weeks, when both girls were still missing, wild speculation conjured up images of the worst possible scenarios, including that of human trafficking. Let’s face it, two young foreign girls gone missing within a week of each other is a very rare occurrence in Malta.

While Polina’s death seems to have been a tragic accident, the longer it took for Agnes to be found the more worried parents became. Who can blame them? In the image of this lovely girl which was splashed all over the Internet, they saw reflected the possibility of something similar happening to their own daughters who stay out until all hours.  No wonder everyone’s imagination went into overdrive.

Now that we have learnt that Agnes was simply staying in an apartment with a man much older than her, the cold knot of anxiety has turned into fury at her irresponsibility.  But that’s the thing with so many teenagers isn’t it? They do not care.  Unfortunately, they are so wrapped up in themselves that it does not occur to them that their actions are affecting other people.  There is no cure for this, except for growing up and maturity (although some people never do seem to grow out of this narcissistic stage at all).

The thing is that, at 18, all many girls care about is what they look like, what new boyfriends they can seduce and where the next party is. At 18, you think nothing bad can ever happen to you, because these things only happen to other people. At 18, you live for the day, heck, you live for that evening and the chance to get all dressed up in your just-purchased new outfit. At 18, all you want to do is throw yourself into the exciting buzz which is Malta’s summer night life where there seems to be a party happening every night. It is often the best time of your life (and unfortunately, yes, if you are a bit wild, it is also the time when you give your parents sleepless nights and grey hairs).

As I was reading all the mounting hysteria about these two cases over these past few weeks, another thing struck me. It seemed that some people were more concerned that Malta was getting a bad image for no longer being a safe country for tourists or students, rather than the fact that something had happened to the two girls. In fact, some switched to writing in Maltese on FB so as not to shed a bad light on Malta, and made a point of saying so. Even in face-to-face conversations, I heard people saying, “what bad publicity for Malta ey?”  I find this attitude flabbergasting. One girl was dead and another was still missing and all some people seemed to care about was our precious image as a tourist destination.  Charming.

Is this how parochial and callous we’ve become?  This innate instinct to close ranks and hide things by switching to our own language so that “out there” no one will know what is going on is completely wrong and misguided. As an acquaintance of mine rightly pointed out to someone writing in Maltese, “how would you like it if you were going to send your daughter alone to Russia but you didn’t know about any possible dangers because everyone was hiding it by writing in Russian?”

Frankly, like other numerous cases involving human nature, too many people were quick to rush to their keyboards on this one. Everyone became Inspector Clouseau as the mystery of the missing girls brought out the amateur sleuth in a lot of armchair detectives.  Some seemed to almost get a strange vicarious thrill out of the prospect that we had a serial killer on our hands. To date, Polina’s death is still mired in unanswered questions which only the police can unravel, and yet I’m still seeing comments which claim to know exactly what happened.

I for one am glad that I held back about writing about Polina and Agnes before I knew what really happened, because there is always the risk that you jump to conclusions and you get it all very, very wrong. In a way I think that is why some members of the public are so inexplicably angry at Agnes – they were expecting more thrills to satisfy their morbid curiosity, but all they got was the story of yet another teenager running off with an older man.

Let’s just be glad that Agnes is safe and sound, and let’s just let the police handle Polina’s  sad case.  My condolences to her family.

Powered by