A friend tells Maame, a second year law-student, that the justice system is a farce, but that isn’t all that happened when Maame visited this friend in his home one night. Something else from that night has led them into the courtroom today and she is fast realising how right he had been. She seems to live in both worlds as she repeatedly plays the past in her head while waiting to give her witness statement.
She felt the weight of all seventy-six people in the courtroom on her back – half-pitying, half-judging, but none believing her. With great trepidation, she made her way to the witness box. For a moment, her eyes met that of a member of the jury. His look was one of controlled disdain. Of course! He’s a man after all. Rape cases were often a he-said-she-said affair; and few life situations were capable of instigating such degree of gender segregation in society. She was beginning to hate his kind. She growled back at him; a silent act only the juror understood, masked by the quiet dignity of a once virtuous girl.
She wondered if her parents believed her. She’d come to accept that her lawyer did not. Not after what she’d seen and heard during her deposition. The state attorney had craftily tweaked ‘her truth’ into an unbelievably perfect incarceration script. So much had been altered that, it was impossible to tell it without some acting. She took her seat in the witness box, ready to deliver her act with finesse.
She glanced over at him as he sat directly opposite to her in the most extreme corner of the courtroom. He was right. Only he had told her the truth of the world, all the others had been too busy being, diplomatic, lying not just through their teeth but their actions. It was the worst kind of lie – a lie that employed all five senses – very difficult to pull off. That’s what was expected of her too.
She blindly swore by the Bible. God was suddenly so small and so mean. How in a million contingencies, had He let this happen? For all her sins, she did not deserve it. She would do what she would do in court today, and God would not be a consideration.
The state attorney stood, in a clean but not so clean black suit – clean, lest she be perceived shabby and half-baked; not so clean lest she appeared too savvy, for average minds despise wit. She wore a pair of unattractive block heels that made her look like a stand-up pupil teacher. She was the perfect model of an average citizen – neither elite nor uncouth – just like the jury. This was all about them.
She’d spent enough time in the state attorney’s office to hear things…maddening things.
‘The courts are about anything but the truth. Winning is reserved for the better act, the best story.’ She recalled the AG say to a junior associate. She wasn’t supposed to have heard.
‘Do you think he raped her?’ the associate asked.
‘I don’t know. He probably didn’t – nobody cares as long as he goes to jail. We win this case, he goes to jail, Mr. Tolu swallows his company, funding for the upcoming campaign, the party wins the presidential, I assume the AG’s office and you…’
She stiffened, hidden behind the toilet door until their whispers receded. Then she washed her hands and proceeded to continue her deposition.
Being dragged to court, the media frenzy, the phony piety of ‘a system that would seek the gravest justice’…none of it was about her, and yet all of it was because of her. His political enemies wanted his image, and she had made it possible. Nobody cared, her plight was a tool to fuel their agenda. It was almost sickening. She couldn’t bear to look at them, so she closed her eyes and left the room to three nights before.
It was the third time she would meet him since the hearing started. It was the last time she planned to meet him at all. He came in a taxi, without a modicum of pomp, lest anyone watching, noticed. She sneaked out of her room, easily. Over the months, her mother’s routine checks had dwindled with the frequency of her nightmares. The doctors said her PTSD had been remarkably short and her recovery was impressive. The doctor was wrong. She hadn’t healed, she had evolved.
She slipped into the seat beside him in the back of the taxi. They both ignored the tension between them – she rather easily but he, with a bit of uncertainty – as the taxi moved a few blocks from her house and stopped in a dark alley. The taxi driver got down and without a word, rolled up all the windows, left the keys in the ignition, and disappeared.
‘You won’t win this.’ But the fear in his voice belied his words. They both knew she wasn’t the one fighting him. It would have been easy if she was, but she wasn’t. There were already rumours of some of his investors having bolted, the loyal ones hang on the line waiting for the outcome of the case. Such allegations did not augur well for the Managing Director of a multinational conglomerate. Yet if found guilty, this would be the least of his problems. She wasn’t ignorant.
‘And yet here you are. A hundred thousand dollars.’ Her voice was iced.
‘What!’ He laughed at what he perceived to be a ridiculous remark. Such huge figures from a teen. ‘Do you have any idea what you’re asking?’
She smirked. ‘Fine.’ She reached for the knob.
‘I could kill you here and now.’ He said with clenched teeth, his anger and desperation barely controllable.
She closed the door, reached over, took his hands and wrapped his palms around her neck. ‘I’m already dead.’
He pulled his hands away. The car was still for a long time. He was no monster. She had gone to him, however innocent.
She closed the door, reached over, took his hands and wrapped his palms around her neck and said, ‘I’m already dead.’ There was a sad power the moment offered that she couldn’t relish. The price had been too high. He had ruined her. He could see in the deadness of her gaze.
A chill run through his spine. He plucked his hands from her neck. The car was still for a long time. He was no monster; she had gone to him, however innocent.
‘Why are you helping me?’ he finally asked, voice a little broken.
She cut him with a sharp look. ‘Oh I’m not helping you. I’m making lemonade. One day, I’ll probably kill you for what you did, but today I thrive to fight another day.’
He looked at her, suddenly proud. It was both intriguing and scary. Most women caved when damaged. Not her. She’d been recreated by her pain. He understood…she was cutting her losses, already thinking of the best way out. She’d lie about it being rape, the world would berate her but soon forget. Some women would even envy her. She would cease to be the victim and suddenly become the girl he chose. However young, however unacceptable, it would be legal. Rape had a stigma worse than consensual sex. The damage to his reputation and hers would be mitigated but not restored. He would survive; his business associates were not religious men. They were objective profit-hungry businessmen who even had affairs with girls younger that she was anyways. Who knows, if she didn’t return to kill him…he held his thoughts. It was a good deal. A hundred thousand dollars was peanuts to him. That, they both knew.
Her eyes opened sharply to the state attorney’s voice.
“…the purposes of the records could you please re-introduce yourself to the court?”
“I am Maame Anima Nkrumah”
“My Lord,” the state attorney was addressing the judge, “we’ll proceed with the witness’ statement from where we ended a fortnight ago.”
“Very well, Counsel. You may proceed.” The judge said nodding.
“Thank you My Lord.” She said with a slight bow, then turned back to Maame. “Last week, you told this honourable court about how you visited the accused person, Mr. George Tito” she looked over at the accused on her left, and continued, “and he offered you a drink”. She turned back to Maame. “Could you please continue with the narration to the best of your recall?”
She looked past him, at him, and the slightest smirk formed on her lips. He looked like he was sitting on nails. Her word was all it took to bring his empire crumbling and even after making sure she had a hundred thousand dollars to her name, secure from even him, and untraceable, she still held him by the balls. Today would be iconic. She would say nothing but the truth…