ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BENCH by Mildred Songsore Salia

The Judge looked sternly at the criminal and declared the 20 year prison sentence. The young man visibly shook the dock in as the loud cry he let out evidently pushed him to his knees. The shiny handcuffs impeded his outstretched hands’ motions for mercy. The lawyers’mouth parted in shock. But the Judge had spoken. And risen.

 

Upholding the law was his pride; he was revered; he was impossibly incorruptible; his words synchronised unbelievably in perfect harmony with his actions; his steps proclaimed a man proud of his honesty and his breath scoffed at the corruption that filled his surroundings. He did not just step on toes: he walked on them. They all called him ‘’Judge,’’ and rightfully so he acted like he was the only one who had the final say.

 

As strongly as he carried himself, he had a weak link. And the name of that link was Jonathan.

 

Jonathan was his son whom he had by his ex-wife; a woman about whom he no longer bore any positive perception. The woman who broke him and rid his heart of all emotion that could possibly be directed at the opposite sex.

 

They were happy together and even more joyful when baby Jonathan came along. His heart fell in adoration when her lips relaxed into a smile and opened up her eyes brightly so he saw his reflection in them. His gaze held her like the precious which he thought would forever elude him and yet which graced him with a chance to wipe out his otherwise doomed loneliness. Her look wiped out his fears, and he feared this bubble of joy wouldn’t last. Maybe the baby would die. Or she would leave him. But her smile reassured him every time. He had come to know, feel  and experience love.

 

He was the happiest man alive.

 

Then one day she realised she didn’t want to be the wife of a struggling lawyer any longer. Her possessions did not include the expensive rubies and pearls that her friends could count on their necks at every occasion. It is not as if she asked for diamonds. Just gold. Simple gold. But her husband’s hard earned pittance trickled into responsibilities; bills, rent and those things the concern for which slowly evaded her each day she spent in relative penury. She wanted the sparkle too. And when she thought that her husband would spend Saturday afternoon with her, his attention got eaten by yet another case. Another case for which she knew he would refuse another huge amount of  looking-away-money. They both wanted different things in life.

 

She left  5 year old Jonathan with him. Her trail etched his brokeness and erased his emotion. He wept at night but smiled in the morning at Jonathan and would grieve when his smile came back unreturned. Jonathan became his sweetest devotion. His only emotion was to see his son happy. He was no longer a father for he had learned how to be a mother too.

Being a commander and custodian of justice was no joke or hobby to him. It became his life purpose. His motivation was to be his son’s prime inspiration and he burned his efforts into reality to become a judge. It was his best revenge to misfortune and failure.

 

He became revered. He became impossibly honest. A man of the law and by the law. Then, one day, after 17 years, she called him. The bitch! She wanted to see him. So he refused. But she forced her way into their home.Jonathan recognised her. He had drawn portraits of her since she left and each one became even more accurate than the previous.

 

There was an argument. Jonathan was frightened. She brought out a gun and threatened to kill him if he didn’t sign half of his wealth to her as a proper divorce settlement. What had she been high on? His rage swiftly echoed horror when she lunged forward with the weapon…

 

In a flash, The Judge saw his son, Jonathan, in handcuffs. His ex-wife was covered completely with a white cloth on a stretcher and into an ambulance. He was left alone.

 

The Judge looked at Jonathan in the dock. From where he sat, he then saw the system he loved so much for how it stood; a reverent mess. The lawyer’s attempt to mitigate with the presiding Justice Konadu, his own colleague, ended in uncertainty as the plea of provocation seemed more to provoke Konadu than appear as the truth. His son should stand trial for manslaughter and not murder. All his years of being ruthlessly incorruptible and advocating justice went up into nothingness in the face of a trial where his reputation could not be leverage for the freedom of his weak link. It was a miracle he didn’t weep. When his son walked away in defeat to serve the 20 year prison term, a judgement that made absolutely no sense, his mind travelled through the events.

 

The system of justice he upheld represented his only faith. It went down as one reason his marriage failed. He had sacrificed so much to carve out a perfect justice administration. Rather, all he could think about now was how imperfect it was. There may be an accused and a convicted at the end of the process but this justice failed dejectedly to fish out the criminal and get them served. It clamped down hard on the innocent who wasn’t even an accomplice.

 

People applauded that justice system which took Jonathan away. They said all the right things that he would have wanted to hear even though it all sounded like rubbish to him now. He received applause for being the just man who presented his son to the gallows.

 

Rumours flew. They shook him to the very core. They said that some of his enemies paid the Justice Konadu heavily to keep his son in prison. What terrified him was that they were only rumours to the public but they were cold, hard facts to the bench. How could an honest man have enemies? The big picture slowly became clear;justice was an imperfect cycle that turned out to be illusory. It’s meaning was only based on who you are.

An appeal was unlikely because The Judge was captured by fear. What life was left to live, when Jonathan, his everything, his whole life, was imprisoned ?

 

The Judge bowed his head. His wife’s actions may have broken him but this single act of the justice system destroyed him. Not because it was unjust but because he was responsible for the flawed nature of the judgement. He killed his ex-wife. Instead, his son took the fall rather than allow the reputation of his great father go down the dumps. That flaw meant that he would remain The Judge everyone thought they knew. But he was a changed man forever; he was also the Murderer.