by Kevin Andego.
“Kindly call for the next file,” was the instruction from the sober umpire, directed to her assistant. She keenly surveyed the people who had punctuated her court room. She sat on her seat of justice, which overlooked the entire court room, with the confidence of a silverback gorilla. Our dear umpire had an ability to focus that could put an eagle to shame.
Her facial expression was profound and her demeanour revealed the agility of a Spartan with an astounding desire and readiness to set upon any opponent in the form of a legal dispute that had the temerity to present itself within her jurisdiction. Armed to the tooth with indubitable juris scientia, she was prepared to mete out her juris diction.
The courtroom was awash with men and women from the four winds of Kenya (and this is said without any iota of exaggeration). Sitting in the front row were the learned friends, deliciously arrayed in suits of dark colours. It was not just their suits that fit them perfectly; they also wore an air of confidence which would easily and unduly be taken for pomposity.
Seated behind them were their raison d’être, their clients. It is uncommon to have a group of people seated together silently lost in prayer for the success of lawyers, but while seeking justice in the courtroom, it is uncommon to not have such groups. Behind the clients were the members of the public who were entitled to be present in the court by virtue of Article 1 of the Constitution of Kenya.
“Criminal Case Number 20 of 2099, Republic versus Innocent,” called out the court assistant as he simultaneously passed a file to the umpire who was seated behind him. The accused person crossed the threshold of the entrance of the court flanked by two police officers. All necks were turned and craned to offer their owners a better view of him.
He looked unperturbed by the attention he was drawing; he looked like a man lost in the ocean of thought; indeed he looked like one who was set to prevail upon any law or judge or accuser or lawyer who dared cross his path on this day. Distinguishing himself from the mob, he positioned himself in his dock, peering at everyone as if through a fog. Then he pointed his domy forehead at the judge and said in his mind, ‘Bring it on or bring it all. No matter what you decide, what is clear as a cloudless sky is that today I must wine and dine in my abode as I celebrate my freedom with my kith and kin.”
The charge sheet was read to him in the language he best comprehended, and his charge was theft. “Mr. Innocent, do you plead not guilty or guilty?” asked the judge…
Wait… wait a minute, my dear hasty writer, before telling me what the judge said after the charge was read. I also demand to know the contents of the charge sheet! Of what thievery was he charged with? How do you expect me to swallow food that has not yet crossed the threshold of my mouth?…
Calm down my most cherished reader, in the words of a man from a movie that I really enjoyed, kindly know that ‘I am willing to tell you, I am wanting to tell you, I am waiting to tell you’ with what thievery the accused was charged, but the court is in session and the judge is in control. I only hope you will not have to wait longer than is appropriate before your desire is satisfied. Let’s go back to court.
“Mr. Innocent, do you plead not guilty or guilty?” asked the judge.
“Your most esteemed honour,” began the accused, “I wish to plead the plea commonly pleaded by the innocent and nothing more or less.”
“Mr. Innocent, this is not a joke for your amusement, neither is it a circus for your entertainment. This court has the strength to let you enjoy, or deny you, your freedom of movement, so treat this process with the seriousness that it is worth.”
“No, your honour, I do not take it for child’s play. You asked me a question, which I responded to. I did not avoid it. Pardon me if it seemed so. I am not in the habit of avoiding questions directed to me by your honour; as a matter of fact, I am not in the habit of avoiding anything except the roads that lead to the abodes of those I owe money. Your honour, I am innocent, and I plead not guilty.”
“Well, if that is his plea, send in the complainant then,” ordered the judge.
Mr. Mitumba entered the court room and before he could settle himself in the witness box, his eyes settled on the accused. What Mr. Mitumba felt upon seeing the accused was akin to the feeling that grasps you when you meet by chance in a police station that person who had earlier made away with your hard-earned sophisticated phone through their acumen in knavery.
Suddenly, he broke out in a fit of rage, saying “How is your heart still beating you unbecoming human misfortune? Why are not your hands in shackles, you devourer of unsuspecting innocents? You deserve to be locked up in the most tortuous prison and the keys safely deposited in the depths of the high seas!” Then, turning to the judge, he implored, “Your honour, why do you hesitate to let the wrath of the law blaze up against this pestilence?”
Then the accused, clearly irked by these words retorted, “Oh, spare us your magniloquent mendacity, you producer, purveyor and accomplice of deceit! You have no authority to judge this case! You have only just arrived and already you are almost drowning this court with your lies!”
“Stop it you two,” intervened the judge. “You are both misled if you think your drama will be accorded audience in this courtroom! Whoever has something to say will have his chance. Mr. Mitumba if you have a testimony against the accused, then, by all means, lay it bare for the legal eye of the court to behold and judge accordingly. Render your testimony then, under oath or affirmation, whatever is dear to your conscience. Only steer away from lying, lest you leave this court bearing the burden of perjury.”
Mr Mitumba, in a lower voice, squeaked, “Your honour, I don’t know which one should come out first; my tears for justice or my words for justice. My heart is in pain and I wonder if my testimony will bring me gain. How I looked forward to that day, how I longed uncontrollably for its sun to rise and guide my guests safely to my home.”
He looked down at his feet.
“Your honour, on this day, my heartbeat, the only one that keeps me alive, the only oasis in my Sahara Desert, the only loophole to any strong argument against my innocence… was to grace my house and brighten it with her unprecedented beauty. Your honour, she was my future wife, but because of that disgraceful creature standing in the dock, she is not only my former future wife, but also she will never be my wife.”
He looked up at the judge with a forlorn expression draped across his misty eyes.
“Your honour, she came in the company of her dear parents, my future parents-in-law. It is common parlance that to err is human and that mistakes are part of life. But where future parents in law are involved, to be human is to be perfect and mistakes are a disgrace to life. At that moment, a man must be like Caesar’s wife; he must be beyond reproach. Therefore, having appreciated this, I found out through my sources that chicken is a delicacy in the homestead of my parents-in-law. One month earlier, I secured a chicken from the market, one that could hardly carry its own weight, and embarked upon according it the best treatment knowing it was a clear path to the hearts of my dear future in-laws.”
The forlorn expression was slowly replaced by the hint of a sad smile.
“I welcomed them like a gentleman and announced the ensuing feast. When I mentioned chicken, my future father-in-law salivated uncontrollably and I knew my success was nigh. Oh, if only you knew how at that moment I painstakingly struggled to hold back my celebrations! I dashed to get the chicken to slaughter it for the feast but I found it not. It had vanished without a trace.”
His voice strengthened and the sad smile disappeared.
“Your honour, this was an anticipated chicken feast that went awry after being heinously thwarted by the orchestrators of discord. I reluctantly returned to the house and tried to salvage my reputation with my humour but I learned then that humour does not cure an empty stomach. It worsens it. Hunger, when it is ripe, begets anger and anger, disgust. So it happened that day, your honour.”
The voice softened again, with a kick of sadness.
“As they walked away I heard him whisper, ‘My daughter that one has a PhD in selfishness, he must have been expelled from the school of generosity. With such a man, your happiness will be as rare as the teeth of a hen. Kindly revert to your single status and brandish it where the grass is green because here everything is brown and lean.’”
The sadness threatened to overwhelm him, and his voice started to tremble.
“Hapless and hopeless, I walked crestfallen to my neighbour, Innocent. I had nothing to hold on to, not even an ounce of forlorn hope. Then, your honour, I saw something outside innocent’s home that made me jump as if I had seen a rattle snake. I saw the feathers of my chicken dancing to the tune of the sombre afternoon wind and I could hear jubilation and laughter coming from inside.”
He turned to the man in the dock.
“I walked into the house and I was welcomed by the sight of Innocent and his ally, not present in court today, depositing my chicken into their despicable bellies. They both assumed the silence of a graveyard when they saw me. I could not believe my eyes. I knew what happened, the men had snuck into my homestead when it was timely for them as I untimely entertained my guests and wrung the neck of my chicken swift enough to prevent it from cackling and now, they were devouring it. They were devouring my chivalry and, with it, my happiness, your honour.”
He turned back to face the judge, a sombre smile coming upon his face. He was brandishing a brown feather retrieved from his coat pocket.
“I would like to produce these feathers and a photo of my chicken as evidence your honour. My only hope is to see injustice castigated accordingly.”
And with that, he took his seat.
“Mr. Innocent, what is your defense?” asked the Judge.
The last echo of the Judge’s words had barely disappeared before Mr Innocent turned to Mr Mitumba with a frown.
“Your words are fraud, you imposter, you enemy of all goodness. Your mind is so full of unrighteousness, you can barely fit anything else in it. How dare you spin a long tale of fantasy and present it as gospel truth before this court and under oath? Don’t you know the judge can spot the lie that stands out like a sore thumb in your tale? Can’t a man enjoy his meal in peace and tranquillity these days?”
He turned to the judge, a hint of his frown still on his face.
“These days uncouth neighbours storm our doorsteps when its meal time ostensibly to discuss politics and football while all they want is to partake of a meal to which they were never invited. Woe betide you if you kindly turn them away and request them to return at another convenient time because you will be answerable before a court of law for that action.”
He turned back to Mr Mitumba, a supercilious smile replacing his frown.
“I do not know about the laughter you allege, I shall put you to strict proof on that one, but I agree that there was silence when our eyes met; for diligent men work best in silence. As a matter of fact, when I was young, I was taught that laughter has no place at table, because in your attempt to provoke laughter; you may end up provoking disaster by making your guest chock on his pasta.”
He turned back to the judge and waved his hand at Mr Mitumba.
“Your honour, can’t you see? His case holds no water. Can’t you see that innocence is on trial and is being subjected to indignity because its humility will not allow it to bring out his accuser’s misdeed? Your honour, do not turn your back against me but instead, show me your face, let your eyes of justice look at me and see that I am here because of the jealousy of my accuser. Surely, is it my fault that there is always a supremely agreeable aroma wafting from my homestead while Mr Mitumba’s compound reeks only of a pungent and foul odour that has more than once threatened to choke the entire village to death?”
He moved on to the killer blow, his smile disappearing and being replaced by an even expression.
“Why must the innocent suffer like this? Because of my industriousness, I am locked up in the dock with my constitutional rights at stake, and because of my accuser’s sloth, he is being accorded the dignity of the witness box with the right to lie under oath. I wonder; if the innocent are treated like this, how will the guilty learn?”
He fell silent and, with him for a few seconds, the court as well. Then the judge chimed in.
“Now I have heard both parties, and have considered meticulously the evidence before me, I must say that this is by no means an easy case to judge, but the effectiveness of a judge is not to be found in the number of decisions he or she has made, but rather in the number of times that through his or her decisions, justice and its interests have been salvaged from near annihilation. Decisions of the court are based on evidence before the court and not on any supernatural prowess of the judge. A judge who relies on magic or whim to make their decision is an enemy of the law.”
She turned to face the court, assuming a superior air.
“I find the evidence of the accuser to be more compelling, considering that his testimony was supported by the feathers and photo that he produced in court. Mr. Innocent, I am hard put to locate your innocence in your testimony. Evidence is overwhelming to the effect that you ate the chicken. You may be a young man, but that is no green light for you to engage in iniquity. The ardour of your youth drenched in your youthful bravado has brought you to naught. Justice has to be done forthwith for delay is the thief of justice.”
She lifted the gavel slightly above the pad on her desk.
“Unfortunately for you, Mr Innocent, justice is disagreeable to your case and I hereby convict you with theft and sentence you to imprisonment accordingly.”
The gavel came crashing down.
“Kindly call for the next file!”
Feature image: Shutterstock.
Sign up to receive new articles as soon as they drop.