Note to regulars – this is just the beginning of the end part. I need to tell this from three perspectives, so it is probably going to eat up my word limit for a few weeks.
Sorry – as is it is not really a scene…
Nothing. And Everything. (From Several Sides to Silence) by Honey Mustard
Déjà vu or a recurrant nightmare, it didn’t really matter. Point is, it didn’t feel good. Michael had been guided in by the assistant and pointed to where he could take place, a lone seat at the bottom end of the conference room. The tables were in a close-set U-shape, set up with four seats at the top end, and another ten on either of the long sides that stretched towards him. A sea of blue plastic water bottles lined the inside of the U.
The tech in the room was overwhelming. There was the simultaneous translation equipment – the earphones and microphones with the multiple buttons – at the ready at each of the leather placemats that designated the committee members’ seats around the table. Cables were hanging down the middle of the U, and converged to a central node, whence they continued in a thick plait, taped to the floor, to where the translation booths were set up at the far end of the venue.
Then there were also the camera crews set up in each corner of the room, with their recording equipment on floor-length tripods.
And to the opposite side of the venue from the translators, there were the news desks, the journalists with their laptops and dictaphones and their photographers at the ready. Everything that got done in that venue on that day would be in the public eye. Even if you picked your nose. Given the way things went nowadays, a nosepicker would probably get the honour of a meme-song or two on social media, like that Minister who got the “When People Zol” song.
Michael took place as directed, unbuttoning his blazer before he did. He had his prepared statements in a leather folder, which he opened in front of him on the table. On the other end of the room, directly opposite him, sat the Chief Justice, who was chairing the Judicial services committee, and on either side of him the President of the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development. Judge President Kerr, of the Cape High Court, completed the foursome at the head of the table. The delegates from Parliament and the Council of Provinces were sitting on the long end, along with the advocates and attorneys, the law professor and the president’s nominees on the committee.
The Chair had asked Judge Kerr to read out the motivation for Michael’s nomination, and she was speaking to it while Michael’s mind raced. He knew that the level of trepidation he felt had only a little to do with his prior experience of the committee. What was really occupying his mind, was the fear that all the events of the past months would come flying in to crash his shot at a permanent place on the bench. When he indulged that little fearsome voice in his conscience, he felt like fleeing. I do not deserve to be here, he thought. I’m not a good man.
He already felt strangely detached from the present. His pride in his work had given way to anguish and overwhelm. His mouth was bone dry and his tongue inside it felt swollen and heavy. He doubted he’d be able to say anything, leave alone anything profound.
The Chief Justice opened with the question Michael was expecting.
“Advocate Lindley, it is not the first time you appear before this commission. What has changed since then?”
The carefully prepared answer lay inside the leather folder. Something about experience and expectations. Something about being better able to handle media controversy. But none of that seemed to matter any more.
“What changed, your worship?” Michael looked around the room. Some expectant faces around the table, some benevolent, others clearly uninterested. “Nothing. And everything.”
A distressed look fleeted across judge Kerr’s face. They had spent hours – days, in fact – training for this interview. And she did not like curveballs. Michael was pitching a curveball.
“Go on,” the Chief Justice invited him.
“Where do I start,” Michael said, and took a deep breath. Suddenly, everything felt lighter.
“Emma-Leigh, we really need to have dinner before loadshedding starts,” Alma called from the tiny kitchen of the duplex in Hastings Street. “Can you come do the salad, please?”
Emma-Leigh came out of her room, carrying her laptop, open.
“They’re about to start interviewing Dad,” she said. “Want to watch?”
“Not really,” Alma answered.
Emma-Leigh ignored her, and positioned the laptop on the counter, on the other side of the cutting board. She grabbed the cherry tomatoes, salad leaves, cucumber and feta from the fridge.
“Pay attention to your fingers, not the screen,” Alma said when Emma-Leigh picked up the cutting knife. The previous time when Michael was nominated, five years earlier, Emma-Leigh was not yet old enough to care about current affairs. Now she was nailed to the screen and Alma knew there was no point in trying to dissuade her from watching the interview.
“Mom, this is, like, huge,” Emma-Leigh said. “I know you and Dad have your — issues, but you should be interested in it as an officer of the court, if nothing else.”
“Officer of the court, my hat. Who are you and what did you do with my daughter?” Alma poked Emma-Leigh in her side, and she squirmed away.
Alma could hardly believe the shifts that had occurred in her child over the past months. All that energy that used to go into pushing back against Alma had been rechannelled into a keen interest in the world around her.
“Seriously, why are you using lawyerly expressions, all of a sudden? Where do they come from?” Alma asked.
“Got them along with my mother’s milk, I guess,” Emma-Leigh shrugged. She turned the salad leaves into the bowl and dropped the chopped tomatoes on top of it. “Shh now, I want to listen.”
The judge president had just asked the first question. Alma wondered if it made Michael’s blood curdle.
The camera on the streaming service closed up on Michael’s face.
“Where do I start,” she heard him say.
- : women's lit
- : not a full scene