We understand, as we arrive, that our ex-employers are looking for another adjournment of this case (they pushed for one last week which is why we’re back here again today). I cannot describe the indignant rage I feel at the assumption my husband, whom they failed to pay for the last six months of his employment, can be manipulated as a tool to buy them time to gather the wherewithal to service debts.
The court house is an ugly place, reminiscent of Tanzania’s hungry, socialist days, with nowhere to sit as you hang about waiting for your case to be called. We kick around outside, Anthony smokes cigarette after cigarette.
A noisy truck appears and disgorges from its rear end two dozen prisoners, handcuffed in pairs and escorted by half a dozen policemen. We – those of us hanging about on a scruffy verandah outside the courthouse – are urged to move along and give the prisoners some space. I’m not sure why – perhaps because they may whip AK47s from unseen orifices and mow us all down? Perhaps because they may revolt and take hostages? Or perhaps because – after months of incarceration – they smell? Who knows? In any event, we all shuffle down obediently.
Being the only whites waiting for a hearing, we are attracting a great deal of interest and speculation. I am sure there were fewer people here last week. I bet the word that we’d be back this Monday got around and that’s what drawn the crowds. Indeed the justice system being what it is, I’d venture to suggest the magistrates were selling tickets for ring-side seats this week (and who could blame them, on a paltry government salary, I’d do the same).
Anthony is called to his hearing and disappears into the melee, looking anxious (we’ve both looked anxious all week; we both look a lot older as a result). I wait outside, trying to avoid the interested stares.
Later, when he emerges, looking more relaxed than he has done in days, he relates how the proceedings went. After listening to what the respective representatives had to say the Magistrate, a severe looking young woman, announced that Anthony’s penalty (for doing his job) was to pay a 100,000/- fine (about $80) and serve two years in jail. Anthony’s heart naturally missed several beats, everybody in the room looked shocked and the crowd that had gathered outside, necks craned to watch the proceedings, stopped murmuring. Anthony’s lawyer, when he’d lifted his head from his hands, said, ‘But your honour, my client is a family man with three children, he has not been paid since July last year, he has a wife, he must find work …’. The Magistrate silenced him with a glare, ‘You did not listen’, she remonstrated, ‘Listen! 100,000/- fine and IF he defaults, he will serve two years in jail’. A unanimous sign of relief, the biggest from Anthony.
To celebrate Anthony’s liberty, we went for a coffee and (stale) croissant at the local deli.
Never has the phrase ‘a weight lifted from one’s shoulders’ been so apt. I feel so light, I could fly.