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In the Air, In the Mind: 1987
Tuart College, English Faculty
In the Air
It is Friday morning. Two minutes before ten o'clock. The high-ceilinged court room is heavy with official silence. Some of the court officials glanced at their watches or the clock at the back of the room above the doors.
The public gallery is about half full. The usual public attendance. Some of the members of the public are from the press. They're the ones looking quite relaxed about what is soon to unfold. They've seen it all before. The rest of the gallery is occupied by relatives and friends of those soon to appear in the dock, including myself. Our hands fidget and fumble as we try to overcome our fear of the unknown. An elderly black woman near the back of the gallery dabs at her eyes and nose with an already sodden handkerchief. Our eyes meet, and we share for a silent second our secret doubts.
In front of the gallery are the long, squat desks of the prosecution and defence. In khaki green the prosecuting sergeant sits impassively, his papers laid out before him in neat police style, his pens lined up side by side next to the papers. Everything is in its place. Across from him sits the defence lawyer. His papers and pens and other paraphernalia are also neatly arranged, waiting for his hands and his voice to bring them to life.
To one side the jury sits in a two-tiered enclosure. A mix of men and women, they stare at various points in the room, moving uneasily in their panelled stall. They seem to have an air of shopkeepers about them.
Across the floor of the court from the jury box sits the dock. It's high sides hide from view all but the head and shoulders of the accused. A matronly, rather severe looking woman, she glares at the fan languidly circling on its stem from the ceiling high above.
One clerk sits in front of the bench, fingers ready to take down every word, every sound uttered in the name of Justice. Above the bench the royal coat of arms dominates the wall towards which all eyes must soon look. In the oppressive silence just before the judge enters, the huge red and gold insignia boldly proclaims the judicial power of the person who will sit beneath it.
The clock turns to ten. The court room suddenly comes to life as an official rises to announce His Lordship's arrival. The room disappears and only the court remains.
In the Mind
The messy fingerprints upon the dark silky jarrah began to disappear as her rag wiped along the balustrading, removing the imperfections created by Justice. In the pale light of the early evening the rich rubicund woodwork glowed beneath the soft embrace of the cloth.
Around the empty court room she moved in silence, removing the evidence of the day's proceedings as she burnished first the jury box and then the dock, now the lawyer's tables and last of all the bench. As she stepped onto the judge's dais she hesitated as she always did, confronted for a second by the power emanating from the heavily buttoned leather bench.
Finally she turned to the heraldry upon the wall. She gently ran her cloth over its textured surface of royal blues, reds and golds, of unicorns and harps, of mantling and cinquefoil. The whole arrangement appeared incongruous in a land of bunyips and didgeridoos, yet it was as if the weight of history was backing the power of the judge who would sit in front of this ancient regalia. It was nearly dark now, and the coat of arms glimmered high upon the wall as it was caught in the last rays of the sun.
As the atmosphere began to cool, she crossed the floor toward the doors, pushing a strand of hair back beneath her headband. She paused for a second as something caught her eye. It was in the dock, on the floor. She crossed to it, but did not enter, fearing the anguish of its confines. Instead she knelt and reached into it, plucking up the screwed up fragment of paper. Looking at it she saw that it was a return train ticket. The question crossed her mind as to what it was doing these, but she had to escape the vicinity of the dock, and casually pushed the fragment into a pocket as she turned and headed across the russet carpet towards the doors.
At the doors, she paused and looked back. The court room was bathed in the delicate pink of dusk's final glow. Through the soft haze the symbols of Justice glowed in the mellow silence of tradition and authority. As she turned and pulled the heavy doors open, she felt the familiarity and safety of the monumental room that could only come from being, for endless years, the cleaning lady of court room number two.
877 words, published copy of original text, Blackheath 30 September 2004