An expectant hum permeates the air. Or maybe that’s just my jangling nerves. A man in a black gown sits beside me, intermittently whispering instructions into my ear. He’s my court-appointed attorney, a luxury granted only to the poor and defenceless, and in rare cases, the indefensible.
The prosecution has set up shop on my immediate right. The prosector looks like something straight out of a Netflix drama, right down to the generously gelled hair and pointed leather shoes. He says something to the plaintiff seated next to him. She’s a confident, middle-aged woman dressed in a conservative black pantsuit, which is complimented by her tortoise-rimmed spectacles. She also holds the highest office in the country’s Department of Intelligence. They let out a collective chuckle.
To the prosecution’s right, inside a wooden enclosure, the members of the jury are in various stages of settling into their chairs. Some of them have smiles on their faces as they make small talk with their neighbours. Others stare blankly ahead. One of them, a young man wearing a crisp white shirt and tie, shuffles his feet and steals a glance at his watch. His face crumples into a frown. Things aren’t moving as fast as he would like. I do not share his impatience.
Straight behind, a wooden barrier, also called the bar in courtroom lingo, isolates us from the audience gathered to watch the trial. They’re a motley group – reporters looking for a headline, law students forced to attend a trial for a passing grade, and voyeuristic members of the public hoping for a good show. A lady thinks about dumping her jacket on one of the empty chairs in the front row. She eventually resists, possibly realising they’re meant for the defendant’s family and well-wishers.
Straight up ahead, across the well of the court, the judge’s bench towers over us. The witness box is to its right, comprised of a chair within its own wooden fence. Isolating things inside enclosures seems to be the guiding tenet of the courtroom’s architecture.
An abrupt silence falls on the proceedings as the bailiff announces the judge’s appearance. A tall, imposing man, in his sixties, or even older, makes his way to the bench. The oversized judicial robes and wig do nothing to temper the sense of purpose and authority that he relays even in this short walk. I feel a tap on my shoulder and turn to see that it’s from my attorney. His gestures make me realise that I’m the only person in the court who’s still seated. I hasten to my feet and brace myself for what’s about to come.