The Last Verdict

Hot summer days had briskly marched into the terrains of Lagos. The steely sun had almost baked the earth to piping hot. On such a hot afternoon, beating the oppressive weather, Sandra headed in a luxury Honda car towards  the High Court. That day since the morning Sandra was running mild fever. The sole companion of her life, Martha, her caretaker pleaded her not to set forth in such a physical state. Yet Sandra went out after a light breakfast of oat meal.

A once upon a time very timid, submissive Sandra was translated into a leading lawyer to fight for woman’s rights. Relentlessly, she had been running from home to court fighting innumerable cases. Today Martha was not willing to allow Sandra to leave the house considering her health. But who would listen to whom? Martha muttered in disgust,”God alone knows why such people need to get married if they have to file a petition for divorce? God alone knows when madam would get some rest from this never-ending list of divorce petitions! When they cannot stay together for two days why at all do they marry?” While having breakfast, Sandra listened to Martha. A spurt of laughter escaped her lips perhaps to lighten the atmosphere. Heart of hearts, she agreed that  cases of separation have been never ending. Every suffering woman used all sources to hire Sandra to fight for her case. Sandra aggressively fought all cases in favour of  women.

Martha worshipped her mistress since the latter fought no fake cases – where women wrongfully accuse their husbands to honour extra-marital affairs or other personal reasons. Sandra was a champion in diagnosing the cases just in a few hours. Long years of fighting law cases to ceremonize truth and fight against subjugation under male chauvinism had become her sole purpose of life. Sandra had no time for herself. It appeared as if she was in a race that had no end. She entrusted Martha with the complete responsibility of her wardrobe, to her dressing, to kitchen and maintaining accounts.

Martha should not be mistaken as a maid to Sandra. She meant everything to the lady of the house. How could Martha forget the day when Sandra stood as a formidable wall between herself and her husband Alex. That day while returning from a mock court session, Sandra had  spotted Alex through an open window ill-treating Martha. 2She realized that there was something sinister about this tall burly man. The brutal sight fueled her up. She made an ostentation of all the knowledge that she had acquired during her internship of law. Sandra had successfully dragged the accused to the court with the due consent of Martha. Martha confessed how since her marriage she had been the victim to endless torture under her husband. That was the first case Sandra had fought single-handed. For the first time after her marriage, Martha had realized her own identity. She learnt that respecting male chauvinism does not mean complete self subjugation. After the court had sentenced divorce between Martha and Alex with a further claim that Alex should pay an alimony of ten thousand Naira(Nigerian Currency) every month to Martha for her personal upkeep, they parted ways.

When the court was dismissed, Alex curled up his fist, his eyes turned red, spat on the road with utmost force and stormed out of sight. That day for the first time, Martha shivered at the thought that the so-called shelter to her name was also pulled away from her for showing resentment to her husband’s ill treatment.

Back in the court hall, Sandra’s first victory in the field of law invited all her best wishers and professors with loads of congratulatory notes. Soaked in her victory, contemplating on her smart moves, she soon became oblivious of Martha. Sandra was barely in her late twenties that time. After the people left the court, Sandra also walked out only to find Martha standing huddled under the rude shelter of an asbestos that was perhaps the vehicle stand. Her face was cast in fear. She wore a doubt on herself whether driving on the road against Alex was the right step in her life. In just a few hours, she had lost everything in her life.

Sandra being a sensible woman understood the pain that Martha was going through. She gracefully ushered her new member to her nest. Without much difficulty Martha understood that Sandra too was a loner. By and by the duo strove to take away the morose state of their respective lives. Martha found a comfortable place in Sandra’s house. She basked herself in the faith, trust and complete dependence Sandra rested on her. With time, the seemingly indelible scars in Martha’s soul healed. Every evening Martha would wait for Sandra at tea time. That was the only time when Martha amused herself at the funny description of the cases that Sandra narrated. Sometimes in a lighter mood, Martha would ask Sandra, “Madam, why didn’t you ever marry? Never found a soulmate?” Sandra avoiding Martha’s glance would say, “If I had married, how would you have featured in my life? So many divorces have created distaste in my life at the name of marriage.” Martha never again put Sandra in such an awkward situation. Besides she realized that the presence of a man in the house could have made her stay distressful.

That morning Sandra was all set to fight a difficult case. A girl in her mid-twenties had approached her with her woeful story. She appeared to be in fear as she started detailing the torture she had to undergo at the hands of her barbaric, sadistic and inhuman husband. She also showed the burnt marks of cigarette stubs on her neck, hands, back, etc. Even when she said, Maria sobbed. Not another day could she continue to stay with her man. She would rather commit suicide than live with such a deplorable individual. Sandra’s eyes also became moist. Avoiding her client’s glance, she artfully wiped the drops of tears that had welled up in the bowl of her eyes. She took all the details of the marriage from Maria. When she enquired about her husband, she learnt that the boy was none other but the son of one of her old friends in the field of law. Fighting the case meant going against her friend.

That morning Martha had taken out a very old blue silk gown. Despite being roughly fifty years of age, Sandra still looked as pretty as in her twenties. As the wind blew past her, the free end of her dress tossed in the air adding to her beautiful grace. Sandra got down from her car and lifted her sunglass. Grey curls around her temple and under her ears added gravity to her appearance. The High Court of Lagos had offered her many glories. Yet Sandra was growing nervous this time. Was it because she was fighting against the son of her friend or trying to favour an unknown girl? She did not know.

Sandra had made her heart of steel over the years. She decided that Maria should get justice. She also asked the latter if anyone from her house would come to support her from the family. Maria in a low voice almost whispered that she had nobody in this wide world to support her. She had lost her mother at her birth. Her father ran a small business in a small place in Cairo. He was expected at the court some two hours hence. She also said that circumstances had broken him so badly that he might not be able to take the witness box. For unknown reasons, Sandra experienced thumping of her heart at the name of Cairo. Cairo had indeed offered her many sweet and sour memories. Well, this was not the time to grow emotional. Sandra, the ball of fire as a defender in the court of law was respected by one and all. She quickly glanced through her notes along with answering her well wishers. The trial room in the court was partly full. New internship  students had occupied the major part of the hall to study Sandra’s moves. Sandra looked at the boy. Could he recognize her? Perhaps not. Sandra had seen him last as a school boy. She wondered, how could one be so brutal behind an innocent face. Sandra’s eyes met her friends pleading eyes. The spark in the latter’s sent thousands of urging messages to Sandra for saving her son from public disgrace. Yet Sandra remained unaffected. For her Maria’s self-respect meant much more.

Sandra started cross-examining Maria and her husband Richard by and by at the witness box. She threw offences on the latter’s face one after another. The court room was spell bound at Sandra’s feat. Her volley of questions almost paralyzed Richard. There were witnesses from Richard’s family who did their bit to accuse Maria of being a corrupt woman. Sandra’s experienced arguments could very easily lame them. By now she was waiting for Maria’s father to come as there was no one to support her from her family. Eventually, Maria’s father could not reach in time. The court had already given the last sentence of divorce with a handsome alimony when Maria’s father made his entry into the court.

The inmates of the court started leaving one by one. After the court was dismissed, the salt and peppered-haired man in clumsy outfits, unsteady walk battled against the retreating crowd just to enter and embrace his daughter. Just as he came forward, both Daniel, Maria’s father and Sandra froze at the sight of each other. Sandra felt that the earth had slipped underneath her feet. She never felt so weak before. The trial room by now had only three members. Sandra, the strongest lady of the decade swooned and fell to the floor. Daniel hesitated to offer help lest he be misunderstood. In no time, a fellow lawyer rushed into the scene to assist Sandra. It was beyond belief that Sandra could ever give up. The lawyer friend called up Martha to rush to the court. Within minutes, Martha reached to her mistress. She repented for allowing her mistress to come out of the house in fever. She blamed herself for everything while Daniel stood as an idol of shame in front of Sandra’s unconscious body.

Maria understood that there was some connection between her father and Sandra. Sandra was given the best of the aids and was brought home. In order to go deeper into the matters, Maria followed Sandra to her house. She urged Martha to tell her all that she knew about her mistress but Martha hardly knew anything of Sandra’s past life. During the tea time, Maria sat by Sandra’s feet imploring her to tell why she had collapsed thus at the sight of her father. Under the pressure of the young girl, Sandra unveiled her past. Everything went as a flashback as Sandra spoke about Daniel being a crude husband some twenty years back.

Sandra remembered how she doted on her husband after her marriage, how submissive and obedient she was to him. Yet Daniel, her husband never spared a moment to torture her in the best of his ways. He would devise new ways and means to hurt her just as Maria had shown the burnt marks of cigarette stubs, Sandra had such burn dots all over her body. She had even forgotten to express agony and pain. It was such a time when Richard’s mother, Suzan had come to her aid. Suzan was a young law student then. She understood that Sandra was a brilliant girl and could fight her case herself. But situation never gave her that opportunity since by then Sandra had left Cairo and come to a new place in Lagos. She got so involved in her studies, fighting cases and basking in the glory of victories that Daniel had totally got erased from her mind.

Just as Sandra completed her story, she rose from the chair with an awry smile. Martha got busy in preparing the most loved dish of her mistress. She also urged Maria to stay back for the night. In a little while as Maria turned around, she saw her father standing at the threshold of the entrance  like a dog. She was filled with hatred for her father for the first time. She wondered for a moment whether her father was promiscuous. She also wondered whether she equally belonged to Sandra or not. These thoughts attacked Maria as a capsized boat caught in the storm. She stormed out of the room, held her father by his collar who had already become weak and demanded of her identity. “Who am I?”, she bawled at her father.

Martha understood her role at such a crossroad of Sandra’s life. She could not forget how Sandra stood by her side when situation demanded. Hence leaving Sandra in tears in her room she went out and urged Daniel to come inside. Martha had pledged by now to even out the torn relationship between Sandra and Daniel. Daniel explained how after Sandra had left, he was caught by serious ailment i.e. Jaundice. Nobody was there next to him to even offer him a glass of water. It was then when he realized what Sandra meant to his life. “I came to know Sandra’s worth when it was beyond repair. After I came out of jaundice and the doctor allowed me to move out of house, the first thing I did was to go to an orphan center and adopt a baby girl for myself” Daniel broke down for the first time. He felt that Sandra would never wish to see his face even. It appeared to Martha that Daniel had changed drastically. The man who played the role of both father and mother for Maria and bringing her up as a virtuous girl must have undergone a radical change in himself. He could be given a chance at this middle age where they both stood.

Martha went into Sandra’s room, coaxed her to join Mr. Daniel in the drawing room. After long session of cajole, Sandra came into the drawing room and took a corner. There was an unbreakable silence in the large room where all the four sat and no one spoke. After a little while Martha went and came back with large mugs of coffee. There was a farrago of emotions playing in the middle aged couple’s and Maria’s mind. The world seemed to have come to a halt all of a sudden for Sandra. Though Martha explained to her about the seeming radical change in Daniel, how far was it true was the question.

After a long break, Daniel stood up from his place and feebly muttered, “I know Sandra it is difficult for you to forgive me and of course you should not. When my daughter went through the same pain I had inflicted on you, I almost died in myself. I know very well why you hate me. I leave Maria to her own decision. Thank you for your hospitality.” Slowly Daniel walked out of the room with unsteady steps. Sandra felt a tornado across her mind. She could not resist it. The so-called strongest woman of Lagos gave up at the thought that her husband leaving her forever. Martha supported the mistress, persuaded her to accept  Daniel while trying to bring her to senses. Maria rushed out to call her father in. Daniel strode back, held Sandra in his arms and assured her that she would never suffer injustice and insecurity in his hands. A flash of smile ran through everyone’s face. Sandra only said, “I will not leave this place ever. I rose as a phoenix from this place, I can only stay with you if you agree to stay with me here.”

From that day, all the four stayed together. Although they had already reached their middle ages yet they began a true married life from then on. The house containing two heads was now multiplied to four. Maria’s friends would come in now and then thus adding new splash of colours.

From then on Sandra stopped fighting any other law case. She joined the law college as a lecturer polishing the new students with her experience.

3

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