I toss and turn in my bed. I need a new bed. I wonder how much one would cost. I bought it for a very princely sum almost 15 years ago. My first purchase after receiving a lumpsum payment from the government who had been holding up our salaries for three good months. It’s a Slumberland brand. Guaranteed to give you a good night’s rest. They lied. Sleep doesn’t help if it is your soul that is tired. I switch on the lights. Time: 0410hrs. The sleeping pills didn’t work either. I had considered some wine but with an important meeting at the office at 0800hrs that wouldn’t have been a good choice. It also meant driving out to get it since I do not, in principle, stock any alcohol in my house. Something about temptations. I reach out for the blood pressure machine. 162/104mmHg. Not good. It’s back. I cringe.
Flashback a few months. Men and women in dark coloured suits holding rugged files. For many, the papers are struggling to stay in place. Some are whispering to each other. “Wakili (Translation: Learned fellow), please hold the brief for me. I am pushing for more time.” They delegate to each other as they rush on to more important cases. I later find out how twisted our justice system can be. The elderly woman in crutches hobbles over to the pew. I stand to make room for her. She perches herself painfully, each movement well calculated. She’s following up an accident claim. She’s been coming for hearings 4 years on. The defense lawyer was the one who had requested his colleague to “push for more time”… I glance at the list of the day. Case number 17. The last one to be mentioned. My lawyer is yet to arrive. I try to remain calm. What if she doesn’t show up?
The lady judge walks in. We all stand up in respect. I confirm my phone is on silent then proceed to follow the proceedings. The judge has a permanent scowl on her face. i bet borne out of listening to all those commercial cases. I try to cram the legal jargon in case my lawyer doesn’t make it on time. The elderly lady’s case comes up. The defense asks for more time (as instructed by his colleague). More time is granted, the elderly lady is awarded Ksh. 100 for her fare back home. I see tears of frustration dangling on her eyes. Her lawyer didn’t turn up either. Something inside me breaks. We are on Case number 11. More civil suits. My lawyer walks in, takes a bow and seats behind me. I heave a sigh of relief. I can now study the people around me. My favourite pastime when bored. I study people. Like the young female lawyer in neatly styled dreadlocks. She’s had to abide by the strict dress code of the profession but deep inside her she wants to be free to express herself. Or the court clerk busy trying to catch up the pace of the lady judge. He’s going through the motions of the day. Organising the files, receiving petitions from the lawyers walking in and out of the court room, calling out the cases one by one according to the list. Filling out the calendar as the judge proclaims the next hearings or judgment dates. Handing over a glass of water to the judge. He’s a busy man. One respected by the lawyers no doubt. One who determines if your file will be placed in front of the judge or not. Then…they wore colourful dresses, high heels, make-up. Now, drab dull suits in greys or black.
Then and now… Suddenly, its Case number 16. My lawyer comes to sit next to me. “Don’t worry, Amakove.” she says. “They will hear us in camera.” I didn’t have to come, she says. But how can I not come and see for myself? Case number 17. EAW vs RKN. That’s it. Our names are reduced to initials. I remember the wedding cards we sent out. African themed. Beautifully embossed with our three names. Sent out to 400 or more people. Now appearing as EAW vs RKN. To protect our privacy, they said. Everyone is sent out of the courtroom leaving only the two of us and RKN. The hearing starts. This is a first of many to come.
Then and now… What denomination are you? the court clerk asks. Protestant, I reply. Hold this Bible with your left hand, lift your right hand and repeat after me… I proceed to be sworn to the witness stand. The same Bible that was used to join us is the same one used to set us apart. The irony of life. I go through the motions.
Then and now… The defense lawyer was ruthless. My lawyer had warned me but that wasn’t enough to prepare me for the emotions that were being stirred up. It was like a serrated knife had been pierced into my heart and then twisted over and over. I promised myself to be strong. Same tears that flowed on that beautiful day as we were joined together, now flowing but for a different reason. I held on. I must do this, I kept on saying. I must. For my sanity.
Then and now… The room this time has two more people. Student lawyers on attachment. I remember the interns from church. Always helpful. Excited at the prospect of assisting in a wedding. Making sure everything was alright from the church’s side. I watched the student lawyers. Young ladies. Bored at the prospect of sitting through 23 cases and taking down notes. One of them kept on chatting on WhatsApp under the cover of the notes. Then case number 23 came up: EAW vs RKN. As usual, everyone was sent out of the courtroom and door was shut. It was his turn at the dock. The students became more attentive. My lawyer wasn’t kind either. The students expressions kept on changing from plain disbelief to pity as they watched both of us. For the whole time, not a single smile. They furiously jotted down notes. I wonder what stories they were going to share after that. I remembered the jubilant church interns. Then… we whispered lovely dovey words to each other. We laughed. We made plans. Now…we are hell-bent on bringing out the worst in each other.
Then and now… I drove out of the court parking. My mind on zombie mode. It was my 4th time appearing in court. You don’t have to attend the sessions, she said. I want to, I stubbornly replied. This time I had gone for the ruling. It was postponed again. Two of my friends called. They wanted to be there with me but the timing was not good for them. I assured them I was okay. Wedding day, over 400 people showed up. Family and friends, eager to witness the joining in holy matrimony. Then I was chauffered in the latest German car of the day. Today, judgement day. No friend. No family member. I don’t blame them. Many wouldn’t know what to say or do. I drove in numbness.
Then and now… A message from my lawyer: Hi, divorce granted. Marriage dissolved. 5 words that changed my life completely. Passed on in a text late in the evening. Then it was shouted via a microphone: I now pronounce you husband and wife. There was jubilation, singing, clapping. A few friends try to reach out. I am in no mood to talk. Only the muffled sounds of my crying late into the night as I force myself to sleep. Another day breaks… I must put on make-up. I must look fresh.
Then and now…