The man who called a lawyer ‘idiot
I saw her the moment I set foot in courtroom one of ‘that court’ in Lagos, three Thursdays ago.
She was leaning forward on a seat near the entrance, head bent over documents on the long desk.
The papers weren’t much, but they held her attention: not even the large smartphone or shiny black bag on the table beside her right hand caught her fancy.
I hesitated at the door, taking in her spotless golden wig and black gown.
The lawyer to her right looked my way, adjusted his stiff wing colllar, and then away.
The packed gallery was right behind them, so I made for a free seat three rows away. But I let go of the double doors prematurely and they retracted with a slight whoosh.
A few heads turned. One of them was hers.
Our eyes met.
They met, like they did that day, forever ago, when she spoke those words boys like to hear pretty girls say.
I approached with a smile. She smiled back, dainty mouth matching the soft brightness of her clear eyes.
Not everyone finds a dream they lost 16 years ago. But I do.
This was the third time I would run into her in a Lagos courtroom since last October.
I bent over her table and we did the “Hey, what’s up?”, and “Hey, how are you?” as we shook hands.
A registrar came out of the judge’s chambers.
“Please, settle down,” he said severely to the courtroom.
The judge was about to sit.
We parted hurriedly.
I walked through the narrow aisle, passing lawyers and litigants, including two perharps middle-aged men near the door, on my way to an empty seat on the last row in the gallery.
His Lordship walked in as I took my seat.
We rose, bowed and sat again.
The judge’s docket lightened and the courtroom emptied gradually as litigant after litigant got his day.
But she kept turning back.
After the third time, I wondered if she was looking for me.
A litigant left his window seat, two rows behind her and one row behind the two men. There was a wall socket near the seat. When he didn’t return, I passed behind the men and occupied it.
One of the men turned. The socket was closer to him than I. He offered to help as I reached for the socket with my phone and charger. I declined, smiling as I plugged it in.
He looked in his late fifties or early sixties, with a sprinkle of grey on his full head of hair. But as he smiled back, his face crinkled, making him seem older.
His small, dark, weather beaten frame was inserted in a black Mao suit. There were not many lines on his face, but it had an ascetic air and my eyes hovered over his neck; there was no clerical collar there. He put me in mind of someone who had fought many battles in life.
The man beside him turned. They were companions. A smile broke out on his face.
“Ah! Robert! Thank you for coming,” he whispered happily, taking my hand.
It was….I’m going to call him a ‘Scotsman.’ He was the reason I was in court.
“Meet …,” the Scot said, turning to his friend. Let’s call his friend XYZ.
‘XYZ’ is the Patron Saint of Ireland.
XYZ’s countenance brightened. He shook my hand enthusiastically, smiling broader this time as he thanked me for coming.
They were seeking to recover a debt of nearly N1 million each.
A short while later, they called her matter. But the respondent was unavailable, so, the case was adjourned.
She packed her things and – without a backward glance – left.
A man, her client, stood up from behind us. We watched him hurrying after her.
Soon afterwards, XYZ and the Scotsman stood up and bowed as the registrar mentioned their case.
Their lawyer summoned the respondent’s witness for cross examination.
The witness, a dark, stocky man with a loud voice and a belligerent air, swaggered to the witness box.
It was evident from the get go that he did not care much about the justice of the case: he was simply out to help the respondent win.
He barely had a straightforward answer to any question. Several times, he cut the claimant’s counsel off aggressively and insisted on speaking even after his own lawyer told him not to
Once or twice the judge reminded him to keep his shirt on.
XYZ was getting annoyed. He started whispering to the Scotsman after every question the witness seemed to deflect.
“Lies,” I heard him say.
He turned back and whispered conspiratorially to me, “He’s just lying. They don’t want to pay us.”
But his lawyer, a young, level-headed fellow, was in control. He had a reply for every objection the respondent’s counsel raised.
He introduced a document and – after it was identified by the witness – asked the court to admit it.
Promptly, the respondent’s counsel, another sharp fellow, objected.
“My Lord, this document is not admissible,” he said.
The judge, a slim, bespectacled man, allowed both counsel to address him.
In a bench ruling, he dismissed the objection.
That was when the impossible happened.
In self righteous relief, XYZ said out loud: “Idiot”.
There was no moment of silence, but several heads turned around the courtroom.
If he noticed, XYZ’s lawyer pretended not to. But the respondent’s counsel clearly heard. He turned and looked our way and then at the judge. The judge didn’t seem to be sure of what he heard. He paused briefly as if he was listening to something and then continued addressing both counsel.
I was alarmed. So was the Scotsman.
“You’re playing with contempt of court,” I whispered fiercely in his ear.
But XYZ didn’t care. Their claims were vindicated, he felt, by that ruling.
The respondent’s counsel kept turning back in our direction.
I wondered if he thought I was in both men’s camp. I leaned back, slinking down in my seat a little. I would not partake in a contempt proceedings.
XYZ didn’t mind though. He whispered again and again.
Soon enough, the witness was discharged and the case was adjourned.
Before the parties dispersed, the judge addressed them, urging everyone to take things easy.
“The lawyers are just doing their jobs,. Any of them could represent either of you tomorrow and they would defend you with the same passion which they displayed today,” he told the two men and the witness.
“Call the next case,” the judge told the registrar.
As I walked outside to wait for both men, I remembered and looked around, but she wasn’t there.
Not everyone finds a dream they lost 16 years ago. But I did.