[box type=”info” align=”aligncenter” ]This is one of the stories that came out of the Writivism 2014, a project of the Centre for African Cultural Excellence, with the assistance of several partner organisations, which identifies, trains and engages readers and writers in public discourse through literature. As part of this years activities, they will have The Writivism Festival from 18 – 22nd June 2014. Like the Facebook page for more updates
Games of Guilt
I am sick of the sight of lawyers; sick of the black and white robes, the cold courtroom and the gnawing fears. In my twenty years of medical practice, I have never fallen into the hands of the law. I hadn’t killed anyone on my operating table. The handful of deaths had been no one’s fault.
Except this one time.
I am on trial and every day is filled with apprehension that has me in pins and needles. I stand in the courtroom as Mayowa’s lawyer spouts terms like negligence, liability and damages.
Mayowa! Her face haunts me night and day, etched in pain and grey as the life ebbed out of her. I have to close my eyes to block the picture of her baby as he writhed in my hands, taking his first and last breaths.
I wipe my brow. I am helpless against the memories. Flashes of my hands shaking as I wielded the scalpel, my blurry vision as I tried to focus on the bulge in Mayowa’s belly that was supposed to emerge as a baby. Voices in my head as I made contact with her clammy skin.
“Focus,” my lips had seemed detached from the rest of my body. But I couldn’t focus, not when my mind was thinking of other things.
I glance at my lawyer. There is a calm unruffled look on his face. My eyes move across the courtroom and meet the hateful gaze of Mayowa’s husband- not just hateful, but determined. A man demanding compensation for his loss, a loss he blames on me.
The prosecutor is done and gives Mayowa’s husband a look that seems to seal my fate. Even though I can’t understand the legal jargon I have a feeling he’s done a good job.
I clench my jaw – they are requesting damages not prison – yet I want to win. Losing would be an admission of guilt. Losing would damage the reputation I’ve built over twenty years. I hold my breath.
Five hundred million. Damages
My hands are beginning to shake; I should have fortified myself with a drink before coming to court. I scan the room again, looking for a familiar face. I’m hoping my wife will show up in spite of her harsh words. Our last conversation is still making headlines in my head.
“I can’t believe I married a man like you!” Nancy had shouted. “You’re spineless!”
“Can’t you understand? It’s my reputation at stake here.”
“How dare you mention reputation? Your so-called reputation has gone down the drain since you became an alcoholic, so, face reality! See this as a way of doing penance.”
“I do feel bad,” I’d insisted, “I really do. But I have a chance of getting out of this…”
She’d given me a strange look. “A woman died, Mike. A baby also died. All because of your problem. How can that not bother you?”
“It does. But I can’t change anything now. I’m not the first doctor to lose a patient. We’re going to be bankrupt if they win this case…”
“I’d rather be penniless than live with the guilt of two deaths,” Nancy shuddered. “I don’t care about your money!”
I remained silent.
“And,” she continued, “whether you win or lose this case, you’ve already lost me.”
“What do you mean?”
“When you get back from ‘winning’ your case; don’t count on seeing me in this house.”
I reached out to hold her but she moved away. “I’ll never taste alcohol ever again,” I said.
She snorted, “You and I both know you’re fooling yourself.”
Whenever Nancy gets hysterical, there’s no convincing her. “You need help” she said, “Your conscience is dead.”
Her words ring in my ears. She is wrong. My conscience is alive and well. Gnawing its way through my sleepless nights, seeping into my nightmares. She doesn’t know that I wept when she told me she would leave me. I can’t afford to lose her. Or my money. Or my reputation. I stop myself from rocking back and forth. Perhaps I am losing my sanity.
I grit my teeth as my lawyer begins to speak. I block out his words. He rambles on about my spectacular medical history. I wish I can help myself, I wish I can control the urge to drink. God! Let me get off and I’ll never operate under the influence again. I am sweating profusely as the judge bangs his gavel.
“As much as I sympathize with the appellant,” he intones, “I find no negligence on the part of the respondent. No liability for damages.”
My lawyer slaps my back triumphantly and someone wails – it is a sound of pain and defeat. There is no relief. The guilt has made itself at home and the ghosts hover. Home! My chest constricts as I remember that there’s no longer home to go to. I’ve won the case but lost Nancy.
My legs wobble as I step out of the courtroom and blink in the bright light. I could donate some of my money to Mayowa’s family; maybe it’ll chase away the ghosts, maybe it’ll make me feel less guilty. My lawyer taps my back again, snapping me out of my thoughts.
“What do you think?” he gestures to the bar across the road. “ A drink to celebrate?”
Drinking is one way to keep the ghosts at bay.
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