Luke 18 vv 1-8
Judge John wakes on the sofa again. For too many nights this week he’s slept on the couch. Somehow he never quite makes it to bed these days, the alcohol puts him to sleep before he’s ready to hit the sack. Mostly he drinks alone, his friends still call themselves friends but they took him off their Christmas list years ago. He doesn’t care, let them all hang. He’ll gladly pass sentence on them. He stumbles to the fridge, puts his foot in a pile of rotting haddock, another meal he started and never finished. Rose, the housekeeper, had started to clean up his chambers but she left when he started cussing and throwing piles of soiled underwear at her. Ironically he’s still good at his job, better than ever. He’s never more alive and alert than in a wig and a gown dishing out the dirt. The phone rings, it’s Rose, can she come to clean up while he’s in court, otherwise she won’t be coming at all. Judge John wipes the edge of his hand across his feet, smearing cooked haddock across his sole and between his toes. He’ll be stinking of fish all day now. He’s woken late and can’t shower now. His first case is in ten minutes. Strong black coffee and two chocolate doughnuts see him ready for the fight. Three injections of high octane caffeine and a mountain of industrial strength sugar set him up perfectly for the day.
The old woman perches in the dock, her bones old and frail, her face wizened and weathered, she looks for all the world like a dying sparrow, one puff of his caffeine breath and she’ll fall over. He sighs, the sound is deliberately loud, this is the twenty-third time he’s met this woman this month and she’s heard his verdict twenty-two times already. What more does she want? She chirps on about justice but everyone knows – the law courts and justice are estranged partners. The marriage was annulled long ago.
Her land may have been stolen by her pimp nephew and her house vandalised frequently by her drug-dealing neighbours – but that’s life. The question of innocence and guilt does not enter into it. The law is an ass and you have to ride it hard.
She chirrups on, he’s heard it all before, her voice resembles the sound of fingernails on a blackboard, he grinds his teeth and digs his nails into his palms. He tries to shut her up but the sparrow sings on. Reason after reason, request on request. He’s going cross-eyed from the pain of the barrage, he could do with another coffee and two more doughnuts.
‘Woman!’ he yells and he snags his robe on his throne as he stands. ‘Woman! How dare you come here with your whining and nagging and your sob stories. The law is not on your side. Go home, curl up and die. I’ll conduct your funeral if you like. I’ll even fund it.’
He may as well not bothered. Before his outburst is finished she’s off again, like a ticking clock, a dripping tap, a buzzing wasp. Tick tick, drip drip, buzz buzz. He may kill her before she’s even out of the dock. For a moment he pacifies himself with imaginings of the different ways he might bump her off. Slowly would be good, but then she might still be chirping as she wastes away. Quick would be better. Off a bridge or under a train. Or even better a bullet from one of the many assassins he’s acquitted recently. Tick, tick, tick, drip, drip, drip, buzz, buzz, buzzzzzzzzzzz…
‘Shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP!’
This last outburst is so loud she stares at him wide-eyed, as if he’s a diesel truck about to squish the guts right out of her.
‘All right! All right!’
‘All right?’ she whispers, her words no more than a breath now.
‘All right! Enough! Have what you want, bang up the bad guys, have a new house, have my house, I never use it. Have a skipload of compensation money! Just stop delivering that soul-destroying noise into my head. If you come back again I swear I’ll lose the will to live.’
‘Thank you, sir.’
‘Don’t thank me – in fact don’t say another word, ever! Just go and play on runway one at Gatwick airport.’
She leaves smiling, he collapses into his seat and claws at his eyes with his hands. He pauses, straightens and pushes his face back into shape as he stares into the middle distance. He can still feel the haddock between his toes and every so often a whiff of fish saunters up at him from under the desk. Surely justice should feel better than this.