Waiting for Justice

Written by Sharon Cochrane

I'm sitting in the courthouse. My young solicitor on one side of me, holding the police brief. My first husband and his wife, on the other.

Surreal, I'm feeling surreal. I've had a sleepless night. Nausea and too many thoughts kept me awake. My life has taken on the qualities of cinema. It's the distance from my real life. I'm watching what's happening to me from some other place. I'm here in room number one, but I'm also outside in the warm sunshine back in my normal life.

I'm here because two women I've been friends with for years, nursing colleagues, have made a false allegation to my boss. They said I stole drugs from the hospital and handed in a plastic bag of medications to prove their point.

Three months ago we were still going to cafes and the movies. We'd spent a lot of time shopping for our new summer clothes, talking on the phone and sharing our lives.

The courtroom is open to the public. Other people are waiting to see the magistrate. I'm afraid to turn and look at the others. Afraid that our collective fears will panic me and I'll do something weird. Like shouting or crying, or start running out onto the street and never stop running. Instead of my feet running, words are running through my head. Big words, judgement, condemnation, guilt, guilt and guilty.

Now it's my turn. I have my own solicitor so I don't have to wait with "the great unwashed hordes" as he calls them. Everyone is given the same 9.30am appointment.

I walk to the front. The magistrate has his head down, reading. Three women are seated bellow him, two working at computers. The third woman I recognize, as a former patient. I forget where I am and say "Hi". She nods solemnly in acknowledgement and quickly leaves the room. I remember to feel embarrassed. She hasn't forgotten where I am.

I sit now, the solicitor stands, with a policewoman next to him. The magistrate and the solicitor exchange words, legal words. It seems like they're playing a game of Scrabble or doing a crossword. Trying to find the right word for my situation. I understand little of this. My solicitor is very young; he looks like a young boy in this courtroom. I think the magistrate is playing with him. His expression seems amused and slightly cynical, or maybe simply weary. I can't tell anymore. The weeks of trying to work out what's been happening to me has left me doubtful of my own ability to understand anything.

The case is adjourned for another six weeks. The next court appearance date is locked into my thoughts. I think about it with relief, I try not to think about it so I can walk out with dignity. There were too few details in the police brief. We have to have the witness statements. "Poor policing" my solicitor says.

I walk down the steps to the front of the courthouse. James and Ann question me closely about what had happened inside. I don't really understand anymore than they do. I try to answer as they've made the effort to come. I wait at the counter for my bail notice. My bail conditions are that I'm not to approach the witnesses. The irony of this rubs all remaining thoughts from my mind. Why would I wish to ever see them again? Betrayal is another big word..

The solicitor runs lightly down the steps to join me. He seems pleased. He tells me he'll see me in six weeks. That I can phone him anytime and he's sorry my life has been put on hold again. Most of his clients don't have lives, he says, so it doesn't bother them having their cases adjourned. He understands that someone like me has a life. That's nice of him.

I go out to the front of the courthouse to wait for my husband. He's late, as usual. I watch the road works down the street and feel reassured by the busy activity, people allowed to work.

John's car appears. I wave him down; tell him he's missed court. He's not surprised. I suggest we go for coffee.

Going for coffee always seems a good idea. Sitting in a caf? gives me a safe space, a small distance away from having to think, feel and remember. The aroma of coffee beans, the cakes on display and the murmured conversations are the realities there. I have a favourite place I drive to. It's out of town a few miles; John thinks it's a waste of petrol driving out here. He doesn't enjoy coffee like I do.

I'm looking forward to telling him about the court, though once we're seated I realize there's not much to tell. In fact, after just one sentence there's nothing left to say. I think it must have been the word, adjournment that suddenly makes him angry. The intensity and volume of his words turn up a notch. He tells me that he's tired of his life being put on hold, that all the "drama and nonsense" is wearing him out. And "if you don't go back to work, what's to become of me and Clare? We'll be out on the streets".

I have no answer to this. As before, with his outbursts, I'm confused by his sudden verbal attack and don't know what to say.

I'm tired now, and just want to go home. No sleep, court and now these angry words have exhausted me. I have to go home to phone friends and family about how I got on in court. There have been so many kind wishes and people thinking of me. I have to let them know what happened. I wish I could really let them know.