The Verdict

Perfectly spaced, cracking like gunshots, the clock’s tics explode. An exact, single second of emptiness bisects each beat. The room echoes with the promise of delivery; the fateful decision will be handed down today.

Which way will it go? For or against? Yea or nay?

Those whom I’ve chosen to advise, to guide me through this process of persuasion, urge me not to fear and assure me that I will emerge from the battle victorious. My team, comprising some of the best lawyers in the state, tells me to trust them, and their confidence is palpable. Back-slaps and high fives amid promises of defeat from the other side. And what choice do I have but to believe my advisors? I’ve invested too much of myself to give up hope now.

But you have to be realistic. You never know how these things will go. Despite all the effort, the final result does not entirely depend on you. The common people, the man and woman in the street, have been entrusted with making the decision. They are fickle and unpredictable. I scan their faces daily for clues, hints of what they might be thinking, yet it’s too hard to gauge. They are anonymous to me, unknowable. My team and I can only put forward our best arguments, appeal to their consciences and hearts, and hope like hell that this is enough to sway them.

Why is it taking so long, though? They told me it would only be a few minutes.

The surroundings are sparse and modest for such a momentous occasion. A bloody insult, really. I can’t believe my chief advisor made me wait here while all the action is happening elsewhere. But he’s got his reasons. Two straight-backed chairs and a square card table. And that stupid clock on the wall.

That’s it. I’ve had enough. It’s driving me crazy. I drag one of the chairs over to the wall, stand on it and remove first the clock, then the battery. I toy with the idea of watching some random clips on my iPhone to kill time but dismiss the thought. I need to focus on how I should react when the pronouncement is made. Should I portray humility or raise my arms in triumph if it’s a Yes? Should I rage with fury or strive for dignified if it’s a No? I guess I’ll just play it by ear. If my nerves hold together, that is.

I check the screen of my mobile again. It’s been twenty-four minutes and eighteen seconds since that official stuck his ugly mug around the corner of the door and said hang tight, madam, it won’t be long now. Lying little prick.

Pacing the floor has lost its appeal. I flop onto one of the hard chairs, place my elbows on the table and steeple my fingers. I sigh and close my eyes.

Thoughts flood back… of that day at the beach when I was a little girl, and then many years later, in the restaurant.

I saw the redheaded man on television six months ago, answering a vox pop question for an SBS documentary. Something about refugees; he was all for sending them back to where they came from. Possibly the son of Scottish migrants himself, judging by the abundant freckles and wiry red hair. I was just about to press the up arrow for the next TV station when something made me stop. The camera closed in on his face. The realisation was instantaneous and filled me with horror.

***

I’m hiding from my eight-year-old brother in the sand dunes. He’s hopeless at this game; I’ve been crouching here for ages and it’ll be dark in a while. Any minute now and I’ll burst out of the scratchy marram grass and claim victory. Through the foliage I see a man the size of a bear; he’s dragging a limp object through the water. He stops and looks about, darting glances left and right with sharp head movements. He seems to be checking to see that no-one is around. He bends down as small waves lick his ankles. He has something in his hands; it looks like he’s wringing out the head of a mop. The water around his legs begins to splash furiously. And then, suddenly, it stops. The man slowly raises himself to full height, then bends double, as if exhausted by the exertion. He turns and begins to trudge towards the dunes where I sit watching. Behind him the little waves continue to break softly; this time I can see something rolling in the surf. The man keeps coming in my direction. I hold my breath as he gets closer and closer. I can see his face now and pray that he can’t see me. About twenty metres away he veers to the left and takes a path that leads to the car park. I’m shaking with terror and can barely breathe. I count, one elephant, two elephant, to one hundred and race to the surf to see what the man has left in the water.

***

I call my journalist friend at SBS. We’ve been great mates since I moved to Sydney in the late-nineties. Claudio, how goes it? We chat aimlessly for a few minutes before I tell him how much I enjoyed the doco that aired the other night. I want to do a follow-up piece for my newspaper. One of the interviewees in particular caught my attention. Do you have contact details for him? No problems, he replies and promptly emails me a scan of the man’s signed interview release form.

I punch in the mobile number, sweat forming in my armpits, heart thumping. I’ve interviewed the U.S. president and the Pope and was calmer then than I am now. G’day says the voice, Martin Gibbs speaking. I ask him if he’d be interested in doing a follow-up interview for Sydney’s most popular newspaper. We want to talk to a range of people who are passionate about political issues, especially immigration. Bloody oath, he agrees. Love to.

The restaurant I chose is ultra-expensive and deathly quiet on Tuesday nights. I’ve made no booking on the assumption it will be close to empty. And it is: just me, Gibbs and the waiter, Andrei. It’s already 8:30 p.m., we’ve had our main course and are waiting for dessert. I’ve kept the booze up to him – some Czech beer and a bottle and a half of Chablis have loosened his tongue. He’s been waffling about foreigners taking our jobs, destroying our way of life; I’ve been nodding and pretending to listen. As he refills his glass with more wine I say to him, you were a suspect in a child murder case back in the late seventies, isn’t that right? Yeah, he mumbles, but it was all fuggen bullshit. They never proved nuthin’. I wasn’t nowhere near the place where it happened. Excuse me I say, I just need to powder my nose. As I walk behind him I spin on my heel and thrust a steak knife into the back of his neck. I pull it out with some effort and stab him again, this time in the throat as he has turned to face me, disbelief in his eyes. I run to the door and clumsily open it; the whoosh of traffic outside masks the gurgling sounds Gibbs makes before his head crashes to the table.

***

The official opens the door, his face blank. The verdict is in, he announces, please come with me. He leads me down a corridor and into the hotel’s large, open foyer bedecked with streamers and balloons. Loud, sustained applause rings out as I enter. I smile and try to look humble, having discarded the option of the conqueror’s grand entrance. My personal assistant taps a glass with a spoon in the traditional manner and everyone stops clapping and talking. Allow me to introduce the new independent Member for the seat of Ku-ring-gai, he shouts. Applause like thunder, raucous cheering. I give a well-rehearsed speech of thanks and then make the rounds, chatting with my campaign workers, family and friends. Later, I check a flood of text messages. Among them one from Andrei: I found the envelope with your note. And the tip. Five grand cash, wow. Too much but, I wouldn’t have squealed. May he rot in hell. BTW I voted 4 u. I delete the message and return to the celebrations. There’s lots of work to be done for my new constituents, but that can wait for now.