(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
guard with the white epaulettes puts his hand on my shoulder and presses down,
not unkindly. "Sit."
I ease myself down on the narrow bench. The courtroom is not
as I’d envisaged it, from old movies and bad fiction. It’s small, and the
judges’ desk runs almost from one end to the other, just as the dock does on
the other side. What little space is left over in between is almost filled by
the lawyers’ tables, so that the witness stand and the benches for spectators
seem like an afterthought.
There’s going to be no pacing up and down, no histrionics in
this court. For one thing, there’s no jury to impress. For another, there’s no
space for that anyway.
I’m the only one in the dock. This is my trial alone. The
monster deserves a trial all by himself, not like the others who were merely
doing as they were told. Perhaps I should be happy about that. Fame at last!
The Butcher of Banabash, that’s what they’re calling me.
It’s got a certain cachet about it, more impressive by far than my real name.
In order to fit that name, I should probably be two metres tall and built like
a professional bodybuilder.
I’m afraid that the reality of me will be a disappointment.
"The media’s...divided," my lawyer had said earlier in the
morning, in the interview room at the prison. "They don’t have a unified view
"What the hell does that mean?"
"It means only most of them want to hang you by your
intestines," he’d said.
"And that’s supposed to make me happy?"
"Well, it could have been all." The lawyer’s name is
Kanarian, and he’s supposed to be very good. He just looks like any other
lawyer to me, small, paunchy and balding. "At least the more highbrow channels and
papers are reserving judgement."
"In expectations that I might be acquitted?" I’d
laughed bitterly. "Back when it was going on, these same people who’re, you
know, condemning me now were screaming about how there had to be an
extermination campaign, how we couldn’t take the risks, and anyone asking for
restraint was a coward and traitor. You know they were."
"Right, and if necessary, we’ll cite that in your defence,
don’t worry." Kanarian had risen to go. "Just remember, do exactly as I told
you. Stick to the script." He’d looked over his shoulder at the guard at the
door, who was looking at his watch. "Don’t worry, the judges aren’t allowed to
take any notice of what the media say."
"Really? And they won’t? Then they aren’t human."
Kanarian’s lip had lifted in an almost-smile. "Is anybody?"
There are three judges on the other side, behind the desk.
Two are men, one tall and fat and the other very short and very dark. The woman
is tall too, and cadaver-thin – so thin that the skin over her cheekbones seems
stretched, as though about to split. But they all look the same in one way, as
though they’re trying so hard not to let their feelings show that they seem
incapable of any expressions at all.
I let my mind drift while the lawyers begin making
statements. The fluorescent lights are too bright, glare reflecting from the
polished wooden railings and the metal of microphones. The room has no windows,
of course – for fear of snipers, I assume – but there are high ventilators
which show slices of sky. It’s a grey day, and the clouds look dirty through
the glass. Maybe if it rains they’ll be washed clean.
Kanarian nudges me. The judges are looking at me
expectantly, as is everyone else in the court. "Your name and address,"
Kanarian prompts in a whisper.
I stand and state my name and address. My current address is
a jail cell, of course, but they know that already. I give my home address, the
home I haven’t visited in eight or nine years now and certainly – no matter
what happens here – never will again.
"You were the commandant of the, uh, quarantine camp at Banabash?"
"That’s right," I say, noting with wry amusement the pause
before the word ‘quarantine’. Back when the thing was raging they wouldn’t
words like quarantine, they’d call it what it was, a bloody jail to lock
up the beasties. And then they’d demand that they ought to be all exterminated,
anyway, in case they ever got out and spread their filth everywhere.
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