The widow and the judge

Hycrati’s sharp eyes followed the small boy as he darted in and out of the throng of people waiting for the bus. She watched him as he slyly slipped his nimble fingers into a young man’s back pocket, deftly removing a wad of cash and smoothly depositing it down the front of his faded shirt. Instead of disappearing rapidly, he squatted down boldly, next to the crowd, cupped his hands in front of his chest and began to beg for money. Hycrati pushed her way forward and crouched down nex

“I saw what you did,” she whispered. The boy jumped up and would have fled had Hycrati not grabbed his arm and pulled him down. “You’ll have to give it back you know.” He stared at her, eyes wide with fear. She took his hand and led him back behind the unsuspecting man. “Go on – do it,” she mouthed. His quick, light fingers replaced the money as effortlessly as he had taken it. Holding the boy’s hand tightly, the woman led him hurriedly away from the bus-stop. As they walked, she fished inside her bag and handed him a sandwich. “What’s your name boy?” she asked.

“Stevie Wonder”

The woman’s lips twitched. “And do you play the piano and sing famous songs?” The boy shrugged then nodded, grinning. Three sandwiches later, he related his story. When he had finished, Hycrati sighed. She had heard it all before, so very many times. Yet another orphan, abandoned by his impoverished or deceased extended family, left to live rough on the streets, seizing whatever came to hand to stay alive. Since being widowed, she had, over the past several years, taken into her modest home dozens of orphaned or abandoned children, loving and caring for each one. Using an old-fashioned sewing machine, she made and sold t-shirts, uniforms and aprons to provide food for the children and pay for their education until they were old enough and ready to fend for themselves. Currently there were fifteen boys and girls living with her. They were tightly squeezed in, but she supposed she could accommodate just one more…. and he was quite small. She reached again for ‘Stevie’s’ hand and set off homeward.

It had long been Hycrati’s dream to build an orphanage, big enough to house many more abandoned children. To this end, she had, some years previously, purchased a field adjoining her house and had appealed to various charities and to the local community to support her project.

When she had raised sufficient funds to start building, she had contacted the appropriate authorities but was refused permission to go ahead. It came as a great shock to her to learn that a Chinese consortium had laid claim to her field with the intention of establishing a shoe factory on the property. Astonishingly the title deeds held by the Chinese pre-dated her own, even though the company had only been registered at the beginning of the year. Hycrati had approached the courts, but the magistrate had ruled in favour of the consortium. Immediately she launched an appeal, but was yet to have her plea brought before the judge. It seemed other cases always took priority and hers kept being postponed and rescheduled. But Hycrati was not one to give up. Tomorrow she would once again appear in court to plead her case.

Reluctant to leave her newest adoptee alone whilst the others were in school, ‘Stevie’ accompanied Hycrati on her mission. Already he had become her shadow, responding whole-heartedly to her genuine warmth and affection towards him and the other children. He listened intently as she explained to him the dispute and her determination to recover the land which was rightfully hers, but she voiced her concern about the outcome of the hearing. Judge Bo-Blany was known to be dishonest and corrupt. He may well accept a bribe from her adversary to rule in his favour. Nonetheless, she was determined to pursue her demand for justice. She settled herself and ‘Stevie’ on a wooden bench to await proceedings. Seated at the back of the court was the CEO of the Chinese consortium, together with his high-powered, high-priced lawyer. Unable to afford a lawyer, Hycrati would plead her own case.

Judge Bo-Blany was late and ‘Stevie’ grew restless. He voiced a need for the toilet and wandered out of the court-room. He was gone for some time, but returned just as the judge arrived. Hycrati’s case was first on the list. She half expected to hear yet another reason for deferment but once the judge was seated, she was called to the witness stand. She stated her case calmly and handed the title-deeds verifying her ownership of the land to the clerk-of-court to present to the judge. Bo-Blany studied them briefly, nodded then called on the Chinese man’s counsel to present his client’s title-deeds to the court. The CEO’s lawyer withdrew a file from his briefcase and flipped it open. It was empty. He apologised to the judge, dipped into his briefcase again but found no other files. Finally, he looked up. “I’m sorry M’Lord but it appears I do not have my client’s title-deeds with me. May I respectfully request a brief adjournment, of say one hour, so I can collect the document from my office?”

Bo-Blany rested his chin on the heel of his hand and addressed the Chinese man’s attorney. “Your request is denied. It seems to me you should have come into my court properly prepared. As you have failed to do so, my decision is to rule in favour of the plaintiff as she has title-deeds in her possession verifying her ownership of this disputed property. Case closed.” He banged down his gavel.

A jubilant Hycrati hoisted ‘Stevie’ on her shoulders and danced her way to the bus-stop. “We won! We won! ‘Stevie Wonder’ we won!!” She lowered him to her chest and swung him round. As she did so, she felt it – the stiffness inside his shirt. Reaching down below his neck, she pulled out a paper – the false title-deeds to her property naming her adversary as owner. She stared at ‘Stevie’. “Oh – my – lord, what have you done?”

“His brief-case was open on the floor next to him. He didn’t see me. No-one did. I promise.”

“But it was wrong ‘Stevie’. You know it was wrong.”

“But wasn’t it wrong for the man to have a false paper and try to steal your field? And didn’t you say the Chinese man might give the judge money to make him win? He did you know. I saw the judge take it, but I made him put it back!”

Hycrati stared at him. “What do you mean? What did you do?”

“I told him what you told me – I said I saw what he did, and he would have to put it back.”

“You said that to the judge and he just calmly returned the bribe?”

“‘Stevie’ nodded then grinned, “I did say it in a VERY, VERY, VERY LOUD VOICE. The people outside heard me say it, and they all started to shout out the same words. Then the judge gave the money back and the people clapped.”

Hycrati shook her head then burst out laughing. She reached down for ‘Stevie’s’ hand. He looked up at her shyly and said, “I liked it when you picked me up and held me and swung me round. Please will you do it again Hycrati?” And she did.

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