SHORT STORY: Dressing up and showing up...

Friday August 20 2021

Striding down corridors smelling like a brewery, people parting to let him pass as if he were a dignitary, Caleb made it to the courtroom just as the court rose to admit the judge. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA | NMG


The surface under Caleb’s cheek felt cold and hard, probably uncomfortable for most but soothing to him. His head ached and burned with a heat that was unnatural. A hammer was striking him somewhere behind his left temple, setting up a pounding that reverberated across his forehead, down his jaw and settled like a weight at the base of his skull.

As he continued to lay there, wherever there was, he began to notice sensations of discomfort in every part of his body, finally forcing him awake in spite of the numerous mental protests running through his sore head.

Squinting, Caleb gingerly opened two unbelievably red veined eyes, bloodshot to an almost crimson colour and took in his surroundings, which slowly came into focus as sleep fell away and reality dawned as bright as the shards of sunlight seeping through cracks in the boarded up windows of his local bar. Perched precariously like a large bird of prey on a tiny branch, Caleb sat balanced on a bar stool, his head cradled in his arms on the sticky, sour smelling countertop.

Friendly man

“Awake ey?” a cheery, gravelly voice said from somewhere in the shadows of the dimly lit bar, “Water?” it was the bar owner and bartender, a friendly man in his 40s who looked near 70.

“Whisky,” Caleb growled against the ache in his head, “Thanks,” he mumbled as he tipped his head back and let the fiery contents in the glass slide down his parched throat. Slamming a wad of bills onto the counter without bothering to count them, he clambered to his feet swaying a little, then seemed to suddenly snap to attention as he briskly and steadily walked out.


Screwing his eyes up against the much too bright sunlight, he drove on autopilot all the way to his office, noticing nothing of the details of the day; the magnificent magenta and baby blue sky splashed with orange was lost on him.

Pulling into his parking slot, Caleb hopped out of his sleek car and rushed in, he was late and today, he couldn’t be late.

“Morning Sir,” his secretary, a young man with furrows firmly established on his forehead from too much worrying met Caleb as he stepped off the lift with a strong cup of black coffee in his thin hands, “They’ve already left for the proceedings,” he flinched as Caleb let off a string of curse words but kept up his commentary, jogging behind his boss who was charging towards his corner office like a bull, “Your suit is there,” he pointed to a fresh pair of clothes slung over a lush couch in the massive office, “And here’s the final draft of your argument,” his thin hands shook as he handed Caleb a yellow file almost an inch thick, his face falling when Caleb carelessly tossed his hours of hard work onto a large desk in another corner, sipping on his coffee, lost in his thoughts.

Young associate

“Thanks Mathew,” Caleb’s voice was gruff from too much drink and bad sleep, “You’ve done well,” he turned his back to dismiss the young associate from his office, not noticing how the crestfallen lad swelled from the praise.

His head was still pounding but Caleb really wasn’t aware of it anymore. His mind was whirring as he pulled off his sweaty clothes from yesterday and tugged on the fresh pants and shirt laid out for him. Then he smoothed his coarse hair down with a brush and doused his bloodshot eyes with eye-drops, before snatching up the file Mathew had prepared and walking briskly out.

But at the door he checked, pausing only a second in mental debate with himself, a fight he always lost, before he walked briskly back into his office to where an assortment of bottles sat on a shiny bar cart and poured himself a shot of whisky. Then he was off, a man on a mission.

Thirty minutes later, in the stifling heat of a sunny, beautifully bright day, Caleb darted from his car into the air conditioned halls of a large airy building located on a busy street in the city’s downtown. He arrogantly flashed a badge at the security, not bothering to slow his pace, they knew him and he knew they knew him. Striding down corridors smelling like a brewery, people parting to let him pass as if he were a dignitary, Caleb made it to the courtroom just as the court rose to admit the judge.

Your honour

“Counsel,” the white haired judge glared at him as he took his place at the front of the room, “I trust you are ready to make your closing arguments?”

“Yes…Your Honour,” Caleb’s voice sounded strong, confident, his statement sounding almost like an insult.

“Then get to it counsel, we don’t have all day,” the judge snapped, she didn’t like this man but she grudgingly had to admit, he was brilliant.

“Of course…Your Honour,” Caleb stepped forward, “We’ve shown beyond reasonable doubt,” he paused, flashing the prosecutor an ingratiating smile as he geared up to destroy what was left of the case, then faltered as his eyes locked with the mother of the victim. Sitting quietly, hands clasped in her lap, her eyes swimming in sorrow. Caleb swallowed painfully, then like the seasoned lawyer he was, pushed all guilt and conscience away and continued on. This wasn’t the first murderer he’d defended, not the first perpetrator he’d got off. It’s what he did, win. He’d drown his sorrows later, or at least he’d try.