Dear Ms. Leading – Benjamin Knight

A review of work performed at the Emerging Writers’ Festival 2017

  Ben Knight and I meet up in the common area on level 2 of Building 9 at RMIT on a Wednesday. Despite the fact that we were supposed to have five hours of classes together that day, he was only there for our interview. His girlfriend sitting next to him, he tells me they’re heading to Asian Beer Café after we’re done talking, because ‘the only real reason to come in to the city is the cheap jugs.’ When the conversation progresses to a debate over whether rollies or pre-made cigarettes are better, I grow to love how much Ben embraces being a cliché Creative Writing student. If he were a character I wrote, I’d be pretty happy with the merging of stereotype and real-life Arts student that is represented in Ben. My experience of Creative Writing students is that they are usually fairly slack in regards to attending class, but they make up for their sometimes strained work ethic when it comes to the act of writing and performing. The apathy they harbour for classroom-based learning is often counteracted by their passion. Ben Knight is a perfect example of this.
  When Ben does come to class, he spends his breaks writing in the Dome Reading Room in The State Library. It was here that he initially conceived of his idea for his stage play, entitled Dear Ms. Leading, which will be performed at the RMIT Horizons Salon, Double Exposure. The event will be run in partnership with the City of Melbourne’s Emerging Writers’ Festival. Beginning his creative process with free association, the first word that popped into the writer’s mind was “frogs”. From there, the idea came to him fully formed.
  Dear Ms. Leading is different and more obscure in form than Knight’s previous work, the stage play still gives itself away as Knight’s writing to those who have read him before. The author’s M.O. is writing about serious themes, made lighter by humour (usually in the form of jokes about masturbation). In his own words, everything he writes starts off as funny, and then gets serious.
 I can only write things that are stupid or depressing,’ says Knight. It’s difficult to tell if he’s annoyed or proud of this fact. While there aren’t any penis references in Dear Ms. Leading, fans of Knight’s work won’t be disappointed with this tale of lies and deception, speckled with sexts between drug addicts and a good dose of truly terrible WordArt.
  Although Knight is adamant that there was no motive behind writing this work, he believes the topics of child and drug abuse – explored in Dear Ms. Leading – are concerns that should be discussed in creative arenas. Knight finds inspiration in his favourite television show, Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad (2008), viewing it as a way to represent personal and societal issues (cancer and drug syndicates) within a narrative that enthrals the reader via in-depth characterisation.
 The author is particularly interested in drugs, and the ways in which they can influence a story. Comparing Breaking Bad and Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000), Knight emphasises the different routes their central characters take as a result of their interaction with narcotics. He is fascinated by the way Breaking Bad’s Walter White becomes a powerful, confident manufacturer of methamphetamine, while the audience sees Requiem’s protagonist, Harry, destroy his life with his use of heroin. Moreover, when it comes to subject matter, Knight’s primary focus is human nature, and the way each person is affected differently by his or her circumstances. This interest has been the concept behind the novel Knight is in the process of writing, in which the central character ingests a drug that makes him able to hear music objectively so he can make an album that he’s been stuck on for five years, but has dire consequences in that he cannot hear emotion in music or voice as a result.
 The process of writing Dear Ms. Leading was something that Knight thought about a lot, due to its contentious subject matter. As this piece was created to be performed in a public sphere, he felt obliged to think about what he is saying about drug and child abuse as an issue that affects people in a global context. While Ben does not have any personal connections to those negatively impacted by these problems, he does find it crucial to emphasise the importance of having a free discussion around these topics.
 ‘In creating a dialogue through creative means,’ iterates Knight, ‘it provides a safe space for those who are suffering from these matters to come forward.’ As the writer of the work, he is slightly offended that the producers of the Double Exposure event have asked him to begin his stage play with a trigger warning. While he understands the value of making the audience aware of the subject matter explored before his performance begins, Knight is also apprehensive as it gives away his storyline. When discussing controversial material and censorship, he becomes passionate in his stance. He stops looking absentmindedly into the distance and his posture straightens.
 ‘Restricting artistic expression is bullshit.’ His voice is louder than before.
 ‘Writers should be able to say whatever they want. And I know I’m not supposed to say this, but you can write it down it you want.’ There’s a slight pause.
 ‘I would never say “nigger” in my real life, but if I want to say it in print, I should be able to, and be able to do it without getting into trouble.’
I’m not sure I’m fully onboard with this notion, so I ask Knight to explain his point further.
 ‘A person should be able to use any means to put forth their ideas. That’s the point of all of this. It should be about the art above all else. You are not your characters.’
When I tell him I agree with him, he’s noticeably more relaxed. Knight is clearly a sufferer of the artist problem of being really headstrong, but also secretly needing someone else to assure him he’s right.
 For months, the artists performing at the Emerging Writers’ Festival have been told that this festival is a celebration of storytellers of all kinds. When I ask Knight if he sees himself as a storyteller, he tries to make the distinction between writers and storytellers. He decides that a writer’s purpose is to construct something cohesive, insightful, and succinct. A storyteller’s aim is to recount a happening in a fun, memorable and almost obnoxious way. A storyteller, Knight thinks, is that person who always needs to be the loudest in the room.
 ‘The main difference between the two is that writers are smart, but you don’t need to be intelligent to be a storyteller.’
I tell Ben he’s avoiding answering my question. He pretends to ponder for a second, then says, ‘Yeah, I guess I’m a storyteller.’ Deep. Considering Dear Ms. Leading contains the line, ‘I want my best friend to be a robot and not a star,’ I’d say he’s hit the nail on the head when it comes to his thoughts on intellect not being a crucial character trait for the storyteller.
 Although the author did not initially intend to create a political work, Ben Knight’s Dear Ms. Leading is a piece that has something meaningful to say about the issues at its core. As is true of all of Knight’s work, frivolity and jest have been employed to mask the insightfulness of the writer, but it is obvious to the audience that this piece will inspire conversation and word-of-mouth acclaim to those who witness or read the stage play. It is a work that Knight one day wants to transform into a longer piece (he is thinking about using the outline of the piece as a springboard for a novel or full-length cinematic script). As the work is soaked with Knight’s characteristic wit, which is coupled with his love of exploring real-life drama, I don’t think Knight will have any trouble drumming up interest or continuing the narrative of Dear Ms. Leading.
 Recently, outside of our interviews and in class breaks, Ben and I have taken to inflicting on ourselves the worst torture known to man: consuming the $1 7/11 coffee. As we venture through the construction zone that is RMIT, we discuss stories from the weekend, what we’re going to do with ourselves when we’re no longer students, and how adorable our teacher looks in her myriad of cat-themed jumpers. The coffee at 7/11 is granulated, watery sludge. I suggest that maybe we should go to Starbucks instead. Their coffee is no roasted blend made by orphans in Peru made solely for a singular coffee cart in Degraves Street with an unpronounceable name, but it’s certainly a step up from our Old Faithful. I’ve read enough of Ben’s writing to predict what his response will be before he says it, but I listen anyway:
 ‘Fuck that! If you’ve got $6 to spend on a flat white, be my guest!’
We walk back to class, and as I scrunch my face up after each sip of the $1 boiling vomit liquid in my hand, I’m grateful to Ben for the conversation that makes it bearable.

Greek Unorthodox

SJ was in the kitchen when Renee walked in the door after work, wearing a skirt that was too tight and shoes that looked like they belonged to a private school girl. Spots of jam were dotted all over her body – Sunday high teas at her second job always made her hands sticky for days after her shift. Renee felt like a kid who had got into something their parents had warned them not to touch.
     Still in her muddy footy shorts, SJ threw her chest on to their kitchen bench top, back curved, sighing dramatically.
    ‘Today was hell. Some chick tackled me and I went down straight away. I swear I couldn’t breathe for, like, half an hour!’
     Renee flung her backpack on to the cracked wood of their dining room table. The varnish had long since scraped away, eaten by a blanket of candle wax and spilled Carlton Draughts. She fell into a vinyl chair, sorting through the mail everyone had neglected all week. She didn’t look up from the bills as she spoke.
    ‘Damn, man. It’s always something new every time you come home from Endeavour. I can’t wait until the day you give up and I won’t have to stress about having to call your mum to tell her you finally got properly destroyed and died at a game.’
SJ snorted, running her fingertips through her short hair.
    ‘Nah, Mum wouldn’t even worry. As long as I left her money to pay for her Netflix account, she’d be sweet.’
The girls laughed in the way girls laugh at jokes that have a bit too much truth to them. Renee thought of SJ’s mum, remembering the times she’d go to her friend’s house after school when they were teenagers. She had always thought Jo was the cool parent – forever offering them weed when they were old enough to know what a bong was, and relaxed enough to be fun because she didn’t work. She was the opposite of Renee’s own mother. It wasn’t until Jo’s boyfriend, the truckie who made and sold speed to the other drivers to keep them awake, trashed their rental house and threatened to kill Jo, that Renee realised she’d had the better mum. Renee changed the subject.
    ‘I assume you’re not allowed at Alex’s grandma’s funeral? Your DISGUSTING, FILTHY lesbian ways might disgrace the family and all that?’ Renee emphasised her words, using the phrases Alex had told them her mother had once handpicked to describe the relationship she and SJ shared.
SJ smiled at her friend who was still slumped in the vinyl chair, showing off her signature cheeky teeth-revealing grin,
    ‘You know it, mate! Those people hate me more than Mum hates being sober!’

     After crawling through the 10am traffic – not peak hour bad, but bad enough to make Renee’s fingers tap repeatedly on the steering wheel when they were stopped at the lights – they found a park in a two-hour zone, about 500 metres from Burnley Station. People who lived in the side-street were mostly at work by now, save for those men in suits who were still on the Lilydale line when Renee had class at 11:30, always getting on at Richmond, and getting off at Parliament. She turned the car key, killing the ignition. The voices on the radio remained, a distant background hum. Both girls fell back in their seats. They had left the house an hour and a half before the service. Alex, in her anxious state, had insisted upon it the night before.
    ‘How are you feeling now we’re here, dude?’
     Renee looked at her housemate. She always thought Alex was a gorgeous Greek dream-child. Big eyes and a bigger nose, skin that tanned when they sat outside drinking in their blow-up Kmart pool in the summer, hair that would be black satin if she didn’t dye it Marge Simpson blue.
    ‘I really need a ciggy, but if Eleni smells it on me, she’ll kill me for making things even more shithouse.’
     Alex had lived with Renee for a year, and it showed in the way she unconsciously adopted Renee’s vocabulary. Aussie slang never sounded right coming out of Alex’s mouth – her private school education had taught her to enunciate everything, making her sentences sound rehearsed.
    ‘What’s it gonna be like in there?’ asked Renee. ‘Do you reckon your parents will be civil with me? Maybe they’ll all just know I’m an atheist, and I’ll catch fire as I enter the church.’ She was only half joking. The God thing was a constant source of entertainment between the two friends.
     It was the first time Renee would be meeting Alex’s parents. She’d heard about them since Alex had left her childhood home (unmarried, one of the great Greek Girl Sins) and moved in to the share house that Renee and SJ shared. Before walking out the door for good, Alex had written a note that detailed her sexuality, leaving it under her mother’s pillow. It was a confession that carried no surprise, but in putting it in words, made everything harder for her Greek Orthodox parents to ignore.
    ‘I don’t even know. They’ll probably look at you weird but pretend to like you. That’s pretty much the way they’ve always dealt with me, anyway!’ Alex threw up her hands in mock elation, her voice getting louder at the end of her sentences.
Renee chuckled, both at the joke and at the ridiculousness of attending the funeral of a woman who had despised her friend for not trying properly with all the nice Greek boys, for breaking her mother’s heart, for not being able to just hold it in.
    ‘Fuck it,’ said Alex, pulling down the sun visor to look at her reflection in the tiny mirror, ‘I can’t sit here any longer. Let’s just fucking go.’

     When they walked into the church, Alex paid $6 so she and Renee could light candles for her grandmother. Each thin wax wand sat boldly, stakes in sand, a melting memorial. The light of the end of winter that makes way for spring streamed through the stained glass, illuminating the dust particles that hung in the air. The ancient Greeks sat in pews, slouched backs bent against hardened wood, judging like Gods. The men and women gawked at Renee, the only white girl there, all blonde hair and blue eyes. If Alex was a Greek dream, Renee was an Aryan poster child.
     Renee was taken aback that the entire service was in Greek, but then wondered why she had been surprised. She listened to the opening chanting, focussing on the beauty of the sound rather than the stress that came with a lack of understanding. She watched Alex, held up like a scarecrow between her mother and her sister in the front row, the place reserved for the family members closest to the dead. They stood and sat down multiple times, following prayers lead by the antique priest. Alex was always seconds behind her family, the horse in the race that kept falling behind.
     Everything was gorgeous in the Greek temple, but nothing made any sense. Renee thought of her own grandmother, formerly a devout Catholic, who had gone to mass every Saturday night until her daughter had been taken from her too young, the victim of a cancerous gallbladder that couldn’t be prayed away. Before she knew she had given up on God, Renee had offered to take her Grandma to the 7pm service one night, feeling the guilt that Irish grandparents place on their grandchildren without even trying. The old woman forced a smile,
    ‘Oh no, sweets, I think I’d rather stay home with the telly tonight.’

     When the funeral proceedings were over, and the body was carried out by sons who still had thick, dark heads of hair despite being in their sixties, Renee solemnly stalked up to Alex and her family, feeling sentenced without committing a crime. Alex stood next to her father. They looked scarily alike. Alex had inherited his eyebrows, bushy and untameable – Greek features she resented having to maintain. Her eyes, all black except for a sliver of caramel brown iris, had been genetically stolen from her father, copied and pasted on to her face.
     The two girls hugged, Renee embracing her friend tightly in lieu of having to whisper some bullshit condolence. Alex looked at Renee with guilt.
    ‘Look, I know it’s a shit time to bring it up, but I thought I should tell you sooner rather than later.’
She searched her friend’s face, looking for a sign to continue. Renee nodded cautiously.
    ‘So, you know how Mum and Dad have that unit that needs to be rented out? Well, they’ve asked if SJ and I want to move in there.’
Renee detected the fear in Alex’s voice and a tone that gave away how terrified she was at her friend judging her actions. It was obvious she’d already taken her folks up on the offer. Renee decided to be optimistic.
    ‘Well, rent will be cheap, hey? That sounds good, buddy.’
     Renee stood silent for a few moments, observing Alex with her family. Her friend ran her fingers back and forth over the chain around her neck, a half-smile on her face. Her father lead the conversation, talking with his hands in the same way Alex always did.

Originally published in Under A Shared Moon – an anthology by RMIT University.

Review: Helen Garner’s This House of Grief

In 1995, Helen Garner published The First Stone, a non-fiction novel based on a sexual harassment case that occurred at The University of Melbourne’s Ormond College. The novel attracted negative attention for the way in which the author examined the events in question (Gallagher n. d.). Critics condemned Garner, arguing that her prose “undermined the (feminist) cause by seeking out the point of view of a male defendant” (Giles 1997). Garner’s latest release, This House of Grief (2014), sees the former journalist falling into the same familiar habit of empathising with the perpetrator. The new non-fiction account is concerned with the case of Robert Farquharson, the man convicted for the drowning deaths of his three sons on Father’s Day 2005, when the car he was driving flew into a dam in Winchelsea, near Geelong, Victoria. One of the most notorious cases in Australian history, it is safe to assume that almost every media consumer in the country believes with unwavering certainty in either Farquharson’s guilt, or his innocence. Helen Garner, it seems, is the exception to this rule. Writing as an observer of the court case involving trails and appeals that spanned seven years, Garner has provided the Australian public with the inside information behind this tragedy. Her audience is not only comprised of those affected and citizens who are still horrified by the events years after they occurred. The novel reveals itself to be a form of published catharsis. In her meticulous research and self-confessed obsession, This House of Grief has been written equally to answer the reader’s questions, as much as the questions Garner ponders, herself.
    Reading the novel, I became so immersed in the murder case proceedings that I could not prevent myself from discussing the content with those around me. A quick mention of the Farquharson name solicited a leap into the conversation, each person busting to put forth his or her opinion. This phenomenon was an outcome of the publicity the case received, coupled with the familiarity of Garner’s name in the writing community of Australia. As Kerryn Goldsworthy contends, “Her name and its meanings have become part of Australian public culture” (Goldsworthy 1996). A former journalist for Australian newspapers and literary magazines, Garner has the fact-finding skills of a reporter, and the observational talents of a novelist, utilising both competencies in her exploration of the Farquharson case. True crime and non-fiction have become Garner’s signature forms of writing, as evidenced in contemporary novels The First Stone and Joe Cinque’s Consolation: A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law (2004). These works substantiate Cathy Alexander’s claim that Garner has “made a career out of forensic crime writing” (2012). In The Whites of Their Eyes, David Leser quotes Garner’s long-time publisher, Diana Gribble, stating, “She (Garner) is constantly exploring concepts of honourable behaviour, and how it is possible to live with honour. That’s how I think she stands apart from the rank and file of Australian writing” (Leser 1999). Garner stands out as an Australian commentator and critic of true events, which complements her interest in this case that has become an indelible aspect of our nation’s history. It was the story’s rural setting that engaged the public, shattering illusions of sleepy small towns and a carefree Australian way of life. Winchelsea, says Garner in This House of Grief, is a place so small that “everyone would know your business.” It was with this imagery of a picturesque town that the media recognised an emotive angle, sensationalising Robert Farquharson as a monster who disrupted the peace. What Helen Garner’s impartiality gives back to the audience is the power to see the characters in the tragedy for what they are.
    Describing the landscape in the opening pages, Garner says of Geelong, “We were familiar with its melancholy beauty, the grand smooth sweeps of its terrain.” This connection to the landscape, which is treated as the crime scene in the murder trial, is just one of many emotional resonances that ignited Garner’s curiosity. As she grew up in regional Geelong, the author recalled the sight of the Winchelsea dam in which the children drowned when she heard about the case for the first time. In a subtle reference, the author speaks of her experience with terminated marriages by introducing her companion, saying, “Each of us had found it in herself to endure – but also to inflict – the pain and humiliation of divorce.” Following on from this confessional technique, Garner makes a point to include cameo appearances of her young grandsons in the novel, prompting the audience to compare the boys to the Farquharson brothers. This literary tactic inspires the reader to register the traits that her grandsons share with the drowned victims. In mentioning her grandchildren and her divorce, Garner proves to her audience that she can empathise with the mother of the Farquharson boys, Cindy Gambino, and has a right to tell the family’s story. As a result of former criticism that has suggested Garner has been guilty of “emotional crimes” (Legge 2008), she is careful to make her sympathy known for those affected throughout the trial. Taking a different approach, another book was released in 2013 about the Farquharson case by Megan Norris, entitled, On Father’s Day. Having interviewed and formed a relationship with Cindy Gambino, Norris tells the grieving mother’s story, insisting on Farquharson’s guilt. Garner instead opts for what Delys Bird has labelled “insistent personalisation” – her prose is centred on her own contemplation of the court proceedings, asking questions rather than laying blame.
    As seen in Garner’s constant insertion of her grandsons into her personal reflection, the author continues the child symbolism when discussing Robert Farquharson as he appears in the dock. Garner compares the man to a child in a great number of instances, creating an image of Farquharson that is reminiscent of a scared little boy – “He stood in the box, facing the Crown’s Ms. Forrester with the stooped, appeasing posture of a kid expecting to be told off.” Carefully avoiding branding Farquharson as innocent or guilty, she makes excuses for Farquharson’s actions by repeatedly referring to him as emotionally underdeveloped or of below average intelligence, asking the question, “what had happened to him, or failed to happen to him, that kept him stuck in childhood?” While Garner remains an impartial observer for the majority of the prose, she makes strong efforts to undo the media’s portrayal of Farquharson as a monster. In discussing Farquharson as a common person – “I didn’t know what I was expecting, but he was ordinary. A man” – Garner argues that even if this man has indeed committed an unforgivable act, he remains a real human being. This humanising continues in Garner’s descriptions of the defence lawyer who represented Farquharson throughout his trials, Peter Morrissey, SC. The barrister’s personality and charm fills Garner’s prose, documenting his exchanges – “Again and again he had to be pulled up by the judge for referring to his client as ‘Rob’ instead of ‘Mr. Farquharson’. It embarrassed him but he could not seem to help it.” Much the same as her treatment of the defendant in The First Stone, Garner reveals her nepotism in favour of the underdog, displaying skills of swaying the audience to sympathise with traditionally unlikable characters, while continuing to highlight negative and positive aspects of each party.
    While readers may not agree with Garner’s tactics when discussing the case of Robert Farquharson, it would be difficult to claim that the background information she brings to the case is not effective in influencing the reader. In This House of Grief the facts surrounding the tragedy that occurred on September 4, 2005, are laid bare, giving the Australian public an impartial account of events that was never available in the media’s biased portrayal of circumstances. With Helen Garner as the reader’s neutral guiding light, the antics of the courtroom become interesting, making a narrative consolidated by dense, heavy subject matter an enjoyable read, while still maintaining the severity of the case. Maybe the most prominent matter of discussion throughout Helen Garner’s text is an indirect examination of the Australian legal system, and they way in which emotions can influence judgement. The final passage of This House of Grief speaks of Jai, Tyler and Bailey Farquharson, stating, “Every stranger grieves for them. Every stranger’s heart is broken. The children’s fate is our legitimate concern. They are ours to mourn. They belong to all of us now.” The magnitude of this case leaves all Australians with a sense of ownership over the children and the story, so it is important that information is given to the public that represents both sides equally. I am still unsure as to where I stand in regards to Farquharson’s guilt or innocence, but as a result of Helen Garner’s labouring, I feel as though I have finally been given adequate information to determine that decision for myself.

References:

Alexander, C 2012, ‘Helen Garner cheats death – unlike some of her subjects’, Crikey, November 23, 2012, .

Bird, D 1996, ‘More Questions About Sex and Power and The First Stone’, Overland 142: 48 – 51.

Gallagher, R n. d., ‘Helen Garner’s The First Stone’, weblog post, rhiannagallagher.com, viewed October 11, 2015, .

Garner, H 2014, This House of Grief, Text Publishing, Melbourne, Victoria.

Garner, H 1995, The First Stone, Picador Pan Macmillan, Sydney, New South Wales.

Garner, H 2004, Joe Cinque’s Consolation: A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law, Picador Pan Macmillan, Sydney, New South Wales.

Giles, F 1997, Bodyjamming edited by Jenna Mead, reviewed in the Australian Humanities Review (November 1997).

Goldsworthy, K 1996, Australian Writers: Helen Garner, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Victoria.

Legge, K 2008, ‘Truly Helen’, The Australian, March 29, 2008,
.

Leser, D 1999, The Whites in Their Eyes, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, New South Wales.

Norris, M 2013, On Father’s Day, Five Mile Press, Scoresby, Victoria.

Places and Non-Places: The County Court of Victoria

The barristers gather along an oak table in front of the witness box, leaning back in their chairs, chatting about their disapproval of the coffee served by the café at the entrance of the County Court. Briefcases and suitcases litter the ground beneath their feet, as if the law graduates are children who have thrown their bags on the floor after school on their way to fetch a snack. They laugh and tease each other like they are old friends, brought together by ill-fitting black gowns and horsehair wigs.
    The scent of cigarettes wafts from an elderly Italian man, smoked in the half hour the court allows as a recess. A pack of Longbeach 25s pokes out from his breast pocket. The stiff-backed rows of seats, joined together to create a bench, wobble unevenly with the furious tapping of his left foot. His son is one of the alleged kidnappers in the case, and his tight-lipped face gives away his nerves.
    An overweight man in his late fifties stands at the back right corner of the room. He leans against the wall until the courtroom clerk, a man with a white beard and a receding hairline, orders the room’s occupants to stand as the judge makes his entrance. The security guard stands bolt upright, a result of years of routine. The watchman is mirrored on the opposing side of the room by a police officer, hired to oversee the behaviour of the four defendants. He sits staring at the accused, speaking to them occasionally to tell them what is expected of them. His role is akin to that of a babysitter, but with better pay rates.
    Materials in the courtroom blend into each other. The neutral colour of the carpet complements the lines of the wood grain on the walls, an attempt at focusing people’s attention on the cases, rather than the décor. Only one clock can be seen in the room, the hands and numbers so feint that they could be confused for a part of the wall. The Coat of Arms of Victoria reigns over the room exclaiming the motto, “Peace and Prosperity”.
Men and women of the jury file into the courtroom from an area that is not visible to those merely observing the court’s proceedings. Marching in two lines, their faces are as stoic as soldiers’. It’s difficult to determine whether they’re taking their task seriously or they’re just bored. These people could are blatantly alike – all of them caucasian and between the ages of thirty and fifty. The only thing that makes them different from one another is their hair colour.
    One barrister arrives late to the room, but struts in with confidence. He bows quickly to the judge without making eye contact. Immediately after pulling up a sturdy wooden swivel chair, the barrister’s attention is focused on scrolling through his iPad. The eyes of the court reporter follow him, not surprised by his tardiness. Her likeness to an owl is striking, eyebrows bushy and glasses full-rimmed, but she nevertheless passes for attractive. The court is banged into session. She begins to type.
    A man in his late forties settles in the witness box. Slouching in the chair while sitting on his hands, his eyes dart around the room, careful to avoid the gaze of the defendants. A short stocky man jumps from his seat, catching his robe on his peer’s shoulder. The two barristers laugh at one another – an apparent hazard of the lawyer life, even after years of cross-examinations. The laughter stops the second the barrister reaches the lectern. The man turns from friendly to vicious, human to bulldog. Resting his body weight on the stand, it’s obvious he has become too comfortable in the courtroom, and he wants the witness to know that this is his domain. His hands absentmindedly fiddle with his white wig, a mechanical function. He marks his territory.
    The tone of the conversation between the witness and the defence is condescending and demeaning. It would not be difficult to imagine the lawyer engaging in bullying behaviour when he was a child. The witness resembles a little boy subjected to a scolding from his father, despite his age and size being double that of the attorney. Proving too clever for the witness, the barrister tricks his nemesis into admitting that he has a severe drug and gambling addiction. They bicker in an unrelenting, informal matter, each man mocking the other until the judge interjects.
    A few members of the jury hastily scribble on the notepads given to them by the court. Others rest their faces on their palms, zoning in and out, believing that being at work would be more preferable than listening to rehearsed stories and snide remarks. The defendants, positioned behind the members of the public, snigger at their defence council eviscerating the witness by poking holes in his story and interrupting his sentences. Three lawyers work together in condescension, belittling the witness’ story as nonsensical, rewriting the events to suit their own means.
    Noticing that the witness in the case is flustered and visibly shaking, the judge calls for a five minute recess. Members of the public chat quietly to the people either side of them, speculating as to which side is telling the least amount of lies. Jury members stretch, yawn, and fill up their glasses of water. The case is far from over. They have sat in this room for days, and they will continue to do so for days to come.