Tag Archives: prejudice

The Quality of Mercy

Will you just look at him?!  A little cock around a chicken coop, roughing up his feathers, in a company of obese pigeons.

And what is THIS:  A smile?!  His life is “six business days” away from altering its course:  from the heart-breaking mediocracy of it to the new pattern of brutality — of evil begets evil.  It’s at the mercy of some randomly selected buggers like me, so tired and overworked that we are no longer able to experience a patriotic high from this pain-in-the-ass civic duty; or from the frilly concepts of justice and what’s right.  We are:  The Who’s Who, and what of it?!

We’ve all got our ideas, that’s for sure!  Our principles!  I stand by this, I swear by that; I vow, I believe.  We pump up our chest.  We force our eyes to glimmer with conviction.  But what of it?  And who is he who aims at human life?

Okay, get up!  The judge walked in.  Get up!  Don’t waiver but don’t be cocky either.  The white folks — they don’t like that.  Stand up!  

Oh, man.  

This.  Blows.

In my belief, there used to be much more to breathing.  But slowly, it has whittled down to simple truth — not even fairness, but truth — while all the rest has fallen by the wayside.  Still, it is more than I can say about some people!

Like this loudmouth fat girl I haven’t seen here, on the first day.  Today, in clunky, loud rain boots with worn out heel caps, she marches up and down the marble floors, with People Magazine under her armpit.  (She’s interested in People.)  And meaning to be seen and heard while on her cell phone, she flaunts those words that show no sympathy, no modesty and no distress to any of the details of today — but having “to get outta here”.  She “can’t afford this”!  She “has no tolerance for shit like that”!  And obviously, she cannot manage to allow for the rest of us to wait in silence.  Now — is her time; her stage.  And we, the people, listen:

“Yeah, like, that would be the biggest tragedy, right?  I mean, this jury duty — SUCKS!  It’s, like, the worst thing that has happened to me, EVER!”  A hair flip of vaguely red and stringy hair — and she suddenly reminds of somebody who once aroused the same aftertaste of nausea in my trachea.  But who?

A blond lawyer in a smart charcoal skirt suit walks in, past the grinning security guards and through the double doors.  Her shoes are sharp.  She’s sharp.  She’s brilliant.  The fat girl scoffs, “Like, ‘scuse me!” when the woman asks, quite quietly, to pass.

Mmm.  Where did they dig HER up?

And this little man is smiling now.  You’re scared shitless, aren’t you, kid?  What have you got besides hormonal bravado and a shitty cover-up of fear.  For this is not a smile of someone hopeless; but neither is he smiling to be liked by us.

They must’ve cleaned him up the night before and given him this bulky dress shirt of some unmemorable color.  As if not to offend.  Not to arouse all the self-righteous and the ones who have been programed by a life of fear.  Whenever he turns his head, the collar sways around his skinny, post-pubescent neck like untied sails around a mast.  He’s small.  He’s tiny.  He is a fucking kid!

Manslaughter.  Ain’t that a fucked-up thing?!  

Mi abuelo (I miss the old fuck!):  He wouldda given me a smackin’ for haunching over right now.  

“I didn’t come to this good country to see my first grandson groveling in front of white people!”  

Don’t grovel, man!

His skin is ashen and uneven.  I wonder where he spent last night…

The truth is:  I am clueless.  My knowledge of the judicial system is laced with fear, and it is mostly defined by bad cop shows produced by Hollywood (but shot in New York City — for that “edgier”, “more urban” look).  Was he allowed to sleep at home, while waiting for this trial?  When was the last time he squeezed the hips of this one girl who keeps coming around and holding his skinny, shaven head in that flat space along her chest while her gigantic breasts fall to the sides, right after he is done?  When was the last time he was kissed and kept his eyes open, focused on the girl’s birthmarks and her taste?

When did the young abandon their reckless curiosity and started chasing justice?

Not guilty!  Innocent, Your Honor!  

Aw, shit!  I guess it’s not my time yet.  FUCK.

My god, you poor kid!  What little you have had, in life!  And you’re about to lose that too!

No, wait!  I can’t be wondering these things!  This man-child KILLED somebody!  Sure, “allegedly”, but killed.  “Allegedly,” he’d killed somebodies, actually!  Not one but two, and one — was a young woman.

There is an old man glueing words together on the first panel of us.  He’s speaking slowly, voice quivering, possessing no knowledge on how to use a mic.  The poor soul can barely speak English:

“I…  eh…  I’m…  bery scared, um…  guns.”

My lawyer’s taking notes.  He better be dismissing this old chink!

How have we come to this?  What does this say, about us, when we no longer find the roots of it, the causes; but only our objections and dismissals.  I stand by this, I vow to that.  And rather than examining the history of violence — what makes us snap, then heal but harden? — we carry on imposing more violence.  We call it “retribution”.  The “crime” — to “punishment”.

These somebodies were somebodies’ beloveds, I remember.  “Allegedly.”

The fat girl is dissecting People, in the row ahead of mine.  Shit.  Of whom does she remind me?

“Beyond the reasonable doubt.”  That’s funny asking this complaining bunch out here to be reasonable!  

The mic is passed to the lanky academic in wrinkled clothes, who’s sitting in the front row of the panel.  It’s happening at the request of the stenographer:  A visibly unhappy woman who rolls her eyes in the direction of the judge, for every time she cannot hear a juror.  A potential juror, sorry.  The wrinkled man refuses to say one word and steps to the side.  He walks in front of the long desk where the kid is now slumping forward, in his seat.  The silence that takes up the auditorium is nosy, odd and angry.  The man returns.  Sits down.  He shoots the kid a glance.  He’s gloating.  How hateful!  How have we come to this?

The face that stands at the other end of a cocked gun gets down to basics.  The winning arguments of life.

A kink in the armor:  Is that his fault?

My turn.

Do I understand “the burden of having his guilt proved” to me — “beyond the reasonable doubt”?

What does that mean?!

I’d like to hear his story:  How have we come to this?

I want to believe:  All people are innately good.

Can you repeat the question?

Yes, Your Honor.

How have we come to this?

You want me to speak up?

HOW HAVE WE COME TO THIS?

“Those Were the Days, My Friend…”

Back in those days, we would rise early — to get the fields on time.

It would always happen in the fall:

“Time of harvest,” they would tell us.

We didn’t know any different:  We weren’t supposed to.  We were children, still. Besides, to us — it would be just another adventure.

Most of us (if not all) had seen our parents working on land for their entire lives, tending to the whims of nature just so they could have a little extra to live on during the winter.  It didn’t matter if you were a villager or one of those city people who thought they were better than the rest:  Everyone worked, in those days.

The villagers had it a little harder, especially in terms of prejudice.  They were the simpler people, with more obvious needs and uncomplicated vices.  Most of their children would never finish their education either due to their parents’ alcoholism or because of being bullied, brutally, in school.  Those kids wore poorer clothes than us and carried lice in their overgrown hair.  They smelled of manure, tobacco and liquor:  They smelled — of hard life.

For as long as they could tolerate their young lives’ injustices, they would become outcasts; our plebeian jokers.  Soon enough, though, they would give way to their shame, drop out of school — and grow up way too early.  And the hard life continued to loom, above our unknowing heads.  But the ones that lived by land knew it earlier than the rest.  

In any city apartment, one could find a tiny garden on a balcony.  Radishes and tomatoes were planted in flower beds, upfront.  And in the spring, after the soil would thaw out just enough, our grownups would begin to leave the city, for the weekends.  They would take the trains into the suburbs — and they would return to their land.

Of course, somebody always had to be paid off along the way:  Such was the Russian tradition.  And we didn’t see any malice in that, or any particular injustice.  So, we bribed the city officials to get the better patches of land.  With the owners of live stock, we bartered in exchange for cow dung.  The drivers of tractors were paid off in vodka.  To each — his own.  

Summers seemed a bit easier:  Even if the money was tight, there was always at least some food in the home.  The early months were spent on gathering; and for the entire length of August and September, each woman busied herself with making preserves for the winter.  So, they would work — our mothers — rising early, tending to land; then, spending the rest of their days on mere survival.

But we, the young ones, would always turn it into a game.  In groups, we walked each other home; and as we climbed the stairs of our apartment buildings, we sniffed the doors on every flight:

“Ooh.  Strawberry jam!  Most certainly, strawberry!” we’d smell the lusty sweetness of slowly simmering fruit, then say goodbye to the comrade heading in, into that doorway.

“This one — is pickling cabbage.”

“She is always pickling cabbage!” the disappointed child would grumble and knock on the door of his forever disappointing mother.

We were all just trying to survive.  Although, for a while there, we didn’t know how difficult it was, for our mothers:  We didn’t have to — we were children. And to us, everything — was an adventure, just for a little while longer.

My doorway always gave off aromas much more complex than our young palettes could’ve known:  Green tomato jam, prune compote with red currants, garlic-stuffed cucumbers.  Motha — was always a bit of a witch, at the stove; and I couldn’t hide my thrill at her being so different.  And I couldn’t wait to find her in the kitchen:  What could she’ve possibly come up with, that time?

She would rise early, back in those days.  And by mid-day, several cauldrons would be boiling, simmering, stewing on the stove.

“Here!  Try this!” the woman with curlers in her hair and sweat on her upper lip would order me while shoving a tiny saucer with pink or purple jam foam into my dirty hands.  She wouldn’t even say hello.

Despite the occasional sand on my teeth, “MMMM,” I’d mutter.

“Good! Watch the pots!  I’m going out!”

Motha would depart into the bathroom and emerge in five minutes doused in perfume and sparkles.  I didn’t mind her departure.

In the fall, after the first month back in school, there would be field trips — to the fields.  Normally, they would happen on a Saturday; and we would have to rise early, showing up to the already busy school yard in our best peasant attire.

Most of the time, the children of the villagers wouldn’t show:  They had their own land to tend to.  Still, we would judge them a little, while shuffling ourselves in between the seats of a school bus, waiting to depart at sunrise.  We would be taken to the fields:  to gather freshly dug-out potatoes or to gather sugar beats, for live stock.

The labor would be hard, and we would overhear the upper class men complain about such an injustice.  But we still didn’t know any different:  We didn’t have to — we were children.  It would become much harder, soon enough.  But for just a little longer, we could be children — and life could be much simpler.