If Then Else
I woke up with a start just when I had started to fall asleep. Those innocent eyes kept haunting me. I knew the truth behind those accusing eyes but could not do anything to save the man. He stood there in my presence screaming silently for help. What he didn’t know was that right then I was more helpless than he could ever imagine. Even when I wanted to set him free, I was duty-bound to not let him escape.
The case had been one of the several that my predecessor had kept stalling. The accused had already been in prison for over sixteen years — more than his actual crime called for. When finally I took over as the high court judge, I was so overwhelmed at the number of pending cases that I decided upon a fast track dispensation of justice. Easier said than done. Unfortunately, I found this out only after I had set the course and there was no backing out. For weeks the lawyers gave me hard stare. They couldn’t complain in open though I understood too well their unhappiness at being ordered around on a short lease. I let their stare glide over my back for the greater good.
Then this man’s case came to me. I heard the arguments of both the sides. All the evidence, though circumstantial, was pointing him out as guilty. But I couldn’t accept it. This man who stood before me couldn’t have committed the crime he had been framed for. He was not the type of man who could hurt another soul. I could vouch for him. But that wouldn’t do now, would it? The law only understands evidence. Not belief and certainly not love.
I have known this man for as long as I can remember. He was there when I spoke my first words. He was there when I took my first step. He was there whenever I needed him. But more importantly, he was there when I…. That my irresponsibility could cost another so dearly wasn’t something I had foreseen. How could I have let him take the fall for me and escaped never to come back? When had I become so callous and self-centered that my reputation and self-preservation had started clouding my judgment? And irony of all ironies, I was the judge for something that I should have been prosecuted!
I couldn’t wait for the morning. I needed to see him. I needed to absolve him and surrender. That was what was right. Then why was I hesitating? He had already suffered for my wrong doings. Surely I was capable of redemption. Or had I throttled my conscience the day I had…..
I didn’t want to think of what I had become. I was successful. Respected and feared. Loved even. I couldn’t just let everything slide because of my guilt. It was true that I was the criminal but it was equally true that he was the cause of behind why I had to commit the crime. He was guilty in equal measure. Was that why he had let himself get caught in the first place? Was it his repentance? Once upon a time we had been friends. But he had taken undue advantage of my friendship. That was what had started this chain reaction. He deserved to rot and he deserved to be punished by me.
No, I am not to be absolved completely of what had transpired so many years ago. I have had to bear my own cross. For months I had battled severe depression until finally I had come clean. It had broken me completely. Threatened my sanity. That had been my punishment. Worse than any prison made of brick and mortar. This time I’d fight for myself. This time I’ll not be a mere spectator.
By the next hearing I had of course changed my mind. He had suffered and didn’t need to anymore. I would be lenient and let him free. My privilege accorded me that right. Nobody would challenge me. There was no reason.
Only, I was too late. The man had hanged himself in his cell and left behind a suicide note. He had conceded to the charges that had been against him. He had absolved me of any wrong doing. But in fact he had only set himself free and made me a prisoner of my guilt.
© Jonali Karmakar