The couple bought two cups of coffee at the front door of the courthouse and took the elevator to the fifth floor, asking a security guard about room number two thousand fifty-five. The security guard pointed at a room at the end of the hall; and they followed the direction. Having entered the room, they showed the court document to a woman who was sitting behind a large desk.
After looking at the paper, the woman told them to go to room number fifty-six located opposite to her office. They thanked her and walked toward the room curiously looking around with their coffee cups in hand and a black leather case full of papers under Mr. Skeptic’s arm.
Mr. Skeptic pushed the door beside number fifty-six to open; it was in vain however. They sat in two seats facing the closed door, sipping their coffee and waiting for someone to open it from inside or outside.
The building around was neat with heavy columns and refined stature. The floor was empty and quiet. Even the security guard was long gone. Every now and then someone nonchalantly and half sleepy passed-by; knocked on a door; opened a door; and closed it behind oneself. Was this whole impressive building meant to be so quiet? No doubt that it was strongly built and neatly maintained to dispense justice in the land. The whole justice of this immense province was to stand supreme upon massive dull columns.
At around nine-thirty a slim young woman in a thick khaki coat with a bundle of papers in hand walked towards the seats and sat in one of them behind the couple, facing the columns behind them. Like those students who leave all their preparedness for the last minutes before their exams, the woman opened the bundle and started looking on and off at the papers.
Unease was gnawing her: the unease before the exam session. Something was distracting her from full concentration. Perhaps, she wanted to solve a problem before going to the judge. Perhaps, she wanted to save the trouble of reading the whole bundle. She frequently held her head up frequently, looking around studying the people who passed-by and then returned to studying her papers. Every so often, she furtively looked at Nelly and Mr. Skeptic. It seemed they were not of much interest to her as she was to Mr. Skeptic. He assumed the woman was looking for someone who perhaps she had not encountered before. Who that someone might have been?
“Perhaps, she is looking for me,” Mr. Skeptic surmised, not wanting to give credit to his surmise as it was his habit “I have to face her instead of Douglass or any other lawyer.”
The young woman’s untried and chirp manners were clear indications that she was still a student. This was not hidden from Mr. Skeptic’s keen eyes. From his previous several months dealing with the legal dispute, he understood law firms extensively used law students to do their works in order to keep the costs low, financially help the students, and pass litigation experiences to them.
In one of those many furtive looks Nelly exchanged a smile with the young woman, but receive nothing in return. Now Mr. Skeptic was almost certain that the woman was the person they had to face, however he still could not understand why he should face someone else instead of the lawyer who had handled the case. This was the main source of his uncertainty.
They had not met before; neither had they heard of one another; and had never spoken over the telephone. Therefore, she was looking for them and they were expecting her; and unknowingly, they were separated by two seats and a divider only. Mr. Skeptic murmured something to Nelly in order to tell her the woman must have been the one they were to meet.
“What?” Nelly inquired.
“Ajab Teeke’ e yeh,” Mr. Skeptic went on in a stinging tone, “Fighting her is as sweet as chewing a piece of candy”.
“Marteekk’e boogandoo jolo’e man dar daadgaah cheshm charooni ham meekoneh,” Nelly retorted and showed the young woman another smile.
Nelly’s response soured the taste of candy in Mr. Skeptic’s mouth. He fell silent and kept sipping his coffee until he drank it to the last drop. Then, he stood up; stretched; yawned; and slowly walked to the garbage can and dropped the empty paper cup into the can; and returned to his seat beside his faded black leather case.
With the passage of time more and more mostly middle-aged men, came in, sharing the same row of the seats they were sitting in. As the seats filled, some stood up, leaned against the walls and the columns of the sullen courthouse. None of those people looked happy. Somehow the sullen surroundings of the house very well matched the tone and the serious faces of the people around: figures with neat suites, hanging ties carrying briefcases. Mr. Skeptic assumed most of them were professional bargaining lawyers: statues without feelings.
“No heart is within my heart”, he murmured to himself without Nelly noticing him.
He was right. He was anxious. Somehow these moving and standing cold figures scared him. Walking ice skeletons in the cold surroundings contrasted the restaurant atmosphere he had been working in the previous nine years. Even his low-paid morning kitchen job at Chicken Pig Cafe number sixteen contained some mirth and excitement. In those places, even if unhappy, employees were expected to pretend they were happy. Happiness was regarded to be an essential part of the job. Genuinely or hypocritically, they were required to throw a smile at the passers-by. To show professionalism, some profusely expressed happiness and abundantly used baseless good words. Then, as soon as the customer walked out of the restaurant, they would describe the person with rude words to co-workers. “With that f… face and attitude” and “tell me about it” were normally passed among them. Sometimes, if they were engaged in warm conversation with a customer, the operator would show a long face and utter biting words: “we are not here to socialize with customers My Friend”. He would say this after the customer was out of the restaurant; and practically would ruin all claims of hospitality professionalism and the moral of an outgoing staff. But, in this court, it appeared everyone was born with a sad face that they were to carry along as long as they breathed within the frameworks of those walls. What kind of personality they would show to the public once out of the house, most people would not know. Even if there were mirth within someone, it was to be kept concealed. The acceptable merit at this place was to look serious, cold, calculating, and rigid.
In fact, Mr. Skeptic was scared of this scene and the ensuing confrontation in the court since he had stopped payment in the May of the same year. When he received the court document with the court appearance appointment, he was terrified. For a few nights he could not properly sleep as he was working two jobs seven days a week with over sixty-five hours of work. His smoking increased from a few cigarettes a day to half a pack a day. Every day he was visualizing himself facing Mr. Douglass in the court and the judge who would ask him the reason for stopping the payments.
“He did not release me my file,” he would respond to the judge in his imaginary legal confrontation, “He has given me faulty bills. He has made mistakes. He attributed lies to me.”
He would go on and on.
‘These are irrelevant arguments,” he would fearfully and fluently hear from the imaginary judge. “In this land the law stands supreme. You ought to pay him in full; plus the interest accrued; plus the cost of the court; plus an apology, and plus…”
The imaginary arguments would continue so relentlessly that no more he heard the electric equipments’ loud morning humming noise and ratting fans that always hurt his hearing. He would not even notice the bad smell of the draining system beside the sink where he washed his vegetables. The sharp pain caused by long hours of standing in one spot, while cutting vegetables, in his knees, elbows, and sole of his feet would be overshadowed for a whole while he was following the imaginary quarrel in the court. Everywhere in those early mornings seemed silent, providing an ample opportunity for him to build imaginary arguments, confrontations, and screaming. At the end of each period of imaginary event, he would destroy minutes of the scenery; and would start rebuilding them from the scratch again.
In the middle of those wild quarrels, sometimes his heart pumped wildly. Sometimes, he felt dizzy and went to the washroom and washed his face with cold tap water. Then, in the mirror, he could see that his face was pale and frightened. Sometimes, he felt a rush of blood in his heart: powerful enough to give him a heart attack.
“My god,” he thought sadly, feeling sorry for himself, “Should I have kept quiet in the face of this gross unjust treatment and paid the same wrong monthly payment and had saved myself from anxiety and this nightmare? Was that gross unconditional surrender not a wise decision? Was that going to be the last gross fiasco in my life? Would I have been a man without anxiety for the rest of my life if I acknowledged the defeat and had gone the way they were leading me? Where is justice on the face of the Earth any way?”