|It is the year 2018 and Augustine Paul is a broken
old man living alone. Close to death, he spends much time mulling over the past.
I Watch the Sparrows Fly
One more day nearly over. I sit in my usual spot on the verandah, gazing over the weedy patch of garden and into the trees where the noisy sparrows come home to roost. There are great flocks of them, chattering nineteen to the dozen, happily playing tag before bedtime. Do they ever notice me sitting here, so still, so alone, always envious of their
Twilight, the saddest, bleakest part of the day, with the light bleeding rapidly away; twilight brings back memories and regrets. Oh, where is everyone? My wife, dead for many years, taken away by cruel cancer; my children dying one by one before their time as though the sins of the father must be visited upon his offspring in accidents and disease and murder, all except one, the estranged one who is living far away across
the seas. I write him letters nearly every day: "Son, I am only an old man. How can you not forgive me after twenty years? Son, you must understand, I was only an obedient slave to the powers that were. They used me like an appliance in the trial that shook the nation." Letters that I write and then tear up because we have been through this so many times before. Yet, each time I hold the pen in my hand, I think I can write an explanation so striking, so convincing as to deliver him the lightning flash of insight. But I know I cannot. So I sit and watch the sparrows fly.
Strange that I can barely remember last week, but the events of twenty years ago have sharpened to the polish of knives. That packed courtroom, the public gallery all eye and ears, the reporters, the gesticulating lawyer, the scared witness in the box with his downcast eyes and low voice because we all knew that he was lying, and Anwar himself, so calm, so collected as though he was already past caring. I think of him and the light of my memory is as glaring as the noonday sun, not so much memory as shards of glass to pierce the innards of my soul.
At the market, I ran into Ramasamy a few days ago. He is the only one who will not turn his eyes away from mine. He was kind enough to take me to a coffee-shop where we chatted the afternoon away as old men are wont to. We talked of the most mundane matters but, just before we parted, he made a most curious remark. He said: "Augustine, whatever they say, I will always believe that you made the right decison about Anwar." I
shook his hand but said nothing. Oh, What could I have said?
Ramasamy, you can't not have known. Of course it was a travesty of justice. The whole purpose of that show trial was to convince the nation of Anwar's imaginary crimes. Ramasamy, you were only being kind. The prosecution dragged in the most ugly evidences, but their witnesses were discredited one by one despite the fact that I gave the defence so little room until, finally, there was no case at all. Even the man in the street could tell, but I was the all powerful judge; I did not throw it out. I still pronounced him guilty on eight of the ten charges. That was what Mahathir wanted. It was necessary to let him off on a couple so the world would think it an independent judicial decision. But I was
never free to act on my own. And then I sentenced him to twenty years. It was also what Mahathir wanted. Oh, what else could I have done? That cruel man, that dictator: he was always invisibly there all the time, pulling my strings. He stopped at nothing to satisfy his cruelty. It was nothing to him to use all the apparatus of government to achieve his end, nothing to him to sacrifice innocent lives like Anwar, Sukma, Munawar and Datuk Nalla.
And, after Anwar's conviction, with the nation torn apart in the most horrible manner, I began to have my doubts. But in those days, I could sweep them all aside; I was part and parcel of the corruption in the judiciary, the government, the ruling party, and I shared in the tainted rewards. I was decorated with titles and promoted to the Bench of the Federal Court. Rumours were circulating of my nomination for the ultimate prize - the post of Chief Justice - when the broom came. Like many, I chose to resign rather than face removal.
I sometimes dream that I acted very differently from the expectations of the powers that were. I dreamt that I acquitted Anwar of all charges in one blazing moment of truth and justice: the jubilation in the streets, the worldwide applause, the consternation of the government who had thought it could not lose. And Mahathir would have found some airy-fairy charge to throw me into prison and possible torture, but I would have become a hero. Mahathir would have fallen quickly after, and the nation would have escaped great distress.
But these are only thin, insubstantial dreams. It's easy to be brave in hindsight but you cannot turn back time and tide. Now, for me, there is only the blackness and the sleepless nights. What happens after death? An old man at death's door thinks too much of these things: God's justice, lost souls, eternal torment in lakes of burning fire. I pray
every day and the Reverend Peters visits me once a week to assure me of God's forgiveness. But can I ever forgive myself?
It's all dark now, the sparrows are quiet but the mosquitoes are biting. I must go inside, turn on every lamp to dispel the shadows - I have become like a child once more, afraid of the dark, but a child without a mother - and perhaps try once more to write that letter. I hope God will take me tonight in a small, quiet hour of sleep but, if not, I'll be here again tomorrow to watch the sparrows fly.
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