A middle aged man wakes up in a courtroom as his life is being assessed.
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“If you would please, take a step closer so we can hear though your mumbles, Mr Wills. This will be an in-depth meeting so you may as well get comfortable with us now as we have all to hear your side of the story. We are brought here today to address and assess the past 43 years of your life as you tell us your version of past events. You will be brought to the appropriate judgment we deem necessary once this meeting is concluded. So if you will please, stand closer and clearly tell us your side of these past events highlighted on the paper in front of you”
A man emerges from a crowd of judging faces whose normal look is that of a tramp, but today is dressed in a second-hand suit. Creases and a few mild stains appear on the jacket of his suit – and become clearer the closer he steps towards the people sat in front of him. He nervously opens up a file he’s holding and begins to address the court.
“Forgive me; I don’t understand what is going on, I don’t have any idea who you all are or how I got here…perhaps if…”
A hammer interrupts Mr Wills as it collides against the table and a strong, deep voice is heard from somewhere in the stand.
“Incident 1. 1982, star park, you and Charlie Hester are walking along the canal. Would you like to explain this whole day to us or just the part where you broke your apparent best friend’s leg?”
The man looks confused and shakes his head in disbelief as he explains that he hasn’t prepared for any of this in his file that he has just been reading from. The strong voice interrupts Mr Wills once more.
“Mr Wills…I don’t think you understand what is happening here. We have intentionally cherry-picked events that you won’t have done any preparation for or you have very little memory of, we want you to explain in your own words rather than read off a sheet. We want your honest and on the spot defense to our accusations. Now, Charlie’s leg, was that intentional or just a result of ‘kids being kids’?”
The crowd that is in attendance mutters in the background as the man looks dazed and confused. A look of complete and utter disbelief is cast on the man’s face as he fumbles through his pockets nervously. He surprises himself by presenting a small, somewhat ruined photograph from his pants pocket.
“The picture you see before you is one of you and Charlie, the same morning you broke his leg…now, in your own words, tell us what happened.”
Still confused and mumbling to himself as he tries to piece together the vague memories of that day, the man begins to talk.
“I…we…we were walking down the canal and umm…I suggested we jump in to see how deep it was or something…umm, we said we’d jump off the wall on the count of three…and umm, he slipped…”
“NO. No, that’s not what happened at all is it Mr Wills. YOU pushed your friend over the other side of the wall, consequently breaking his leg in two places. YOU caused that.”
Wills acknowledges the facts and accepts that he won’t be getting away with any lies whilst he’s in this courtroom. Taking a seat, he nervously tries to iron the creases out of his pant leg with his thumb. A silence comes over the room as people wait in anticipation to hear what else is going to be said from the judge. The image of the judge is not clear; more a shadow on top of a panel, his face unclear to everyone and the only way to determine that he is speaking is through his unmistakable powerful, deep bass voice. Wills looks around the room to absorb what is going on around him – a small court, but full of people, full of people judging him. He is alone in the center of the room with an empty glass and a jug of water on a table. Still not comprehending what is happening yet, he turns to walk out of the room, as he starts moving, a crowd of people form a line surrounding the exit way. The overpowering voice is heard once again;
“Are you running from your problems again?…running away from your responsibilities, this is all you seem to be good at Mr Wills., I’m simply repeating tales that has happened in your life, your actions caused the downward spiral to happen in your life…if you wish to once again run – then we will take that as an instant dismissal of your case and will be forced to take the appropriate action in correlation with your behavior. Leave now and you will never be bothered by us again…run away now like you have been doing from any trouble in your life…like you ran away from the responsibility of being a father.”
As soon as the word ‘father’ is heard, Wills turns to face in the direction of where the voice is speaking from and aggressively marches towards it. Another crowd of people form together, standing in Will’s way – preventing him from getting even close to the ‘judge’.
“You never, ever mention my daughter to me! Never throw that back in my face! I made my mistake and paid the price for it… Never, ever repeat that to me!”
He sits down at the table and pours himself some water; his hands are shaking with rage as he spills the majority of the water on himself.
“Mr Wills. Please present to us the contents of what’s in your jacket pocket and tell the court clearly your memories and knowledge of the item.”
Still shaking and in total and complete disbelief, Wills rummages through his pocket and brings out a picture of a 20-something-year-old woman and a ticket stub from the cinema stapled to the top corner of it. All his rage and anger are soothed and turns into whimpering. Stroking the ticket stub, tears flood his eyes.
“This…this is my daughter…Marie. She was 11 when I split up with her mother…it…it was okay for a while, I’d see her at weekends and we’d go out somewhere. Never anything major like a weekend away, just either walks or trips or something…but this…this ticket stub was the day she waited and waited for me…and I didn’t turn up. I knew I was supposed to meet her at 4 pm to go straight there but…I just didn’t…I couldn’t let her see me in the state I was in, I was drunk and going through a bottle of whiskey a day. Instead of calling it off, I just let her wait there, alone…waiting for her dad. I don’t know how long she waited for, but apparently she called her mother crying her heart out telling her that I’d not showed up. As far as I know, her mum picked her up that night. I received a letter a couple of days after this from her mother saying how heartbroken Marie was and how much I’d let her down. She knew I was drinking, but never knew I was at this stage of alcoholism. I wasn’t allowed to see my daughter anymore after that day…I didn’t even make an effort, I didn’t fight at all…I didn’t make one progressive movement against my addiction to see my own daughter. I let her drift away from me. I hear that she has two children of her own now – I’ve never met them – I don’t even know their names. That was over fifteen years ago now…and I still regret every bit of it, the worst decision of my life.”
A strong silence comes across the court as Mr Wills stops speaking, slowly followed by mutters from the crowd until brought to an end is brought to a halt by the judges' hammer colliding once again with the table. The strong voice is heard once again, but in a more sympathetic tone as opposed to intimidating;
“Mr Wills, would we be right in assuming that you think that since you abandoned your daughter, that could have been the point in your life that drove you to severe alcoholism? And lead you down this path of the shoddy lifestyle you’ve been leading for the past decade or so?”
The judge isn’t confronted with a verbal answer, just a nod from the ‘defendant’ as he buries his face in his hands.
“I think we have finished our session and have reached a fair verdict of Mr Wills.”
Murmurs in the crowd become more than just murmurs and muttering, and conversations become clear. Hearing mostly negative comments towards himself, Wills stands up, with tears in his eyes, pointing his finger at people in the crowd.
“You’ve got some nerve you people watching this. I’ve made my decisions, they haven’t all been good ones, but I’ve made them and now I’m forced to sleep in the bed I made for myself. You’re all commenting about me and my life like you have never made a bad decision before! Sitting there judging me…LIKE I DON’T KNOW HOW BAD MY LIFE IS! I’ve paid the ultimate price for my decisions, denying myself the chance at being a proper father figure – someone else who she now calls ‘dad’ has seen that chance and snapped it up…and rightly so! I’ve never even met Marie’s step-father but I know he’s a damn better man than me! He’s actually stepped up to the mark and taken on a child that wasn’t even his. You don’t know how much that hurts, that though my own stupid and selfish decisions, I’ve lost out of my child and even my grandchildren and now someone else is getting the time with my daughter that should be mine…but I never was man enough to be a proper father. I’ve let drink rule my life for the past 12 years or so, it’s ruled my life so much that it forced me out of my home from missing rent payments. It’s drove me to living on the streets like a homeless man…I am a homeless man… Your honor… I’ve really messed up my life, I am living proof of what drink can force people into, if I had my time again, I wouldn’t touch a drop of alcohol and I would have been treasuring every moment I had with my family…in fact, why am I even telling you this? I’m in a room full of strangers and I don’t have a clue how I got here and I’m telling you tales from my personal life! Forget this, I’m leaving.”
Wills once again turns around and heads towards the door at a fast pace, except this time, no one tries to get in his way. He stops in his tracks when he hears the judge address his name once again in a sympathetic tone of voice.
“Mr Wills, you don’t understand. You weren’t meant to understand. You will never see us again. You were granted one opportunity to see us…you see, you’re currently being resuscitated by paramedics in the middle of the high street you sleep on, you were found choking on your own vomit through excessive drinking. You were granted a one-time deal to meet with us in this court to determine whether you were worthy of giving life another chance, or whether you were to be a complete waster for the rest of your life, struggling to get by and constantly thinking of where the next drink is coming from. You’re only here in spirit and mind. Physically, you are on the high street soaked in vomit and alcohol, surrounded by people trying to save your life. We have reached a decision on whether to grant you your life back or not.”
A moment of silence before Wills starts to cough heavily. Spluttering into his hand, he sees a mixture of vomit and blood as the familiar stench of vodka hits him. The court he has just been in starts to disappear rapidly through dark cloudy as he tries to shout but can't – through violently coughing. Now struggling to breathe, he collapses to the floor clutching where his liver is in his body. Though the pain is almost unbearable, Wills relaxes as much as he physically can, closes his eyes and waits for the inevitable to happen.
A busy high street comes to a halt as people surround a park bench in which a man soaked in vodka and vomit lays motionless lies beneath it, 3 paramedics are frantically fighting for the man’s life as they push down on his chest with hopes of reviving him. Some passerby’s turn their heads once they realize it’s a homeless man they are attempting to revive, some people stay to support them. The paramedics' pace slows down as they realize there is no more they can do for the man as his eyes roll to the back of his head and his pulse disappears. With concerning looks and little bits of appropriate conversation, the paramedics try to free up the area of civilians to transport the body, until they hear a sharp gasp of breathing and look down to see the man has been revived. Clutching to his chest, the man sits up to spit the vomit and blood from his mouth and slowly makes his way to his feet. Finding his balance by holding onto the shoulder of a paramedic and without saying a word, the man picks up the half-empty bottle of vodka that had rolled underneath the bench and smashes it on the ground where his body lay just a minute before.