BY BRANDON CRILLY
Brandon Crilly is a fourth-year student at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON. Copyright is held by the author.
A CHILL SETTLED over his heart as he stepped into the plaza.
The spacious pavilion outside the Court of High Justice was empty as Keith began the long walk to the holding centre on the west side. Granted, it was nearly 10 o’clock at night, but he had assumed that people would still be out to see the attraction.
He was thankful that he was wrong.
Imposing buildings loomed on either side, as though the power of the Court itself cast long shadows over the ground below, dimming the yellow glaze of the streetlights. Even the rows of flags jutting from the rooftops were drooping, concealing the country’s coat of arms. The oppressive darkness of the plaza matched the feelings that had settled over Keith during his journey into the capital.
Despite the dark, he could already see his destination at the far end; the shiny, metal cage was hard to miss in any lighting.
Papers were strewn across the decorated tile of the plaza, discarded by citizens during the day. He knew what each of the identical leaflets said without having to look. He had agonized over one throughout the entire day. He knew the fury embedded in the words, the anguish in the hands of those reading, and the bitter sense of victory in throwing the paper to the ground. He had gone through the same emotions over and over that day, though reaching a different conclusion. His was not the usual reaction to the capture of a mass murderer.
Every citizen knew about the crimes of ex-politician Felicity Ronnex. The media called her a “deranged psychopath” who had brainwashed her followers into turning against their government. Many suggested that the atrocities she committed – seizing power, eliminating the former Prime Minister and then launching a war against the country’s southern neighbour – warranted a slow, painful execution. Others suggested permanent exile to an isolated prison facility, which had been the fate of several of her rivals. A select few proposed that she was merely a reactionary in a country that was already decaying. Everyone celebrated Felicity Ronnex’s capture as salvation from terror, and agreed that she should be severely punished for her crimes.
Keith had watched the Court’s debates all week in silence, trying to sort out his feelings. He finally decided he couldn’t remain at home. The long train ride and the slow walk from the station had led him here.
The law stated that the worst criminals were to be caged outside so the public could express their outrage in person. The metal enclosure in the plaza had been in place for six days, allowing tens of thousands to face the accused. Keith did not agree with such practices. He could see scraps of refuse covering the bars and the ground of the cage, both inside and out. There were shards of glass and metal mixed with crumpled papers, rotted vegetables, and tiny squares of colored confetti, the aftermath of nearly a week of passionate demonstration. The crude cot and washstand inside had also been coated with debris, tainting the few basic comforts the prisoner had been allowed.
Such was the expression of the country’s fury.
He halted four metres from the bars, unwilling to step any closer. The cold in his heart had begun to numb his entire body, like a poison slowly eating him alive. He suppressed a shiver, forced himself to look through the bars at the figure within.
He hadn’t seen Felicity Ronnex in person in three years. Instead of the powerful, domineering woman he remembered, he saw a thin frame hunched over a cot, a withered body covered in torn rags. Her long hair was dirty and matted, interlaced with bits of garbage she hadn’t bothered to remove. There were scars on her hands, likely inflicted by her guards, and a single slash on one cheek from the first attempt on her life. Keith wondered why the Court hadn’t removed her trademark piece of jewelry, a golden brooch showing a long-necked goose in flight, pinned above her breast. He remembered the Court had declared that emblem a mark of treachery a few days earlier.
The fearsome politician accused of assassinations, war-mongering and other atrocities, was nowhere to be seen. Inside the cage was simply a defeated woman awaiting her sentence, trapped in the cold silence of the night. It was a pitying sight, one Keith had not been expecting.
He stood before the metal bars, unmoving and silent. He had considered several things to say, but nothing that he had practiced in his head seemed adequate. Nothing would give him the liberation he desperately needed. Keith examined the battered, emaciated figure, not sure if she was even aware that he had approached. He finally decided that any release had already been granted by the sight of the woman in the cage.
So he simply said, “Goodbye, Mom.”