Friday, August 31, 2012

Once upon a time in in a land very near to where you live----

The sky was grey, threatening a rain that the farmers loved but the townsfolk found annoying. Wives rushed to gather their washing before the deluge made mischief with fluttering clothing, displayed colourfully on the lines. Of course the quality of the clothing was quite different in the yards of the rich compared to that of the poor in the southern parts of the town.
Two wives from the two parts of the city wondered how their husbands were fairing in the tasks they were pursuing. Both husbands had left quite early in the morning, the rich one in a carriage and the poor one on a donkey. The latter had loaded his beast up with produce he had been working on for the past two months, while the better endowed citizen sat contemplatively in his carriage, ruminating on how he was going to deal with his business partner and satisfy his wife’s request for a larger share in the profit of his venture.
The poor husband was well respected in his street and had only come to the notice of the authorities once, for the late payment of his taxes. His counterpart in the central part of town was friendly with the same authorities and had dealt with them in the business world on many occasions. He had profited much through these endeavours. Another difference between the two men was that of their origin. The rich man claimed that his forefathers had been instrumental in the early settlement of the town whilst the poor man was the son of an immigrant.
The rain finally unleashed its bullets from God, pelting those unprepared or lacking suitable clothing, causing them to head for whatever shelter they could find. The rich husband observed the scurrying citizens, smugly reflecting on his good fortune. His driver pulled his woollen coat tighter about his body in an attempt to ward off the worst of the probing rain. He also increased the speed of the carriage by whipping the four horses cruelly. Two would have been sufficient, but the rich husband liked to display his wealth as he believed any citizen of good standing should do.
The poor husband struggled to keep his donkey from panicking and at the same time kept a watch on his produce as it tilted towards one side. Just when he thought he had seen an alleyway that offered some protection from the rain, a shop keeper barred his way as he unloaded a cart on front of his premises. The donkey had sped up as he too sensed that his master strove for the tiny oasis in the middle of the storm. The husband became annoyed at the antics of the shop keeper and made his thoughts clear by swearing, something that he usually reserved for those moments he was alone. His wife did not countenance such utterings.
On hearing the husband’s words, the shop keeper responded in kind and the husband pulled his donkey to a stop. The loaded produce on the donkey had a mind of its own and did not stop; instead, if flew off the donkey’s back and landed heavily on the shop keeper. Screams of pain filled the air and fellow shop keepers came to his aid, while someone called for a doctor. In the meantime the husband was detained roughly by the neighbours and was taken struggling to the nearby cells in the guardhouse by the walls of the town. He was cast inside the dingy cell which was already occupied by two drunkards, arrested the night before. At least they had a dry place. The screaming of the shop keeper was audible through the barred window in the cell. He was carried to the home of a doctor who had just opened his rooms for the day.
In the meantime, the rich husband was nearing his destination. He yelled at his driver and exhorted him to increase his speed. He was impatient and wanted his business over and done with. The driver resisted but the rich husband would not listen. He threatened his driver with dire consequences if he did not comply. The coach was soon careering along the cobbled street.
A bend in the road appeared and unfortunately, a young woman with a baby was trying to cross the road. The driver saw her but too late. The rich husband was still shouting at him to increase the pace of the carriage. The horses saw the young woman but it was too late to stop, even though the driver pulled violently on the reins. The young woman and her baby were lost under the flailing hooves. A small miracle occurred. The baby was flung into the air where a passing guard reached high and caught the baby. Those watching the scene from under the shelter of the shop eaves called out in approval.
The young woman did not stir as she lay in on the rain swept road. After a few seconds the pitiful sound of her pained voice stirred the bystanders into action. The coach remained still as the driver held the horses by their halters. The rich husband angrily left the shelter of his coach and began to yell at his driver to continue. Under the orders of his master, the driver finally continued the journey while the onlookers muttered that someone should report the actions of the rich husband to the authorities.
The rich husband must have had a change of mind because he reappeared and enquired after the health of the young woman. By now she had being cared for and taken on the back of a cart to a nearby monastery where the nuns would take care of her. A shop keeper had seen the incident and someone had told him how the rich husband had more or less forced the driver into the dangerous actions that led to the incident. He told the guard of this.
Two weeks later in two courts, there were two very different results. The poor husband, accompanied by his wife and neighbours heard the judge announce that he would forfeit his donkey, go to prison for a year and be fined the equivalent of a year’s toil; the said amount being awarded to the injured shopkeeper. The poor husband was beside himself with worry. Who would look after his family? They were destined to a life of poverty, dependant on the charity of others.
In the court near the centre of town, the rich husband, represented by the best lawyer that money could buy heard that he had to pay the young woman an amount similar to that paid by the poorer husband. He did not receive a prison term because the judge announced that being a citizen of ‘high standing’ in the community such an outcome was not warranted. Despite the statements from the witnesses, no other action was taken. The rich husband left the court while the young woman continued to be helped by the nuns. Her future was in question, the money she had received quickly gone as the nuns had to use it to purchase medicines and treatments that they could not otherwise provide. The baby was looked after by a sister.
Those who had heard about both cases shook their heads in wonder.
In another land many years later, an upstanding citizen also received lenient treatment because he too was smiled upon by the legal system. Those nearer the South in his city would not have been so lucky, especially if they were the sons of immigrants.
 Go to the New Zealand Herald for 1st September, 2012 and you will the meaning of my story.

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