He begins with an image. Say, of a bird sitting behind a desk. A very large bird, an imposing desk, facing a room. The room was a courtroom. There was a buzz of conversation.
All of a sudden the bird – he noticed, a vulture, a Gyps himalayensis to be exact – rose and unfurled its enormous wings. The sound was a snap and whoosh, a dusty blanket shaken in the wind. The chatter came to an abrupt halt.
The Gyps turned its long neck, this way, that way, and bottomless eyes found his face. Sitting as he was in the far corner, by himself.
It opened its cavernous beak, and there was a grating roar as it said:
It’s three o’ clock in the afternoon.
“It’s – it is three o’ clock in the afternoon, your vult- er – your Honour,” he replied.
The Gyps looked at him for a long moment. It turned to the room and said:
A group of small and medium birds at the other end of the courtroom began to sing:
“It’s three-o’-clock in the aft-er-noon
The ther-mals are high and strong
They bear the scent of the fresh-ly dead
Whose bones be-long to-us – all.”
Court in session. Present the case, said the Gyps.
Below, a colourful reptile cleared its throat.
“Docket number 1,123 (A). Cattaparthy versus Jarkub.”
“Jacob. It’s Jacob,” he said without thinking, eliciting a roar of Silence! from the Gyps.
Read the charges! it said.
“The defen-daaant is charged with attempted theft of property of the plaintiff, under Section 421 (A) of the Indian Penal Code,” drawled the reptile.
He was on his feet. “Theft! Attempted! It’s a mistake! Your Honour! Mr. Catter – Mr Cattaparthy!” he bawled, while the plaintiff glowered at him, tail flicking.
The courtroom exploded in excitement.
Silence! Sit DOWN! shouted the Gyps, flapping mightily, and there was quiet.
Mr. Jarkub, it said. Are you cognisant of the penalty for repeated interruption of court proceedings?
“No, your honour,” he said, shaking.
Good. What is your plea? it said.
Present the evidence, said the Gyps.
A lithe animal, some sort of weasel, he thought, rose to its feet next to the plaintiff.
“Your honour,” it said, “In lieu of arguments, we will present video evidence, it being exceptionally clear.”
A large screen flickered to life to the right of the judge’s bench. At the top, 02:02:04 appeared in blocky script. There was a crisp blue image of a wall, with what appeared to be a small brass plaque set in it. The numbers counted up and a second passed. Another second. From the right, a man staggered into the frame, back to the camera.
The man looked sideways briefly, and swayed towards the wall. Thirty seconds passed as he looked downwards, fidgeting, and then the assembled watchers heard a long sigh as a pool appeared between the man’s feet.
The courtroom murmured.
A ball of fluff exploded onto the screen from the left, knocking the man off balance. Ball and man collapsed to the ground, and confused shouting and yowling could be heard. The video went dark.
“Your honour,” said the weasel, “The Court has seen irrefutable evidence that the defendant attempted property theft by over-marking the clearly marked territory of the plaintiff, Mr. Cattaparthy.”
More murmuring in the courtroom.
“Aforesaid theft being prevented only by the direct and courageous intervention of the plaintiff. Will your honour please review evidence that the property has been continuously marked by the plaintiff for fifteen years?” said the weasel, approaching the bench with a sheaf of papers.
After a few minutes, the Gyps turned its dark eyes towards him.
Do you have anything to say, Mr Jarkub?.
“Sir! Your honour! Not guilty! Mistake!” he shouted.
Mr. Jarkub, the Court will make it very simple. Do you deny that the person in the video is you?
“No, your honour.”
The Court finds Jarkub guilty as charged. Silence! said the Gyps, as the chattering began again.
Proceeding to sentencing, it said, squinting down at something on the desk.
Ten thousand rupees to be paid to the plaintiff, or else dismemberment.
What is your choice? said the Gyps, and he could hear a note of hope in its voice.
“I – I’ll pay, your honour.”
And thus ended his day in court.
In tribute to the anti-alarm clock, devised by K-man and yours truly.