The Obiter Truth: Silent Treatment

The Obiter Truth is a catalogue of everyday experiences in the life of a young lawyer hoping to find humour in the bizarre and sense in the chaos.
Manini Brar
Manini Brar

[Scene 1… Action!: The drop]

A clear blue sky is visible from the cabin window like the promise of another life, as angry clouds gather within.

I am standing close to the only door in the room, pinned to the spot by a look. A long, fixating look, aimed at my soul. My mind pieces together what could have caused it over the rattle of my bones.

All I did was wave our clients goodbye. And before that? Sit through a meeting for the hearing next week. And before that? Sweet-talk the office boy into organizing tea and printouts. Wait, that’s too far back. What happened during the meeting? I was quiet as a monk for the most part. Might have croaked once to re-align our earlier strategy on damages with some new research I found last night. Could he be mad about that? Nah, that would be silly. He is too accomplished an advocate to get wound up by croaking juniors springing new ideas on clients, right? Maybe he’s just deep in thought. Maybe he’s meditating and has forgotten I am still here. ​

All this guessing is making me nervous. The silence feels like his superpower. It consolidates his control, and compounds my confusion. Anything I say will seem presumptuous, overly reactive, or plain silly. I sense he’s waiting for me to make that mistake, so that he can double down on his righteousness.

But I love a good fight (I should have that printed on a T-shirt). I gaze abstractedly about the cabin without offering any explanation - careful not to meet his eye, careful not to look down in defeat – and dwell on other ideas. Should the T-shirt be white with the words in black, and a gavel in the background? Or should it be black with the words in white, and a skull?

Time passes of its own volition, neither side making any moves. Someone walks into the cabin, causing Righteousness to shift focus momentarily. Delinquency grabs the opportunity and exits the cabin in one stealthy leap through the door, no looking back.

[Scene 2: The silence]

Two weeks pass soaked in suspense. The elephant is now a whale. Righteousness has not so much as looked Delinquency in the eye. The latter did attempt a stray chat about blue skies as obliquely as her dignity would permit. No luck.

Delinquency mopes about the office in contagious mood swings, sometimes in remorse, other times in rebellion. Over what, she cannot say for sure. Righteousness seems to have intended just that. A rational conversation about faults wouldn’t be retributive enough. Why talk it over when you can overreact and make a splash? Conciliation is not the fashion of our times, and professionalism is not a given in advocate-junior relationships. They may be seen as something of a personal investment by the boss, and must be appreciated as such by juniors. Any fault is a full-blown betrayal, justifying a full-blown sulk.

[Scene 3: All’s well]

I am back on my mark by the cabin door as a new scene plays out. Laughter wafts over light and airy anecdotes from the ‘good ol’ days’. A former client has come along with a new brief, and my former services have been enlisted. As of this moment, Righteousness is smiling at Delinquency, calling her an ‘asset to the office’. All indications confirm forgiveness.

No explanation offered, none sought. All I can tell you of the experience, dear reader, is that the universe is forever in the pursuit of a script that catches its principle characters unawares. One moment, you are down with failure. Another, you are flying weightless through the clouds. So that there are no two roads to travel by, as Robert Frost would have us believe. Just a ramp from the ground up to the sky. No choice of paths, just the struggle to keep your feet firmly on the skateboard while you oscillate between extremes.

This is my long-winded way of saying that everything is always fine if you give it enough time. In my case, ‘fine’ was ‘give me a note on this’ and ‘let me tell you a little bit about that’. It was better than nothing, I grabbed at it.

[Scene 4: if it ends well?]

At least I know what I have done wrong this time, I console myself and shift my feet at the now familiar spot in the cabin. We’ve missed the deadline to file a written statement for the client from the ‘good ol’ days’.

I decide not to wait for stray distractions to intervene on my behalf this time. What’s the harm in a reasonable conversation between two intelligent adults? I can blame it on the clerks, apologise. He can tell me where I went wrong and how seriously I need to mend my ways. I can take it with a pinch of yessir-sorrysir and bow out with my graces intact.

"Sir", I say, breathing courage into my lungs, "I just wanted to say…"

The look hardens from nonchalance to menace, and my voice fails me. I look around the room, helpless, wanting to pacify him, wanting more to escape the scene as quickly as possible.

I stutter, "Sorry sir".

He nods in triumph.

I execute a move destined to become my signature in the years to follow: one stealthy leap through the door, no looking back.

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