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Augustine Paul: "I Watch The Sparrows Fly"

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Augustine Paul

Dec 20, 1998, 3:00:00 AM12/20/98
It is the year 2018 and Augustine Paul is a broken old man living alone.
Close to death, he spends much time mulling over the past.

I Watch the Sparrows Fly
Augustine Paul

One more day nearly over. I sit in my usual spot on the verandah, gazing
over the weedy patch of garden and into the trees where the noisy
sparrows come home to roost. There are great flocks of them, chattering
nineteen to the dozen, happily playing tag before bedtime. Do they ever
notice me sitting here, so still, so alone, always envious of their
querulous companionship?

Twilight, the saddest, bleakest part of the day, with the light bleeding
rapidly away; twilight brings back memories and regrets. Oh, where is
everyone? My wife, dead for many years, taken away by cruel cancer; my
children dying one by one before their time as though the sins of the
father must be visited upon his offspring in accidents and disease and
murder, all except one, the estranged one who is living far away across
the seas. I write him letters nearly every day: "Son, I am only an old
man. How can you not forgive me after twenty years? Son, you must
understand, I was only an obedient slave to the powers that were. They
used me like an appliance in the trial that shook the nation." Letters
that I write and then tear up because we have been through this so many
times before. Yet, each time I hold the pen in my hand, I think I can
write an explanation so striking, so convincing as to deliver him the
lightning flash of insight. But I know I cannot. So I sit and watch the
sparrows fly.

Strange that I can barely remember last week, but the events of twenty
years ago have sharpened to the polish of knives. That packed courtroom,
the public gallery all eye and ears, the reporters, the gesticulating
lawyer, the scared witness in the box with his downcast eyes and low
voice because we all knew that he was lying, and Anwar himself, so calm,
so collected as though he was already past caring. I think of him and
the light of my memory is as glaring as the noonday sun, not so much
memory as shards of glass to pierce the innards of my soul.

At the market, I ran into Ramasamy a few days ago. He is the only one
who will not turn his eyes away from mine. He was kind enough to take me
to a coffee-shop where we chatted the afternoon away as old men are wont
to. We talked of the most mundane matters but, just before we parted, he
made a most curious remark. He said: "Augustine, whatever they say, I
will always believe that you made the right decison about Anwar." I
shook his hand but said nothing. Oh, What could I have said?

Ramasamy, you can't not have known. Of course it was a travesty of
justice. The whole purpose of that show trial was to convince the nation
of Anwar's imaginary crimes. Ramasamy, you were only being kind. The
prosecution dragged in the most ugly evidences, but their witnesses were
discredited one by one despite the fact that I gave the defence so
little room until, finally, there was no case at all. Even the man in
the street could tell, but I was the all powerful judge; I did not throw
it out. I still pronounced him guilty on eight of the ten charges. That
was what Mahathir wanted. It was necessary to let him off on a couple so
the world would think it an independent judicial decision. But I was
never free to act on my own. And then I sentenced him to twenty years.
It was also what Mahathir wanted. Oh, what else could I have done? That
cruel man, that dictator: he was always invisibly there all the time,
pulling my strings. He stopped at nothing to satisfy his cruelty. It was
nothing to him to use all the apparatus of government to achieve his
end, nothing to him to sacrifice innocent lives like Anwar, Sukma,
Munawar and Datuk Nalla.

And, after Anwar's conviction, with the nation torn apart in the most
horrible manner, I began to have my doubts. But in those days, I could
sweep them all aside; I was part and parcel of the corruption in the
judiciary, the government, the ruling party, and I shared in the tainted
rewards. I was decorated with titles and promoted to the Bench of the
Federal Court. Rumours were circulating of my nomination for the
ultimate prize - the post of Chief Justice - when the broom came. Like
many, I chose to resign rather than face removal.

I sometimes dream that I acted very differently from the expectations of
the powers that were. I dreamt that I acquitted Anwar of all charges in
one blazing moment of truth and justice: the jubilation in the streets,
the worldwide applause, the consternation of the government who had
thought it could not lose. And Mahathir would have found some airy-fairy
charge to throw me into prison and possible torture, but I would have
become a hero. Mahathir would have fallen quickly after, and the nation
would have escaped great distress.

But these are only thin, insubstantial dreams. It's easy to be brave in
hindsight but you cannot turn back time and tide. Now, for me, there is
only the blackness and the sleepless nights. What happens after death?
An old man at death's door thinks too much of these things: God's
justice, lost souls, eternal torment in lakes of burning fire. I pray
every day and the Reverend Peters visits me once a week to assure me of
God's forgiveness. But can I ever forgive myself?

It's all dark now, the sparrows are quiet but the mosquitoes are biting.
I must go inside, turn on every lamp to dispel the shadows - I have
become like a child once more, afraid of the dark, but a child without a
mother - and perhaps try once more to write that letter. I hope God will
take me tonight in a small, quiet hour of sleep but, if not, I'll be
here again tomorrow to watch the sparrows fly.

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