H O W A R D   U N I V E R S I T Y

Faces & Voices 5
An Anthology
of Verse and Prose

by
the Composition
for Honours Class,
Howard University,
2000-2001.

Professor
E. R. B
RAITHWAITE

    



Nicole

By E. R. Braithwaite
  
  
They filled the tiny sitting room of her modest apartment with the oppressive weight of their well-groomed presence and she listened with quiet intensity as the lean, pink faced, gray haired one carefully reviewed the already familiar details, his manicured fingers steepled on the briefcase in his lap, the deep baritone voice raising small echoes from the papered walls. His companion, wordless since the brief introduction, merely listened, avoiding eye contact with her, causing her to wonder why he was there; perhaps they imagined that a black face would provide the appropriate sympathetic touch for the occasion.

“My client would have liked to be here personally, Mrs. Randle, to tell you how truly sorry he is about all that has happened. Believe me, I’ve had the most difficult time persuading him that sick as he is with a cold, his presence here would be both unnecessary and unwise.”

He fidgeted with the locks of his briefcase from which he extracted a small sheaf of papers and she watched him, remembering how this same elegant, coldly impressive man had, day after day, tried to twist every word she uttered in court in an attempt to seek some advantage for his client. She remembered how she had felt under his relentless examination, as she lay helplessly propped up in the uncomfortable wheelchair, exposed to the curious and pitying stares of all those nameless spectators; this same man whose only concern was that his wealthy client would escape the disgrace of being penalized for drunken driving. Now, here he was, still pompously confident.
      
“When I telephoned you last Friday, Mrs. Randle, I told you that my client wished to bring this matter to an end and is prepared to make you a very generous offer.” He arranged the papers into a neat pile and placed it gently on top of his briefcase.
      
"She looked at him unblinkingly, her clear hazel eyes betraying nothing of the brooding anger inside her. Her left arm, down to the long, thin tapered fingers, lay inert on the brightly colored blanket tucked closely around her at the waist and hanging down to obscure the wheelchair which they knew would determine her world for the rest of her life. Her right arm hung limply, the fingers occasionally twitching spastically against the frayed cuff of her dressing gown.
      
“Is that all your client has to say to me?” she asked, her voice soft but firm.
     
 “You’ll find that everything has been covered, Mrs. Randle, everything,” his manner distantly patient. “My client is prepared to reimburse you for all
expenditures incurred, everything. Additionally, recognizing the grave and irreversible nature of your injuries, he has instructed us to offer you a sum which should provide for whatever care and sustenance you might hitherto need.”

“Is he also willing to admit that he was drunk?” Each word was carefully and slowly enunciated as if it had been long rehearsed in her mind.

“My client was not drunk, Mrs. Randle, and there is no shred of evidence to prove otherwise. He had admitted to having two drinks at a Christmas party that evening. Two drinks, Mrs. Randle, that’s all. Please be reasonable. A rainy night, slippery conditions! Come now, Mrs. Randle, we’ve been through all this a thousand times over the last two years and now my client would like to reach some satisfactory accommodation with you.”

“My son is dead” she said, her voice hardly above a whisper. Your drunken client robbed me of my son, my only child, and my life. Look at me, at what’s left of me. On that night two years ago I, too, was planning to celebrate. I’d just completed my medical internship at Howard University Hospital and was taking my son to meet my husband for dinner. Now all that’s left is what you see here.” Her voice was low, barely audible, the muscles of her lips twitching as if she could barely contain the rage which possessed her. “Your client robbed me of my son. My husband couldn’t deal with the daily grind of taking care of this half-dead body, so he’s left me, and you calmly sit there and tell me that your client has a cold?”

“Mrs. Randle, please, my client, all of us deeply regret your terrible loss.” His voice now assumed a sonorous tone and he raised his right hand as if wanting to reach across and touch her, but something in her glance stopped him. He looked across at his associate, but he seemed occupied with some framed degrees and commendations which adorned a nearby wall.

He placed the papers on her blanketed knees, closed his briefcase and stood, as did his associate.

“I’ll be waiting to hear from you or your lawyer, Mrs. Randle. Please call me at any time if you have any questions. Goodbye.” 

After they’d left she remained quite still until she heard the clear click of the front door lock then, throwing off the blanket, she walked to a window and drew the shade aside just enough that she could see them enter the shiny limousine, so blatantly conspicuous in the shabby neighborhood that three little girls interrupted their curbside rope skipping to follow its sleek progress out of sight. She closed the shade, folded the blanket on the seat of the wheelchair, rolled it into a cupboard, then spread the neatly typed sheets on a table and sat down to study them. 

© 2001 E. R. Braithwaite


© 2001 Howard University.
(First Published in limited print edition, An Anthology of Verse and Prose, by the Composition for Honours Class, Howard University, Spring 2001. Professor E.R. Braithwaite)
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