“What a wicked face that fellow has!” the judge murmured down to me meekly.
What a wicked face indeed! I couldn’t help but agree. From my little stool by the judges table I could see the man’s features quite clearly; wide, slightly grinning mouth, bright flickering eyes. The bluish shadow that marked his fatal blow was only just creeping out from under he’s carefully sculpted hairdo. He had draped himself casually over his chair, inviting the gaze of the jury members with a clear and disconcerting relish. All in all, the effect was one of utter arrogance with just a sharp hint of humour glinting in the darkest part of his eyes. He shifted his gaze to me, gave a lazy smile and rolled his eyes as if to say, “What a waste of time, eh, buddy?” I returned the gaze and blinked a few times as if to say, “Kindly stop looking at me.”
It was a true mark of his puffed up pride that he did not look away at once. After all, I was an Angel, albeit a rather unimportant one. But as far as the hierarchy of Heavenly Judicial Rankings (HJR) goes, I was certainly several happy steps above him on the ladder. What’s more, I had my newly printed license for the Gaze of Retribution sitting snugly in my pocket and in my cheerful pride of this achievement I was all too keen to test it out a little. Unfortunately the man’s rather pitiable defence attorney, who had had his morning coffee that day, was paying attention and gave him a sharp rap on the shoulder.
“Oh, come on!” the man groaned in the long suffering tones of a rebellious teenager, or a very immature fully grown man. “Why is nothing happening?”
The judge, who seemed to have taken personal offence to the complaint cleared his throat meaningfully – or at least as meaningfully as a series of indignant gargling and choking noises can be.
“We shall begin court proceedings.” He nodded to me. “Sir Angel Harvey of the second ranking, if you could please read the list of grievances.”
I pulled out the sheet I had written earlier and put on my best possible law-court voice. “List of complaints towards one Barnaby, of negative seventh ranking,” I squeaked judicially. “Disrespect towards Angels, disrespect towards The Big Guy, disrespect towards the carefully ordered system of the afterlife, 3 counts of missing compulsory afterlife apology workshops, 2 counts of still-living-spousal neglect, and 34 counts of inappropriate nudity.”
A large dramatic sigh was followed by my well-spoken announcement and Barnaby rolled his eyes in an exaggerated fashion to the point of a damaging neck strain.
“Representative of the defence,” the judge intoned in what he had hoped to be a powerful authoritative voice but which sounded rather like he was suppressing a large belch, “Do you have anything to say?”
The defence attorney made a large thing of shuffling around some papers, which were very obviously blank. He then opened and shut a briefcase a few times, pulled his glasses to the end of his noise, peered out over the courtroom and said in a clear and succinct voice, “No.”
Barnaby threw up his hands in exasperation. The judge ignored him and proceeded to say, “Barnaby, do you have anything to say for yourself?”
Given the opportunity to perform, Barnaby stood up grandly, extending his arms and prancing to the jury’s table before strutting back and forth.
“Once you have finished your talented rendition of A Chorus Line,” the judge tittered with a little flush of pride at his terrific humour. He had, in fact, just finished a season of A Chorus Line as the role of ‘talent-lacking dancer #4’ and had been hoping to slip a comedic musical reference in court soon so as to make people take notice of his vast theatrical knowledge.
Barnaby also flushed, but with anger that his dramatic start had not quite come off with the finesse he had hoped for. He turned murderously to the giggling jury and began speaking in a low ominous undertone.
“Well, your honour, if that really is your name, I have several things to say –“
“Speak up, you idiot!” a jury member exclaimed, throwing a small paperweight in his direction.
“Fine! Since none of you understand theatrical subtlety –“
“I wouldn’t say that!” the judge huffed angrily.
“- I shall speak plainly!” Barnaby cleared his throat.
“Get on with it!” another anonymous jury member yelled.
“My response to these crimes, my impatient friends,” Barnaby continued, ignoring several angry murmurings from the jury for being wrongly labelled as his ‘friends’, “is thus. First of all, I only disrespect Angels because they could not look more ridiculous if they tried.”
I tucked my fluffy angel wings as far behind me as possible and tried not to look too embarrassed.
“Secondly, The Big Guy completely understood that my comments to him were a joke, and we had a good laugh about it. He said he found it refreshing that I felt comfortable enough to call him what I called him as no one had ever done it before.”
I nodded, hating myself for accepting his explanation. It was a well-known fact that The Big Guy had a rather strong sense of humour. He had, much to my terror, given me a lift home from my religion-appreciation class one day and as intimidated as I was, his jokes about global warming had kept me chuckling for days. Any man high up enough in the HJR to be called Almighty but still insisted on being called The Big Guy is generally able to tell a joke from a fist in the face.
“And what did you call The Big Guy?” the judge asked in the voice of someone who is about to tell a very bad joke that they think is hilarious.
Barnaby sighed. “Butthead, your honour.”
The judge shook with suppressed giggles. “And how long have you been in the third grade?” He then burst into unrestrained laughter which the court imitated out of manners and pity more then anything else.
“As I was saying,” Barnaby said testily, “HE got it, if none of you thick-headed idiots did not. Thirdly, I have nothing to say to that claim as the actions speak for themselves. Fourthly and fifthly combined, there are clearly far too many ridiculous rules and classes to climb the so called heavenly hierarchy then altogether necessary, which brings me to sixthly – I expected to be able to do what I want here but cruelly I cannot, so I ask you, what is the point of being dead if it is just like being alive?”
At this arrogant outburst the judge positively shone with red-faced flustered indignation.
“The point, Barnaby!” he sputtered. “The point is – the point, I say, is…”
He lost himself for a moment in the furious and bewildered silence of a man who is forced to think about things he generally strives to ignore.
“The point is that you have done bad things and you shall be rightly punished!” He finished after a long pause, rather anti-climactically.
“I thought that was the reason I was here in the first place,” Barnaby stated with a theatrical flair.
“You are sentenced to…” As much as the judge had no patience for Barnaby’s dramatic tendencies, he had no problem with his own and so the suspense-inducing pause that he put in his sentence dragged on for a full three minutes before I delicately drew the matter to his attention.
“Judge!” I shrieked subtly.
“Harvey, I was pausing dramatically and you just ruined all the anticipation.” I had the good sense to blush and look timidly at my feet. “Anyway, as I was saying, you are sentenced to be born.”
The jury gasped obediently, reading the ‘GASP’ sign that was now flashing luridly above the judge’s table.
“Oh me, oh my,” Barnaby yawned. “Should I be terrified?”
The judge blinked a few times before saying, “Well, yes, if you don’t mind.”
“Well I do mind!” Barnaby exclaimed hotly, ignoring his defence attorney who was now flapping a hand in front of his face. “I think it’s time someone sensible, intelligent, good-looking and generally extremely funny should tell you the problems with this system you’ve got going. The after-life should be a place that is different to life, otherwise it’s just like living still, but after!”
“Um, it is called the after-life,” I interjected as timidly as I could manage while still sounding very intellectual. “It’s quite logical for us to have this system.”
“Oh, yes, of course, I’m sorry – I do believe you have convinced me with your mental fortitude,” Barnaby said with the discernible sarcasm of a brick. As a result, the jury and judge all smiled in surprise satisfaction that my intelligent words had gotten through to him.
“Well, since you’ve seen the error of your ways –“
“No you fools!” Barnaby cut of the judge with an extravagant gesture that upended the table and sent papers wafting about everywhere. “I was being sarcastic. I actually think that this system is idiotic because human beings aren’t logical. We are emotional! The after-life shouldn’t have a hierarchy; it should have no system at all! It should be different for each person –“
“ENOUGH!” thundered the judge in an excellent display of his voice projection training. “Off you go right this second. You shall be born this evening and I’ll hear not another word from you. Now, begone!”
Barnaby gathered himself together into a perfect picture of composure as he gathered up the blank papers on the floor that his defence attorney had brought to look more professional. To this attorney, Barnaby said, “I expect you have assumed already that I shan’t be paying you didly-squat.”
And with that, Barnaby left the room, accompanied by four armed Angel guards.
“Well!” sighed the judge. “Glad that’s over. The rebels of one life always end up being the radical thinkers in the afterlife, don’t they? Anyway, The Big Guy’s hosting drinks tonight, who’s coming?”