I am sitting on a slightly rickety bench, with the uneven floor adding to the precariousness. I steady myself with my wet feet – I am soaked from the thighs down after my Honda ride (Motorbikes are all called Hondas in a vacuum cleaner/Hoover kind of way). Water drips down from a hole in the tin roof, creating a large puddle in front of me and the dripping rhythm adds to the peace of the morning. I look out from my raised position on the beginnings of the day’s bustle in Gbangbatok. A lady walks past with a basket of cassava on her head. Some children wash outside their house. Behind the covered area, or barri, I am sitting under and down the street towards the river estuary which makes this an important market town, the branches of a large tree teem with chattering weaver birds and their little spherical nests. The barri is empty apart from a few rows of benches facing two tables, one in front of the other. The second table is decorated with a table cloth and sits on a raised section at one end of the barri. I am the only one here until a small black goat decides to venture up the steps and stroll between the benches. This is Gbangbatok’s court and I am waiting on the arrival of the magistrate.
Two days before I had stood at the front of this court, in front of those two tables, when the place had been full to overflowing with gawking Sierra Leoneans. The chief witness, the complainant even, I had stood beside a friend and been told to refer to him as “the accused” when I called him by his name. I had tried to explain that the two people who had been wronged were a dying girl and a poor village woman but I am sure the picture of white versus black spoke more words than I managed. A ripple of laughter spread through the assembled crowd when I was told not to look at “the accused” when he asked me the questions that he had for me.
Later today I will stand in front of this court again, once it fills up and the magistrate has taken his seat at the top table. I will have already have met with him and explained my desire to withdraw this case from his court in favour of a private agreement that has been come to. A colleague will wriggle our way out of paying a “token” to the powers that be and so my second court appearance will be something of a formality – a “once again for the record”. When I finally get home I will be walking across the school’s football pitch when about twelve of our nursery school kids will see me and sprint towards me, jump all over me and then start singing, “So we dance, dance, dance” – the most popular line of a song my friend Andy made up for our children’s camp. I will breath a sigh of relief that I am back doing exactly what I came to Africa to do. And then I will dance, dance, dance.
But for now I will just sit on my rickety bench and watch the drip, drip dripping and the goat’s sniffling around. For now I will just enjoy the quiet morning atmosphere and pray that the day runs smoothly. For now I will just sit, watch, pray and wait.