I shift a little in the hard, plastic seat in a small waiting room, trying to find a part of my rear end that isn’t numb with sitting yet. Old Reader’s Digests are scattered on end tables, thumbed and dog-eared. The red paint of the chairs is scratched.
I’m waiting for a hearing involving serious felony charges, but the district attorney is late. Very late. My stomach gurgles and I realize its noon. The woman on the other side of thick glass heads out to lunch. The sun breaks through the clouds and slightly warms the room.
And in the waiting I watch them come through, one by one. Ones like the 18-year-old mother who was charged with shoplifting $14 worth of items from Walmart. The men who caught her sat waiting for her, felt bad for her, were ready to let her plea down to a lesser charge. But after the first hour of waiting and they learned she had forgot the date and time, that’s why she wasn’t there, they were less forgiving.
And when she hurried in and I saw her face, anxious and freckled and round, she looked like a child more than a mother. Not at all a criminal. The edge of her jeans was muddy and torn, trodden on by the tennis shoes she wore. Her daughter was waiting in the car.
A scruffy-faced man popped in and out of the waiting room several times, finally approaching the counter. He was here to pick up his friend, is his hearing over yet?
Oh yes, over and done a while ago. They took him to jail. He had a warrant out.
The driver looked stunned when he walks out the door.
And all those minutes of waiting, the man I’d come to write about was sitting in that same room with me, a suit hanging loosely on his thin body. His eyes were red. The court documents I read gave his birthdate: he’s just a month older than I am.
The girl next to him kept his hand in her small, white one, rubbing her thumb back and forth across it. The other she kept on her womb, counting kicks.
And two seats down from him, a bearded man with a pronounced limp waited to testify against him, about how he caused the death of a friend and his own lasting injuries.
Two hours later and the court was called to order, and I settled into cracked faux-leather chairs and listened to lab reports and accident reports as a lower judge decided to send the charges on to trial. The young man didn’t move. The girl kept her eyes on him, hands against the life inside her. The witness’ hand shook beside me. He plucked at his sweatshirt.
And I take notes fast but my heart watches the girl and how she’s still standing by her man, and I wonder what chance the child she carries has.
And I wonder what chance the other broken lives had. Because it’s lives destroyed or falling apart that wander into that courtroom and take their seats on cracked faux-leather chairs.
And so many have just barely begun.