Jihad of the Heart – episode 3

This is episode 3 of a story about life insurance and the law.  If you haven’t read episode 1, start here.

Javeed’s journal: Apr. 1st, 2089.   Federal Corrections Facility Abbotsford.  This morning I was outside with nothing between me and the open sky—the almost-infinite blue across which puffy clouds blew freely from the wire-topped fence on the west side of the yard to the same fence on the east.  Birds fly over the fence, in and out.  The robots on the corner towers pay no attention to them.  We men, who know we are being watched, do not go near the fence.

I got a call from the Canadian Civil Liberties Union, some kind of liberal-minded NGO.  The guy said I shouldn’t give up hope.  I said nothing—but kept listening.  In the CCLU’s opinion my trial was a travesty.  I was incompetently represented.  Instead of hanging up, which I should have done, I said, “Tell me something I don’t know.” That only encouraged him.   He said there are grounds for an appeal.  I told him I’m already in debt, expecting him to back off, but he did not.  He said money was no concern—an important principle of law is at stake, and the CCLU is ready to fight for it.   I’d be represented by a team of top lawyers, CCLU members passionately committed to overthrow the terrible precedent set by my case.  Moreover, I’d qualify for legal aid!  There are several grounds for appeal, including egregious lapses of duty of my former counsel (may he eat flies!), all the way to potential conflicts with the Charter of Rights.  Would I launch an appeal?

“At no cost to me?” I repeated, to be crystal clear.

“No cost whatever.”

It being April Fool’s Day, and being a fool myself, obviously, I agreed to meet their lawyer, Mr. David Ogilvie.

As I just now read in the Qur’an, “Fighting  is obligatory for you, much as you dislike it.”  So I fight.

 

July 1st, 2089.  In honour of Canada Day, we were given a special cupcake with white icing and red sprinkles in the shape of the maple leaf.  No fireworks for us, only videos.

Other guys get messages and visits—even conjugal ones!  Their women line up for the security scan, the interview, before being shown into the ‘private’ room.  (My cellie said his wife was challenged for being drunk.  She hadn’t had a thing.  The guard pretended her perfume was the stink of booze.)  They line up, restless and chippy, remembering the black eyes they got when their men were free, but standing by them, forgiving all.

Laila never once acknowledged my messages.  Now they bounce.  Why would she go to the trouble of changing her address just to block my pitiful attempts to communicate?

Still no date for the Court of Appeals hearing!  When I asked Ogilvie how to prepare myself, he said I won’t be there!  Judges (3 of them!), lawyers, and documents only—no jury, no witnesses, no prisoner.   Will I ever get my day in court?  Sure thing, says Ogilvie, because—surprise!—not only is the defence team appealing, but so is the prosecution!  They want to retry me on the terrorism charge!!!

That means there’s a downside as well as an upside to this appeal.  No surprise there.  But my secret is, there’s no downside for me.  I’m already at the bottom, so why not shoot dice with the Devil?

Guys used to kill themselves in this place.  It doesn’t happen any more—because they’re all insured!  A guy won’t bother to slit his wrists if he knows he’ll be restored from a two-week-old backup, and then face discipline on top of it.  The first Monday of every month, we line up to get scanned.  As though anything important had changed since the last time!  But we’re a government responsibility, so they do things right.  Solving the suicide problem put an end to public inquiries into prison conditions.

 

During the rains of November, by way of a paper letter from yet another lawyer, Javeed learns that Laila was granted a divorce.  The rest of the day, and for days and weeks to come, he catches himself carrying on one side of an anguished dialogue, in some other world in which his voice reaches her ears.  “I did nothing wrong,” he complains silently, imagining her mute, averted face in a shadowy room.  “My Laila, my love for you has grown ever since we met.  It’s so swollen it hurts.   If you knew how I feel, you would talk to me.  Did you read my words?  Or just delete them?  To delete is so easy—a finger tap which becomes automatic.  Another message from Javeed?  Delete.  A photo?  Delete.  Delete.  Delete.  It’s unfair, you delete me, but I have no power to delete.  Laila, I would, believe me, delete those two-and-a-half years that went sideways.  For me, those years do not exist.   But I can’t erase them from your mind, that’s the problem.  You could.  Laila, my love, would you do it for me, for Javeed who gave you his life?   Would you go back to a backup made when we were just married, one that matches mine?  If you did, you’d remember who I am, and we’d be happy again.”

 

Javeed’s journal, Feb. 9th, 2090.  My mother battled her way through the phone system to tell me my father died.  I didn’t know what to say to her.  At least his months of useless agony are over, and he is at peace.  (The ayatollahs still don’t allow life insurance in Iran.)  She too should be relieved, after her long trial of care-giving.  But she is not relieved.  She cries for him all day, and does not sleep at night.  I’m afraid she may follow him before I clear my name.  If I do.

Another momentous communication, this one from Ogilvie.  The Court of Appeal hearing is over; they ordered a new trial!  And when will that be?  Ha, ha.  In a couple more months I’ll know the date, if I’m lucky.

Ogilvie says I have to shave for my trial.  I’ll miss the beard—it’s warm, and it makes me look serious.  Guys don’t mess with me any more.  Anyway, I can keep it for a while yet.  No…rush…at…all.

 

On Monday Jan. 28th, 2092, Javeed’s second Supreme Court trial begins.  His cheeks cold with scentless aftershave, he sits at the elbow of plump, fair, bright-eyed David Ogilvie (LLM, PhD), with two other defence attorneys, before a packed public gallery, as the jury is led in.  Javeed watches their faces—mostly old, mostly white—but learns little.

The judge, Madame Justice Susan Sorenson, is in her fifties, silver-haired and immaculate in black-and-red robes  When he looks at her, Javeed feels compelled to sit up straight.

Representing the Crown is Mehrdad Wong, JD.  The Islamic given name does not escape Javeed’s notice.  His general appearance, tending more to the Asian than middle-Eastern,  gives the impression of an unfortunate cross-cultural experiment.  But his accent is Vancouver through and through.  Just like Darren’s.  Javeed hopes that’s a sign of a loser.

Wong’s address to the jury revolves around the theme of terrorism.  The Crown will show that Javeed was radicalized, and turned against Canadian values.  That although his motives for murdering his wife and friend were, indeed, partly personal, they cannot be understood independently of his sworn hatred for the West.   That the bombing was indeed an act of terrorism, because if he had only wanted to kill his wife and friend, there were easier, less spectacular ways to do it.

Nothing much new—but Javeed is glad he took Ogilvie’s advice to lose the beard.

Following the break, David Ogilvie thanks the jury warmly for committing to what is expected to be a long trial.  “But its length will be overshadowed by its importance.  This trial will be cited in other courtrooms.  It may affect the lives of your children, and your children’s children—of Canadians for generations to come.  Ladies and gentlemen, arguments and testimony in court sometimes seem to drag on and on.  My friend”—he nods to Mr. Wong—“and I will need many words to say what we want to say.  It’s a disease of lawyers.”  He waits for faint laughter from the jury box and public benches.  “If you find your attention wandering, I ask you, please, to remember this trial’s historical significance.”

Javeed finds himself following the speech closely.  It is the first time he has really appreciated the difference between David and Darren.

“In his first trial, which was successfully appealed, my client Mr. Amiri was convicted on charges of murder and attempted murder.  He was also charged with terrorism, but was acquitted—on good grounds, as you will see.  Certain facts about this case are uncontested.  A murder was committed.  Another murder was, probably, intended.  Whether or not an act of terrorism took place is a matter of speculation.  But it doesn’t really matter, because, as will become clear to you, ladies and gentlemen, my client didn’t do those things. Everything my client stands accused of is beside the main point, because those acts which indubitably occurred, and the preparations for those acts, and the thoughts, feelings and intentions which culminated in those acts—were not the thoughts, intentions, preparations and actions of my client.   Even events beyond my client’s control, which exacerbated the feelings and inspired the intention to commit those horrible acts—even those events were not part of my client’s history.  During the two and a half years leading up to the moment when the bomb went off, my client was not even alive.”

Ogilvie tells the jury how Javeed, as a newly-married man, decided to take out life insurance—“an ordinary, responsible act of concern for his wife.  Eighty-one percent of Canadians over the age of eighteen now carry restorative life insurance.  It is a remarkable success.  A friend of mine, who sells insurance, tells me the last seven years have been very good to him indeed.  Most of you have likely taken out a policy—I certainly have.  As an engineer, Mr. Amiri regularly worked around moving trains.  He had safety training, but there’s always a risk.  When he bought his policy on that April day in 2086, almost six years ago, Mr. Amiri was head-over-heels in love with his new wife.  All he wanted was to protect her, and himself, against that risk.”

Mr. Ogilvie pauses dramatically.  “And the next thing he knew, he was charged with murder. A murder committed at a time when he was not awake, or even alive, during a two-and-a-half-year gap in his life.  That is my client’s personal history.   I ask you, ladies and gentlemen—if that were your history, and such a charge were brought against you—would you consider it just?”

On the defence view, Javeed learns, no one should be held responsible for an act that he or she did not commit and could not possibly have prevented.   “That is the crucial difference between my client’s case and others which were cited as precedents in my client’s first trial.  In the other cases, malefactors deliberately used life insurance to evade justice for crimes they intended to commit.  Their will was evident from the outset.  Buying insurance was the first step in their carefully-concocted criminal plans.  That is why they were justly held accountable for carrying out those plans.  But Mr. Amiri had no such evil design.  His ambitions were innocent ones with which we can all sympathize—a joyful marriage, a productive career, a happy life.”

When David Ogilvie says, “Mr. Amiri,” or “my client”, Javeed notices some of the jurors, mostly women, cast their eyes in his direction—in sympathy, he thinks.  Madame Justice Sorenson, listening politely, is harder to read.  The phrase, “without prejudice,” pops into his mind.

“During the two-and-a-half years when my client did not exist, there was, of course, a living Mr. Javeed Amiri, another Mr. Amiri with his own personal history.  That history took an unhappy turn when he lost his job, unhappier still when he quarreled with his wife, fell out with his best friend, and was drawn into the orbit of enemies of society who twisted his unhappiness to their own ends.  You might think of that period of his life as a branch line, that ended suddenly in the explosion of Nov. 11, 2088 in the Cormorant Café.   After that horrific event, the end of that Mr. Amiri’s personal history, the interrupted history of the other Mr. Amiri, my client, resumed, on a different track—to carry on the railroad analogy—a different line.  Ever since then my client has been trying to restore his life to something resembling what it was before.  Time and time again he wrote to his wife—an insurance survivor like himself—begging her to answer, to hear him, to understand who he is, not her killer, but her bewildered husband, who loved her as much as ever.   For these reasons, ladies and gentlemen, I urge you to think of my client’s life as the main line.  The question you will be asked to decide is, is the derailment that occurred on the branch line a good reason to shut down the main line?  Justice, economics and compassion all give the same answer—no.

“But the railroad analogy only goes so far.  We are discussing human lives, not railroad tracks.  As Madame Justice Sorenson instructed, your job is to decide matters of fact, not of law.  The law is clear enough: a person who commits murder is guilty of a crime for which severe punishments are prescribed.  My client stands accused of murder.  You must decide whether the evidence shows, beyond reasonable doubt, that he is the person who committed it.  My learned friend will try to persuade you that my client is the person who murdered Ms Latifpour, and my part will be to give reasons for thinking that he is not.  This will inevitably lead you to consider the question, ‘What is a person?’

“The idea of a person is fundamental to our laws.  Persons have rights and citizenship; they enter into contracts, own property, and are held accountable for their past actions.  Yet the question, ‘What is a person?’ is only rarely raised for examination.  In 1916, the first woman judge was appointed in Canada.”  Mr. Ogilvie allows his gaze to drift towards the dignified Madame Sorenson.  “Her authority to preside in court was challenged by a lawyer on the grounds that, under the British North America Act, women were not persons.  That’s hard to imagine now, isn’t it?  The case had many ins and outs, but I’ll cut to the point, which is just that, in 1917, the Supreme Court of Alberta ruled that women…are…indeed…persons.  And even that wasn’t the end of it.  Another twelve years went by before the matter was finally settled for the rest of Canada.”

There is a noticeable reaction in the jury—raising of eyebrows and pursing of lips.  Javeed counts—eight of the twelve are female.

“My client is not the man who killed Mr. Yavari.  He did not attempt to kill Ms. Latifpour.  He did not set off a bomb in the Cormorant Café.  He did not plan those things, or even think about them; and when he learned that they had happened, he was horrified and devastated, just as the parents, friends and co-workers of all three young people were horrified and devastated to learn about the tragedy.  Perhaps even more devastated, because he was deeply in love with his wife—and because, cruelly, he was charged with responsibility for those events.  Events he had nothing to do with, and could not have prevented, that brought loss to many people, but perhaps most of all to himself.”

 

“I’m impressed,” Javeed tells his lawyer when they are alone later.  “The jury hung on every word.  Thanks!”

“Don’t thank me yet, it’s just starting.”  Belying his cautious words, David Ogilvie’s eyes blaze with vigour and confidence.  Despite all his disappointments to date, Javeed feels tempted to think that this time, he might—just might—be on the winning side.

 

The first evidence the prosecution will put before the court consists of Javeed’s electronic journals from 2086 until the time of the bomb blast in 2088.  Transcripts of the journals are provided to the defence team in advance.  David goes through them with a highlighter, passing the marked pages to Javeed.

July 1st, 2086 (Canada Day).  Went to the festivities in Lynn Valley Mall (Laila wanted to—she grew up with it) bad hot dogs, warm beer, kids’ bands and face-painting. I’m not keen on the rah-rah stuff, but Naser came too, so we had fun comparing to the Islamic Revolution anniversary celebrations in Tehran.  If you close your eyes, they sound the same.  I’m looking forward to the fireworks tonight, that’s by far the best part.

No fireworks with Laila tonight, though (groan!)—it’s her time of month.  I told her, hey, stop taking those pills and you won’t have cramps for nine months or more!  She pretends I’m joking. Here we are trying to scrape together a down payment, and I want a kid already.  Hey, I’m doing great, my promotion’s coming soon. Trust me, I tell her, we can have a kid, two kids, three, no problem!  She just laughs, and always takes her pill.  She should take me seriously.

“Do you remember wanting a child?” David asks.

Javeed winces at the thought.  “I guess so.  It seems like a long time ago.”

“Did you and Laila talk about having a family?”

“Not before we were married.   I just assumed we would have kids right away.  I thought she was on the same page.”  Javeed feels perplexed.  “I guess I should stop assuming stuff.”

Dec. 26th, 2086.  The whole country’s shut down for the Big Eat.  Delmar’s Christmas party was the pits—the company splurged for a meat tray and fruit punch.  Not a drop of alcohol, even if you paid for it.  Are they converting to Islam?  (Ho, ho.)  Instead of bonus cheques, Colin handed out ‘certificates of merit’.  I got one.  May be redeemed any time for sarcastic remarks from co-workers.  I cornered Colin long enough to ask about my promotion.  “Waiting on board approval.”  Still.  The board met last week, that’s why I asked.  Next meeting’s not until…who knows?  As of now, my credit’s maxed out on company expenses from the last Omaha trip.  They won’t reimburse me until after the due date.  I hit the limit when I was panic shopping Christmas Eve, picking up some Haas chocolates for Laila. She loves them.  I had to settle for a smaller box—which was okay, it was just an extra.  My main present to her was a necklace of little gold camels, handmade by a goldsmith in Isfahan.  My sister Firoozeh found it.  Laila got me a new tablet, to which I am dictating right now.  We’re skating on the floor of our bank account, the mortgage due Monday.  Good thing Laila’s parents invited us to Christmas dinner, ‘cause we couldn’t afford a turkey!

Yesterday I tried to make my parents understand why we don’t have kids yet.  (“Your sister has two.  She is younger than Laila.”)  My mother said  I should send Laila to a doctor.  I told her Laila works at the hospital!  She not only gets the best medical care on the planet, she provides it as well.

“This is good stuff,” David tells Javeed.

“Why?  I thought everything that happened after I got insured is irrelevant.”

“Technically, yes.  But you didn’t suddenly change after you took out that policy.  Whatever happened, happened gradually.  If Javeed was still a normal guy by Christmas, the jury has to believe you were normal on your wedding day.  This kind of stuff—Christmas gifts, dealing with your parents, the sort of job worries anybody would have—all helps.”

 

Back in court on Monday, the first journal entry tendered as an exhibit by Mr. Mehrdad Wong is, predictably, from a later date.  Through the courtroom sound system, Javeed hears his own voice.

April 1st , 2087.  Got a call from Davis, the controller at Delmar.  The company laid me off!  Me, and everyone else hired onto the engineering team in the past two years.   I told him, “I’m no ignorant rag-head you can April-Fool, you doofus!”   He said, “What?”—then I knew.  He’s a bean-counter, had no idea it was April Fool’s Day.   The fool was me—letting Colin string me along.  Last week he was still talking about my promotion—I mean I asked him.  “Waiting on the board.”

So I ask Davis how long the layoff will last.  “Could be four weeks.  Could be longer.”  I’ll be dead!  I call Colin. “What’s going on?  Why didn’t you tell me?”  “I didn’t know until this morning,” he says.  “It came down from the board.  I’m as shocked as you are.” I start yelling.  “Freaking Davis said four weeks minimum!  I can’t afford that.”  “Oh,” says Colin, “I can’t see it being that long.  There’s too much work.  We’ll need to bring people back just to fill the contracts we have now, and you’re top of the list.  When Union Pacific comes in…”

“Never mind UP, we’ve been waiting for UP since before I was hired!  Where am I on the list?”  “Pretty close to the top,” he says.  “Am I number one?”  “Ah…number three.  Or four.  I gotta check.”  He’s gotta check!  I say, “Why didn’t you warn me this was coming?  I’m sending out my resume.”  “Whoa! Delmar needs you!  I need you!  Javeed, you’re the guy I rely on the most, don’t crap out on me.  Delmar is a great company that happens to be going through a rough patch.  The pay is competitive, and  frankly, the job market’s not so hot right now; you’d be lucky to do as well.  When we’re back to normal, Javeed, I’ll push that promotion through for you.”

So here I am waiting for Laila to get home so I can tell her the wonderful news.

Here’s another text from the insurance company bugging me to schedule a backup.  But when I think of how upbeat I was a year ago, on top of the world, I kinda hate to overwrite that file.  If I’m gonna get run over by a bus, I may as well come back happy.

“‘If I’m gonna get run over by a bus, I may as well come back happy’,” Mr. Wong repeats.  “That remark is evidence, ladies and gentlemen, that Javeed Amiri regarded his insurance policy as a personal lifeline—a means of saving his life.  Which, of course, is why most people buy restorative life insurance.”  He scans the jury, then takes a moment to wipe his glasses, allowing a better view of his unattractive face.  The jury, Javeed hopes, will see him as foreign, untrustworthy.  “This entry also shows that in April 2087 Mr. Amiri knew it was time to look for another job.  But when September rolled around, he still hadn’t begun a serious search.  And when a job was, in effect, offered him, he turned it down, as you’ll hear next.”

Javeed’s voice starts again.  Sept. 11th, 2087.  Naser and Laila are ganging up on me.   His girl friend’s out of town, so he joined us for wings and suds to watch the game. And we won!  The Canucks beat Anaheim, amazing!  We’re reviewing the highlights—Naser has the remote and he says, “Javeed, I want to show you something.”  He brings up this ad for a DSI Scanning Technician at Lion’s Gate Hospital.  “I talked to the woman who placed this.  She’s expecting your resume.  And she owes me one, man.”  I can’t believe it. “Scanning tech?  No way, man!  I’m an engineer!”  Laila’s right there behind the chesterfield, so I know she’s in on this.  Naser tries to bullshit me. “Being over-qualified is an advantage.  They’re desperate for good people.  It’s health care, man, the growth industry that never stops growing.  In two years you’ll be running the department.” “No way,” I say, “Delmar’s almost back to where they were, and I’m first on the recall list.”  Then Laila starts in, “Javeed, are you still counting on that company?”  I tell them, “It’s more money, and a way better future for me! I should throw that away after waiting all these months?  Get real.”

It ruined my evening.  I think those two lunch together every day.  Their favourite topic of conversation?  Get Javeed a job.

“Mr. Amiri was indeed recalled to work at Delmar the following month,” Mr. Wong informs the jury.  “But to get his old job back, he agreed to a pay cut.  The promised promotion never materialized.  And the company’s recovery stalled.  Six months later, Delmar laid him off again.”

 

In lunch break, Ogilvie plops a big pizza in front of Javeed.  It smells delicious.  “C’mon,  it’s to share.”

“No thanks,” says Javeed.  “I had a huge breakfast.”

“Not like this!  Smoked oysters, Walla Walla onions, truffles…”

“Sorry, David.  I can’t eat until dark.  It’s Ramadan.”  The lawyer’s eyebrows shoot up, waiting for an explanation.  “Go ahead, call me superstitious.”

“I won’t call you that, Javeed.  Just fill me in, okay?”

“My first trial was in Ramadan too.  And I ate lunch.  That’s all.”

Ogilvie rubs his chin.  “I thought Ramadan was later in the year.”

“Lunar calendar,” Javeed reminds him.  “When I was a teenager, Ramadan came in the summer.  I got so hungry waiting for sunset!   Eat this thing, David, it’s driving me nuts.”

“This is not a hot idea, Javeed.  You have a lot more trial to get through.  You need to keep your blood sugars up.”

 

July 1st, 2088.  Another Canada Day, and the whole country’s off work.  I am too, but I’m not celebrating.  There’s supposed to be an economic boom, but it doesn’t apply to engineering.  I can’t even score an interview.  It looks like Laila’s moving up in the world, though—they’re giving her leadership training.   A bigger gun to shoot me with.  Things are…less than great with Laila.  I still call Colin regularly—the picture’s forever getting rosier.

Laila and Naser are at the fireworks tonight.  I didn’t feel like battling the crowds.  I said, “Forget that junk.  Stay home with me!”  Of course, she didn’t respond too well to a direct order.  The Qur’an says, “Women are your fields: go, then into your fields however you please.”  Not in Canada, boy!

When you think about it, fireworks are about as shallow as it gets.

 

The Crown calls Laila Latifpour as a witness.   As she takes the stand, she looks around nervously—everywhere but at Javeed.  He feels a shock of unrecognition.  She doesn’t match the image in his mind’s eye, that he has carried like a photo since the day he was arrested.  But how?  He can’t be sure.  Her hair is shorter—he expected that, it was one of the complaints listed in his journal.  But as dark and thick as ever.  A more professional look, he has to admit.  An E.R. nursing supervisor’s haircut.  So what if it’s short?  It will grow back if she lets it.  No, there’s more—her expression, as though seen through the kind of lexan panel that separates prisoners from their visitors.  As though she’s inside a security zone, and can’t or won’t come out.  Laila, his heart calls; but she still doesn’t look at him.

“Ms. Latifpour,” Mr. Wong says courteously, “please tell the court how you met Javeed Amiri.”

With both hands, she pushes the hair back from her face, a gesture profoundly familiar to Javeed—but with the short cut, her hands push against nothing.  “It was a double date,” she says.  “Naser invited me to the Raincoast Grill, to meet his best friend from childhood.”

“Who was Mr. Amiri’s date that night?”

“Someone from Delmar, where he worked, another engineer.  Lorinne, maybe?  Lauren?”

“So you were Naser Yavari’s date.  Had you dated him before?”

“A couple of times.”

Javeed’s eyes widen; he didn’t know that.

“But you wound up marrying Mr. Amiri.  Why?”

“It was a big mistake.”  Laila sniffs.  “Excuse me.  I…was drawn to Javeed because he was different—not Canadian, like the boys I was used to?  Naser was from Iran too, but he was louder, more out there, and I thought he was shallow.  I was wrong about him.  But Javeed always held something back, and I thought…do I need to go into this?”

“It’s important for the court to understand your relationship with Mr. Amiri.  Why do you describe him as ‘holding something back’?”

“I honestly think he was just shy.  And I was too, so I responded to that.”

Mehrdad Wong nods, as a crow might nod when eyeing something to eat.  “So, you see it now as shyness on his part, but what did you think then?”

“I saw it as respect.  I felt safe with him.  He reminded me a bit of my father, you know, he had more of the old Iran about him.”

“More than Naser had?”

“Naser was more Canadian than the kids I went to school with.  When he got to Vancouver he just dove in and never came up for air.”

Hands behind his back, his jutting forehead under dark hair gives the prosecutor a predatory look.  “And did you feel safe with Naser?”

“Not quite so safe.  He wanted to…move faster than I was comfortable with.  We actually had a big fight, that same night, after the restaurant.”

“The night you met Javeed, you fought with Naser?”

Naser and Laila were close enough to fight?  Suddenly Javeed feels betrayed, like a child who discovers that his friends share a secret which doesn’t include him.  So when Naser called him the next day, and reminded him (as if he needed reminding) how attractive Laila was, and encouraged him to call her, ask her out—“Because, my friend, she had eyes only for you!  Oh, man, you are blind!”—something else was going on besides their lifelong comradeship, the kites they flew together?

Mr. Wong’s questions turn to family finances.  Laila tells about her job in the emergency ward.  “When we got married, Javeed earned a little bit more than I did.  Our plan was to save for a condo, but Javeed couldn’t stick to it.  He would go out and buy stuff, sometimes presents for me.  Or presents for himself which he pretended were for me.  His boss told him he’d probably get promoted, and Javeed always treated that like money in the bank.  So it was hard to save much.”

“But you purchased a condominium a few months after you were married.”

Laila shrugs.  “We qualified somehow. But things got bad after Javeed lost his job.”

“He was laid off, wasn’t he?”

“Whatever.  He’d already taken his vacation, so we had three weeks of no income from him, then whatever you get from employment insurance.  Naser and I told him to use the time, get off his butt and start looking, but he didn’t want to change at all.  Every month we owed more and more.  If my parents hadn’t helped out, we would have lost the condo.”

Javeed’s eyes drop in shame; he didn’t know that either.

“I was so worried that summer,” Laila goes on.  “Naser tried to help.  He leaned on friends at the hospital—he had lots of friends—and actually lined up a job for Javeed.  All he had to do was apply!  But he wasn’t interested.  By then he’d started praying.”

“Praying?” the prosecutor repeats with, Javeed thinks, a smirk, hastily recomposed into a polite smile.

“Muslim prayers, every day?  And going to mosque?  He said it was the duty of a Muslim man, and started criticizing me for not being Muslim enough.  He even threw our wedding in my face.  ‘Weren’t you serious about your vows?’  Well, I did take my vows seriously, but as far as I was concerned, the traditional Persian ceremony was—you know—colour, and tradition, but not the heart of our marriage.  I thought Javeed felt the same, but then I started to see this whole other side to him.  That came out when things went wrong?  Instead of acknowledging the reality and dealing with it, he looked away.”

“Javeed looked to religion?”

Laila nodded.  “That, and his old company, Delmar, and his boss there.  And then—surprise, surprise—they hired him back!  So he felt vindicated.  And that was fine, I was happy too, except Javeed hadn’t learned anything.  He spent more than ever, so the next time he was laid off our credit was still maxed out.  I was so stressed, I talked Naser’s ear off every day during break.  I said, ‘He’s your friend, you know him, what can we do?’”

But you are my wife! Javeed thinks.  You refuse to meet my eyes in this courtroom.

“Ms. Latifpour, by October 2088 your husband had been out of work for six months, for the second time.  That’s when you decided to update your life insurance policy.  Can you describe your thought process leading to that decision?”

In a businesslike manner, Laila explains that she wasn’t actually due for her regular six-month backup.  “But I started thinking I’d better have another one.  I’d been promoted, and I’d learned a lot of new stuff at work which I didn’t want to lose.  If something happened.”

At this, Mr. Wong takes an eager step forward.  “What were you afraid might happen?”

“I didn’t know.”

“You had health worries perhaps?”

“Not at all.  I’ve always been healthy.”

“Was there anything else that gave you concern for your life?” Mr. Wong persists.  “That would justify the extra cost of an early backup?”

“Nothing specific.  I was just nervous.”  Laila’s eyes close in concentration, or to avoid seeing the prosecutor.   “After my promotion, he got so quiet.”

“Please continue, Ms Latifpour.”  So eager, Javeed thinks, almost drooling.

“He more or less stopped talking.  Telling me anything, I mean.  He’d still demand his meals.”

“His appetite was healthy, I see.  Did he demand anything else?”

“You mean sex?  No.  He was very cold.  He seemed suspicious of me.”

“What could he have suspected you of?”

“I don’t know.”  Laila sighs wretchedly.  “Having an affair with Naser, I suppose.”

“Ah.  And did you have an affair with Naser?”  Javeed is disgusted and incensed by this suggestion.  He taps David’s arm insistently, but the lawyer shakes his head.

“No!  It hadn’t gone that far!  But I couldn’t clear it up with Javeed because he wouldn’t talk to me.”

“It hadn’t gone that far by October 3rd,” Mr. Wong repeats, “the date of your backup.  But did you think it might go that far, within the next few days, or weeks?”

Finally David Ogilvie signals to the judge.  “That’s a leading question, and pure speculation to boot.”

“I am trying to determine why the witness felt afraid, as she said she did.”

“The question is fair,” Madame Sorenson rules.

“I…didn’t think about that at all,” says Laila.

Javeed doesn’t believe her.  The tip of a pencil, that he has been pressing into the legal pad in front of him, suddenly gives way with a crack that startles everyone in the courtroom.  Laila’s eyes meet his—the eyes of a stranger.  Someone who played his love like a game.  An expert button-pusher, like the Canadian kids on their consoles, their dazzling proficiency impossible to follow.  Actually a team of two, it seems, batting him back and forth like a volleyball in a video game.   He, Javeed, as utterly clueless as that virtual ball, as insignificant as a pixel colour change.

Mehrdad Wong clears his throat portentously.  “Please tell the court why you and Naser agreed to meet Javeed in the Cormorant Café on the afternoon of November 11th.”

Laila looks surprised.  “I wish I knew!   I don’t remember that day.”

“Of course you don’t.”  The prosecutor’s eyes almost twinkle—but he also shows his teeth.  “Thank you for your patience, Ms Latifpour, I have no further questions.”

 

Continued in episode 4

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