It seemed for Annette as though the world was in suspended animation. Nothing before these few moments with her brother and sister mattered and nothing else afterward would. Annette held fast to Amy’s hand for the two hours they spent at lunch, as though she feared if she let go she would lose her sister for another lifetime. It was clear Amy felt the same way. Neither of the sisters was speaking, but each knew what the other was thinking. Lydia broke their reverie and announced it was time to go back into court.
“It wouldn’t do to be late,” she said, encouraging them to rise quickly. She gathered her enormous leather bag and her briefcase.
“I’ll see you both afterward, right?” said Annette hopefully.
“We won’t leave until the trial is over,” Jonathan assured her.
Annette and Lydia took the lead into the courtroom. Annette couldn’t help but feel as though she was a lamb being led to the slaughter. All the “evidence” against her seemed so convincing – and isn’t that what Lydia had told her weeks before? The practice of law was all about appearances. Right now, she appeared guilty. She was sure that Sophia’s outburst had not helped her case either. After the shock of the admission had worn off, she was sure that condemnation and judgment was sure to follow. She lowered her head as she passed a small crowds clustered around the entrance of the building.
The courtroom filled quickly once the bailiff allowed spectators in. Annette looked back and saw her Jonathan and Amy seated in the center of the room. She sighed in relief and waved at the two of them. Amy waved back and offered a supportive smile.
“Shouldn’t you be sitting up there with Lydia?” asked a woman in large sunglasses.
“I’m sorry…who are you?” asked Amy.
“Annette, it’s me, Afosua,” she said as she sat next to her. Afosua was out of breath from rushing into the room. She wanted to take off her glasses, but feared if she did the bruises on her face would alarm her friend.
Amy laughed quietly.
“Annette is in the front,” she confirmed. “I’m her sister.”
“Her sister!” Afosua balked. “I never knew she had a twin. Clearly we both have a lot to talk about.”
“All rise!” boomed the bailiff. “The Honorable Judge Gyempoh is presiding.”
The judge took a sip of water before taking his seat. He pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his thin nose and looked around the room before settling his sight on Lydia.
“Barrister Oppong, I understand you have a surprise witness?”
“Yes, my lord,” confirmed Lydia. “The defense wishes to call Mr. Prah to the stand.”
“The impudence!” shouted Mr. Prah. “What makes you think I would testify in her defense?”
Sylvester stood up quickly, nearly knocking over his seat.
“Your honor, it would be highly irregular for the defense to call my client as a surprise witness without…”
Lydia cut him off before he could continue.
“We are calling Mr. Victor Prah to the stand, not the prosecution,” she quipped.
Annette raised her eyebrows in surprise. As Victor took the stand, he nodded in her direction in acknowledgement. Mr. Acquah was trying his best to calm his client, who had launched into a furious missive.
“You stupid boy!” Mr. Prah was shouting. “I should have drowned you at birth! You are just as foolish as your mother!”
In the background there was a collective Eiii! that rippled through the courtroom. Whispers and the sound of sucking teeth added to the reprobative court soundtrack.
“Order!” thundered Judge Gyempoh. “Barrister Acquah get your client to settle down immediately!”
Sylvester’s appeals for calm finally prevailed. Lydia smiled inwardly. Without knowing it, Kwame Prah had played directly into her hands and proved her assertion before she had a chance to make them.
“Your honor, Mr. Victor Prah is serving as a surprise witness because he feared intimidation at the hands of his father,” she explained. “As you have just witnessed, Mr. Prah’s violent reaction, our concerns were justified. We did not want his testimony tainted by any threat.”
“Thank you counselor,” the judge answered, wiping his forehead. “Please proceed.”
Lydia took long strides and walked to Victor.
“Mr. Prah, I contacted you some time ago to ask you to gather evidence to help my client. Can you tell the court what you were able to find?”
Victor cleared his throat and leaned against the wooden bar. He was 40 years old, but he was shaking like a school boy.
“Yes. Well, I am a junior financial clerk at my father’s – that is, Mr. Kwame Prah’s – logistics company. I have worked there for 15 years in the same position. During that time, I have inherited records and ledgers from the senior clerks, some stretching as far back as the 70’s.”
“Carry on,” urged Lydia.
“Yes. Well, in those records, I discovered several incongruities. After a certain period in time, the accounts never really balanced. This is normal in accounting, however. It is expected that there will be an acceptable amount of imbalance, give or take a digit.”
“Mr. Prah, I asked you to look into outgoing numbers within a certain time frame. Can you tell the court what those years were?”
“Yes,” nodded Victor. He picked up a printed spread sheet. “They were from 1983-1985.”
“The same span of time that Mr. Prah made a loan to Mr. Fawaz,” Lydia said matter-of-factly. “What was the amount of money shown to be leaving the company’s accounts at this time?”
“$40,000 US dollars,” said Victor.
The courtroom was rumbling. Kwame Prah was slumped over in his seat. He looked as though he was struggling to breathe. Annette wanted to feel sorry for him, but she couldn’t muster the sympathy. His cruelty had left her breathless so many times. If he fell over and died she would be the happiest widow in Accra. Lydia passed a copy of the ledger to the judge and Mr. Acquah.
“$40,000,” repeated Lydia. “The same amount of money Mr. Fawaz received from Kwame Prah as a loan. The very same amount that he failed to pay back. The very same $40,000 that Annette Fawaz’s life served as surety for.”
Lydia stood imposingly in front of Mr. Prah at his seat. Her voice rang loud and clear throughout the courtroom.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the prosecution has failed to show beyond reasonable doubt that Annette Prah stole any amount of money. What we have seen is that Mr. Prah has a history of forgery and poor recordkeeping, and accountability for those loses cannot be placed confidently at the feet of Annette Prah. What we do know now for sure is that Annette was forced into this relationship before she was old enough to give her consent. A child under 16 in this country is not considered a consenting adult, let alone a 7 year old girl.”
Lydia paused, saying her next words slowly and deliberately.
“What we do know, is that Kwame Prah selected and groomed Annette when she was a little girl for his pleasure, under the pretenses of marriage – a condition he has kept her in until today. This is a clear violation of her human rights, and Mr. Prah will face the full rigors of the law for it. The tables have been turned, and Mr. Prah’s reckoning is sure to come.”
Lydia took her seat and left Victor seated in the witness box. Sylvester took the opportunity to question him.
“Mr. Prah, I believe you have a confidentiality agreement that forbids you from discussing company finances with anyone outside of the shareholders.”
“Yes. Barrister Oppong assured me that jurisdiction of the court provides an exception for this.”
“Why are you doing this?” asked Sylvester suspiciously. “Is it because you yourself were in love with your step-mother?”
Victor smiled condescendingly.
“Mr. Acquah, you’ve been our family’s lawyer for a long time. You know that those were my feelings as a secondary school boy. I am married with my own family now. So, no, this has nothing to do with romantic feelings for my father’s wife.”
Sylvester was grasping at straws. He needed to show Mr. Prah as a sympathetic figure, and he needed Victor to help him do that.
“Victor,” he said intently. “Do you not see what you are doing is killing your father?”
Victor looked at the elder Mr. Prah, heaving in his seat and clutching his chest.
“I cannot say that anything I have done or said is killing him,” he said quietly. “What he did was wrong, and it is up to me to do what is right.”
The judge dismissed him from the stand when Sylvester said he had no further questions.
“Your honor, could we have a side bar?” said Sylvester Acquah.
His concern was obvious. He knew he had lost the trial. Lydia suspected he was going to try and save his client. This is the part she always looked forward to. She rose and met the judge at his bench. When the three had spoken at length the judge stopped them and addressed the bailiff.
“We will convene in my chambers,” said Judge Gyempoh.
“All rise!” thundered the wide chested court servant.
Lydia signaled for Annette to join her and Sylvester did the same for Kwame Prah. As the party entered the judges dark chambers, Annette wondered what fate awaited her and the man who had shaped her life for as long as she could remember. Mr. Prah looked back at her with sorrowful and pleading eyes. She knew that look well. It was the look of a man begging to be saved. She wanted to claw those eyes out and crush them with her heel.
“Not guilty!” Afosua said jubilantly, hugging her friend tightly. “I told you you were in good hands with Lydia.”
She winked at her former boss and took a glass of champagne from Tony as he took a seat next to her. It was Lydia’s custom to invite clients back to her house after successful litigation. It was the only time they were welcome.
“And don’t forget the best part,” said Lydia. “’Marriage annulled and restitution in the amount of GhC 20 million!’ 1 million for every year Annette spent locked up with that scoundrel.”
Annette was too stunned to believe her good fortune. She looked around the room at her friends and family as they relived each moment in court. It was the happiest she had been in years. She wished Sophia was here to share it with her, but she was in Nigeria. She wouldn’t be back for a few days.
“Tell us what happened inside the judge’s chambers,” begged Amy.
Lydia smirked, happy to retell the most enticing moments.
“Well, Mr. Prah knew that he was facing the possibility of a long prison term, given the charges of child trafficking were in the works,” Lydia said drunkenly. “ ’Please have mercy on me!’ he croaked ‘I won’t last a day in prison.’”
She stopped talking and burst into a fit of giggles.
“Annette, tell them what happened next oooo! Tell them what Judge Gyempoh said.”
“He said that if I was depraved, it was Mr. Prah who was to blame for damaging me, as evident…”
“As evident by the fact that she had become a lesbian!” Lydia giggled. She suddenly stopped laughing. “But no, seriously. Sleeping with such an old man would make me want to love a woman too. Annette was kinder than I would have been. I would have let the bastard rot in jail AND take his money, but she allowed the judge to show mercy”
Afosua knew where this was heading. Lydia had never been able to hold her drink. Pretty soon she would be kissing everyone in the room. She ushered the protesting lawyer to a sofa in a connecting room and brought her some food to absorb some of the alcohol. If she was busy chewing, she couldn’t talk.
“So what are you going to do now that you are a rich woman?” asked Tony.
Annette smiled broadly.
“I’m going to live the life of my dreams.” She took her brother and sister by the hand and squeezed them tightly. “I’m going to spend every day with the people I love.”
Afosua walked back in as Annette was making her declaration and slipped her arm around Tony’s waist. She stood on her toes so that she could whisper in his ear. He turned so that he could hear her better, accidentally brushing their lips together. She grinned at the warm, soft contact.
“I think that sounds like a perfect idea.”
*Well friends, that’s the end of ATS. I know…I know.