Nine thirty in the morning, the first case on the court docket, Wednesday, is a Mitigation Hearing in the case of Ivanka Siminov. Beth-Anne Takinva, the Spokeswoman for the Criminal, Professor Wilhelmina Novotna, and Lt. Mykel Drakov stood before the Judge in the Criminal courts, each expressing the same story from a different perspective.
The Professor stated the act of false swearing that she submitted the wrong theme paper in her hands. Ivanka might better serve to accept this matter as a case of carelessness to deal with on university terms. Rather than as a criminal matter. Hindsight being her perspective, she explained to the judge that she did not take the totality of circumstance into account.
“Your Honor,” Professor Novotna continued, “when I was a junior instructor, I carelessly reviewed a paper and graded it without assuring myself it was indeed the student’s work. The following semester I read the same paperwork word for word handed in by another student. I brought the matter to the attention of my Department Chairman. After reviewing the paper, he told me this same paper had been circulating among students for several years.
“It was then, Your Honor, that I instituted the pledge as part of my classes. With that oath in my official capacity, if a student swore that the work was theirs I had the duty to pursue the falsehood and prosecute it to the fullest. No Danubian likes being lied to, particularly not one in a position of authority. I have to hold a very tight rein on the students in my classes. Despite this, at least one student a year tries to get away with passing another person’s work as their own.
“In the matter of Ivanka Siminov, I believe I may have misplaced my reason and substituted my legalistic application of the rule and the law in its stead. A reasonable woman would have taken the proper theme and graded it, not the draft. I admit I was unreasonable in this matter with Ivanka Siminov not to receive further punishment born of that unreasonableness.”
Beth-Anne Takinva, acting as her client’s voice, noted that her client had accepted the consequences set by Professor Novotna. Despite knowing she had the correct paper in hand and had taken the suspension from the university, lost exchange student status, and the criminal penalty as an obedient child of Danubian society. Her right to protest the false swearing charge had been limited to the plea-bargaining gained at her original sentencing.
Mykel Drakov acted as a character witness. He cited the many visits to the Siminov home with his American lady friend Marcia Shevat, during which he discussed with the extended family and Ivanka the events of the day leading to her arrest and the family entering public penance. He offered that the young woman was not criminally minded and had no duplicity in her life whatsoever. He asked that she be returned to full citizen status and allowed to return to school in the January term,” If Your Honor so decides.”
All three of the plaintiffs asked for the same thing: Ivanka’s sentence was commuted to time served and she was returned to full citizen status the morning following the Day of the Dead celebration. The judge, swayed by the honesty of the Professor, the effectiveness of the Spokeswoman, and the testimony of the military officials, agreed to end Ivanka’s sentence immediately following the ritual cleansing the morning after the Day of the Dead.
Following the court case, Mykel Drakov met me for lunch in an outdoor café in the central square of Danubia City. His reason for appearing in court was not a secret between the couple and was not open for discussion. I knew that until Mykel had the appeals court document in his hand a petition for leniency might yet fail in the appeals court. Therefore, waiting before even openly discussing the matter seemed a wise choice.
We discussed the participation of me in the annual Day of the Dead ceremony. All penitents and criminals were required to march the ritualistic route around the city. Mykel explained to me that many who did so feel a profound spiritual presence and gained insight from the spirits of the ancestors as to the participant’s life path.
“Some lead to see old hurts in the past that have caused their present to be imperfect; others see glimpses into a future that might be, if they set their feet on a particular life path in this present, while, sadly, others see nothing at all.”
“So, at the end of the day, I might see nothing but learn much about myself?” I rephrased Mykel’s statement. The young military officer nodded and smiled.
Twenty days later, penitents and criminals, numbering 2300 in all formed in the central square of the capital city to receive a coating of white body paint and then daubs of black to represent the rotting physical body on death to free the soul on its eternal journey. All were issued torches and torch holders sent to walk around the city perimeter clockwise while the other half marched counter-clockwise. All would pause for food and rest at daybreak and the halfway point and would complete their journey the following night as the sun set, ending in front of the temple at sunrise.
The groups would march in silence, each keeping eyes on the buttocks of the person in front of them to clear their minds sufficiently to catch a glimpse of what the spirits of the ancestors might wish to share with them. I was walking with the Siminov family. Ivan and his wife led the family, then Ivanka, then me, with Kivar just behind me.
Seven hours into the first night’s march, I heard a voice she recognized. After determining it could not be anyone in the line of marchers, I listened intently.Then I heard the voice joined by a vision. Visions of a family picnicking along the Danube River, a toddler wandering in the streamside, slipping in the mud, and being swept away in the current.I stripped off my military caftan and sandals, plunging into the water, and clutching onto the little arm of the frightened babe.
I was about to sink beneath the water and swim to the bank. Too tired to pull myself from the water I felt the strong hands of other Danubian police and military hauling the child onto dry land. The vision ended as I entered the rest camp. A Priestess took my torch and directed me to the kitchen tent, where a traditional meal awaited the marchers. I thought to ask Mykel about the currents in the river where the public park and beaches are and whether any swimmers’ buoys if someone fell in.
A short walk to the sleep tents found an empty bed awaiting her beside Ivanka with Kivar on the other side and slept a dreamless sleep until awakened by the priests to continue the march. A period of repainting the body make-up followedby lighting the torches before the marchers set out again as the sun set.
It was midnight when the voice came to her again, father, “Little girl, remember your training, remember your discipline, and follow your heart.” The voice ended and was replaced by a horrible roaring of engines and the sound of small arms fire. I looked about and realized this was all in my mind’s eye. There was no perceived threat nearby. Yet she could not shake the feeling that what she was now seeing was about to play itself out somewhere in the Danubian countryside shortly.
The march ended in the courtyard of the main Temple just as day broke above the eastern wall of that great imposing building. Blessings followed by the washing off of the body paint in the waters of the river which ended the religious portion of the ceremony. The legal was where criminals received their capes and boots for the winter which would be held in front of the Ministry of Justice building in downtown Danubia City.
For penitents ending their period of obligation, the priests and priestesses came to remove the temple collars on the steps of the Temple, then presented the absolved penitent with a simple heavy cotton hooded robe to wear home. Ivanka went to Danubia City to see her Spokeswoman. The Siminov family and I knelt on the Temple steps awaiting release by the priests.
“What did you see, my child?” the Priestess who came to unlock and remove my collar asked, “From the look on your face something has been revealed to you.”
“It was more a feeling, Ma’am,” Marcia replied, “and I heard a voice, clearly, in my head.”
“Did that voice tell you anything?”
I looked up at the priestess and nodded. He said, “Little Girl, remember your training, remember your discipline, and follow your heart.”
“Who was he?” The priestess kept drawing out Marcia’s story.
“Both the words and the voice were my father’s, but he died when I was much younger,” I let my voice trail off, then said, “Oh, I have had a visitation from my ancestors, haven’t I?”
By now the collar had come off and Marcia, still kneeling, awaited a hooded robe, which the priestess held but had not relinquished. “Tell me the rest, please,” she asked looking deeply into Marcia’s eyes.
“The first night of the march, toward daybreak, I had a vision that was so real it shook me to the point I could not tell anyone. I saw a small child being swept up into the rapids of the river. I jumped in to save the child and was barely able to fight the current, so strongly it pulled against me. I was able to bring the child to the edge of the riverbank where several soldiers and policemen reached out to take her from me.
“Then I was trapped in the current, swimming as strongly as I could but not moving at all. Nor could any of the hands reaching for me grab me to lift me out of the current. The trance broke as we reached camp and I did not get the same vision the second night. The second night the voice of my father came to me and then, oddly, the sound of roaring engines and gunfire.” Marcia was relieved to have blurted it all out to the priestess who responded only by handing Marcia the hooded cloak.
“Keep your head covered in the hood until you reach your home,” the priestess instructed, “and come tomorrow at 11 a.m. to visit me. We shall sit by the area of contemplation and reflection and talk further.” With that she was gone, to assist other penitents being released from their collars or listening to others who felt they needed to remain so.
The three Siminovs and me, heads covered and bowed, retreated from the Temple area and walked to the Ministry of Justice building. Their interesting sight awaited me. A fully clothed Ivanka Siminov, in the traditional Danubian ceremonial costume of a long-pleated skirt, white mutton-leg sleeve blouse, and shorts waited for her family with open arms and a smile on her face. As seriously as she could muster, I deadpanned, “Ivanka, I didn’t recognize you with clothes on,” which drew laughter from the rest of the Siminov family.
“Marcia, I must tell you that Spokeswoman Takinva revealed a condition of my remission of sentence to me today. I had not known before,” Ivanka sighed, “I need you to act as my proxy for this as I do not feel I can do it. Yet someone in the family must. On the day at the end of this semester, when I was scheduled to receive my next twenty-five strokes with the switch, Doctor Novotna is to present herself to receive fifty strokes. To make up for the fifty I had already received unjustly. As you hold the authority to switch as an Army Officer Instructor, I ask you to be my proxy.”
How does someone respond to this? I thought to herself, then she remembered the words her father had spoken that first night: follow your training, follow your discipline, follow your heart. By accepting this duty, she would be attesting to all three of her father’s conditions.
“Ivanka, I shall dutifully perform this act as your proxy,” I accepted.