Monday 13 August 2012

The Witness

© 2012 Sam Liddicott

The assistant administrator was roaming the gardens looking for witnesses, so I thought I had better oblige. I was taken to an interview room that seemed to be serving as a sort of pre-filing room (though it may have been the other way around).

The assistant offered to fetch me a cup of tea and his secretary quickly returned with a warm milky concoction with too much sugar which must have been prepared for someone else earlier. There was a little lipstick around the rim so I suspected it had been used. I did not touch it.

Paying no attention, the assistant flipped open a pad and retrieved a silver ball point pen from his inside pocket. It was then that I realised he was only the assistant administrator. The administrator had a gold pen.

"I will take down your statement" he declared with as little interest as he could muster.


I gave my name



"I've never heard of you!" he said triumphantly (and little too confidently, I thought).

"I write fiction." I countered, which seemed to satisfy him. I mentioned politely that had never heard of him, but he did not give me his name.


"Flat 6, 24 Bolsanger Place, Prate"

"Surely you mean Bolsanger Square, Prest?" glared the assistant. Bolsanger Square was in a run down district which he perhaps felt was more suited to an author he had never heard of.

"If you prefer" I responded. I didn't want to make a big deal out of it.

I watched as the assistant administrator struggled with the spelling of Bolsanger. In a country with a complicated history, a few obscure names always remain to point the way for the historians.

"I could write it for you?" I offered.

The assistant handed me the pad. "Please press firmly" he directed, offering me his pen. He paused for a moment and thought the better of it, calling for the secretary to fetch me a pen. It took some moments to find one that worked. At last a working pen was found, although there was a little lipstick - as a sort of garnish around the thoughtful little tooth marks and the end. I tried not to notice.

"Try to remember to press firmly" urged the assistant, quite unnecessarily I thought. But I didn't want to cause trouble, so I went back re-writing the entire address "Flat 6, 24 Bolsanger Place, Prate" very firmly.

I returned the pad to the assistant. He noted my disagreement with his opinion of my address, but said nothing.

"What was the first thing you observed?" he demanded?

I thought for a moment. "When I was five," I said, "I recall a hanging decoration in my bedroom window. They were birds, I don't recall which."

"After the noise!" he cried in exasperation.

"There was no noise," I said, "we lived in the country you see, and although there was a horse that rather suffered from indigestion..."

The assistant sighed at me as if I were being troublesome on purpose. He began to exert his professional patience. I could see why he had been made an official.

"The noise which startled the gardener," he said, "on which you are here to make a statement - causing him to..."

I looked at him. Why hadn't he said so before?

"Yes, the noise," I said, "that noise. Causing the gardener to..." - I paused.

"To lose control of the automatic mower!" cried the assistant in an pained voice.  (I could see why he was only an assistant).

"Yes, yes!" I said (why hadn't he mentioned this before?) "Causing him to loose control of the mower!" Now I had something to go on. "Rising from the seat of the automatic mower..."

"Not while it was still moving?" queried the assistant.

"Oh yes," I replied, "it was still moving - he was startled, you see?"

The assistant nodded and started making notes. I paused and after he had caught up he looked at me expectantly.

"He stood up," I repeated, "and struck his head upon a tree branch as the mower passed beneath it"

"Go on" signalled the assistant.

"This knocked him from his seat"

"You said he was standing!" cautioned the assistant. I could see he would soon hold a gold pen in his pocket.

"Yes yes," I said, "he was standing, and knocked from the mower onto the ground." I could see the excitement in his eyes as he continued with his notes. "The mower continued its' direction," - here the assistant looked at me doubtfully - "because the gardeners shoe had caught between the pedal and the steering rod."

"The gardeners foot was no longer in the shoe." I added, seeing the look of worry on the assistants face.

"Of course." he said in a relived tone, "the mower continued on its course"

"And rebounded off the mayors leg." I had meant to say the statue of the mayor before I had been distracted by the assistants interruption, and the assistant had got as far as writing down "the mayors leg" before I realised my error, and so could not correct myself.

"What was the mayor doing there?" the assistant queried.

"How should I know? He doesn't confide in me," I responded, "and never has". At this the assistant regarded me with a look of prematurely terminated respect.

"This is quite serious." the assistant pronounced after some thought. "Go on. The mayor was not injured?"

"The mayor was not injured," I assured, "the mower merely glanced off his leg"

"How could it do that," asked the assistant, "if it were headed towards him? It would surely cause some serious injury from the blades."

I rather wished he would make his mind up. First he wants an uninjured mayor and then he wants the mayor to suffer a some serious injury inflicted by an uncontrolled automatic cutting machine. It was difficult to satisfy him on account of the mayor no longer standing on a stone pedastal, but I had the answer. "It was because of the knee length riding boots." I said.

"Riding boots!" - this clearly shocked the assistant. "The mayor does not ride! He cannot ride - and will not, ever since the incident - I was present - at which he..."

Here I interrupted. I was not interested in the incident at which the assistant administrator was present, and his promptings were beginning to prove more than a little difficult. "The mayor does not confide in me!" I repeated, "How should I know why he was wearing knee length riding boots." I paused. "It may have been for the photograph"

"Photograph?" the assistant queried with interest.

"There was a photographer present. Did I not mention that?" I asked.

"You did not" responded the assistant with slight annoyance, and resumed taking notes more fervently.

"He was from a national newspaper," I continued, "at least I think he may have been. It's hard to tell."

The assistant paled slightly, and his writing continued at a furious pace. "Who else was there?" he asked.

"The mayors wife," I said, and after some thought, "and I think the regional commissioner." but after seeing the effect this last statement had on the assistant I quickly added "but I could not be sure about that. He may have only been the deputy regional commissioner after all". (One doesn't want to over do things with an assistant administrator).

"What occurred next?" prompted the assistant once he had caught up in the notes.  "After the mower..." here he paused to read the notes "rebounded from the mayors riding boots"

"He said: You silly ass!" I replied.

"The regional commissioner called the mayor a silly ass..." the assistant repeated to himself as he wrote.

"No no," I said, "you have it wrong. The mayor is the one that said: You silly ass!"

"What? To the regional commissioner?" asked the assistant in a horrified voice, hands raised.

"No, to the gardener-" I replied, "but he was behind the commissioner, and so the commissioner thought the mayor was talking to him and took great offence."

"The regional commissioner... This is very serious indeed" the assistant said again. I could see he was struggling to control his emotion.

"Yes," I said, "the commissioner thought it was very serious too. He said: This is very serious, do you not realise I have a position of highest authority?"

"Did he? Is that what he said?" asked the assistant.

I assured him that it was. "What else could he say?" I asked. The assistant agreed.

When he had caught up again, he asked: "How did the mayor respond?"

"He was very embarrassed, when he realised the mistake. He said: No, no, not you!" The assistant wrote this down.

"And the regional commissioner?" - he paused, unable to go on.

"The commissioner," I added, "said: I do, I assure you, I report directly to the national policy office. You see he thought the mayor was questioning his authority..." I explained.

The assistant paused with his hands over his eyes and took a deep breath. "And what did the mayor do?"

"He apologised in a most humble manner, explaining that he was referring to the gardener, on account of being struck in the sides of the leg by the rotating blades of an automatic mowing machine."

"How did the regional commissioner take this?"

"He accepted the explanation," I said, "he was very moved by it. He laughed until tears came to his eyes, and he slapped the mayor on the back. The commissioner is known for his sense of humour, is he not?" I asked the assistant.

The assistant said that he thought he was - but without conviction. "What of the mower?" he asked.

"It rebounded from the leg of the mayor"

"Yes yes," interrupted the assistant, "what then?"

I resented the interruption, so I continued as fast as I could and waited for the assistant to catch up. "It carved a path through the main memorial flower bed" (I had actually seen the path which it had taken) "and continued through the annual picnic for sick orphans and then out into the road where it caused a minor accident or two, one of which involved an empty green grocers cart before coming to a halt outside the post office. The gardener was found to be unhurt after being revived by two or three restorative drinks."

After reviewing the notes, the assistant asked "Did you notice the source of the noise that startled the gardener?".

The waiting for the assistant to catch up had restored my calm, so I went on: "I think it was the guns".

"The guns!" exclaimed the assistant. He had stopped writing so I provided more information to stimulate him to continue.

"They were directed at the gardener," I responded with magnificent aplomb. "when the were fired."

The assistant sat back in his seat and stared at me. I looked towards the pad of paper and he quickly resumed his writing.

"They were firing blanks" I responded - before he could asked his next question - "for the photograph."

The assistant looked at me with reluctantly diminished excitement, and continued writing. I think I detected a glint of admiration in his expression.

"In summary," said the assistant, once he had finished his notes, "While the regional commissioner, the mayor and his wife were firing guns for a photograph in front of the city hall, they startled the gardener who fell from the municipal automatic mowing machine which struck the mayor in the leg causing no injury and the regional commissioner found the whole thing very funny."

I said that he had got the gist of it correctly but that I thought that the mayors wife was not carrying a gun. The assistant administrator seemed very pleased, and I signed the statement with great satisfaction.

The administrator then entered the room carrying his gold pen.  "Good, good," he said, looking over at the assistant, "we have found two other witnesses who are also giving statements about the ...".

I immediately arose and tore the page from off the top of the pad and fled the room as quickly as I could.

Why hadn't they told me they had found other witnesses? I would not have been so anxious to help. I used my statement rather unsuccessfully to light my pipe before leaving by the back gates.

It was only later that I learned that the witness pad was in triplicate, and that I had only torn out the top copy. As I had been so helpful to override the assistant with my correct address they were pleased to find and inform me that by signing the statement the charges were raised from the nuisance of wasting official time, to making a false statement - which I think is rather unfair as I did warn them from the start that I was an author.

I heard later that the gardener had been drinking a concoction that he brews in an old petrol cannister, and when ordered to immediately remove the recently renewed memorial flowerbed in preparation for an inspection by the new regional administrator he was so inebriated that the lawn mower was his tool of choice.

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