THE OLD MAN’S WILL
He ran out of money again. The times throughout pandemic were tough. It was no use regretting the decision to take up uncertain profession of law. The recollection of vivid events how his father had opposed his decision to be a lawyer came before his misty eyes. He was swayed by glamour and nobility of legal professional. He had heard at career building lecture that the legal profession is all trust. You betray God if you betray your client. That’s what he heard senior advocates talking about in the bar.
He looked at the watch. It was time for his client to visit. He was expecting his balance fees. But the client called showing his helplessness due to hospitalization of his father due to corona virus infection. ‘I doubt if every other person who is to pay fees has infected member in the family.’ He murmured and sat on the study chair. The frustration grew in the same manner as it grows when food is removed from the hungry. His eyes now with blurred vision fell on his coat and gown hanging on the peg in his room. The black coat and gown are the dress of lawyers. Those who wear it must stand for justice, whatever may come. These were almost not used for the last one year. The phone rang and a friend on other side called out, “Are the courts working?”
“Only very urgent cases.” He said sulking being already saddened by preceding events. The fees that has eluded the pocket might elude forever.
“So, it’s almost closed. Then what are you doing?”
The friend laughed aloud, “Every other person is doing so. What about the income?”
“Just surviving.” He said harshly as if answering that’s what the nation of a billion plus was doing.
“Judges and staff must be getting paid. I think the Government as well is taking care of its servants. I am sorry to call ‘officers’ as servants.” The man gave a sarcastic laugh.
The pandemic had brought out the court work to standstill. Most of the lawyers had exhausted their savings and were on verge of penury. He too was victim of financial mess as all his savings stood exhausted with no work coming around. He feared coming face to face with the grocer who was ever waiting with hawkish eyes to ask him for the credit due.
Mr. Nick called him on phone, “James, my father thinks his time is coming. He wants to will a plot in favor of the daughter. Can you make up to the place? It’s a request. I know the busy schedule of lawyers.”
‘Successful lawyers do not go placating clients at their homes. If someone needs professional service he must come to the office. But I am not successful. Let me compromise and visit him. It will bring some money.’ He thought. Mr. Nick was very helpful in introducing him to the prominent personalities of the town. Prior to lock-down James had got respectable business from his acquaintances.
He got ready and started for the house of Nick choosing bike over car as the petrol prices had touched a new high nearing hundred bucks per liter. To avoid the grocer he took the backside street. He wondered how many of his friends had made big. They had big houses, big cars, nice offices but he had failed. He had failed because he had soft heart, a golden one. Justice was the consideration and not money. So, he could get justice to many but no money for himself.
He tried to calculate the losses he suffered for having rendered services pro bono. It was incalculable. Yet, none of those whom he had served free have ever inquired about his well-being. All he could do was to curse self.
He crossed the slum area. It was all filth around. Ladies were sitting on cots in front of their one room houses and kids were playing around. The masks of ladies were rarely covering their noses and mostly rested on the chin. They were laughing, he could not make out about what. The children were playing with no masks. The men in these patriarchies were busy with whatever petty jobs they had. Some shouting, some listening, some laughing, few smoking but everyone was busy. Their work would bring much desired money to the family when all other businesses were shut down forcibly by orders of Government. ‘The lock-down by Government cannot stop hunger from coming.’ But Governments are all powerful and it was lock-down. Who cares for the lock-down? The liveliness of the area raised his spirits and he paced towards house of Nick.
Nick had a palatial house. Many businessmen had that kind of huge buildings. Even many of his batch mates too have big houses but not him? He would too make a big house. He would wait for the client, a gentleman who could be tricked. He had resolved to act cleverly even if that would be breach of trust. That’s how one makes big money. Engrossed in thoughts he entered the house of Nick to find the old man on the bed. The two sons were standing on right side and a nurse was monitoring oxygen supply. It was not disclosed but it could be made out the old man was victim of infection from corona virus.
The old man raised his hand in gesture requesting him to take seat, “Son, I have gifted one plot each to both of my sons. My daughter remains deprived of any worth value from me and I wish to bequeath my remaining plot worth ten million bucks to her. It’s nothing if compared to the ones I have gifted them.” He pointed to the two sons standing who respectfully nodded in consonance with the desire of their father. “Daughters must have properties. It’s security.”
James had little say in the will and it was written down as directed. The formalities were completed and old man asked Nick to pay the fees. James promptly said in gratitude, “I can’t charge Mr. Nick. I owe him a lot that can’t be compensated.” Quite contrary at heart he wished Nick should pay in those trying times. Nick believed the grateful lawyer rightly declined fees for the trivial documentation that could have otherwise got written for a small amount.
He returned cursing Nick. ‘What if I had declined fees out of courtesy; he should have paid it out of obligation.’ But the time had gone bye.
Fifteen days having passed Nick called James to inform the old man was gone forever on fourth day after writing of the will. Nick and his brother wanted appointment with him and he agreed. Nick though a businessman walked straight like a politician. He was not very tall but had maintained a fit body, rarely seen in his field. With him arrived his younger brother employed with tax department. He wore expensive shirt and watch lacking any other aspect of officer in personality. The expensive watch must have come from a businessman to get file through. Both the visitors did not shake hands in consonance with norms of pandemic. A practice was now lost.
Nick smiled and so followed his brother, “James, we come with a request.”
He looked at both of them and nodded.
“The request is my father had worked very hard throughout his life. Even at seventy seven he was going around. He had pension also. But that money was spent. Luckily we both made fortune. I was hardly twenty when I set up business and it was never going back. The line of wealth is starkly visible in my palms. I never suffered losses. He joined taxation when he was twenty four. You know what of kind extra money is there.”
“How can I help you?” He did not wish to irk Nick. The gratitude towards Nick had weakened him to extent that he could hardly carry the heavy burden of his favors on his shoulders.
“It was our money that the old man had spent on buying the property. The two plots that he gifted us were from our hard earned money. The money for third plot was the one that we had been contributing to the joint funds.”
He kept quiet looking in the eyes of Nick. The glance said more than the words could have. They were telling lies.
The younger one said, “The will has two witnesses and they are us. The will is scribed by you. You know our sister benefits from our money. It’s not her money.”
Nick tossed his head to one side, “Let me tell you the truth. She has a lot of it. Her husband is a rich architect, made lot of money. In the past the old man had transferred much cash clandestinely to her. He believed that we had no air of it.”
Nick gave a glance at younger brother and then said to James, “She does not know about will. If you don’t tell her it’s over.”
James got restless. He was never approached by a client for a request breaching trust. It was against ethics. It was a crime. The visitors noticed the fear on the face of their host. They had doubts whether the plan would be through.
“The plot in the market is somewhere near ten million bucks. We don’t think it will be a bad option if you get one million of it.” Nick said sharing a glance of approval from his younger brother. James was silent. Once again fear returned to the duo what if the lawyer went berserk.
James heart started pounding and he could hardly make out what the visitors were thinking. He thought, ‘Here is the opportunity. In one go get richer by one million that will last long enough. The miseries that the penury has brought will vanish. Many more will come in the way bringing more fortune. I know not the daughter. What if she does not get the plot? She is rich as they say. It is the time to accept the offer. Even if I handover the will to the daughter and out of love and affection for brothers she forgoes her right, as many ladies do, what will I gain? What if the will is challenged and fails in court of law on technical grounds? The brothers will have the plot.’
James cleared his throat to say yes. God fearing men fall prey to morality and so did he, ‘Trust! I am breaching the trust. The trust that a dead man had imposed in me. Once dead he cannot rise from his ashes. Will the ghost of dead man haunt him? It can’t. There are not ghosts. But what if law catches up some day? How can law catch up? The two of them are beneficiaries. They are partners in crime and will never open their filthy mouths. They know where one lands when cheating.’
But as a lawman James feared since no crime remains buried forever. He broke out, “I think it’s a bad idea.”
Nick was prompt, “If there is no will we two brothers and one sister get one share each. So our gain is sixty six percent. We give you ten percent. If you handover will to sister, she will give you nothing. You can’t even ask for it. Professional mis-conduct, that’s what I understand.”
James strained his brain to get out of dilemma. One time opportunity and it was safe. But then it was breach of trust a sin against dead and God. It is the trust that holds the world. We trust in the God whom we have never met. Man trusts man, wife, children and friends. Even animals trust one another. A beast is one who betrays trust.
James was sweating. Religion hammers morality in human kinds so thoroughly that they believe some hidden eyes stealthily are watching them when they sin and they expose the sin when time comes. James feared the invisible eyes that were witnessing the crime.
Nick had understanding of the quandary in which his host was, “James, I know you are suffering at the dilemma of right and wrong. Pandemic has ruined business. It has ruined lawyers. The courts are shut. Some say outside there that for the first time one feels we don’t need courts. Haven’t we done without them for a year now? I know you haven’t paid your bills. Grocer outside there is my customer. He talked contempt of you. Money has no religion, no morality or owners. No one will come to you with stacks of money when you need it. ”
‘Nick is right. I am not to live in drudgery forever. Earth belongs to the God and not individuals. No man has right over land which the God had bestowed upon its creations. The old man had no right over the plot. Even his daughter has no right over the plot. The money he will get is no different from the hard earned money he earned over years.’
Nick noticed the host was melting. The sweat was drying up and glow was returning to the face that had tension on it. Nick thought it the best time to strike again to maximize impact, “Old man is dead. There is no witness. The dead never return to depose in courts. James we come with a deal where none of us at loss. It’s all gain and only gain.”
James looked at his visitors obsequiously. It was satisfying for the visitors. James would be relieved from the grotesque debts that were haunting him day and night with no end nearing.
James finally had a smile on his face, “Nick, I am once again grateful. I have will in my office. I will bring it tomorrow and will handover it in the evening. Please keep your words of one million bucks.”
The brothers finally had glow in their eyes and crimson tint on face. They thanked him ten times in gaiety before leaving and wished him prosperous future. The visitors left with jaunty steps at the success of gains that did not belong to them.
James standing at the balcony of house saw his visitors leaving the street in the luxury car. He was full of joy. ‘At last I did it. I am a successful man who can trick. At far end of town I will have big house, big cars and big office. Outside on the gate of the house I will put a name plate ‘James, the advocate.’
As he turned around his eyes fell on the black coat and gown hanging on peg, the dress of lawyers. He took out the copy of will from the pocket of black coat. He had lied to the visitors. He called a number, “Are you sister of Nick?”
“Yes.” A lady spoke on other side.
“I have a will of your father bequeathing a plot in your favor. Kindly collect it in the morning.”