February 25th, 2001


Juan’s Day In Court (2/17/10; WC 1044) Q

Table of Contents

Juan’s Day In Court

ATTORNEY: Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?

WITNESS: All of them. The live ones put up too much of a fight.

    -- Disorder in the American Courts

Early Tuesday morning, Despina takes Juan to appear in court to translate for Gregorio Falcon. Driving through the village after picking up Juan, Despina notices that nearly every house boasts an old refrigerator on blocks behind it, covered in totem animals that pop out, painted warriors who loom menacingly overhead, weapons raised, or famous scenes from the tribal history. They have become a status symbol. The initial efforts behind the school pale by comparison. I’ll have to examine them more closely when the sun’s a bit higher, Despina thinks.

While Despina and Juan are gone, the rest of the students, supervised by various mothers, spend the early morning doing math flash cards and smoothing an area in orderly rows so each individual desk can sit relatively level. The blackboard, boasting both capital and small letter versions of both the print and cursive alphabets for students to practice copying, is toward the desert side, in clear view of each future desk.

Huge stacks of flash cards of common objects are at the ready, with the word printed on the back in Spanish, Náhuatl, and English, with phonetic pronunciations.

When Despina joins the campfire that evening, she notices several of her students are sitting quietly with their parents. A lively discussion of the latest financial news is in progress.

"So, what did the council decide?" asks Paul Peter boldly.

"After much discussion, they made a distinction between "commercial" work, and the personal property of the residents. Since Guillermo was working for the school, not himself personally, when he created the refrigerator art, it has been declared tribal property. He had the enjoyment of doing the actual work, and the pride in the quality of it. The digital camera will be used to document his creation before it is shipped. He grinned from ear to ear throughout the whole discussion. Not many nine-year-olds can bring in that kind of money and acclaim."

Everyone within hearing of Cu's rapid-fire Spanish explanation smiles, remembering Guillermo's grin of triumph.

And, when word of your praise reaches him, which I am SURE it will, he'll be even happier. Juan will probably turn green with jealousy. He's used to being the best at everything.

As Despina sits in her usual spot, Horst eyes her with renewed interest as he taps his cigarette three times against his fancy case. "How'd Juan's day in court go?" Slowly, he lights it, taking a long pull on it, blowing a perfect O into the night air.

Great. Another smoke ring battle...

Despina rolls her eyes. Speaking loudly enough to include everyone, she narrates, "We left at sunrise for Flagstaff, arriving in plenty of time. I found the lawyer, who was amenable. I got the feeling he didn't much care one way or the other. I felt my support was important, and I also wanted to ride herd on the proceedings, so I arranged to sit at the table with Juan and the lawyer. I didn't trust the impartiality of the court, judging from what little I'd overheard.

"When the judge saw how young Juan is, he started to make an objection."

Leaping up, Juan takes over the narrative.

"Immediately, Despina jumped unbidden to my defense. When she arched one eyebrow in that special way, I knew that something good was coming. Sure enough, Despina said, 'I thought you wanted the best translator for the job, not a stereotyped age, sex, race, and religious profile filled.'"

His chest puffs out as he glances around to see if everyone recognizes the importance of this point.

"The lawyer sputtered trying to keep a straight face. The sheriff, who was escorting the prisoner, cast a sharp glance in Despina's direction. The lawyer mumbled that he was afraid the judge would declare her in contempt of court. If she were telling this story, I bet she'd skip that part."

Casting a droll eye Juan's way, Despina continues. "Instead, he glared at me as if he could wiggle his nose and turn me into an ant, then crush me. He asked, 'Are you prepared to vouch for his translation?'

"So I met his eye and said, 'Fully prepared.' When I sat back down next to the lawyer, I suggested that some of the more important terms might be provided with simple definitions. Excusing himself, he returned with a weighty law dictionary."

Juan adds, "Laughter rippled through the courtroom, and his honor's face got all red and blotchy. It was neat."

"But he had a comeback. He glared at me again and in his most pompous fashion intoned, 'I trust you realize this is NOT a classroom.'"

"Then stuff got heavy. As the charges were read, I softly translated to Gregorio in Náhuatl, looking him right in the eye like Teacher taught us to do when we interviewed people."

"Once he looked at me and said one English word, which I quickly found in the law book. The words used to describe it were barely in MY reading vocabulary. I tipped the volume toward Juan and prayed. After he read the entry, he spoke again, but I got distracted, so I'm not sure how well that part went."

"She got 'distracted' because Cu joined us at the lawyer's table," Juan adds, laughing.

"'Will the gentleman be translating?' old prune face asked, eyes angry again. I looked hesitantly at Cu, relaying the question in Spanish." Juan stops his narrative and glances at Despina for confirmation.

"Right. The judge really glowered at Juan, but he stood up to him,” Despina promptly supplies. “'No,' comes Cu's laconic response. As always, a man of few words. But that really made Juan beam," she concludes with a smile at Juan.

When Adriana shoots her son a glance that clearly says “bedtime”, he obediently winds up his tale. "The rest of it was pretty boring, but Cu did say he'll take me tomorrow. I don't know why he doesn't just DO it."

But, because he's not, you're still grinning, Despina thinks as she watches him walk home, getting drowsy herself.


Last updated 2/17/10 Added more “tells”. 1/11/10 Added quote and fridge material. 1/6/10.

Word Count: 1044

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