Anxin Testifies Against Mao Jie

Translated by: Harvey Thomlinson

The jeep rolled through the rainy cobbled streets towards the Nande intermediate court. Later on, I took a look at the courthouse and found it had only been built in the last few years. From the foundations to the roof it was made completely from white marble. Someone had obviously spent a lot of money on it. But the style of the building was in stark contrast to the traditional houses in the surrounding lanes; in this context, the court building was a vulgar eyesore. If you looked at it purely in its own right, however, it was amazing that a shoestring town like Nande could have such a magnificent courthouse. The procurator department building and the police headquarters had also been splendidly renovated. I was never able to understand why Anxin complained about their drug squad being so under-resourced.

Anxin and Boss Pan arrived in the witness holding room on the second floor exactly on time. They had to wait to be called. Anxin's senior officer was even more taciturn than usual. He stood at the window smoking and looking out at the fine rain. Anxin sat on a wooden bench in the far corner of the room, staring blankly ahead in much the same way as her boss.

The court hearing was supposed to begin at 9 a.m. but Anxin knew there were a number of procedures to get through before she was called. The prosecution and defense would cross swords again in some preliminary skirmishes, jousting for any minor advantage. As it turned out, she and Boss Pan had to wait for nearly an hour before anyone came to fetch them. A young court clerk hurried in, fired off a single sentence, "The witness will appear in court!" and retreated just as quickly. Anxin and Boss Pan exchanged looks but didn't speak as they left the depressing holding room. There was nothing that needed to be said.

A long empty passageway led from the holding room to the courtroom. Their shoes echoed on its porcelain floor tiles. The sound was lonely and empty and seemed to come from other people's feet, like the distant sound of a dream.

Anxin's mind kept returning to that morning's nightmare. Although the dream had been peaceful in the main, except for the end, just that fact that she'd dreamed of Mao Jie at that time made it a nightmare. The terrible thing was that it had reminded her that she and Mao Jie had been happy together at one time. It didn't matter that it had been brief.

There was a thick double door at the end of the long corridor. Boss Pan pushed it open; he seemed familiar with the place. For Anxin, however, this was her first time in the building. She'd never imagined the trial would be taking place in such a beautiful courtroom. There was something else she hadn't expected: the public benches were packed. She'd been away and so didn't know that Nande TV had already done two special reports on the case. Right from the shootout on the day of the arrests, the trial had become a local sensation and the people of Nande were eager to discover how it would play out. The week before, Mao Jie's mother had been bound, taken to the execution ground and shot. The local TV news had broadcast the execution live. Although Mao Jie's trial had undergone numerous hearings and delays, it was clear from the masses crammed into the courtroom today that the local interest hadn't been exhausted. The seats rising up like steps around three sides of the court were 70 - 80 percent full.

Anxin gaped at the dense crowd. The crowd returned her gaze, and she became aware that the judge, court clerks, ushers, court scribes, procurators, lawyers and bailiffs and other court officials were all focused on her too. Their eyes solemnly followed her as she moved toward the witness stand. Anxin felt a rush of nerves and her movements became a little unsteady. It seemed to take her far too long to reach the stand, which was on the other side of the court and formed the third point of a triangle with the judge and the accused. Anxin breathed deeply to calm herself, then lifted up her head and met the judge's eyes.

The judge immediately said, "Witness, please tell the court your name and occupation."

"My name is Anxin. I'm a probationary detective with the drug squad of Nande police bureau."

Anxin's voice was very quiet and small but there was nothing she could do about it. She had an overwhelming desire to flee, as if from someone or something that frightened her. She was particularly afraid of Mao Jie hearing her name.

The judge didn't ask her to speak up, just continued with his questions.

"Witness, according to clause 305 of the criminal code, and clause 48 of the legal code, citizens have an obligation to give testimony. If you refuse to testify, or give false testimony, you will have to accept the legal consequences."

It wasn't only Anxin's duty as a citizen but also as a drug squad detective. She'd come back specially to give evidence, and every word of her testimony had been rehearsed beforehand, but now that she was actually standing there in that solemn court, she found herself making reluctant responses. Her eyes evaded the judge's gaze as she finally said, "I understand."

"Witness, last year, on 13 September, Nande City Police arrested the accused in Dark Springs on a charge of possession of heroin. Did you take part in this operation?"

"Yes."

"Please look now at the accused. Is that the person arrested that day in possession of heroin?"

Anxin turned her head. Up until then she'd managed to avoid looking at Mao Jie, even though she knew of course that he was standing in the dock. But from the moment she'd entered the courtroom, she'd sensed him staring at her unflinchingly. Finally, she faced him. Were those eyes any different from before? Yes. They'd lost all life. There wasn't even any anger there; they were completely blank. She couldn't tell if what lay behind those blank eyes was indifference or malice, hatred or fear. Mao Jie's face resembled that of a corpse.

How long did they look at each other? No one could really say. But the judge and the crowd all heard Anxin's answer. "Yes."

The judge said, "Please give this court your testimony about what happened the day that the accused was arrested."