It is raining. 'Share my umbrella,' says Hakim; then, at his car, 'Speaking personally, David, I want to tell you you have all my sympathy. Really.'
He has known Hakim for years, they used to play tennis together in his tennis-playing days, but he is in no mood now for male chumminess. He shrugs irritably, gets into his car.
'You can't not show up, David.' Hakim is not concerned as much as petrified, bending into the crook of the door. 'You must show up. Tomorrow. Until the end of the year. The semester.'
He stares straight ahead, blindly. Some of the water drips off Hakim's umbrella onto his side, and inside the car.
'You have contractual obligations. You can't just up and walk away. You have your responsibility, to your students. To the University.'
He looks up, blankly, and in monotone wonderment 'It's just one lousy class. You don't need me.'
'You have to show up, David. Promise me. You have to you hear me ?' Hakim is shriller and shriller.
'Ok.' he says eventually, more to shut him up than anything. Contractual responsibilities, these things that he has. One doesn't simply walk out of the insane asylum.
The case is supposed to be confidential, but of course it is not, of course people talk. Why else, when he enters the common room, does a hush fall on the chatter, why does a younger colleague, with whom he has hitherto had perfectly cordial relations, put down her teacup and depart, looking straight through him as she passes? Why do only two students turn up for the first Baudelaire class? The gossip-mill, he thinks, turning day and night, grinding reputations. The community of the righteous, holding their sessions in corners, over the telephone, behind closed doors. Gleeful whispers. Schadenfreude. First the sentence, then the trial.
In the corridors of the Communications Building he makes a point of walking with head held high. He speaks to the lawyer who handled his divorce. 'Let's get it clear first,' says the lawyer, 'how true are the allegations?'
'True enough. I was having an affair with the girl.'
'Does seriousness make it better or worse? After a certain age, all affairs are serious. Like heart attacks.'
'Well, my advice would be, as a matter of strategy, get a woman to represent you.' He mentions two names. 'Aim for a private settlement. You give certain undertakings, perhaps take a spell of leave, in return for which the university persuades the girl, or her family, to drop the charges. Your best hope. Take a yellow card. Minimize the damage, wait for the scandal to blow over.'
'What kind of undertakings?'
'Sensitivity training. Community service. Counselling. Whatever you can negotiate.'
'Counselling? I need counselling?'
'Don't misunderstand me. I'm simply saying that one of the options offered to you might be counselling.'
'To fix me? Will it cure me of deviant tendencies? Will it make the college a university again?'
The lawyer shrugs. 'Whatever.'
'I have no intention of continuing with them anyway.'
'Ah, that should simplify things. You should probably be able to keep your pension.'
On campus it is Rape Awareness Week. Women Against Rape, WAR, announces a twenty-four-hour vigil in solidarity with 'recent victims'. That they aren't women or that it wasn't rape bothers them none at all. Something like women getting something like an education while doing what may pass for doing something against something like rape. A very romantic worldview, if one stops to think about it. One doesn't. A pamphlet is slipped under his door: 'WOMEN SPEAK OUT.' Scrawled in pencil at the bottom is a message: 'YOUR DAYS ARE OVER, CASANOVA.' Indeed they are. He makes a point of not wondering whether the author had a criteria by which he picked the Italian over say don Juan.
He has dinner with his ex-wife, Rosalind. They have been apart for eight years; slowly, warily, they are growing to be friends again, of a sort. War veterans. It reassures him that Rosalind still lives nearby: perhaps she feels the same way about him. Someone to count on when the worst arrives: the fall in the bathroom, the blood in the stool. A spouse, it used to be called. Something like a spouse, at any rate.
They speak of Lucy, sole issue of his first marriage, living now on a farm in the Eastern Cape. 'I may see her soon,' he says -- 'I'm thinking of taking a trip.'
'In term time?'
'Term is nearly over. Another two weeks to get through, that's all.'
'Has this anything to do with the problems you are having? I hear you are having problems.'
'Where did you hear that?'
'People talk, David. Everyone knows about this latest affair of yours, in the juiciest detail. It's in no one's interest to hush it up, no one's but your own. Am I allowed to tell you how stupid it looks?'
'No, you are not.'
'I will anyway. Stupid, and ugly too. I don't know what you do about sex and I don't want to know, but this is not the way to go about it. You're what - fifty-two? Do you think a young girl finds any pleasure in going to bed with a man of that age? Do you think she finds it good to watch you in the middle of your...'
He is silent.
'Do you ever think about that?'
She is silent for a moment.
'Don't expect sympathy from me, David, and don't expect sympathy from anyone else either. No sympathy, no mercy, not in this day and age. Everyone's hand will be against you, and why not? Really, how could you?'
The old tone has entered, the tone of the last years of their married life: passionate recrimination. Even Rosalind must be aware of that. Yet perhaps she has a point. Perhaps it is the right of the young to be protected from the sight of their elders in the throes of passion. That is what whores are for, after all: to put up with the ecstasies of the unlovely.
'Anyway,' Rosalind goes on, 'you say you'll see Lucy.'
'Yes, I thought I'd drive up after the inquiry and spend some time with her.'
'There is a committee of inquiry sitting next week.'
'That's very quick. And after you have seen Lucy?'
'I don't know. I'm not sure I will be permitted to come back to the university. I'm pretty sure I will not want to.'
Rosalind shakes her head. 'An inglorious end to your career, don't you think? I won't ask if what you got from this girl was worth the price. What are you going to do with your time? What about your pension?'
'I'll come to some arrangement with them. Apparently they can't cut me off without a penny.'
'Can't they? Don't be so sure. How old is she - your inamorata?'
'Twenty. Of age. Old enough to know her own mind.'
'The story is, she took sleeping-pills. Is that true?'
'I know nothing about sleeping-pills. It sounds like a fabrication to me. Who told you about sleeping-pills?'
She ignores the question. 'Was she in love with you? Did you jilt her?'
'Then why this complaint?'
'Who knows? She didn't confide in me. There was a battle of some kind going on behind the scenes that I wasn't privy to. There was a jealous boyfriend. The parents were of your mind, I imagine. She must have crumpled in the end. I was taken completely by surprise.'
'You should have known, David. You are too old to be meddling with other people's children. You should have expected the worst. Anyway, it's all very demeaning. Really.'
'You haven't asked whether I love her. Aren't you supposed to ask that as well?'
'Very well. Are you in love with this young woman who is dragging your name through the mud?'
'She isn't responsible. Don't blame her.'
'Don't blame her! Whose side are you on? Of course I blame her! I blame you and I blame her. The whole thing is disgraceful from beginning to end. Disgraceful and vulgar too. And I'm not sorry for saying so.'
In the old days he would, at this point, have stormed out. But tonight he does not. They have grown thick skins, he and Rosalind, against each other. His is principally made out of not in the slightest caring.
The next day Rosalind telephones. 'David, have you seen today's Argus?'
'Well, steel yourself. There's a piece about you.'
'I'm sure it'll be a very important piece fit for a very widely read newspaper.'
'Read it for yourself.'
The report is on page three: 'Professor on sex charge', it is headed. He skims the first lines. '...is slated to appear before a disciplinary board on a charge of sexual harassment. CTU is keeping tight-lipped about the latest in a series of scandals including fraudulent scholarship payouts and alleged sex rings operating out of student residences. Lurie (53), author of a book on English nature-poet William Wordsworth, was not available for comment.'
William Wordsworth (1770-1850), nature-poet. David Lurie (1945-?), commentator upon William Wordsworth, disgraced in the eyes -- never strained by reading either -- of the respectable society of some distant, forgettable failure of a colony. Blest be the infant babe. No outcast he. Blest be the babe.
The hearing is held in a committee room off Hakim's office. He is ushered in and seated at the foot of the table by none other than Manas Mathabane himself, Professor of Religious Studies, who will chair the inquiry. To his left sit Hakim, his secretary, and a young woman, a student of some kind; to his right are the three members of Mathabane's committee. He does not feel nervous. On the contrary, he feels quite sure of himself. His heart beats evenly, he has slept well. Vanity, he thinks, the dangerous vanity of the gambler; vanity and self-righteousness. He is going into this in the wrong spirit. But he does not care.
He nods to the committee members. Two of them he knows: Farodia Rassool and Desmond Swarts, Dean of Engineering. The third, according to the papers in front of him, teaches in the Business School.
'The body here gathered, Professor Lurie,' says Mathabane, opening proceedings, 'has no powers. All it can do is to make recommendations. Furthermore, you have the right to challenge its makeup. So let me ask: is there any member of the committee whose participation you feel might be prejudicial to you?'
'I have no challenge in a legal sense,' he replies. 'I have reservations of a philosophical kind, but I suppose they are out of bounds.'
A general shifting and shuffling. 'I think we had better restrict ourself to the legal sense,' says Mathabane. 'You have no challenge to the makeup of the committee. Have you any objection to the presence of a student observer from the Coalition Against Discrimination?'
'I have no fear of the committee. I have no fear of the observer.'
'Very well. To the matter at hand. The first complainant is Ms Melanie Isaacs, a student in the drama programme, who has made a statement of which you all have copies. Do I need to summarize that statement? Professor Lurie?'
'Do I understand, Mr Chairman, that Ms Isaacs will not be appearing in person?'
'Ms Isaacs appeared before the committee yesterday. Let me remind you again, this is not a trial but an inquiry. Our rules of procedure are not those of a law court. Is that a problem for you?'
'For me ? If it isn't a problem for you, Mr. Mathabane, then let us pass it silently.'
'A second and related charge', Mathabane continues, 'comes from the Registrar, through the Office of Student Records, and concerns the validity of Ms Isaacs's record. The charge is that Ms Isaacs did not attend all the classes or submit all the written work or sit all the examinations for which you have given her credit.'
'That is the sum of it? Those are the charges?'
He looks at the people facing him, in turn. They appear adults, in possession of their senses, perhaps educated even. Yet here they are. At last he says 'I am sure the members of this committee have better things to do with their time than rehash so trite a story. In any case there will be no dispute. I plead guilty to both charges. Pass sentence, and let us get on with our lives.'
Hakim leans across to Mathabane. Murmured words pass between them.
'Professor Lurie,' says Hakim, 'I must repeat, this is a committee of inquiry. Its role is to hear both sides of the case and make a recommendation. It has no power to take decisions. Again I ask, would it not be better if you were represented by someone familiar with our procedures?'
'Who would be familiar with such procedures, a certified gossip ? I really see no point in carrying on in this manner, must we ?'
'We want to give you an opportunity to state your position.'
'My position ? There's twenty three centuries of unbroken tradition as to how civilised society handles disputes, but you sit there and imagine this doesn't apply to you. You're a very special lot, somehow, at liberty to invent new and novel approaches to problems well and truly solved. You will, of your own power, on the basis of all the intellectual and scholarly acumen of a rinkydink college nowhere invent alternative procedures! Is this some strand of nativism, have you also come here in cars powered by some new and special kind of engine, is the Sun in your sky a different shape also and do its rays travel on different paths made just for your own eyes ? I have stated my position. I am guilty, let's move on.'
'Guilty of what?'
'Of whatever it is that I am charged with.'
'You are taking us in circles, Professor Lurie.'
'Of everything Ms Isaacs avers, and of keeping false records. Does that work ? Should I also mention spitting on the cross and desecrating the sacraments or has such gone out of style ?'
Now Farodia Rassool intervenes. 'You say you accept Ms Isaacs's statement, Professor Lurie, but have you actually read it?'
'I do not wish to read Ms Isaacs's statement. I accept it. I know of no reason why Ms Isaacs should lie.'
'But would it not be prudent to actually read the statement before accepting it?'
'No. For one thing, you already accepted it. Besides, there are more important things in life than being prudent.'
Farodia Rassool sits back in her seat. 'This is all very quixotic, Professor Lurie, but can you afford it? It seems to me we may have a duty to protect you from yourself.' She gives Hakim a wintry smile.
'When I was young, which somehow seems not that very long ago, even though I understand it must have been forever, I remember finding in my father's things a newspaper, an old newspaper. In it there was a discussion of something called the Moscow Trials. It was an eye opening moment for me, evidently, as I still remember it. I do not know if you have ever read those intricate gems of special procedures and ad hoc duties, but if you haven't I propose you should.'