'You say you have not sought legal advice. Have you consulted anyone - a priest, for instance, or a counsellor? Would you be prepared to undergo counselling?'
The question comes from the young woman from the Business School. He can feel himself bristling. 'No, I have not sought counselling nor do I intend to seek it. I am a grown man. I am not receptive to being counselled. I am beyond the reach of counselling.' He turns to Mathabane. 'I have made my plea. Is there any reason why this debate should go on?'
There is a whispered consultation between Mathabane and Hakim.
'It has been proposed', says Mathabane, 'that the committee recess to discuss Professor Lurie's plea.'
A round of nods.
'Professor Lurie, could I ask you to step outside for a few minutes, you and Ms van Wyk, while we deliberate?'
He and the student observer retire to Hakim's office. No word passes between them; clearly the girl feels awkward. 'YOUR DAYS ARE OVER, CASANOVA.' What does she think of Casanova now that she meets him face to face?
They are called back in. The atmosphere in the room is not good: sour, it seems to him.
'So,' says Mathabane, 'to resume: Professor Lurie, you say you accept the truth of the charges brought against you?'
'I accept whatever Ms Isaacs alleges.'
'Dr Rassool, you have something you wish to say?'
'Yes. I want to register an objection to these responses of Professor Lurie's, which I regard as fundamentally evasive. Professor Lurie says he accepts the charges. Yet when we try to pin him down on what it is that he actually accepts, all we get is subtle mockery. To me that suggests that he accepts the charges only in name. In a case with overtones like this one, the wider community is entitled -'
He cannot let that go. 'What overtones would those be ? Are you trying to say the young woman's the wrong color for her statement to be accepted as true ?'
'A few days ago, a man I had never met before, dressed in ill fitted clothes, a man who works for a living surprised me. He came from behind, and he said this is a nest of vipers. I could think of nothing to say, not then to him, not hence. It is a nest of vipers. It is. We do not teach these children anything, in any conceivable sense of the word. They leave this den of iniquity, of special procedure and sprawled shamanism knowing less than when they came. What Ms Isaacs alleges in her complaint is more of an education than any other student got.'
There is shocked, blank silence for a moment, then the woman continues as if nothing happened. 'The wider community is entitled to know what it is specifically that Professor Lurie acknowledges and therefore what it is that he is being censured for.'
Mathabane: 'If he is censured.'
'If he is censured. We fail to perform our duty if we are not crystal clear in our minds, and if we do not make it crystal clear in our recommendations, what Professor Lurie is being censured for.'
'In our own minds I believe we are crystal clear, Dr Rassool. The question is whether Professor Lurie is crystal clear in his mind.'
'Exactly. You have expressed exactly what I wanted to say.'
It would be wiser to shut up, but he does not. 'Ole, quid ad te ? What goes on in my mind is my business, Farodia,' he says. 'What goes on in your mind should be your business, but instead you choose to flatter yourself with crystalline fantasies. You want not a response but a confession, because all that hard crystal packed into a skull is bound to hurt. Well, I make no
confession. I put forward a plea, as is my right. Guilty as charged. That is my plea. That is as far as I am willing to go.'
'Mr Chair, I must protest. The issue goes beyond mere technicalities. Professor Lurie pleads guilty, but I ask myself, does he accept his guilt or is he simply going through the motions in the hope that the case will be buried under paper and forgotten? If he is simply going through the motions, I urge that we impose the severest penalty.'
'Let me remind you again, Dr Rassool,' says Mathabane, 'it is not up to us to impose penalties.'
'The woman wants to impose penalties, what. Let her impose penalties. What harshest penalties shall you impose, darling ?'
'Then we should recommend the severest penalty. That Professor Lurie be dismissed with immediate effect and forfeit all benefits and privileges.' She is very livid, speaking with difficulty through clenched jaw.
'David?' The voice comes from Desmond Swarts, who has not spoken hitherto. 'David, are you sure you are handling the situation in the best way?' Swarts turns to the chair. 'Mr Chair, as I said while Professor Lurie was out of the room, I do believe that as members of a university community we ought not to proceed against a colleague in a coldly formalistic way. David, are you sure you don't want a postponement to give yourself time to reflect and perhaps consult?'
'On what should I consult, Desmond ?'
'You should meditate and perhaps consult on the gravity of your situation, which I am not sure you appreciate.'
'My situation! This whole thing is not going to look any less ridiculous in a week, or in a month.'
'You stand to lose your job. That's no joke in these days.'
'I have no intention to continue with the University. The only reason I am here, in fact, is because Aram Hakim insisted. But if you actually decide to try and defraud me pecuniarily, you will have to take leave of the pretense and face an actual court. From what I understand it is quite likely to be a lot more trouble than it's worth. Certainly as far as I'm concerned I'll do whatever I can to put this sorry carcass of an institution out of its misery, should it come to that.'
'In light of Mr. Swarts very collegial position, Mr. Lurie, I might propose that neither your tone nor your attitude are very adequate to these proceedings, or to your own stature.' Mathabane touched his fingers of one hand with the respective fingers of the other while carefully measuring his words.
'Then what do you advise me to do? Remove what Dr Rassool for some reason calls the subtle mockery from my tone? Shed tears of contrition? What will be enough to save me? This is not a job, this is madness, and while in a sense I admire all who can put up with it, there must be a limit somewhere.'
'You may find this hard to believe, David, but we around this table are not your enemies. We have our weak moments, all of us, we are only human. Your case is not unique. We would like to find a way for you to continue with your career.'
'My case is apparently unique in an unexpected way. It turns out someone's been running prostitutes out of student quarters. Evidently everyone around this whole campus has their weak moments, but be that as it may I'm sure everyone around this table found out about it the same way I did - from the very useful and widely circulated campus newspaper, while looking up the latest about David Lurie.'
Easily Hakim joins in. 'We would like to help you, David, to find a way out of what must be a nightmare.'
They are his friends. They want to save him from his weakness, to wake him from his nightmare. They do not want to see him begging in the streets. They want him back in the classroom. 'In this chorus of goodwill,' he says, 'I hear no female voice.'
There is silence.
'Very well,' he says, 'since you ask let me confess. The story begins one evening, I forget the date, but not long past. I was walking through the old college gardens and so, it happened, was the young woman in question, Ms Isaacs. Our paths crossed. Words passed between us, and at that moment something happened which, not being a poet, I will not try to describe. Suffice it to say that Eros entered. After that I was not the same.'
'You were not the same as what?' asks the businesswoman cautiously.
'This is a good question, and perhaps in time you will find an answer. For today suffice to say I was not myself. I was no longer a fifty-year-old divorcee at a loose end. I became a servant of Eros.'
'Is this a defence you are offering us? Ungovernable impulse?'
'It is not a defence. You want a confession, I give you a confession. As for the impulse, it was far from ungovernable. I have denied similar impulses many times in the past, I am ashamed to say.'
'Don't you think', says Swarts, 'that by its nature academic life must call for certain sacrifices? That for the good of the whole we have to deny ourselves certain gratifications?'
'For the good of the whole let us cut the parts apart. You have in mind a ban on intimacy across the generations?'
'No, not necessarily. But as teachers we occupy positions of power. Perhaps a ban on mixing power relations with sexual relations. Which, I sense, is what was going on in this case. Or at the least extreme caution.'
'Sexual relations untinged by power relations ? Sometimes I wonder what you do all day in that building over there, Desmond.'
Farodia Rassool intervenes. 'We are again going round in circles, Mr Chair. Yes, he says, he is guilty; but when we try to get specificity, all of a sudden it is not abuse of a young woman he is confessing to, just an impulse he could not resist, with no mention of the pain he has caused, no mention of the long history of exploitation of which this is part. That is why I say it is futile to go on debating with Professor Lurie. We must take his plea at face value and recommend accordingly.'
Abuse: he was waiting for the word. Spoken in a voice quivering with righteousness. What does she see, when she looks at him, that keeps her at such a pitch of anger? A shark among the helpless little fishies? Or does she have another vision: of a great thick-boned male bearing down on a girl-child, a huge hand stifling her cries? How absurd! Then he remembers: they were gathered here yesterday in this same room, and she was before them, Melanie, who barely comes to his shoulder. Unequal: how can he deny that? Moreover, why would he want to or have to ?
'I tend to agree with Dr Rassool,' says the businesswoman. 'Unless there is something that Professor Lurie wants to add, I think we should proceed to a decision.'
'Before we do that, Mr Chair,' says Swarts, 'I would like to plead with Professor Lurie one last time. Is there any form of statement he would be prepared to subscribe to?'
'Why? Why is it so important that I subscribe to a statement?'
'Because it would help to cool down what has become a very heated situation. Ideally we would all have preferred to resolve this case out of the glare of the media. But that has not been possible. It has received a lot of attention, it has acquired overtones that are beyond our control. All eyes are on the university to see how we handle it. I get the impression, listening to you, David, that you believe you are being treated unfairly. That is quite mistaken. We on this committee see ourselves as trying to work out a compromise which will allow you to keep your job. That is why I ask whether there is not a form of public statement that you could live with and that would allow us to recommend something less than the most severe sanction, namely, dismissal with censure.'
'You mean, will I humble myself and ask for clemency? Does the great mother demand a sacrifice, you know, for the good of the hole ?'
Swarts sighs. 'David, it doesn't help to sneer at our efforts. At least accept an adjournment, so that you can think your position over.'
'What do you want the statement to contain?'
'An admission that you were wrong.'
'I have admitted that. Freely. I am guilty of the charges brought against me.'
'Don't play games with us, David. There is a difference between pleading guilty to a charge and admitting you were wrong, and you know that.'
'And that will satisfy you: an admission I was wrong?'
'No,' says Farodia Rassool. 'That would be back to front. First Professor Lurie must make his statement. Then we can decide whether to accept it in mitigation. We don't negotiate first on what should be in his statement. The statement should come from him, in his own words. Then we can see if it comes from his heart.'
'And you trust yourself to divine that, from the words I use - to divine whether it comes from my heart? Such a romantic notion. Shouldn't you rather in a more scientific manner directly examine the heart ?'
'We will see what attitude you express. We will see whether you express contrition.'
'Oh you will, will you. Very well. I took advantage of my position vis-a-vis Ms Isaacs. It was wrong, and I regret it. Is that good enough for you?'
'The question is not whether it is good enough for me, Professor Lurie, the question is whether it is good enough for you. Does it reflect your sincere feelings?'
He shakes his head. 'I have said the words for you, under the pretense you put forth that you can tell. Now it turns out that you can't tell, that you lied to me, yet you press on, unapologetic, undeterred : you want more, you want me to somehow demonstrate the sincerity of words. Perhaps I should buy you flowers and send you sweets. It is preposterous, this surrogate dating game you aim to force upon unwilling participants. What do you think it does, you think it neutralizes rape somehow, perhaps by volume ?'
'Right,' says Mathabane from the chair. 'If there are no more questions for Professor Lurie, I will thank him for attending and excuse him.'