[a short story – by Sha’Tara]
The law required that the local council call a public meeting, so they did, on a Wednesday evening, for 7:00 PM. It being the middle of the week, “they” knew that many commuters would be unable to attend and that was the point, wasn’t it. Me and my political group of “Greenies” as we were labelled attended, of course, and tried to get as many of our supporters as we could to oppose the proposed development of a new strip mall that included an anchor super market from a major multinational food distribution and retail corporate group. We didn’t need another food store, we already had two perfectly adequate ones. But it’s the old story, isn’t it. Money talks, bullshit walks.
The meeting got underway and despite some heated interruptions and cries of “lies, lies!” the presentation by two corporate shills was concluded and the meeting opened to questions. The questions and borderline speeches came hard and fast. A couple of angry residents were forcefully expelled but the mood did not relax.
After most of the participants had had their say and were summarily cut off from further discussion, that’s when she came forth. A pleasant looking young woman I had never seen, wearing a simple blue sweat shirt and faded jeans, in sandals yet imposing enough in height: she must have been close to six feet if an inch. Her long dark hair was tied back with a scarf. She wore no makeup and her fingers, when she took the mike, showed her to be a worker of the soil. She had a good tan too, and it was of the honest kind: from the sun, obviously. From where I sat I couldn’t tell the colour of her eyes but they were piercing.
She held a brown envelope in her left hand which she placed on the podium and she addressed the meeting in a very soft and gentle voice that forced everyone to listen intently in order to hear. As a hopeful politician, there’s a trick I would have to learn. She greeted “Mr. Mayor” by name, as well as the six council members, one having recused himself due to known conflict of interest in the matter. To the rest of us she said, “Hi neighbours, my name is Sally Urquart and I realize most of you don’t know me but I live here too and I have an interest in this community, and the well-being of its children. I am not here to oppose the development being discussed because I don’t have to. It isn’t going to happen.”
You could have heard a pin drop. “Mr. Mayor” had his mouth open but no sound came. I was on the edge of my seat.
She continued, “I have here some documents that indict your mayor and three of “his” councillors sitting before you. These documents, of which these are but copies, are now filed with the Crown attorney but I was given the opportunity to bring my discoveries to this meeting so you would all know; so the local paper, represented here by Jim Leeson, reporter, could have the goods firsthand.
“Your mayor is facing charges of high level corruption for accepting bribes from the main anchor of the proposed strip mall, Food Source, and for openly lying about his involvement in this matter to the electorate, that is you people here, and the rest of this community. As for the other three councillors whom I need not name, they shared in the mayor’s bribe money and future interest in the venture’s profit.
“Food Source, on a plea bargain, has already admitted to the bribes and additionally to being in violation of provincial law by knowingly attempting to develop prime agricultural land currently in protected agricultural land reserves. I have little more to add except to say that your mayor and three councillors here present are now under arrest.”
At that moment four RCMP officers came in the hall and took charge of the individuals, reading them their rights and taking them out a side door though not in handcuffs which many of us would have liked to see. ‘Good riddance,’ I thought. Then I looked for Sally but she had disappeared, along with her brown envelope.
It took a bit of digging but we found out that she had been an attorney for the Crown, had resigned for personal reasons, then had accepted a temporary assignment on behalf of the Crown to investigate the Food Source strip mall affair and the town of Green Oaks’ council. During her investigative work she had quietly bought a one acre parcel of land with a few dilapidated out buildings, had moved a mobile home on it and begun her work of clearing the land and doing some serious gardening.
At our next meeting we decided we had to have “Sally” on our executive. We needed her savvy, her poise and her so seductive voice. We had to send a delegation to her and find out how we could persuade her to join with us. It was agreed that myself and my side kick, photographer, recorder, documentary maker, Phil Tompkins would be the delegation.
We found Sally at the back of her property, clearing blackberries and replacing fence posts. She looked much as she had at the town meeting, except for the added wide-brimmed Aussie hat and boots. She greeted us with an open smile, offered to go to the trailer and make coffee, which we declined because it would have interrupted everything. Without beating around the bush I told her what we had to offer her if she would join our organization. She would be our nominee for the next provincial election which was in less than two years’ time. She accepted the introductory parphernalia we offered her, accepted that Phil video’d our conversation. She was never one lost for words and I admired her even more on that day.
“Would you like some time to think this over, Sally? Maybe I could come back in a couple of days or so?” She made it easy to talk to her and us being of approximately the same age made our interaction ever smoother.
“Oh, that’s very kind of you, but I’ve always been one to make quick judgment calls and decisions. Your proposal is persona non grata here, I’m afraid. The moment you join an organization your personal life ends and you become an adjunct of other people’s thoughts, decisions and choices. When I became an attorney I was under the delusion that I could be an independent; that I could pick my cases and handle them the way I felt was right. That didn’t happen, was never going to happen, so I resigned as Crown counsel. Now I am an independent. I take pro bono or quasi pro bono cases entirely on my own, and my investigations which I prefer to court room presentations, pay the bills.”
Then she pointed around at her property. “This though is who I am. This acre of land, such as it is, is my real world. I live here. I share it with the beasties, the trees, the plants, the sun, wind, rain and snow and whomever comes to visit and doesn’t mean to stay. This is my universe.
“I can understand your group wanting to use me – yes that is the proper term – because of certain skills I possess and because of my self-possession but if I acquiesced, I would lose the very things that make me what I am. I’m not for sale. If you need some information dug up, if you even run into legal problems then come to me and I’ll do what I do best: I’ll unravel the ball of twine for you until you learn to do it for yourselves. Do you have an investigator in your group? An attorney of sorts? If not, get them. If you’re going to play this game you have to play with a full deck and a not few cards up your sleeves. That’s how the other side does it. That’s all I have to say. I rest my case.” She smiled again, leaning gently on her long-handled brush cutter.
Now here I am, Jenny Derksen, on my own little parcel of land outside a different town. Yes, some years ago I aspired to become a politician. When Sally Urquart turned down my appeal, I listened to what she had to say and after I narrowly lost my very first attempt at becoming an MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly for those not familiar with Canadian political terminology) I began to listen once again to Sally’s words. Joiners can never be their own person and I had seen more and more of that as I struggled with our own growing bureaucracy. I was becoming less of a human being and more of something that endlessly needed to be shaped, goaded, driven, counselled, trimmed, managed. One night it came to me and I literally threw up realizing what was happening. There and then I quit, walked away. I was an elementary school teacher and I could do quite well on my salary. I didn’t want the limelight, I wanted to be me and certainly the bureaucracy of the education system was already more than I could take. I didn’t need the added burden of politics that benefited higher and higher up opportunists. I could teach “my children” and one of them might even be the next Greta Thunberg. Ah! Dare to dream!
Oh yes, I wear a worn sweatshirt and faded jeans most times at home, as well as a wide brimmed Aussie hat, boots optional, and I remain unmarried though not without many good offers and opportunities. When some of “my children” come to visit, we work or play in the back gardens or if it rains, we go inside and bake, or I teach them how to sew or we play games – rule #1: no cell phones, no tablets, no TV.
I did learn some important lessons from Sally. Did we become friends? No, that wasn’t necessary. In the few moments we interacted we got all we would ever need from each other. She taught me to become a self empowered person, the greatest “gift” anyone can give another.