Sorry Is Nothing

"Sorry is nothing unless you make sure you never have to say it again"

-Sam Mellor

"I'm sorry." There was a pause, and everyone looked impatiently towards the legal administrator, who seemed to be considering something. He could almost feel the wave of annoyance from the audience, as they waited for him to "get the hell on with it." Finally, he looked up, gave a curious half-smile, (It had almost become a trademark) and pressed the green button on his desk.

"Then, I guess… I guess you're free to go." The defendant grinned, but nothing else happened. The legal administrator coughed, then remembered. "Uh, next… could you bring in the next case?"

The room cleared quickly, as usual, although this time it seemed there was a sense of urgency in it, as if the people knew they were late and were trying to make up for lost time. The last one out, a woman, turned her head as she was leaving, and saw a man in his twenties, dressed expensively, more to look rich than anything else, whereas she spent larger amounts on clothes designed to look, well, "nice." She watched on as the expensive man walked up to the legal administrator and spoke. She couldn't hear what over the noise of the people behind her. The legal administrator simply nodded and together they walked up to a slide door and exited the room. She paused, then turned and walked towards the side door.

The doors of Justice Distribution Room #201 closed and the tone signalled that the lock had activated. The display flashed the following message:

"5 MINUTE DELAY…"

Then…

"WE APOLAGIZE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE…"

Then…

"WHY NOT TRY A COFFEE?"

"Man, what the hell happened out there?"

"I don't know." The legal administrator turned on the coffee maker and keyed in his PIN number. "It's been a long day."

"You've had longer days than this. You know that. Now cut the… the nonsense, and tell me what happened."

"Well…" There was a long silence while the legal administrator considered his situation. He switched the coffee maker to Espresso. "It's just that… what I mean is… I'm just not sure the guy meant it."

"Oh Jesus. Man, you were one of the good guys; you're a star. You're one of the best. And most importantly, you never had moral quibbles. What happened?"

"I know all that, I just think –"

"Hey, don't think. I pay you too much for you to think. How much do I pay you? 600 thousand a year? It's now 700 thousand. Let me remind you what you're job is. The issue is quantity. The defendant comes in. You say 'What is your crime?' They tell you. You ask them 'Are you sorry?' If they nod you say 'Please speak into the microphone on your left,' then you press the green button. If they say no, you press the red button, call in the cleaner and get the hell on with it. You say 'Next case.' If you want, you can add 'please.' That's it. Nothing else. At the end of the day, you go home, you relax. Keep the cases quick, alright?" The legal administrator nodded in resignation. "Good. Keep it quick. We could have done two more cases in the time you took to morally decide. Hell, we could have done ten in the time I spent talking to you. Anyway, I've got to go. I'll see you later."

"Bye."

The "nice" looking woman looked up as the door opened. The "expensive" looking man stepped out of the door and walked across the hallway, giving her but a fleeting glance before opening his mobile phone and dialling.

"Yeah, hi. Good. Listen, I need to talk to you about something. Administrator #16 had a moral dilemma. No, I wasn't expecting it either. No, I've taken care of it, it's clear. I just think –" He walked off, and the "nice" woman didn't hear anymore.

The legal administrator flicked the coffee maker to cappuccino and sat down. He thought it was all so confusing. He thought he didn't know what to think. He thought – the door buzzer sounded. The display flashed "CITIZEN #4302610983." The legal administrator stood up, flicked the coffee maker to double strength black, two sugar, then keyed his PIN into door and opened it. The "nice" woman was standing in the doorway, looking embarrassed.

"Can I help you?"

"Good morning, Mr #16." Said the "nice" woman. She walked into the apartment. "I'm sorry to bother you. I was one of the victims involved in Case #31 948 76 09 09." The legal administrator visibly struggled, trying to remember the case. She filled in. "The case that was held just now. When you paused."

"Oh. Yes, what do you want?" The legal administrator did not like dealing with people. That wasn't his department. His annoyance was almost visible in his manner. The "nice" woman continued.

"I am dissatisfied with the system."

"Which particular part of the system?"

"All of it!" The "nice" woman calmed herself and continued. "I feel that an apology is not sufficient. Some sort of compensation should be in order."

"The legal department does not deal in compensation, only in justice."

"But what justice is there? My entire family, all of them, all 12, were murdered by this man! So what happens? He gets arrested, marched in, says, "I'm sorry," and is free to go! That is not enough!" I'm alone in the world, alone with 15 billion people, and all I get is a sorry?"

The "nice" woman stopped, paused, and left. The legal administrator sat silently, then stood, slowly closed the door and cancelled the "two sugar." He didn't know. He just didn't know. It wasn't because of lack of money. $700,000 a year wasn't that much these days, two hundred years ago people were lucky to get $40,000 a year, but with inflation, $700,000 was pretty modest. Still it got you by, and the legal administrator's advertising contract more than made up enough surplus to keep him in comfort. That damn half-smile! The legal administrator had spent six months learning to smile like that. It paid off though. That guy was right. The legal administrator was a star. That half-smile sold books. That half-smile sold baked beans. That half-smile sold lingerie. The legal administrator was rich. So what was the problem? It was not his job to be moral. It was his job to push a damn button and say "Next!" So what was the problem?

The legal administrator stood up, closed the door behind him, and forgot about it.

"Next!" The change was quick, as usual. The new one seemed to be struggling. "Citizen #4316, what is your crime?"

"I stole a hotdog. Come on! I was starving!"

"Do you have an apology?"

"Come on! No, I needed –" The legal administrator pressed the red button. The guard fired his gun. The new one collapsed. The legal administrator called in the cleaner.

"Next!" The change was quick, as usual. The newest one, a woman, walked in quietly.

"Citizen #4302610983," the legal administrator paused. "What, what, what is your crime?"

"I killed a man."

"Why?" The audience looked up impatiently.

"He killed relatives of mine."

"I… I see. And do you have an apology?" The legal administrator silently begged the citizen to say yes. The "nice" woman looked up and smiled a curious half-smile.

"No."