I got picked for jury duty once. I remember it was summer and a damp type of humidity; the tram journey to and from the courthouse was a bit like when you blow dry your hair in the bathroom when the person before you didn’t turn on the fan when he had his shower five minutes previously. It was the end of February, and the jury summons had arrived after I had successfully deferred my first summons with the reason “I have a scheduled Christmas party in December.” Priorities.
I was actually quite excited to go to court. Imagine that I was picked to be on a jury for a case involving a celebrity? I hoped that I didn’t get a gruesome murder. Unless it was a gruesome murder involving a celebrity, of course. I consciously decided on an outfit that was very neutral. Inoffensive. The reasoning was I had a better chance of being selected that way.
As we waited in the jury pool room, I spied a mature aged lady with a kind face, in a vibrant floral blouse. With a wide smile, she excitedly took a seat at the extreme front to hear the briefing session, attempting to engage others around her in conversation, they attempted to busy themselves with their iPhones.
“Were there any questions from the audience?” The young girl taking the session looked around the room, filled with a lot of people in inoffensive attire, many also wearing furrowed-brows. I heard more than one sigh from the moustached man, transfixed on his laptop to my left. This jury summons was, seemingly, an extreme inconvenience to his full-time job that mostly consisted of responding to and writing inane emails.
Mature Aged Floral Blouse (MAFB) wasn't inconvenienced. She asked, “What happens if you fall asleep in the middle of a case?”
She then laughed. She had a raspy jolly laugh, one peppered with the results of a lifetime of cigarette consumption. After every second laugh, there would be coughs into a deteriorating tissue.
The question, and the resulting frivolity, even caused the furrowed brow to be lifted in surprise.
Well, guess what. Alongside myself and others, MAFB made it to the final round of “Jury Idol” and was picked for jury duty in a civil case. While my fellow jurors and I sifted through our notes, and the pages of evidence handed to each of us by the judges to clip into the special white binders we had been given, MAFB told us everything that had happened to her in her 70 plus years of life in the lead up to being selected to be on a jury.
She had left school at 16 as it didn’t agree with her. She started out as a dish pig but eventually elevated herself to the chef who prepared and made the meals in a nearby nursing home. MAFB married a man who came to visit his father most days. He drove trucks. Her three kids looked like her (she showed us photos from a book in her handbag). She wasn’t too keen on daughter number two’s boyfriend though. “Too clean!” she laughed.
She told us she had been in the jury pool room yesterday but wasn’t selected. She begged the staff to be allowed to come back today.
“Being on a jury was on my bucket list!”
It was a no brainer, then, when we had to select which of us would be Foreman, the one who would speak to the judge on our behalf. When we tallied the votes, I swear the flowers on that blouse multiplied and opened fuller when her name was announced.
During breaks in the trial, she liked to read bits of the three-day-old newspaper out to us in the lunch room. There are a few things more annoying than somebody reading out whole newspaper articles to a group, but not that many things. She was also feasting on some chicken as she read. Leftovers from last night’s dinner.
The newspaper became translucent each time she went to turn the page with her chicken fingers. The chicken had taken over the room with its aroma as it was reheated in the lunch room microwave.
The parties to the civil case we were presiding over reached a settlement a couple of days in, so in the end we didn’t have to reach a verdict. I recall MAFB lingering outside on the street once we were dismissed, like she wanted to hang out with us a little longer. As she reluctantly said goodbye to us all, those flowers on her blouse kind of drooped a little.
This all happened about five years ago. Why am I bringing it up now, I hear you ask, dear beautiful, attractive, attentive reader?
As I was reminiscing on MAFB, I wondered why I could remember so much of my time with her when I struggle to remember details of conversations from two nights ago, my 752 passwords, or what I was wearing yesterday. I know I was pretty keen to undertake the special civic responsibility of jury duty, but surely excitement couldn’t be the only reason I remembered so much?
Then I realised. The whole two and a half days I was with MAFB there were big chunks of time being in a court where I was deprived of access to my phone due to it needing to be switched off and out of reach.
She had my undivided attention. My brain was only absorbing her behaviour and natter. My time with her had time to stew, and settle, into it’s new home in my memory.
I wasn’t near WhatsApp group chats, I couldn’t click on endless Facebook baits such as “5 reasons your cat purrs” or “You’ll never guess what child celebrities from the 90s look like now!” for hours on end, and I had to rely on only my brain rather than Google when we all participated in the quiz from the three-day-old chicken soaked newspaper.
A lot of us say we’re great at multitasking. We can watch Netflix on our laptops while watching the footy on the television, all the while simultaneously looking up questions like “is it weird that my orgasm brought on a 24-hour migraine?” on our phones whilst catching up on our work emails as well as, at the same time, nodding at our partners when they try to explain to us what the electrician is coming over to fix. (I think I gathered that he’s coming over to fix my migraine.)
There are moments that doing all of the things at once is ruining my life. I’m too distracted and I’m missing the depth and the detail of the real people and the world around me. I’m kind of living in a weird limbo where I’m an octopus spinning lots of plates, not really absorbing the moments that matter. The moments that should settle into their home in my memory.
It’s a delight to be able to recall the face of a lovely, mature aged lady wearing a floral blouse full of colour who’s just been told one of her bucket list items has come to fruition. It’s time to imagine I’m still on jury duty and put my phone away and close the laptop. As fun as it can be to be an octopus spinning plates, sometimes I need to put the plates down and focus on what’s in front of me. I wonder what I’ll see?