I first met Bonzo in the city park years ago. He was lying full length on the ground, staring at something in the grass; a thin kid with torn and dirty clothes over a filthy and abused body.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Mind your own fuckin’ business!”
“You look good on a sheep’s bum too,” I retorted, getting on my hands and knees next to him.
I saw what he was looking at: A large spider.
“Is it a funnel web?” I asked.
“Nah. Ctenizidae Missulena,” he said.
“Looks like a funnel web to me,” I said doubtingly.
Over the next few years I’d see him now and then as I walked through the park to the court house – I’m a magistrate in the Court of Juvenile Justice – and we’d chat about insects and spiders, slugs and worms. He had a remarkable knowledge of them; remarkable for anyone his age, let alone a street kid who rarely saw the inside of a class room.
He was rough, though. He had a sharp tongue and a short temper. I wasn’t surprised when one day he appeared in my court on assault charges.
His assault victim, Mr Bozinovski, had secured the services of a smart lawyer, Isabelle Smith, and was pressing charges. Isabelle was a precise person with precisely applied makeup and precisely placed wig over precisely curled hair. She paced between her table and the witness stand in her precise gown on her precise shoes and asked carefully-worded questions. Before and after every round of those carefully-worded questions, she would take a sip from a glass of water on her table.
Several witnesses testified that they had seen Bonzo give Mr Bozinovski a violent punch to the head and repeatedly kick him. One witness thought he’d seen Mr Bozinovski step on Bonzo’s outstretched legs, giving some validity to Bonzo’s protest of: “The Bastard stepped on me!”
Isabelle was practised at her art. She paused patiently when Bonzo shouted at her, casting her eyes to the floor with an air of gentle resignation, then raising them again in my direction, her face written in features of tired indulgence. Her manner invited the court to judge the believability of anything the rude youth might say. “May I suggest, Mr Boyd,” she said very kindly, her smile sweet, her eyes icy, “that you over-reacted when Mr Bozinovski accidently stumbled over you as you lay stretched full length just around the corner of a garden bed – where, I’m sure even you would admit – it was difficult to anticipate someone might be lying?”
Bonzo opened his mouth and I held my breath, hoping that he wouldn’t pour out some obscenity. To my relief, he closed his mouth. My relief quickly turned to apprehension as his eyes squinted, taking on a look of cunning calm.
“There’s a spider in your wig,” he said.
Isabelle froze for a split second, then her hands flew up to her wig but jerked away before touching the hair.
“Look.” Bonzo stood up, reaching a long, lanky arm out to the top of her head. He brought down a closed fist and opened it near her face. She started back. A creamish, long-legged spider was crawling across his palm. “It’s an Achaearanea Tepidariorum Koch,” he informed her calmly. “Grey house spider. They’re the ones that have their webs in corners of doors or windows or curtains with millions of little spiders in them. Bet you’ve run into a web like that. There’s probably lots in your hair.” He leaned over sideways and put the spider on the bench in front of me.
His words galvanised Isabelle into action. She dashed off her wig, flinging her head forward as if attempting to dislodge it from her shoulders. “Get them out! Get them out!” she squealed. For a second everyone stared at her transfixed then her instructing solicitor ran forward.
I thought it prudent at this point to suggest a break.
It took half an hour to calm Isabelle. No tiny spiders were found in her wig.
We all filed back to our places. I noted that as Bonzo walked past Isabelle Smith and Mr Bozinovski he paused ever so slightly and smiled engagingly at both of them.
Isabelle was on her feet; makeup, wig and curls once more in place. “Master Boyd,” she began firmly. She took a sip of water from her glass. “There are a number of …” with a loud whoosh, she sprayed water over Mr Bozinovski, her instructing solicitor and her papers. “Oh – Oh … I beg your pardon,” she gasped. She was staring at a writhing worm on the table. “I – had it in my mouth – it – it was in – in the glass.”
Mr Bozinovski, drops of water sliding down his face gaped at her. The two policewomen who sat to the side seemed to contract a delirium that shook their bodies. Bonzo’s defence started blowing her noise violently. I stole a quick glance at Bonzo. He was staring with composed interest at the glass. I’d have given my back teeth to know where he got that worm from.
“An unpleasant find,” I noted as dryly as I could. “When you’re ready, Ms Smith.”
Isabelle made a brave attempt to pick up where she’d left off: “Mr Boyd, do you concede that Mr Bozinovski – ” the edge of her gown brushed against her leg. She jumped, emitting a strangled scream. “Oh, oh dear. I do beg your pardon. I’m a bit phobic. I know it’s silly but – oh dear –”
She tried again. “It’s clear that Mr Bozinovski didn’t expect that you would punch him on the nose if he trod on you.”
Mr Bozinovki’s already open mouth dropped open further.
“Oh – I mean –” Isabelle turned to me. “I mean – oh dear – I mean – I have no further questions.” She sat down.
I turned to Bonzo’s defence. “Do you have anything to add?”
Defence shook her head, most of her face still covered by a handkerchief.
“You, Mr Boyd?” I asked.
“It’s all bullshit! He had it in for me. Near broke me legs and jammed his walkin’ stick into me back. All this bullshit about not seein’ me. I was miles off the path That shaky dame can say what she likes but that’s the truth of the matter. Sure, I punched him, but he’s got no cause getting’ fuckin’ holy.”
“Thank you, Mr Boyd,” I interrupted with a hiccup. My diaphragm was hurting and the vehement speech banished the last vestiges of dignity from the courtroom. I could hardly keep my eyes off Isabelle Smith. She was scratching her head under her wig, one foot was out of a shoe and rubbing against an ankle. By the contortions on her face, she was obviously working her tongue around inside her mouth looking for another worm. The court clerk was giggling behind a sheaf of papers. Bonzo’s defence was crying.
“We’ll take a break.” I left in such a hurry, the court clerk didn’t have time to say: “All rise.”
Poor Isabelle had a hard time living down that day. I don’t know how Bonzo knew about her phobia but he’d worked it well. I had to devise some punishment for him, of course, but I suggested to Social Security that they find a way of building on his talents – his knowledge of insects and things like that, that is. I’d hate to think of that kind of mind left rotting on the street for the like of Mr Bozinovski to tread on.
(Published in the Village Noise: Bundeena’s local newspaper, autumn 2013)