by Ambareesh Sr Ja
Sunlight peeped in through a narrow slit on the wall near the square window. Windows and doors served no real calling for the shackled soul. They held their charm for the unchained- for them it was a source of hope- a flickering, but charming ray of hope. For Martin however, hope was a long forgotten feeling. He remembered it as something wonderful, much like the lust for warm flesh, which he had felt somewhere deep inside, long back. It was all long gone, like a summer rain, pleasant but pointless. The sweet memory was its purpose maybe, but he did not care anymore.
The wall was covered with lines of charcoal. Thin short black lines made in bunches of four, crossed out by a diagonal one to mark a fifth. He had ran out of coal a long while ago. Probably five years or a few more before, he wasn’t sure. It couldn’t have mattered less, he had ran out of space anyway. He forgot when he had started counting the days inside the cell. It was surely when he was all set to get out, and go on – thirsty for life. The guards mocked his enthusiasm and fiery spirit. In a stinking rat hole where two grown men could hardly lie together in comfort, he tried to keep himself strong and fit. “This chap has gone bonkers”, a sergeant said when he had seen him running to and fro inside the cell. “Doesn’t he remind you of a mouse?” cackled another- but panting under the weight of his own mass he had muttered through clenched teeth- “They are coming for me, and that day you will all know”.
Quite unlike in the movies, they never came. There was no great escape. No clever ploy to worm out through a hole in the wall behind a Raquel Welch poster. He never accepted his fate for a long time. He could never give up, the spark had to stay alive. He almost strangled a prison guard who brought food, for a chance remark that he – “..like all fallen rebels, is a coward”. A brief visit from the duty office later, he could whistle through the gap in his bleeding front teeth.
Political prisoners were never freed, for they were traitors to the nation. The affairs of the state were most confusing for the police personnel. If the regime fell, the prisoners of today would flay them alive tomorrow and they could well share the darkness with the current top hats. In all fairness, the scepter had changed hands four times in the last quarter of the century alone- permanence, peace and prosperity being promised to the people each time. The current reign however was remarkably different, and they all felt it quite early. Le Nouveau, or The New One; as he was popularly known, was ruthless like none before him. He was meticulous in his planning, prudent in his ways and impossible to predict. Within weeks of his ascent the corrupt bureaucrats had disappeared without a trace, and no one bothered to enquire further. He held his ‘friends’ close with terror and his enemies closer, with pain. Any bearers of the old ideologies were either wiped out or condemned to indefinite imprisonment, like Martin.
He was tortured, long after he told them what he knew, well aware that he couldn’t possibly reveal anything that they hadn’t realized already. Still the screws turned, nails cracked and blood dripped. He had to denounce his beliefs and fall in line. They took him apart inch by inch, and finally broke him down. He screamed for mercy, plead forgiveness and professed his loyalty. Everyone loved The New One, it wasn’t a question of choice.
The door creaked open letting in a painful stream of light and unfamiliar noises. Like a blind born piglet hiding under its mother sow – he ducked his head behind the stinking closet. He suffered from hallucinations lately. Sensory deprivation and regular blows could compete with any drug. It was all in your head after all- like his father used to say.
A jab to his ribs made him double up in agony.
“Get your stuff, sign the papers and leave these clothes at the gate.” His manners hadn’t changed, though he had put on weight since their last encounter. But again he couldn’t be very sure, there was so much blood trickling down to his eyes then.
“Today?” he gasped, rubbing his side. Hallucinations weren’t accompanied by bruises, usually.
“Now! On your feet. I do have other work to do, you know? Ungrateful swine!” he spat, turned on his heels, and the noise subsided as fast as it had risen. The door was left open, and a guard outside- polishing his rifle, looked at him with disdain.
What he saw, thought Martin, as he staggered up clutching the wall for support, was a pile of bones and skin. What he saw, struggling to stay on its stick legs, was barely human. One couldn’t blame the guard- he was nothing but the uniform he was wearing. Uniforms never had eyes.
‘…….has been granted on the lines that the aforementioned shall not indulge in any form of anti-national activity, which includes propagation of…….’ Quickly signing on all the papers, he extended his arm, returning the pen- signaling that he was done.
“You better not come back”, said the young sergeant as he struck his listing off the rolls.
“I sure won’t. And you better not forget my name”. He smiled. The uniform frowned and led him outside.
He got a carving knife for ten francs near the capital.
“How do I get to the Élysée Palace, son?” The kid pointed east.
“Hasta la victoria siempre”- he winked and walked on, whistling through that gap in his teeth.
“I don’t care if I fall as long as someone else picks up my gun and keeps on shooting” – Ernesto Che Guevara