He believed he would win, he believed he would live. Right up until the end when finally he understood, he had believed. It wasn’t possible to accept anything other than life. Just to breathe and to be was all he knew. It’s all we know isn’t it?
The day had started as the others, in the small cramped cell, in the dark and the stink. He had struggled to his feet, pushing with his hands on the gritty floor. One day he would be able to simply unfold, his legs would regain their strength and he would uncurl like the fine young animal that he was. That he had been.
When the guard brought in the paper wrapped bread and the bottle of water he hadn’t spoken, it was part of the game. In his mind he refused to accept what he had become and so he would not acknowledge what had made him that way. There had been a thoughtless kick. A backhanded swipe across his face that he hadn’t bothered to avoid. The pull of metal against red raw flesh was more painful than a slap after all and the chains were heavy, cumbersome and his wrists bled almost constantly now. Often he licked at them, the sharp metallic taste on his tongue took him to his childhood, to grazed knees and to Cindy screeching at him that he was disgusting, to wipe it with his handkerchief, to stick an Elastoplast on it. He could do with a whole roll of the stuff now and it still wouldn’t be enough.
He wouldn’t like Cindy to see him now. His sweet sibling. Would she screw up her nose and turn away – he thought not. In his mind he saw her, running to him and enfolding his filth uncaring into her splendid embrace.
Of course it wouldn’t be like that. By the time he was home there would have been baths, medical treatment, food and care and cleaning. Cindy would never have to see him this way, that was not a worry not really. He pushed it away.
He watched the line move across the floor, reach the far wall and spear upwards. When it reached the ceiling they would probably come again. He imagined it was after the noon meal and their sleep in whatever hovel they used and then, before it was time to pray again they would come and have sport with him. He wished they would not, hoped they would not but knew that they would.
Today though, today he waited, his ears alive with listening, his heart jumping with every click and rattle but they didn’t come. It was foolish to hope without foundation but still the quiver of optimism made him wonder. Had there been a raid? had they simply run away? There was no noise, no crash on the door, no armed and helmeted saviour to fill the space with violent salvation and still the day wore on.
Maybe they had found someone new, taken another hostage, brought another plaything to the compound. Maybe by tonight there would be another poor sod in his cell. He tidied it, pulled the bucket nearer to him then wondered if they would share the noisome thing and pushed it away again, more central against the wall. He collected the paper wrappings from the bread this morning and the greasy paper plate from his rice yesterday. He pulled the blanket out from under his backside and laid it on the floor in the corner. The new man would need it more than he. Still shocked, probably injured, confused and afraid, he would need the comfort of the blanket, he didn’t need it any more after all. He no longer felt the cold except in the very deep of the night and for his new companion he would make the sacrifice. But they didn’t come, they didn’t bring a broken and bleeding body.
He watched the line pink and disappear, another day gone. There had been no food, no more water and no new companion. He missed the man who never was more than the rice.
He no longer slept at night but dropped into a fugue whenever his brain decided. The tension of waiting had robbed him of routine and so he hadn’t done his movements. The chains precluded much in the way of exercise but he moved his limbs in a routine of his own devising, each muscle group in turn, stretched and tensed over and over until he felt the burn and he hadn’t done it today so okay, he would do it now. After that there was the poetry, recited with care and passion and then at last he could scrape a line on the wall – another day done – another day survived. He closed his eyes and watched the nothingness behind the eyelids until he saw Cindy and Mom and the tree at the end of the lane and the bar where he would go the night after he made it home.
Somewhere in the drifting darkness he lost some time and was surprised to hear the dawn call to prayer. He heard them coming with his bread and turned his face to the wall, he wouldn’t acknowledge the neglect of yesterday.
They screamed at him, they dragged him to his feet and pulled him through the door. He hadn’t strength to fight and so simply let them drag him down the hallway and out into the courtyard. The bright day assaulted his eyes and they ran with tears. They forced him to his knees on the damp earth and they dragged his head up. They made him speak his name – Right until the end he believed he would win, he thought he would live.
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