Celebrating East African Writing!
There comes a time, time being of the essence in everyone’s life, when one has to face the consequences of their actions. My actions also required that I faced my conscience too, for due to my actions, my father, mother, and sister were left alone to get on with life. While here I was a prisoner of my actions and conscience.
Outside there was a cold and extremely clear night, and here I was, inside with only a small window with bars as the only opening through which I could look outside onto the real world. A philosopher had once told me that a man’s destiny is governed not only by his thoughts but also by his ability or inability to put those thoughts into action. The ability or inability is what makes him or breaks him. So I was destined. I had made my choice a few years back and without any consideration to my family I had taken action. As a result of this, Einstein’s theory had been put into action where every action has an equal and opposite reaction. As a result of the decision of that action I had taken several years ago I would now face the opposite reaction within a matter of hours. So this is what it felt like to be on death row, in my view anyway.
Here I was, utterly alone and dejected, just my books and I. There was nothing else to do. My passion ever since I was a young lad was reading books. It had started with comics and progressed onto such authors as Enid Blyton, Franklin W. Dixon, J.T. Edson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, T.S. Elliot, among many others. In my short lifetime I had read complete Encyclopedias, and I continued to this day to read as many books as possible. At present however the subject matter was a little more specific and desperate. The tension mounted as the clock continued to tick. At present I read books on only one subject. That subject which, would allow me to escape this most depressed of depressing places that I had come to passionately hate but respect it at the same time over the last few years. But this was not going to help me now. The final hours were almost over and there was nothing that anyone could do now. Every night as I slept in my bed, that which had been my companion for some years now, I had nightmares, imagining what it would feel like, akin to having ten thousand volts pass through my body, perhaps. I had always thought of what these few hours before those final ten minutes would be like and now I knew.
The door slammed open and an authoritative voice stated there was a call for me. I got up warily and put the last book that I was reading aside. It was difficult to guess who was calling but anything now was a godsend. Perhaps a last minute reprieve was in order. That was hardly possible. I put on my slippers as these thoughts crossed my mind and got up. The door remained open as a temporary avenue of escape, but to where? There was no getting away from this.
The phone, the only one on this floor was at the end of the long corridor. The bright lighting hurt my eyes as I made my way up it. On the ceiling I could see row upon row of tube lights stretching away to infinity. I continued to shuffle along the long corridor. There were doors on my left and right with numbers on them just as there was one on mine. Behind each door probably sat or slept an individual who would face or was facing the same thoughts as I was facing right now. The walls were simple concrete and I cursed the individual who had designed this hell. I wondered if he got a perverse pleasure knowing how many souls he was torturing day in day out, and year after year?
There was no sound here except for the occasional murmurs from the other prisoners of thought and conscience. I liked to call them that but everybody else had a different name for these individuals. They were probably conspiring methods of escape or discussing their predicament.
I picked up the phone. The voice at the other end was a godsend.
‘How are you coping James?’ asked my sister.
All I could do for a few moments was to try and swallow the lump in my throat and struggle to control the tears forcing themselves out of my eyes like little school children just released after the final bell.
I held the handset with one hand as I wiped away my tears with my other and began to slick back my hair, thinking of what to say next.
‘I’m all right.’ I managed to stammer out.
What the hell else was I supposed to say? No sis, I am dying here! Get me out of here! I will give anything, anything to get me out of here. I can’t stand the waiting anymore. Let’s get it over with, James. Here and now. It’s going to be so easy. Just take a jump. Have the guts! ‘Come on, big boy, up! On your feet, soldier. What are you a Man or a wimp?’
There was a moment of silence as all this crossed my mind as each of us thought of how we would react at the end of these final hours. My sister had never trusted me. Well, I had never proven to be a soul to be trusted, but now I think she admired the courage with which I faced my eminent future. She had been dead against all this from the beginning. She had pleaded with my father against the whole idea saying it really was not worth it. There were other avenues, other ways and means of succeeding in achieving the objective. I had fought passionately for my point of view and in the end I had succeeded. We had been adversaries then, but now we were simply two individuals who could no longer control the direction of our destinies.
She brought my thoughts back to the present.
‘I’m sorry I can’t be there in your hour of need.’ she said.
‘Its all right’, I replied, ‘How’s mum and dad?’
‘Anxious, worried but they are o.k.’ she replied with a sigh.
The conversation was clipped and to the point. We were both controlling our emotions. I could not think of any thing else to say except.
‘Look, you take care of them and ask them not to worry; there is nothing they can do now. I did what I had to do. Just tell them… Tell them thank you for every thing that they have done. This is what it was always going to come down to. They knew it, I knew it.’
My sister seemed now beyond control and at any moment she was going to break down.
‘I think I better be going now, the kids are beginning to cry, you take care of yourself, you hear.’
I said my goodbyes and she put the phone down. The phone clicked and a monotonous tone replaced her voice. I replaced the handset in the cradle and slowly shuffled my way back to my room. I was dangerously on the edge. The tension seemed to increase almost every minute. I put on a little lamp next to my bed as I prepared to wait out the next three hours before it would be time for breakfast. I looked out of the window again, watching the streetlights light up the road and the adjacent walls in an eerie orange glow. I could see the walls across the courtyard, which were deathly gray in the fog lights, which did nothing to enhance their beauty, if it could be called that.
Was there anything I had missed in my books, anything that could save me from this ordeal, this so called end of all.
I flicked through the pages remembering each and every paragraph. I took out my summaries. Over the last few months I had prepared these on every single point, subject and topic. There were pictograms and shorthand that enabled me to go thru them rapidly in the space of a few minutes. I began to go over these now.
The phone rang once more, and I waited for the voice to call me but it didn’t.
I continued with the notes. Slowly but surly sleep began to take over as my exhausted body began to shut down in protest of neglect and abuse over the last few days. Before I knew it my last few hours were up.
At exactly six in the morning Shez my inmate and close companion for several years in this grizzly exercise of torture and intolerable psychological pain, knocked at my door. My last dreams shattered and reality began to crash in.
‘Its time! ’ He said.
I flung aside my thin bed sheet that they called a blanket and bounced out of my bed.
‘Damn it!’ I cursed and a number of explosively abusive words vomited out of my mouth.
I began to shake. Shez came in and grabbed me by the shoulders and very quietly but firmly told me to calm down. There was nothing anybody could do now. It would be all over in the next couple of hours. My stomach heaved as I faced reality for the first time in my life. All the cockiness I had built up worked out of me as I stumbled to the bathroom and vomited last nights dinner.
Shez helped me clean up. I put on a new pair of jeans and my favorite T-shirt- it had the phrase, It’s better to burn out then to fade away, printed on it. I pulled on a new pair of socks as Shez fired questions to keep my mind occupied and away from reality. I answered them rapidly. Time had run out too fast.
In the dining room they offered me breakfast but I didn’t think I could keep it in, so I declined. Last night’s leftovers at the bottom of the toilet were bad enough. I drank a little orange juice and called it quits. I looked at the others, they were in no better a position then I was. We had all resigned to our fates, given up. We were mere bodies without any soul.
I stood in the line popularly known to us as death row. I had always wondered what it exactly felt like to sit in death row and now I exactly knew how that felt too. Jeez, I should really stop wondering with the dark thoughts. There were rumors that many fell over even before they were asked to sit. I would find out at last if that was true.
They came for us at exactly 9.30am. One had to admit they were sticklers for time. We were asked to queue up. Each of us progressed a little further, one at a time as each of us was allocated a chair. I looked around as I was allocated mine. Some were hysterical, while their companions comforted them and hushed them up. One even fainted and had to be revived using smelling salts. ‘So the rumor was true.’
At 9.55am everything was ready.
This was the one thing that each of us seated in this hall or large room feared all our lives yet now we each faced it as pure reality. Some with confidence, others with fear showing on their faces, and yet others with hysteria.
I looked up at Shez and gave him the thumbs up. I was ready.
At exactly 10.00 am, a man we had never seen before walked up to the front.
‘Ladies and gentleman you can now turn your papers over . You have exactly ten minutes to read through them and then exactly one and a half hours to answer six questions out of the total ten. Your time begins now.
The examination had begun.
©Jaimin S. Vyas
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