Sunday 30 March 2014



He gasped for air, struggling to breathe. The bag tightened, driving further and further into his mouth with each gulp. His nose had become unfit for purpose. His lungs fought to get adequate air. They strained for the oxygen required to live till the next morning. If there would be one. Long ago he’d told them all he knew, and more. Now he had nothing to give, nothing to say. The questions had long since stopped making any sense. When they came now he couldn't talk. All his body wanted to do was to gulp and gasp, shudder in shock, shake and convulse when the bag was removed, the garrotte loosened, the plastic replaced by air.

His sense of smell had disappeared long ago. The putrid aromas, a mixture of blood, vomit, urine, semen, undoubtedly still pervaded the room. A hell hole of bodily biles that even the gaol rats avoided. Now there was nothing in his stomach, nothing in his bowels, nothing in his bladder. Soon there would be nothing in his lungs and he would collapse into unconsciousness only to be slapped, hit, beaten back into life. How many punches would it take this time? At first he could tell by counting his bruises. Now he was all bruised, one black and blue remnant of the man he used to be. He’d wake up back in his cell not knowing how long he’d been in interrogation, how long he’d been knocked out for, how long he’d been asleep. The calendar he’d scratched on the wall with each food delivery was now useless. The food had stopped coming. The bucket in the corner had stopped overflowing. Evaporation he supposed. His body was shutting down and he no longer added to its contents.

All signs of human dignity had gone, days, weeks ago. Now all signs of life were disappearing too. Gone were his attempts to keep fit, performing press-ups, running on the spot. Gone too were the mental agility exercises he’d devised for himself – reciting poems, singing songs, recalling faces of primary school classmates, compiling lists – all Humphrey Bogart films, all books by Marquez, football cup winners, A to Z of plants, of animals, of countries of the world. Anything to survive and be able once again to see his wife and child. Currently, his brain concerned its efforts on the now herculean task of maintaining the autonomic lymphatic processes endeavouring to keep up as wounds failed to heal, as broken bones failed to mend. His brain had no resources to spare for thinking, for wishing, for dreaming, for hoping. Yet curiously his ears still heard their screams and he knew they heard his. Did screaming help you breathe? Only the living scream: the dead are silent. He’d be silent soon. At first the screams terrified him. They haunted his cell time, stopped him from sleeping. Noise personified fear. What were they doing to that woman? She sounded so young. Then it was silence that terrified him. Was he the only one left?

He had mentally resigned himself to welcome death but his rebellious body was not on the same page. Death did not come for him. Only the guards, again and again. He’d become terrified of living, terrified of surviving the next interrogation, interrogations he knew had become an excuse for brutality, part of the initiation of younger members of the guard corps. The faces of the novices no longer registered in his damaged eyes. Their blows were no longer distinguishable from those of men more proficient in the art. He knew that when he no longer gave the elder guards their kicks as they laughed and joked at the young ones as they experienced instigating torture for the first time, that he’d be left in this god forsaken cell, forgotten about by all, to die alone, to slip away into oblivion and become food for a different set of rats.

© Sheila Ash 30 March 2014

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