I awoke and moaned with regret that I had.
I couldn't breath for the suffocating blanket of moisture permeating my prison.
Rolling onto my side I stared at the wall, only a foot or two from my face. It, too, perspired. Mold grew in the cracks that ran to the ceiling. I reached out a finger, touched it to the wall, and brought a drop to my parched tongue.
No comfort in that position either. Every muscle, sinew, and bone throbbed or hurt. I wondered dimly what was broken.
Trying my back again, my eyes needed a moment to focus on the afterthought of a window high in the wall overhead, my only light.
A rustle outside my door drew my attention, and I saw, or my feverish brain fancied I saw, my captor, leering through the bars. His venomous visage haunted my dreams.
No sound. I turned my eyes upward to stare at the ceiling. He wasn't going to have the satisfaction of thinking he might be making progress.
Time passed. That was all it did in here, between the times of being taken out of my three by eight foot cell for beatings and interrogations.
Suddenly as it always did, the door swung open.
My turn to dance.
The long dark corridor led to a room at its end containing a single bamboo chair. A bare bulb dangled at a crazy angle above.
The tug of war between two powers began. I was the rope.
I was never taken back to the same cell two days consecutively, apparently to avoid any sense of “home”, or sameness, or stability. The mattresses on the floor reeked of waste and vomit and blood. Nearly unconscious when I was dumped there, by some mercy, I scarcely noticed for several hours.
Occasionally I asked how long had I been here.
It was the perpetual response, what they evidently were taught to say. I could neither have proven or disproven it. Days, weeks, had no meaning. Any day could be Monday, or Sunday, or Tuesday. It might have been the fourth of July or Christmas.
Once or twice I passed another prisoner in the drab, intentionally depressing gray. Our eyes were never allowed to meet, nor any part of our bodies to touch. We were being both humiliated and de-humanized.
This day the beatings were especially bad. No secrets extracted; not this day.
I came to and lay gripping the edges of the mattress, my nose so plugged with my blood I couldn't smell it.
The tips of my fingers felt fabric of a different texture from that of the mattress itself.
I trained my eyes as best I could on the bars to see if I was observed. I could detect no face there, nor did I hear movement.
Slowly, ever so slowly I drew the fragment of cloth from beneath the pad, gripping it tightly in my fist for a long time. I dared not look directly at it. Draw no attention by doing anything at all. That was drilled into me, over and over.
Making a ball of both hands, I moved them up onto the edge of the mattress, allowing them to rest there for a time.
After a while I rolled to the side holding the scrap and cupped my hand close to my face. I lay with my eyes closed, pretending to sleep.
A footfall, soft and hardly detectable in the corridor.
Time passed. An hour, maybe more.
I opened my eyes a slit. I held a scrap of someone's prison garb, ripped in anguish. I squeezed it reverently, this connection to a fellow sufferer.
I listened intently, sweat dripping from my forehead. No sounds came from the dark corridor beyond the door.
I opened my hand to study the scrap and saw blood stains. I winced, feeling in a very real sense the pain of the man to whom this had belonged.
Another footfall. I closed my hand, moving it to the edge of the mattress, then clutched it close.
In a little while it felt safe enough. In the dim light I squinted at the bloodstains: words, likely scratched with a fingernail.
“Lord m lt m salvtn”.
In my head the words were audible; it was my grandmother's voice, lulling me to sleep as a child.
Remembering, I squeezed my eyelids tight, thankful and smiling through tears, savoring a first taste of true freedom.
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