Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review


Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review


Article excerpt

Years have passed since that dawn; I believe eleven years, eleven years from one moment. Yet, I remain in prison, deprived of any manner of free will and happiness, and what's more, I have been forgotten. He had no one, and now I am the sole inheritor of this dispossession.

I wish I had a photograph of him or, to put it more realistically, of myself, from those lost times. It is not important for me to know which of us had a finer face; rather, a photograph in these confusing times can reveal much that has been forgotten or that has nestled in the wrong folds of the mind. There are memories in my mind that I am no longer sure are my own personal experiences.

Nine years is not a short time. I will disregard the first few months as an occasion for us to find one another amid the crush of alienation and for our inevitable friendship to form. The oldest memory of him that remains in my mind belongs to the recreation hours outdoors. In single file we would walk in a small circle surrounded by gray walls, our pace imposed by a collective in which none of us played an independent role. Still, in the midst of our same -colored clothes, our common smell, and our exasperating lack of individuality; the stateline s s of his movements and eyes that instilled an unpleasant yet irresistible sensation in any observer made him stand out. As the circle of flesh turned and the familiar sounds of rustling clothes and scraping heels spilled over the small yard, I would involuntarily watch him. Depending on where in the circle we were on a given day, different angles of his face and figure would be visible to me. And then we became cellmates.

He hated snoring - as I do now - and among all those men, I was the only one who did not transform my dreams and nightmares into hoarse rasps in the crater of sound, and it was this that led to our coming together and his acceptance of me. Yet, there were times when we - he and I - in the blistering and leaden air of rage, would go at each other simply to quench our thirst for social interaction and fresh associations. When we beat each other - in silence, so the night guard would not notice - we would swallow our groans. Fists are silent, especially if they land on the hypochondria. Those in neighboring cells who became aware of our fights, with their shoulders shaking from stifled laughter and in anticipation of the gibes with which they would grace us the next day, would crawl under their blankets and from time to time listen to the muted, fleshy sounds coming from our cell. His fists were heavier than mine. When he punched me, my breath would freeze in my chest and I would hunch over and press my arms against my sides. Then, after air gradually penetrated the constriction lodged under my sternum, I would rise up again and strike him. I would grind insults between my teeth and pound my fists against any organ within my reach. When we grew weak and drained, we would collapse on our beds; it was then that we could talk.

During the monotonous prison nights, the mind, like a night crawler, emerges from its lair and begins to hunt. It hunts for every movement, sound, or even abstract instinct that will nourish it so that it can then slither into the cavities of the distant past. Of course, that is only on nights when at dawn they are not coming to take someone to be executed. On such nights, the silence of the cellblock grows deeper. Everyone Stares at the ceiling with wide-open eyes. Sleep, filled with fantasies of sprawling meadows, of the winter-morning sun shining on crystalline surfaces, and of beautiful, docile women with longing in their eyes, flutters overhead like a weary bird that wants to land on a branch swaying in the wind but cannot. And we obstinately resist this pleasant sleep so that when at last we surrender to it, it will be all the more enjoyable. And then it is dawn and the footsteps of those who come, and we are one man fewer.

The game - a term he used so as to conceal the inner savagery of our pastime - was the only means by which we could pass through those tall walls. …

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