“Now, even loneliness can be considered a lost art”
The sentence is inscribed into the wall in the back corner close to the floor. It was done by hand with some sort of sharp object. The message was most probably carved by the previous occupant of the cell – and that must have been quite some time ago.
She has been here for months, maybe a year. She has lost count. The message means more now than it ever did. She finds herself lying down on the floor to stare at it almost every day. At night, the letters are hard to make out. The light which shines through the narrow slit at the top back corner of the room during the day is her only solace, despite the fact that it makes the message readable.
When she was first placed in holding here, that scribbling in the far bottom corner of the room did not carry the slightest amount of value. In fact, at first she did not even notice it. Maybe because of all the anger and sadness which made up the person she was at that point, but she could never have known what those suppressed feelings of anger and sadness would become. She did not realise how deep that pit reached until much later.
This cold and hollow block of concrete in which she is kept for her crimes has shown her the darkest corners of her mind, but it has also allowed her to unearth the most peculiar and unconventional feelings in the form of calm and possibly forgiveness. The reality is, her end is near and she knows it. They have simply kept her locked in this cell for much longer than any human body or mind can withstand. Her instincts have served their purpose, but what is there to do when you live out an uncountable amount of days in a small empty room just big enough for you to fall down in? How can your body maintain the will to live, when you are fed something which can only be identified as food because it is served on a plate, through the small opening at the bottom of the thick metal door? How do you retain your humanity when you are supposed to defecate and urinate in a filthy bucket in the corner, which is changed out once every two days?
The floor is cold.
She stares at every letter of the message. She knows that it could quite possibly be just another part of their tactics, to torture her, but by this time she does not care.
She would like to think, that even if the words on the wall are just the empty scribblings of another prisoner gone mad or a cruel trick of theirs, she has identified a transcendent truth of our nature within those words.
The darkness has consumed almost all of her being. She has lost all sense of time and space. She knows no human interaction other than the passing of food and the ablution bucket through the door, and when she was taken out for treatment… at the beginning.
At first, she was scared. She would not eat the food. She would not drink the water. She threw up, because the bucket would stink so horribly. That first night was quite possibly the coldest and longest of her life. She cried and screamed until she passed out on the cold concrete floor.
After a few days, she could not hold it any longer and had to eat the food and drink the water. There was not much else to do. She felt as if they had prevailed, but it was no longer a question of winning or losing. It was between living and dying. She attempted to communicate with the person bringing the food and the bucket, but there were no replies or communication of any sort, ever. Not even when she was sedated, blindfolded and taken for treatment. After a while she began to imagine conversations happening between her and other people, or inanimate objects. She was sure she’d once heard a voice coming from the other side of the slit in the roof, but received no reply to her calls. She thought she’d had a conversation with someone on the other side of the door once, but she now knows it was only her imagination getting the better of her.
Loneliness and depravity does not begin to describe it.
The message carved out on the wall in the cell is proven again and again to be true. She has come to realise that nobody ever wants to be alone, but because ofour true nature, we should never be allowed amongst other people – or any living thing for that matter.
“The darkness stemming from this isolation,” she speaks to herself“…goes to show that we are incapable of stability, or ever truly functioning in a sustained, independent manner. The mere fact that one is capable of doing these horrific and unspeakable things to another of his own kind, regardless of faith or belief, ascertains that we all ought to be isolated or extinct. Seclusion from everything we knowcould ultimately be the cause of our own obliteration.”
She closes her eyes, lying fairly still on the concrete floor.
The treatments, which were part of this correctional process at the beginning of her sentence, haveexpunged much of her memory.
She remembers the charges of high treason and being suspected of being allied with the B.L.A.
She remembers being sent off to the Strydomville Intensive Correctional Services Facility…
But not much more before that.
Every now and again she tries to remember her family, friends and the people she cared for, but she remembers them only as far away, open spaces beyond the walls of her universe – which consists only of that cubicle area, dark, cold, concrete, in which she now exists.
Every day the memories of her previous life enter her mind, but she has recently come to a point where there exists no past, for she is at her end. Those recollectionsare irrelevant now. They are systematically cast from her mind as the exhaustion and delusions consume her.
Her body is in pain.
She can feel her insides are not as they should be.
It is time to give up.
It is somewhat of an anticlimax to end it all here.She has never thought it possible to die at will, but she will try. She has thought about killing herself countless times and has identified multiple ways to do it, but none are painless.
Giving up on this malicious world will be the most satisfying thing she has done in a long time.
She tries to fall asleep, to never move, to never wake again.
It is all lost and done with anyhow.
She feels the cold seep into her bones and the numbness befalls her.
Her eyelids grow heavier and heavier, her breathing shallow.
Her heart a faraway noise; each beat solitary, weak.
A loud metallic bang wrenches her back into that wicked cement hole where she lays, waiting to die.
It is a sound she hasn’t heard in a long time.
She opens her eyes and lifts her heavy head.
The door creeks open and a searing white light blinds her, and within that light, a figure steps quietly into the cell.
David C. Steyn, or Karel Kopbeen, is a poet, writer and musician. He was born and lives in Pretoria, South Africa. He has recently finished his bachelor’s degree in Language and Literature (Creative Writing) at the University of South Africa, and is currently studying Screenwriting in Los Angeles. He has been nominated for the 2015 European Union Sol Plaatje Poetry Award. He has also written several articles and reviews for publications such as ATKV Taalgenoot, Mahala.co.za, Perdeby student newspaper, Jip culture newspaper and SAMusic. His short stories and poetry has been featured in New Contrast – the South African Literary Journal, Ons Klyntji, EXPOUND, Alt.SA online magazine, in Prufrock magazine and on LitNet. His independent debut poetry collection, Bloeddig, was published in 2012. He was also a founding organiser and co-owner of Die Dowe Digters, a monthly poetry and music session event hosted in Pretoria.