Pain is a survival tool. Only when it feels pain does the human body know it’s alive. Sometimes, though, that pain can be used for other things…
It hurts. It hurts more than I thought it could. Every muscle, every sinew, stretched to breaking. But if they were going to break, they would have, hours ago. If there was any chance of it easing the pain, my muscles would have long since parted ways and left me crippled.
I say hours ago, but days is nearer the truth. I lost track of them a while back. I can see the sun from down here, through the tiny crack of window high above my head. I can see it rise and fall by the shadows that lengthen and retreat, coming and going in desperate monotony.
I long for that monotony, now. If I’d known, before coming here, what I do now, I’d have spent days, whole weeks of my life, lying on the beach, watching the world rush past in its violent panic to do more, have more. I’d have watched them and laughed.
But I didn’t. So I rushed and panicked and grabbed for everything I could. Now none of it matters, not one single thing. Now the only thing that matters is the pain. And the man standing in the door to my cell.
He’s brought his gun, this time. It makes me flinch, despite how many times I’ve wielded one myself. Maybe it’s because in his hands, I know what it’s capable of. But that’s lazy thinking. The gun is capable of nothing without the man or woman behind it. With it in his hands, I know what he’s capable of. That’s better.
He steps in and I study him. I know his face better than I know my own. I used to know mine well, but I think if I ever get out of this, ever see a mirror again, mine will be changed. It feels so… stretched. Like my muscles. My screaming has twisted it beyond recognition, twisted me beyond recognition.
I don’t think I ever want to see another mirror. But if I don’t, then the face in front of me is all I’ll take to my grave. He’s a normal looking guy. Dark eyes and dark eyebrows, a nose that’s just a touch too large, chin to match. His teeth are pretty good. The third one to the left on the top is chipped. I know that as surely I know there’s a gold filling near the back.
He likes to shout. He’ll get a few words into a request before screaming in my face. His breath doesn’t smell too bad, but the feel of spit on my skin never fails to make me want to vomit. Not that I do. It’s difficult to be sick when your stomach’s as empty as mine.
They feed me, just enough to keep me alive. They went through a stretch of bringing me shit in a bowl. I don’t mean bad food, I mean shit. The tiny spark of pride I still retain, buried almost too deep to feel, rises up at the knowledge that I never ate it. Even when I was too weak to raise my head and they offered it to me on a spoon, I never ate it.
‘Good morning, Mr Anderson.’
‘Is it?’ I don’t know why I engage in conversation. I learnt long ago that no good would come of it, yet still I respond. I tried using long words for a while, trying to confuse him, but he knew them all.
‘It is for me. The sun is shining, the sand is warm and you’re my only visit. Once I’m done here, I can go and spend the day relaxing. I might even visit the market.’
I bark a laugh at the word ‘market’. That’s what he calls it, but I had a very different word for it, before.
‘So, Mr Anderson, perhaps you can make my day even better and give me the information I need.’
‘Perhaps you can make my day better and go fuck yourself.’
His hand comes out of nowhere. I’m expecting it, but it doesn’t hurt any less. I’m amazed every day at the human body’s capacity to feel pain. Not to handle it, I knew all about that, long ago. But the ability to keep feeling it, long after the nerve endings should have shorted out and stopped working.
It’s a survival mechanism, of course. All pain is, a way of telling our bodies something’s wrong. So long as we’re living, we feel pain, mostly so we know we still are.
But still, it amazes me.
‘You know what I want to know. You know you aren’t going anywhere until you tell me, so why not give it up and end all this?’
‘Why not go fuck yourself?’
Another punch. Another, tiny addition to the agony. These days are so predictable. I’m almost tempted to tell the truth just to shake things up a little. There’s no way I’m getting out of here, no way at all. Why would he let me out? After what they’ve done to me, there’s no way I’m going anywhere.
‘I can wait all day.’
‘But then you’ll miss the sun.’
‘There’ll be more sun tomorrow.’
I sniff, feeling dried blood scratch my nostril. He’s telling the truth. There’s always more sun. He ambles across the room and returns with sharp things. I learnt early on not to examine them too closely. It doesn’t make the pain any less and I just worry about the dirt and muck ingrained on the blades.
Something slices me open and I scream. I stopped caring about that early on, too. There’s no pride in not screaming. It hurts, I scream. It’s simple. Not screaming hurts even more, so why bother fight it?
He asks me questions. He asks about troop movements and plans, about imagined operations that did or didn’t happen. He asks about the people I fought with, about those that led me and those I led. So many questions, always the same. Always I answer with a slow smile that seems to piss him off. I like pissing him off.
He’s going to cut me whatever I say, so why not piss him off? I like to think that every smile will make his sunbathing just a little less pleasurable.
The day goes slow, every cut and slice adding layers to the agony. The sun’s still up when he leaves, as ignorant as when he arrived. I chalk up another day and allow myself a brief smile. Another day I haven’t helped them. Another day I can be proud of myself.
There used to be other things I was proud of. I was proud of my country, of our flag and our mission. We went out there with the words of our president stirring our blood. We believed.
Not anymore. Why would I believe when the man who just left my cell wears the same uniform I did? Why would I believe when my cell lies beneath the same city in which I went to university?
There’s no belief, not anymore. Not unless you count my belief in pain. That’s the one thing I do believe in. My pain. Because it means I’m alive, and if I’m alive, then there’s a chance. There’s always a chance. A chance to do what, I don’t know. But I will when I see it.