“How do you sleep at night with all the blood on your hands?”

Yes, I do sleep. But I dream of empty eyes, and frothy mouths. I dream of men reduced to whimpering kittens. I dream dirty yellow urine trickling down legs. I dream of the sound of snapping bones,
as loud as a gunshot that sometimes jerk me awake in the middle of the night.

But that was the hangman's job.

He crushes necks and dreams.

The hangman’s job is taboo. Everyone knew, but no one understood why. Not any of the noble doctors, lawyers, teachers, whose numbers seemed to be proliferating at an alarming rate recently. They looked at me with barely concealed pity. Even Kumar, my ex-colleague, spluttered with disbelief when he heard my decision, his thick brows raised so high, an inch or so from disappearing behind his generous mop of jet black hair.


“Huh? But… but then you’ll kill people leh! Later ghosts come haunt you at night… how you sleep?”


Years later, I do want to tell him: Yes, I do sleep. But I dream of empty eyes, and frothing mouths. I dream of men reduced to whimpering kittens. I dream dirty yellow urine trickling down legs. I dream of the sound of snapping bones, as loud as a gunshot that sometimes jerk me awake in the middle of the night.


Someone who decidedly does the completely opposite of what many dedicated their entire lives to, of saving and bettering lives, must be morally questionable.


Is it?


Imagine your own child, your own flesh and blood, under a tangled mess of IV drips. Imagine every time he wakes, he screams not for more pocket money, not for a new IPhone X, but for heroin. Till this day, the sound of his screaming, one filled not with the impish wail but by utter pain and terror, was seared in the back of my head. Imagine the nights you spend in the one your dark 1-room HDB flat, wondering, if only you had bothered to ask why he was coming home at 1am everyday, why he was missing classes or why his uniform top smelled of burnt cigarettes. If only you had not used all your energy on the construction site, muscles aching and sweating pools. If only you had not sapped every drop of energy from the cores of your bones, that you were… too tired to care.


Ryan was barely 18. And I lost him. Lost him to an anonymous drug dealer nicknamed “Fei Long” who took his life and ruined mine.


Is it a mistake then, to stop your children from reliving the same fate as mine? Is it a crime for choosing to dedicate the rest of your life quietly atoning for your sins instead of bettering the world? 


And so it was with a sense of duty and purpose when I walked into Changi Prison that week at 5am that Friday.


They had called me the afternoon before, talking in hushed voices. 157 grams of heroine was found in the lining of a suitcase, ten times more than the 15 grams criteria for the death sentence. That was enough to make around 12,008 straws, enough to send 1728 people to the depths of hell disguised as the irresistible realms of heaven for a week.


The inmate was 51kg. Probably severely underweight. According to the Table of Drops a 259cm drop would be required. Too short and the inmate would literally be strangled by the noose as it tightens and crushes the neck, resulting in a slow and agonizing death.


I was not prepared for what greeted me at 5.52am. Behind the prison warden Ahmad, a man, no, boy shuffled slowly, drunkenly, as if he was trying to savor the last of the number of steps on this earth he was entitled to.


He caught my eye. His thin ashen pale face was covered by acne and eyes that seemed impossibly sunken into his skull. He looked no older than 20 and could be passed off as someone you would see along the corridors of a HDB flat.


Not a drug trafficker.


But the look he gave me made me hold my gaze just a fraction longer than I would have permitted myself. There was desperation, but those lifeless depths betrayed the slightest glimmer of hope. Hope that I would be the one who would miraculously save him from the fate he had sealed upon himself. But this was no Hollywood movie. There would be no dramatic plot twist and there can be no hero. There was only me, the faithful grim reaper.


It was called the mandatory death penalty for a reason.


He must have known then, as his gaze dropped – a surrender.


He showed no signs of struggle as Ahmad led him up the steps to where I was standing. No kicking, no screaming, unlike what I had to endure most of the time.


“Make it quick. Please.” His voice cracked.


I stared at the boy who uttered the exact same last words as my son, moments before he slipped into a coma he never woke up from, something any 18 year old should never, ever have to say. But he did, and it came out as a wrenching choking sob; the desperate cry of the soul trapped its dying container. But still I broke down when I told the doctors to turn off the machine that fed the empty shell of my son. Still, I hoped for a miracle.


They told me I needed a heart of steel for this job that I should carry out my duty promptly, with as little emotional investment. It was a relief then, but not now. Not when he had a pair of eyes that were a dangerously similar shade as him. Eyes that were a silver lighter. Eyes that had only seen a fraction of this unforgiving, cruel but beautiful world. Especially not here, where despondency and bitterness greedily clung onto every living particle. Yet they were eyes that had long lost the vigor of youth. Their blank pits filled with a quiet resignation, that the country he called home had decided his fate for him when he could barely wrap his head around the magnitude of his actions.


Why was he here? He should be in school, getting a degree, a girlfriend, or a boyfriend in today’s age, going through every grueling test life has to offer. Yes he made a mistake. But so did Ryan. So did practically every goddamn person in this world.


But in a country where democracy overruled mercy, his fate was sealed. There was an image to upkeep. No mistakes were to be made. Thankfully for us, that would be the last he would ever make.


I led him to stand above the trapdoors, concentrating determinedly at my fingers as they gently slipped the noose behind his ears.


I had to ask. “Why did you do it?”


“I… I didn’t know…I…” he faltered, his voice was raw as he ran his tongue roughly over his chapped lips.


But ignorance was not an excuse. It never was, here.


I nodded. “May God forgive you of your sins. I am sending you… to a place better than this.” The routine was repeated; only this time I meant it.


“Thank you.” His voice trembled.


A white hood was lowered over his face.


Ahmad gave me the thumbs-up, his normally impassive face was impossibly grim, his eyes downcast.


God forgive me.


My fingers clench on the lever, knuckles turning deathly white. I pulled. The door did not fail. The gaping hole yawned wide, mockingly, as it enveloped the boy. A split second later, the sickening crunch of bone. My deed was done.


I sunk to my knees and let out a whoosh of air that I didn’t know I had been holding. Something putrid abruptly surged up my throat, my body convulsing uncontrollably. I didn’t care when I threw up all over spotlessly clean platform lined with mahogany wood. Tears were involuntarily squeezed out of the corners of my eyes as my stomach clenched violently, adding to the bile-filled green fluid that was a proof of my purgery.


God forgive me.


I didn’t want to go down and the body dangling, like a pathetic rag doll. I couldn’t. But I did see the pictures of the body afterwards. His eyes were turned skyward and his mouth opened in a silent prayer.


I thought this job would someone pacify the demons that were gnawing at my insides everyday after Ryan’s death. I remembered the hatred that threatened to consume me alive, how I vowed that I would crush every single one of them out there, who made him suffer, who made me suffer. But I realized, with each pull of the lever, I was left feeling an incredible emptiness, a gaping hole that was the purpose of my existence. How many unfulfilled lives that veered off track had been taken, when there was a choice to guide it back towards the light. And it made me wonder, at the atrocities that are allowed to happen behind white picked fences, where the hangman lives, crushing necks and breaking dreams.


I walked out of Changi Prison that day, never to come back.


Because finally, I found peace and purpose, far away from here.  


Submitted: March 13, 2018

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