By: Poppy Kipfer; age 15
My head rests against the cold concrete wall as I sit, awaiting my daily meal; the only stimulation my mind has these days. I do not know whether my eyes are closed or open, as it makes no difference in a world of darkness. A small sound jolts me into a sudden alertness. My body is aware of every minute detail of its surroundings and I tense, every sense alert and on edge. Soon I realize it is most likely a rat scurrying across the dirt floor, and my mind relaxes back into the familiar lull of mental silence. There was a time when I would have tried to catch the rat, tried to skin it and eat the raw flesh to ease my constant hunger pangs, but now my brain and body are too exhausted to perform such a feat of movement. Instead, I turn to the wall on my right and blindly stroke the thousands of notches I have carved into the damp concrete, one for every day I have been locked up in this cell. Six years. For 2190 days I have been sitting here, wasting away like a rotting carcass, losing hope of ever seeing the light of day again. I vaguely remember the early years when, in my young solitude, I was a pool of creativity, driven by my youthful anger and spark. Back then it seemed as if good things were destined to come out of a terrible situation. I was convinced I would return to my wife and children in no time at all, a changed man; a poet or a writer... a philosopher! In those days, thoughts of my homeland crowded my mind. I had hope and faith that I would be home within a few months, and each year I always repeated the same words, "by next Christmas". Having aged an eternity in these long years, I have come to realize that hope does nothing for the soul except tease it. Images of my homeland have faded to dust, as the light within me has been nearly extinguished. But still, after all these years, the faces of my loved ones still burn fiercely in my mind day after day, night after night... the expressions on my family's faces, as I was dragged out of my own home by my captors in the middle of that fateful night, haunt me to this day.
My body protesting every move, I slowly draw out my hand and fumble around until I locate one of the small bones littering the dirt floor, a floor where I will without doubt join my fellow dead rats one day and rest there until my body turns to dust. I grasp the bone in my right hand and slowly, painfully, raise it to the wall. The damp concrete is malleable, and the bone sinks in without effort. My two thousand, one hundred and ninetieth notch stays firmly in place, and I drop the bone to the floor with a small thud. After pausing for a moment to feel my handiwork, I gratefully allow my body to settle back into a sitting position as I struggle to find comfort on the slimy concrete. I cough loudly, a sequence of raspy lurches that fill my mouth with the taste of blood. Suddenly, an image of my wife appears in my mind, as clear and vivid as if she were standing right in front of me. Her rich black hair frames her delicate face as she stares into my soul with unblinking eyes. No sooner do I reach out to touch her than her image vapourizes, to be replaced by a poignant image of my daughter, stuck in time at the age of six. I barely have time to imagine what she looks like now, at twelve, before a little baby boy appears in my mind. I pause, thinking about my son who has grown up without his father, feeling abandoned, betrayed... The emotions I have tried to bury for so many years abruptly pour out without stopping. I let out a bloodcurdling scream of rage that fills the cell and sends rats scurrying away in all directions. My captors have never told me why they forced me from my home all those years ago, why they beat and gagged me and brought me into this pit of doom. I have since ceased asking "why me?", although the question plagues me constantly. Once upon a time, I thought hostages were things of movies, not reality.
A distant noise startles me from my thoughts and I raise my head warily. A small light makes its way toward me, followed by footsteps, coming steadily closer until my iron door opens with a bang. My intruder’s shadow is illuminated by the light, and I have a brief moment to recognize him as a guard before a chunk of bread lands at my side, followed by two small water bottles; one for drinking and the other for a toilet. The guard stumbles through my dark cell cursing, and kicks me out of the way to find last night's water bottle. The flashlight illuminates my enclosure, and I take in the slimy walls, filthy floor, and rat skeletons surrounding me. With another few kicks and more curses, the guard slams the door closed and makes his way back down the narrow pathway, the light growing dimmer with each step. Finally he turns a corner and I am left in darkness once more, in my bleak solitude.
* * *
I sit on a small sandy ledge overlooking the ocean, my gaze drifting across the endless blue waves. It has been fifty-two years since my release, and age has taken its toll on my weary body. As hard as it still is to be away from my wife and children, I find I need my solitude more and more these days. I feel at home here, surrounded by nobody but the churning sea, away from the chaos and noise of society. I find it ironic that once upon a time, solitude was my evil worst enemy. Now I am dependent upon it. The men in white coats say I must forgive and forget; they say it as if it is easy, but this I struggle with on a daily basis. My young years of solitary confinement have shaped who I am today, and although I spend as much time as possible with my loved ones to make up for lost time, I am constantly finding ways to escape and be alone. Over the course of my life's journey I have realized that the one and only person who will be with me until I die is myself, and so I am now most comfortable and at peace in solitude.
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