It’s a cage. It’s a prison. I am not my prison!
Sarah awoke, slowly, carefully from a tormented sleep. The sultry jungle air immediately reminded her of asphyxiation. She rolled onto her side and coughed through a few labored breaths to stretch her lungs. She let her head thud against the ground, her eyes still closed against the approach of another day. For a moment she laid there, quietly struggling with repulse against the thin blanket of sticky humidity that had collected on her skin over night. Hating to move, yet unable to stay still, she scrambled to sit upright and allowed her sweaty skin to squish against the morning damp.
She groaned silently. Her bare arms and legs were coated with muck from the dirt floor that had been her bed. She slapped them harshly to clean them, disgusted with herself. She rarely even considered her appearances of late. How long had it been since she was last afforded a nice hot bubble bath? She caught herself nearly smiling as she remembered the smell and the luxury of a flowery bubble bath. She would add delicate oils to the water to add aroma and softness to her skin. Perhaps someone might have even appreciated her efforts, held her. She jolted back to reality. Even her own fantasy repulsed her now as it seemed so hideously far away from possibility. She wondered again how long it had been at least since the last time she had just been hosed down with cruel, ice-cold water. Anything would do right now.
Her eyes were bleary, as always; her head hurt from neck strain. She sat there, slumped over, loathing even her own existence. The stench in her misbegotten room was overwhelming. The odors of the jungle mixed with the smell of dusty, stale straw and her own filth pervaded her tormented nostrils. It had smelled like this for so long that she barely gave it much notice anymore. “So very long,” she whispered, shivered in spite of the heat.
Standing on all four sides of her were simple, empty, somewhat eroded adobe walls. Neglect and wear on the walls allowed for tiny pin holes of light to tease the room here and there with farthings of hope. Try as she might, she had yet been able to see anything on the outside through them. Whirls of dust played in their thin beams as if to accentuate the sallow she was forced to call her home. There were no windows save for one; a barred hole in one of the walls set far too high above her to allow her a view of anything outside. An old rusty door hung sturdily on tarnished hinges haunted one corner of the square room. Her food would slide into the room under the door by way of a metal flap that otherwise stayed down and locked.
Slowly she crawled over to her already ruined heap of straw and relieved herself. She whimpered and forced back tears until she was done, then stood up and began stretching her arms and legs. Every day was the same for her, but regardless of the repetitiveness of the chores she had assigned herself, she would not relent. “I will not give up. No matter what, I still have hope in some day,” she said aloud and began doing her moderate exercises. She walked fifty laps around the room, which she estimated must be about thirty feet by thirty feet. Then she would do twenty tummy crunches, twenty push ups, fifty jumping jacks followed by cautious meditation (always careful to not breathe in too much of the stale, sallow air) to clear her mind. How she managed to accomplish this was beyond her, as most of her thought otherwise was occupied by daydreams of escape.
Outside, the sound of footsteps against sand came, as always, bringing the morning meal. The door partition opened after the sound of rattling keys and fumbling fingers. In slid a cloth-wrapped parcel of food, and seconds later the tiny ingress slapped shut and was locked. The food in the parcel consisted mostly of flat bread stuffed with uncooked vegetables and a little fruit. Small packets of water were included, and the cloth served as a napkin and as an appreciated means to clean up after visiting the straw.
She crept carefully over to the food, picked it up and then moved silently to the corner of her prison that she kept the cleanest. She unwrapped the parcel in her lap in. Outside began the serenade of the stamping of feet, male and female voices shouting orders and obscenities in her own language. She lowered her head and prayed to God in giving thanks for her food, even for her life as it were. She tore the bread then began to eat it. She couldn’t help but to cry a bit at the same time. Soon the noise of the voices and the stamping feet disappeared into the distance leaving her alone with her thoughts again. So far, this day was no different from most.
The food was never terribly bad; in fact she often found it surprisingly fresh and good. As she ate she would always dream of a day to come where she could sit at a normal table filled with richer foods, surrounded by family and friends. She would be clean and proper. Her hair would be perfectly styled; her nails would be so wonderfully shaped and painted. Makeup on her face for once would feel so good. She would paint her lips such a vivid, bright red as to say, “You know, I spent a billion years in that prison so I don’t care if my lips are too red! This is what you get!” She would be so delicately scented of lavender oils from a long, so very long hot bubble bath from the earlier afternoon. She loved the scent of lavender. She longed to feel beautiful for once, perhaps dressed all in flowing black cotton, to not be ashamed anymore, to be seen even just as a human being.
Her thoughts trailed off as she finished her bread and vegetables, a little bit of orange this morning, and drank her water. She carefully folded the cloth and smiled to herself as she set it ever so gently on the floor next to her pile of straw. She looked at it, wondering when or why it had been so long since the straw had been changed for her. Usually the straw would be changed somehow as she slept, but lately it changed much less often. She despaired a bit.
A recurrent yet horrible inner dialogue came rushing back to her heart as she mused over her own silliness in folding the cloth. “Why am I here? No one has touched me. No one looks at me that I know of. No one has made demands. If they aren’t changing my straw anymore, are they going to abandon me here forever some day? Will I just die in here? Why are they keeping me here? So many questions and no answers! I didn’t do anything wrong!”
She had never seen the faces of her jailers. She had heard their voices, often times mocking her from beyond the confines of her little prison cell. She felt horribly isolated. She had become just a battered toy, a play thing for evil and filthy abusers. She would hear them scream, “Look at that ridiculous shack it lives in!”, “Pathetic!”, “What a freak! Who would wanna live in there like that?” They would direct violent words at her, “You deserve to die!”, “Worthless loser!”, and even “You better stay in there or…” She began to cry again. Though activities were usual, emotionally, this was becoming one of the harder days.
“Stop, please!” she’d cry. “I don’t want to be here! No, I am not…” Her memories overcame her.
She skittered to the carefully folded cloth, snatched it away, stood upright and kicked the wall beside her straw. She wiped away her tears with the cloth and threw it against the door and started pounding on the nearest wall. She pounded so hard her hands began to bruise and ache. The walls looked so frail, but they held like solid steel against her assault. She imagined not even a hammer could break them to change them.
High above, dark grey filled the barred window, muting the already meager light in the cell. The smaller threads of light vanished. Her eyes puffy and red from anger more than tears, Sarah positioned herself at every point in the room, just trying to get a look at what lay beyond that high window. She screamed out loud in frustration. She’d done this countless times before; even trying to climb the walls or jump against them to get a look at something, anything on the outside.
Her screams drew attention. Seemingly out of nowhere, voices came and mocked her. They were calling her ugly, filthy, disgusting and useless. “How can you even live like that?” a man screamed. “You’re made of cheap straw and mud! Look at you! You’re falling apart, run down and nasty!
A woman cried from the distance, “Just tear it down!”
“No, we can’t just do that, it’s alive. We can’t just kill it.” another faceless male voice pleaded.
“Bah, who cares! All it does is just sit there, taking up space, bringing the value of this whole place down!”
Sarah cried, “It? What are you talking about? I’m alive! I’m a human being! You people are insane!”
Her words went unheard, or at least, without response. She had to keep telling herself she was human or she would begin to believe them. What was their point trying to convince her that she was actually the building around her and not the prisoner inside? Couldn’t they see her? Perhaps they justified keeping her there as she was by pretending she was a thing and not a person. Still, did they think they were feeding vegetables and bread to hard ugly walls without flesh or blood? She wondered sometimes more about who had been feeding her than about those who had been abusing her.
“Please, just let me out!” she screamed, pleading for sanity’s sake. “What do you want from me?”
Then a male voice she had not heard before, seething and angry, spoke as if piercing her with venom, “You can never come out. You’ll stay in there until you rot! No one is coming to help you. And if you even try to get out, we’ll kill you! We’d rather you just die so we can move on and stop having to think about you!” She could picture the lips, foaming at the corners and spitting as they mouthed those vicious words.
She backed away from the wall she had been screaming at, trembling. Her captors were just going to let her die in that cell. They wanted her to die, but they seemed restrained from just killing her so long as she stayed inside. She couldn’t even remember a time anymore of when she’d felt free, or happy. Maybe she didn’t really feel human either, and had been lying to herself all along. She collapsed into a heap on the floor, sobbing as she never had before. She could feel her very spirit dying. She screamed and agonized as the tears and the snot flowed out of her head. Outside she heard hateful laughter. Isolated from touch and sight, she wept to the end of her flesh where her soul heaved bitter tears for her.
Can I remember, she wondered, even being held? Ever? Wasn’t there anyone that had held me? Had there been a man, a boyfriend, big strong arms that might have made me feel so warm, so safe, so comfortable and accepted? Did I only ever dream that such things are possible?
Despair and unbridled panic and fear conquered her. The room began to spin sickeningly and darkness consumed her. Her conscious mind sank into the back of her eyes and all went silent and blank.
* * *
I started awake in my quaint, soft bed. I felt plush pillows beneath my head, long hair pulling softly at my scalp. I smelled the scent of lavender in the air. I saw my room. I saw myself. The dream abandoned me to harsh reality again where I always found myself locked in a prison of flesh. My body defined and confined me. I was again just an object seemingly designed for words and physical beatings of prejudice and abuse. I was “me” again; no longer really a woman, barely considered human, and forevermore incomplete.
“I am not my prison!” I screamed. My voice echoed off the walls of my tiny, empty, lonely apartment.
I sank beneath my thin blanket and wept.