Friday, May 4, 2012
The guards march relentlessly between our cages. The other girls – the wild ones – dash into the corners like animals when the guards approach. I'm not sure why, because the guards carry no weapons. Although maybe they do, and I just don't see them. Here, the eyes and the brain kick into survival instinct, showing a person only what she can handle.
I don't remember what I did or when I was brought here. I have enough hash marks on my walls to measure more than three years, but I don't know if I started counting when I arrived or when I realized time had gotten lost. Either way, I drag my thumbnail through the thick wood each morning, never minding the splinters or the blood that drips to the floor.
The guards scowl when I do that. I tell them I want to remember things, but they say my past is irrelevant. My future – what I become – is the only thing that matters.
Each morning, they tell me I'm destined to become like them. I have...a quality. Something that sings to them when I lock eyes with them and refuse to look away.
Each evening, I stare at the callouses on my hands, struggling to remember what happened during the day. Every time I'm close to the answer, my stomach churns and the world blurs. That's when I lie down and close my eyes.
My muscles are strong, so I'm sure I get exercise. My hair is cropped short, clean and combed, unlike the wild snares that top the other prisoners' heads. But for the life of me, I can't tell you how any of it happens.
Only a few things stick in my memory, like how the guards say I'm “blind,” drawing out the word like it's funny. I see perfectly well. I see that when they tease me, their eyes don't laugh.
One morning, someone else comes. A tall, rectangular shaped man in a starched blue uniform. “It's time,” he says as he ushers me down a hallway and deposits me into a room the size of a house. He exits through the only door.
It's cold as a bucket of ice. I wait by the door while the goose bumps chase down my arms and under my thin smock. It's empty, nothing but bland walls that make me question if the room is bigger or smaller than it seems.
Is this my new cage?
After a while, the door opens again. The man drags in another prisoner. She's rabid, all snarls and teeth, and her arms are pinned behind her back.
“This is for you,” he says and throws her at my feet.
She pushes up into a crouch. She has one orange stripe running through her hair, and the word that jumps into my mind is “tiger.”
She bares her teeth, and I lunge for the door. The man blocks me, pushes me down. “I told you, it's time!”
I fall to my hands and knees, face to face with the girl. Tiger.
“Are you here to kill me?” The question is directed at the man. I know the girl can't answer.
“Not today,” he says. “Today, you open your eyes.”
The girl creeps sideways. Her fingernails tap the floor, itching for an attack.
I skitter backwards, fumbling over my knees. She traps me in a corner.
“You're not seeing!” he says. “How are you supposed to defend yourself if you don't observe the world around you?”
“I don't know what you're talking about.”
“Use your instinct.”
My instinct tells me to hide, but the room is nothing but open space.
“I've been watching you,” he says. “I know you can do it.”
“I can't –”
“You're blind. Open. Your. Eyes!”
She slams into me, driving me to the floor. My head hits the concrete, and stars pop in my vision.
He shouts at me. “What do you see?”
She is perched on top of me with her mouth open. I push against her shoulders, but she doesn't budge. “Get her off me!” Saliva drips onto my chest. Her weight crushes my ribs.
“What do you see???”
When I realize no help is coming from him, I shut down. I do what I always do when the guards threaten me. I wipe my mind clear and stare back.
Her image fuzzes over, and the world shifts. For one second, I remember everything with perfect clarity. I choose to see things as they're not. But I can choose the opposite as well.
In this moment, I see who I really am.
She moves, but a split second before she wraps her hands around my throat, I twist, knocking her onto her side.
As I scramble to my feet, I notice the room is no longer empty. I doubt it ever was. Countless weapons line the walls. I grab a long, wooden staff and hold it horizontally in front of my chest. It settles into my grip, matching my callouses.
This. This is the moment I've been training for.
She darts forward, and I strike her head with honed precision. One blow, and she's on the ground, unmoving.
I drop the staff and bury my face in my hands, trying not to see the blood flowing from her skull. When I look again, my mind has taken her away, and the man has a hand on my shoulder.
“I knew you were ready,” he says as he leads me to my new room – one with a golden canopy bed and a view of the gardens. He nudges me toward the bed. “You must be tired.”
I'm not. “I just want to close my eyes.”
As I march between the cages, I avoid looking at the prisoners. I don't want to see their fear. I grasp too much of it when they shy away from me and crawl into the corners like animals.
I don't remember why they're afraid, because the eyes and the brain work together, hiding things we're unable to handle.
I don't tell them I'm sorry.
I don't tell them I'd rather be the one in a cage.
Story by: Krystalyn
Photo by: rosiekernohan