I could smell his uniform before I saw him, the stench of old sweat overpowering even the stale air. “Staan op!” Stand up he shouted in Afrikaans. I peered out of the eye that wasn’t swollen shut and slowly stood up the soles of my bare-feet swollen and bloody. I lurched forward from the pain and felt a hand grab at my bony wrist before I could fall. I tried to smile at the person who had shown this small kindness but my cracked lips wouldn’t allow it.
The Uniformed man casually kicked at one of the other prisoners who was still crumpled in a corner, but he only slumped a bit lower. A small pool of dried blood became visible under his legs and a foul smell slowly churned around the room.
While Uniform’s attention was diverted, I tilted my aching head in the direction of the person next to me. “Is it Wednesday, do you know the time, do you get water or food?” The words tumbled out in a hoarse rush, my voice rusty from lack of use. The daily things that tethered me to my world had been ripped away. Nothing was familiar. I was in frightening freefall, madly trying to grab at something familiar, something concrete; things as basic as the day of the week, the time, anything to snatch onto.
He leaned in close, his accent thick probably a Zulu. “I think it’s been 3 days, not sure. Always hungry.“ He stopped and seemed to pant slightly from the exertion of talking. The thought of food made me realize that the aching feeling of hunger had faded to a dull pain. But this could just have been from Uniform’s boots and not lack of food.
From the moment they threw us into the back of the police vans, everything had faded away until my world was narrowed down to this rank room. The protest rallys, the demonstrations, the Cause itself had been my foundation. A solid base wrenched away leaving me falling without a net into this hell. Panic flooded my body. I wanted to grab at something, anything to stop this crashing descent.
I realized someone was screaming, a guttural, animal-like noise. His fat hairy hand smacked flat into my cheek. My head snapped back and I stopped screaming. The metallic taste of blood flooded my mouth.
“Shut up or I will make you shut up.” I felt his spittle land hotly on my face.
Desperately I grabbed at his lapel: “You don’t understand. My life went off a cliff. I just want this to stop.”
I saw a sly smile spread over his meaty face before he leaned in close, his breath stinking of cigarettes.
“Ah but Missy, don’t you know? It isn’t the fall that kills you, it’s the sudden stop.”Falling,