Chapter 1 – Absolution
I woke up with a start, hitting my head on the bunk ceiling. When will I ever get used to this, I wondered. My bunkmate muttered a few curses in his sleep; I wouldn’t blame him. I sat on my bed arching my neck; looked up and took in the grey wall staring down at me. After what seemed like a few minutes, I got up deciding to freshen up. As I was washing my face in the basin, I found myself examining my visage in the makeshift mirror made out of a steel sheet. I seem much older than I remember. Strange how 3 years of this place can change a person. I smiled, as I remembered my mother; who was always convinced I hadn’t aged past ten.
My mother; how long has it been since I last saw her. Visitation hours are there, agreed, but I’d rather my mother did not see me like this. Yes, as one could guess, I am in prison. A five year sentence for battery and assault. As far as drunken mistakes go, this one, I regret the most. I have nothing but guilt now, and regret. Strange how a world full of grey walls puts things in perspective. Everything I was once convinced about seem wrong now. Have I changed enough to be absolved, I wonder.
Another thing that prison changed, my faith. I was not particularly religious to begin with. I was annoyed with churches, the silence and the banter that a robe clad man throws at us never seemed to appeal to me, although I found the Bible an interesting read. But after coming here, I have been visiting the correction facility chapel every day. The credit mostly goes to the Father. Padre Christopher; the most benevolent man one could meet. If I were asked, what Jesus would look like, I’d envision him to look like the Father.
Prison, by its definition does not let the inmates chance upon good company. My bunkmate Brandon, for example, is here after killing his wife and only son. He defends himself by pleading insanity but I can’t put anything past him. As far as company goes, I can only have a sensible conversation with Father Christopher and the chef.
Chef Harold, or Harry as his friends call him, is what one would call a prison success story. The man was the head chef in a sizeable Italian restaurant in Manhattan. He was convicted of poisoning five of his customers, and placed in prison and was awaiting a trial. Investigation ensued and come trial, he was proved innocent and was acquitted. But once a good man, always a good man. Prison food is notorious for being as good as garbage, or probably worse in some cases. So to improve the general living standards in the prison, he returned as the prison chef. People have been given awards for lesser.
Father Christopher and Chef Harold are the two sources of light in the darkness that is this prison, they are like the twinkling stars in a cloudy night. They instilled hope and positivity in people like me, who need it.
That being said, there was one more person who made my life worth living, more colourful, my girlfriend Anastasia. One smile from her on a visitation day and I would last an entire week until the next time she’d come. She’s the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel for me. Unlike me, she has it all figured out. She is set to graduate top of her class as a history major in NYU and is already interning with Prof. Dr. George Marshall who is arguably the best archaeologist on the planet. That reminded me, today is a Friday; visitation day. My heart skipped with excitement as I rejoiced at the idea of meeting her again.
Bells rung to let us know that it was time to move to the kitchens. I nudged my sleeping bunkmate and signalled “food” to him and made my way down to the yard, where all the inmates assembled and were led into the kitchens. I never understood the logic behind this. The surprising thing about prison inmates is that they follow a fixed hierarchy and order. We are ruled by fear. The more powerful and influential ones were the upper class and they called the shots. Following them in the food chain were the henchmen. They basically answered to these upper class men. The bottom of the chain was where people like I resided. We do not play any part in the power politics and unless we attracted too much attention, we survive years while skipping notice. So an order is implicitly established.
The kitchens; other than the chapel, this was my safe haven, not because I like to eat but because Harry was here. Chef Harry, a man in his thirties was livelier than most people I have ever met, or probably will ever meet. Even when he was convicted, he remained positive and bubbly as ever. When life gave him lemons, he chose to make the best damn lemonade there is. That is not even what he is famous for. It’s his food. He made amazing food. After he got employed here, the kitchens improved multiple-fold. The guards joke sometimes that people will repeat offence so that they get to return to Harold’s kitchens.
“What’s your poison, Ryan”, said Harold beaming at me.
“Choice isn’t one of the things we are rich of, Harry”, I said albeit grinning.
“Come on, sport. Don’t be that way, Anne’s going to come around today, isn’t she. You have got to look lively for the lady”, he said ruffling my hair. The very thought of that brightened my face up. “That’s my boy”, he added as he proceeded to gleefully pour me porridge and bread.
As I quietly started chewing down on my food, my mind wandered and I was thinking about Anne. It has been almost a month since we met; thanks to Mr. Marshall who had taken his entire team of mole-men to Greece. Mole-men was what George liked to call his interns, because they dig. The guy has a sense of humour, can not deny that. They were set to examine more than a few ruins there. I remember her excitement as she talked about the prospect and how she had promised to get me a souvenir on her way back. I remembered her cheerful green eyes and dark brown hair. “Stop it, Romeo”, I told myself as I quickly finished my food.
After food, we rushed out to the yard as we waited for our visitors. Soon we were called and I rushed, almost sprinted, to the visitation room. There she was, bright as ever, the most beautiful woman in my life. She smiled and waved as I approached her. We hugged for what seemed like an eternity as I took in the refreshing smell that I remembered to be home. We stayed that way for a good few seconds, then we both sat down to talk. She then started talking in her sing-song voice; she told me about the various places they visited and the things she learned and I took it all in, her cheerfulness made me happy. After finishing her report she looked at me affectionately and said “Enough about me, what have you been upto?”
“Me? I have been building a time machine, life is so interesting” I said, grinning, although I had a familiar sinking feeling in my chest that I have felt in the years I spent in this prison. Here she was, a lively young woman, coming to visit a man who probably doesn’t deserve her affection anymore.
She probably sensed what was going on in my mind, she took my hand and said “Lighten up, Ryan. Just two more years and everything will be alright again. Besides, Its time for gifts”, as she reached into her purse and pulled out a pair of pendants strung onto a chain.
These two pendants were identical to each other. They had engravings of some kind on them. The face side read: Επιζώ . The face-down side read: Εξουσία. The pendant itself was grey in colour, the darkest shade of grey. When I touched it, the cold stone sent shivers into my body, it seemed alive somehow.
“What is this” I asked, as I admired the craftsmanship.
“It is a talisman said to be blessed by the gods. A man in Greece gave it to me. Apparently, lore has it, they are a pair. Couples who wear it are said to be connected eternally.” She said, explaining animatedly as she usually gets when she talks history.
I looked at it, amazed. It clearly seemed special and I was touched at the thoughtfulness. This feeling was soon replaced by dejection and I voiced my thoughts “I am in prison, remember, objects such as this are banned in the premises.”
“I already thought of that. I talked to the warden and he seemed okay with it. It is a blunt object and is made of a hollow low density material. So the talisman could not be harmful.” She said cheerfully. She really is thorough when she does something, one of the things I liked about her. She was my constant.
Like an excited kid with his toy, I hastily wore the locket and we continued talking until the guards rang the bell that cued us moving back to our cells. After one more hug, I watched her leave.
I lazed around the rest of the day alternating between admiring the talisman and talking to Brandon, who no one came to visit, because he iced the people who could have.
Night came, guards performed the final check and shut the lights off. I thought back at my visitation today, about Anne and counted the sheep as I feel asleep.
Vrrrrr. Vrrrrrrr. Vrrrrrrrr. Get up, boy.
This was the voice I woke up to, as something continued to vibrate; I again hit my head on the bunk ceiling, except this time Brandon did not make a sound. I got up and looked up at my bunkmate. He was motionless, almost lifeless. The talisman on my chest was hot as the summer sun and it almost felt as if it was burning into my skin.
“Who is it, you are not supposed to be here after lock down” I asked weakly at the dark silhouette, admittedly scared beyond my wits.
Vrrrrr. Vrrrrr. Vrrrr. The sound consistently got louder, as the silhouette voiced “Who are you to tell me where I can and can not be, boy?”
This made me panic, hard. Clearly this person was powerful enough to sway the guards. Speaking of guards, why hadn’t anyone accompanied him, why was it so quiet except for the sound of something vibrating. Calm down, Ryan; I told myself as I attempted to form words. After a brief struggle, I managed to squeal, “Please.. who are you, and what do you want with me?”
The voice came booming from the dark, sending chills down my spine “I, boy, am your absolution“.
End of chapter 1.