This short story, the first in its genre I ever attempted, was published under 'Fiction' in the November issue of the popular emagazine, Tamarind Rice.
It is naive. It is amateur. It has got gaps and potholes. I accept all of its flaws and any criticism with utmost modesty and respect. Thank you all my readers who were my Boosts and Complans all the way!
I lost my ability to see beyond the bars. The big black bars of the cell I was detained in. Every other sight I could see was marred by these bars, which held my mind captive within the darkness and loneliness of its four walls. The walls were the hostile witnesses to the fear, guilt, tears, loneliness and regret of prisoners over the years. The sky that changed colors and the moving clouds were the only changes that happened in my otherwise standstill life. I was not sure whether it was the gallows or a life sentence for me or whether one day I will get to go home only to be ridiculed forever. My lawyer came once in a while and often left unsure of my case. I ate, drank, and stared at the sky.
It was an old but well known prison that held women offenders. Often it has witnessed the arrival and quick departure of the famous. Once a day, we were allowed to walk in the prison ground and adjacent garden. I saw a lot of women in a similar plight as mine, depressed and weary. They hardly spoke or socialized. On many days I saw the beautiful lady with sparkling grey eyes and a huge tattoo on her arms either talking to herself, or sometimes even hesitating to come outside her cell, for that break we could be human beings and not zoo animals. Nobody talked to her, nor did she talk to anyone. Days passed.
I had nothing to look forward to. I did not know what was ahead of me. My husband died eleven years ago, and I have no offspring, in short there was nobody waiting for me. My parents had written me off the books when I married against their wishes.
If it was the gallows, I could prepare myself for it. But my life lay in the passive, discolored corridors of the jail, hooked on uncertainty. Suddenly, the inkling of the lock and key blared into my ears from the deafening silence. I turned around. I could not see the person in the adjacent cell, but someone had occupied it. It was the only cell that was closest to mine.
“Hello… “I started my conversation, my first self-initiated conversation in months.
I did not expect any response.
I was delighted.
“How long here?” I inquired.
“You came after I did..” Leya said matter-of-factly.
“Eight months since I came..” I remembered.
Leya had a sweet, young voice. That day at recess, as soon as she was released she walked to me. I felt her desperate need to talk and be understood. It was not money or luxury or even love that a person needs…it is a certain someone who can listen, without being judgmental. She had murdered her senior colleague in an act of defense as he forced himself on her one night at the workplace.
That guy had a good lawyer and things turned against her. She was all of 25. I could almost feel her pain, and how she had longed to share her feelings. And I narrated my story, the story of my life as a nurse and on the fateful night how I messed with the dosage of a medicine and the man lost his life. I was sentenced on grounds of medical negligence and murder. She nodded.
I started looking forward to the recess during which I could be with Leya and walked around the prison garden. She had everything – career, love, money and happiness. The world turned upside down when on one night she had to work late. She did not have any intention to kill him, but it was that fatal blow she struck with the vase. Other women looked at us sympathetically, as we talked but never approached for anything. Nobody else in the prison preferred to talk to me, and avoided me like plague. However, I dint care much.
A week later, my lawyer emerged. He was seen talking to the security and duty policemen and pointed at me. He exchanged glances with the policemen as they talked to me. He said my trial was scheduled that week and any time he may come to take me to the court room for the proceedings. Sadness, anxiety and fear had become alien emotions. Over the eight months, I had turned into stone. The lonely life, aimless existence and the tomorrow that may not exist – I welcomed these to my life. Few days later, I was asked to follow the lawyer to the prison entrance and from there we went to the court accompanied by police. One of the prison policemen testified that I was not normal in my behavior. After the proceedings the judge considered my age and ‘mental stability’ and severity of the crime I committed and sentenced me to the mental asylum for six months. I did not understand what exactly was happening or why I was being treated for non-existent mental disorders. I followed the policemen and asked them a million questions but they refused to answer. I was escorted back to the darkness of my cell.
As I walked I turned to look at Leya, as I knew she’d be anticipating the judgment from my trial. However she was not there. All other inmates were in their respective cells. I asked the police on duty,’ Where is Leya?’
‘Leya, who?’ he asked neglectfully.
‘The one in this cell…with the tattoo’. I said pointing to her space. On hearing this, Jeena looked at me from her cell in surprise.
‘There was nobody here’ he said coldly.
‘The grey eyed lady, with the tattoo on her arm…’ I continued.
‘I said there was nobody here! Now stop dreaming and take your belongings! Fast!’ He screamed.
I walked to my space, confused, and started packing my things. Jeena’s eyes followed me.
May be this policeman did not know Leya, I thought. I turned to look at Jeena, pointed to Leya’s cell and gestured to question Leya’s whereabouts.
Jeena continued to stare at me in shock and suspicion.
‘Now don’t tell me you don’t know her”, I was annoyed by her unresponsiveness.
Jeena said, ‘Yes. I knew her. Three years ago, before she hanged herself to death in this cell, I knew her. Leya, the grey eyed girl with the big tattoo.’
I stood there, flabbergasted.
Jeena continued. ‘Leya was the name she called herself. Her actual name was Janice. Janice George. She came here roughly ten years ago. ’
Janice George, the lady who murdered my husband.