The large iron door clanged shut. I stared through the thick rusty bars as the warder walked away along the grey corridor, its walls grimy, and with blobs of paint here and there in a failed attempt to hide the mass of graffiti. The loud clunk of his feet against the dusty flagstones made me shiver as I thought about my fate and for how long it might continue. I looked around the cell. A single bed with a stained mattress – misshapen and ripped in places, the stuffing showing through – on top of which was an old brown blanket splattered with marks, the origins of which too grim to contemplate, were the only objects in the cell. Toward the centre of the floor the stones dipped, sloping down to a circular hole about eight inches in diameter, the edges smeared with excrement. I shuddered.
Books were forbidden, the food was barely edible, the heat intolerable, and my phone had been confiscated, and on my first night. While I tossed and turned trying to sleep, I’d often heard the noise from a rat or mouse that had crawled up the hole in the stone floor and was scrabbling around. I wondered how long I would keep my sanity.
I am innocent of any crime. I was visiting the country seeing relatives, when one afternoon as I walked from my hotel to where my relatives lived, I turned a corner and stumbled upon a protest march for the rights of women. Being a woman and a member of an organisation back home campaigning for women’s rights, and often invited to speak about the topic, I joined in.
Not long after I’d been walking with the protesters, occasionally shouting out, Equality for women everywhere, I was pulled from the protest by a couple of men in uniform. I was handcuffed, blindfolded, bundled into a vehicle, and taken to the prison where I am now. No charge was made against me, and no information given as to why I was being held in these intolerable conditions.
On my third day, early in the morning, after I’d just thrown up the revolting breakfast, two masked men, dressed in black, wearing black balaclavas came for me. The tied my hands behind my back and escorted me to a dingy room where whips and instruments of torture hung from the walls. They told me to take a good look around, saying this was where they would bring me for correction treatment if I didn’t cooperate at my forthcoming interrogation. I vomited, bent over, and clasped hold of my stomach. The men pulled me upright, taking hold of me, telling me to have another look, and then took me back to my cell. Once inside, I fell on my bed and sobbed. ‘How long, how long is this hell going to go on for,’ I shouted out.
Today is the sixth day of my false and unjustified imprisonment. I’ve barely eaten or slept. I feel at least a stone lighter, have been savaged by insects, and fear and dread are always with me. Fear that every time I hear footsteps the guards are coming to take me to that terrifying room where I’ll be tortured or raped or both. Fear that I’ll die of Covid or be poisoned by the rotten food and never see my loved ones again. Fear of the unknown and if I’ll survive. I dread what terrible fate awaits me.
I shake. The noise of feet comes from the corridor. I ignore the disgusting looking breakfast that has been shoved through the hatch at the bottom of the iron door, and sob. For the first time ever in my life, I think of suicide. How can I? I ask, looking around the room in panic. But these footsteps are different, lighter, I think, and look up. A pleasant looking man, dressed in a beige linen suit and white shirt is standing outside my cell, smiling, and raising a hand a little in a greeting. ‘Hello,’ he says through the bars. ‘I’m James from the British Embassy. They’re letting you out in a moment, and I have a car waiting to take you to the airport.’
Sitting on the plane back to the UK, knocking back a large gin and tonic, I reflect on my luck and good fortune. Many innocent women in the world, living in countries that see woman as second-class citizens, are abused, wrongfully imprisoned, and subjected to torture, rape and other abhorrent crimes. I will be forever grateful I was spared from such atrocities and will continue to campaign for the equality of women and the immediate cessation of these abhorrent, unjust practices.
For more information go to: https://www.equalitynow.org/why_gender_equality1
My recent publications
Otto and Frankie, my latest novel, is about a dying man’s fight against injustice, his wife’s unusual affair, and the love from his long-lost daughter.
Otto and his daughter Frankie could not be more different. He’s rich, an acclaimed author, human rights activist, and lives in England. She lives in New York, just about survives from one pay cheque to the next and hasn’t seen or spoken to her father for twenty years. Dutifully reunited by his impending death, she’s amazed to find him a kind and noble man who, while grappling with his wife’s bizarre affair, champions for the world’s forgotten and dispossessed to his last. After Otto’s death, Frankie’s admiration for her father leads her into a dangerous and life changing pursuit.
Life in four stories
Recently I donated a substantial sum to the INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS (ICRC) from the proceeds of this little book of shorts. ICRC help the most vulnerable communities fight COVID – 19.
Four shorts: two about life, love, and death; one a poignant and disturbing memory that dangles a question unanswered; and one a wild fantasy – plus the first chapter of my latest book, Otto and Frankie.
By buying this book you are helping fund ICRC in its valuable work.