Previously on the Arabian Night series: The Nihilist
There are dangerous men… and then… there are dangerous men. Howie belonged to the latter category. He was a 60-year-old Indonesian friend of mine who lived on my
prison block; short, bold, wore thick-rimmed glasses that made his eyes appear double
their size, and always walked around with a permanent smile. As dangerous as he was,
I never saw him get angry.
I believe Howie suffered from an early onset of Alzheimer’s; I say this because whenever his door opened for work, he would come out with a towel, wondering out loud if it was shower-time. And whenever his door opened for shower-time, he would come out wearing his white apron, wondering out loud if it was time for work. There is nothing funny about Alzheimer’s, and yet Howie’s jovial personality always turned this sad reoccurring scene into a comic act.
I would not be exaggerating if I told you that half of my interactions with Howie occurred while he was on his toilet. “Are you enriching Uranium again Howie?” I usually teased him as I passed by.
“Yes. I am developing a Weapon of Ass Destruction!” He would respond with his hilarious and equally cute accent.
Another thing about Howie, was his obsession with television. Even when he was busy producing his lethal concoctions on his throne, he would move his T.V to the edge of his bed so he wouldn’t miss a second of his favourite drama, movie, or game-show.
(Howie loved watching everything, even hour-long infomercials).
One day his toilet broke down, so he came to me while I was speaking to my sister on the phone and asked if he could use my toilet.
“Of course, go right ahead,” I said to him not realizing the series of catastrophic events that this act of common decency would unleash.
After a few minutes, two guards showed up to lock us up for the last count of the night.
I said goodbye to my sister and began to walk back to my cell, which was at the end of the block. As I got closer to my cell I saw Howie scurrying out of it with his pants still unbuttoned.
“Thank you very much” he said as he ran passed me to his cell, which was all the way
at the front.
“No problem Howie”
“HURRY UP AMARA!” the guards shouted. So I began sprinting towards my cell, and as soon as I entered it, everything went black.
I have no memory of what actually happened, so I can only assume, that I was knocked out by the stench of whatever Howie unloaded in my toilet. It was an instant T.K.O.
“Are you there?”
My eyes slowly began to open. My vision was blurry. Everything was white. The walls were white, the lights were white, and there were two white shapes standing over me as I laid on a medical bed. I struggled to make out what I was seeing, but as my senses slowly returned, I realized that the two white shapes were two men dressed in the type of suits you usually see at a chemical spill site. I think they’re called biohazard
“Mr. Amara” one of them said.
“Yes. What happened? Where am I?” I asked feeling like I just survived a train accident.
“We are members of the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency. At 22 hundred hours last night, a radiation signature that is usually associated with a nuclear weapon of mass destruction showed up on our global tracking device; the exact
location was your prison cell. All the inmates living near your cell, including the two guards who were found unconscious in front of it were hospitalized.”
“We couldn’t find the nuclear device, however, we did find radioactive residue on your
toilet. Where did you hide the device Mr. Amara?”
You can imagine how bizarre and confusing all of this sounded to me; I was speechless.
“Mr. Amara. You see that door to your left?” he said as he pointed towards it.
I turned and looked.
Behind that door are three CSIS agent, who would love nothing more than to fly you to a black site location and do with you as they please. We’re the good guys here. It’s in your best interest to cooperate with us”
“Honestly, I don’t know what to tell you. I let an old man use my toilet and now I’m here”
They looked at each other, and then the taller one who was silent the entire time turned back to me and said, “Have it your way Mr. Amara”, as he injected my arm with a needle and I lost consciousness again.
When I woke up again, I found myself laying on the ground of a windowless, door less room that was shaped like a perfect cube. It was completely empty; it had no bed, no desk, and no toilet. As I slowly got up, I noticed that the entire room from floor to ceiling, was made up of hundreds of frowning faces of men and women, who seemed to be directing their disapproving glances at me.
And then came the whispers…
“You are an awful human being”….
“You are an awful human being”....
Having been around many schizophrenic inmates over the years, I felt a panic set in, as I feared that I might be losing my mind; the last standing fortress that stands between a man and the tormenting demons that imprisonment unleashes.
I must be going crazy, I thought to myself as I covered my eyes and began to feel sorry for
“You are an awful human being” the whispers continued.
I started to cry and fell to the floor into a fetus position. As I sobbed, I felt a sharp longing for my mother and began to call out her name, hoping that by doing so, I could save the image of her beautiful face from fading away with the rest of my memories.
“You are an awful human being”...
“STOP!” I shouted back as I covered my ears.
Suddenly the whispers stopped.
I stayed there on the ground, still curled up and still covering my ears. I wasn’t crying anymore. I was simply relieved that the whispers had stopped. Oddly, I was beginning to enjoy the silence. It’s amazing what we find comfort in when our whole world is going to hell.
After a while, I decided to get up, and as soon as I uncovered my ears….
“You are an awful human being”…
I grimaced in pain and quickly covered my ears again. The whispers went silent
immediately. This made me feel curious, and so I quickly alternated between
uncovering and covering my ears, which resulted in the whispers turning on and off like a radio.
My eyes opened wide as I realized that I was not having a schizophrenic episode, and that the whispers were actually real. A great relief washed over me like a friendly tide. The realization that I had not lost my mind uplifted my spirits in ways you can’t imagine.
A healthy mind is a blessing that most of us seldom appreciate.
I got up and began inspecting the cell with fresh eyes and immediately noticed tiny speakers built into the top corners of the room. I also noticed that all the walls, including the floor and ceiling, were actually large screen monitors that were protected by Plexiglas. It was all an illusion; the entire setup of the cell was intended to dehumanize and demoralize its occupant.
I can’t recall how long I spent in that room. All I can remember is the countless battles that I waged against its never ending attempts to destroy my sense of worth as a human being. On some days, I retreated, and on others, I advanced. But there was one
particular day when I realized that I did not have to engage in this fight anymore; that if someone could not see my humanity, then perhaps it was their vision, and not me, that needed to change.
The battle was over. I fell to my knees out of exhaustion and relief, and at that moment, I was inspired with words that caused the entire room to shatter away like glass…
The dragon has been slain
My head is bowed
And on my knees I stand
The colour of my tears is red
I see the break of dawn
My heart weeps for what it lost
Yet my soul is full of joy
For all the wisdom that it gained
For all the lessons learnt
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