Edited by: Maggie Rosenau
Commonplace days have brought me here. Days when ordinary things happen. Days characterized by common concerns: death, birth and water, and similar ordinary activities; gray hair and hair dye advertisements; and the wars. Migration, hatred, mind, love, proportions, alcohol, space, friends and hearts. Crying, forgetting, time and everything that happens—all those ordinary things that always happen, have found me here now, have brought me at this very moment… alone.
I don’t know the time or date. I write this by heart during the snow, without fully remembering what I was waiting for. Perhaps I was waiting for something ordinary and that’s why I forgot about it. Maybe I exaggerated something, or maybe that is what I was waiting for, to have a little snow outside without even feeling it.
I do not know who bequeathed all this fear to me—the fear of ordinary things.
What if I woke up now and all these words were just a dream? What if I just opened my eyes? Would I still think about the snow, or would it be forgotten like any other dream? Between sleep and wakefulness, my brain fights me to release the dream, telling me to wake up and forget about it. Part of me wants to keep my eyes closed no matter what. The rest of me wonders if I will see the snow if I open my eyes. But why am I sweating? Why do I not feel a cold breeze on my body? Why do I feel calm and hear noises?
It is scary what I feel. Should I open my eyes? Tell me. Should I open them?
My eyes opened wide and stared directly at the gray roof, which I was not sure was gray or if my eyes were adjusting to the faint colors. I knew I had dreamt about the snow even when I didn’t feel it. The dream was so real to me. I was free even when my brain denied it. And I was smiling even when I hid my distressed face in my hands with the only T-shirt I had to cover myself.
Like any other day, at seven o’clock in the morning, the cell door opened for breakfast time. They (the guards) called on some of us to come out and carry the food inside. Every day there are two or three shifts when food is brought in.
Breakfasts consist of three pieces of bread with a bit of Yogurt. It is wise to keep some of this bread to consume throughout the day. Lunch comes around. It consists of cauliflower boiled in reddish water. We believe they pissed in that water, but drank it like any other drink, hoping it might contain vitamins to help our bodies survive. We are also given potato, which causes gastric constipation and less use of the toilet.
Prisoners in each dormitory are organized by groups and each group takes its share of food according to the number of its members. We each take our share of food fairly.
Despite its bitter taste and meager portions, the food is important to keep us alive. Some of us can be satisfied and some of us struggle to survive on the amount provided. Some eat their food as fast as they can, watching the whole day others eat and asking them for more food. Others fast all day and eat all their provisions in the evening. I am one of the few who fast most of the day here in detention. I find fasting very appropriate under these harsh conditions.
Hunger is always there. It is like us, a prisoner living between us and feeding on us. Hunger’s presence is embodied in our eyes as we stare at others’ food. It is in our fragile bodies.
Such as hunger, insomnia and lack of sleep also live among us. Too much mental fatigue and intellectual insomnia. And many hallucinations.
As a young man, my understanding of hallucinations had to do with seeing things that are not there. However, in this place, hallucinations are more than that. Here you experience touch, smell, and presences that do not exist.
You might think, how can 80 -120 people even sleep in a ca. 35 m2 room? As I write this, I wonder how realistic these words are to my readers. I wonder how someone could put this number of souls in such a place and forget them there.
New prisoners will find it hard to sleep for the first couple of weeks, mostly because of the necessary sleeping method. It’s called swording: people organize themselves in rows, lie on their sides in alternating directions, head to feet. The room is approximately 5 meters wide and each row sleeps about 12 people. For newcomers, sleeping like this is very difficult. Breathing is uncomfortable. Smells are challenging. Heat and congestion are factors that never resolve.
Everything in prison is conducted according to certain systems, even the identities of the detainees. When you enter the dormitory, you are given a number. That is who you are. Be careful not to forget it, because you will be punished if you do. When someone is called on to be questioned, he is not called on by the name his parents gave him, but by the number assigned him. Another psychological game to convince the prisoner of his insignificance. Your number becomes a part of you. Each time it is called out you must answer “Yes Sir!” as fast as you can to avoid punishment.
The fear of someone calling your number and not hearing it causes us to linger between sleep and wakefulness.
There are many things we do not know, yet still fear, for fear is an old being. Fear is ancient and alive and will remain. If you try to kill a part of it, it will merely kill part of you. You may think you can rid yourself of fear, but there is no ruling over him. So instead, acclimate to his presence. Do not honor him. Simply acclimate to your fear.
Fear of loneliness, fear of death, fear of aging, of poverty, of money, of war, of faces, of others, of light, of dark, of speech, of silence, of waking, of sleep, and…and fear of fear itself.
Your realization of your existence is your existence. Your awareness of your hand that you do not feel is dead, of your people whose presence you no longer feel, of the pain that you forget and do not tell anyone about—that you suppress even happened. The dreams you forget and will never remember again, the curtains at home that move while you are absent. Of course, these no longer move.
Some things follow a man no matter how far away or old he is. Sometimes scars are the only witness to the crime of life, memories the only beauty that keeps you warm at night. The past is an old gypsy burdened with curses…and you! You become a shadow of yourself, a secondary figure in the novel of your life. No one knows you on the way home, your shadow precedes you then you precede it.
I am nothing but another person among hundreds of transients. I am to them merely one more anonymous and fleeting life, a nobody, as they are also to me.
And today, on the bus or the metro, at the train station, near the cigarette machine, I loiter, then walk up and down, move through the alleys and take to the streets, stopping here and there to look around. Nothing is different. There is no one here I know and no one here knows me. We are all nobody.
Then, someone asks: Who are you?
I am number 78.