"Why are ya here?"
"Because I want to be."
"That's a fuckin' lie. None of us want ta be here."
The buzz of flies circling lazily through the frigid air of their cell. In any other man made room, the insects throw themselves against windows, against walls in desperate bids to escape. Here they drift unhurriedly, utterly at home in the filth.
"This has nothin' to do wit' ya."
"That seems a very counterproductive thing to say. You are trying to win people to your cause are you not?"
"I want men who'll fight, who are dedicated."
"And because my father is English, I cannot possibly be dedicated."
"You haven't the ties. You're a spoilt prat tha' fancies 'imself an activist. You'll pussy out soon as they put a plate under yer nose."
With the addition of a second rationing the room is soon plastered entirely with grim. They drag their scabby fingers in swirls, sunk an entire centimeter into rotting reeking muck, painting their hunger into the walls.
"You'll be released soon I 'spect."
"They're extraditing me in three months."
"It'll pass in a heartbeat."
"Well I'd best get on with it then shouldn't I?"
The light that streams through the rusted grate only serves to cast shadows, never to illuminate. The hollows of their cheeks become black holes while their eyes bulge grotesquely in their sockets. Hip bones strain against the confines of their skin, creaking at it to simply give up and rip. The ribs reach to break free with every cloud of breath.
"I think th' quality's gone up."
"I'd say! That's a fine slab of meat you're rubbing in your shite."
"Yewanit? Reckon it's still salvageable."
"No thanks, I'm not hungry."
It is no longer possible to distinguish which bodily wastes cake their hands and matt their hair. Or whose for that matter. Piss pools in the valleys of soggy bread, tending to drain to the centre of the room between their respective piles of rags. Dried blood is nearly identical to the smears of shit.
"Never thought yewd last this far."
"I know you didn't."
On wash day they fight as hard as any men could. They fight like they eat three squares a day, and sleep through each night. The corridors ring with their animalistic shrieks as they are dragged from their dens and shorn or their filthy locks and beards. Their cries become steadily quieter as the hair drops to the ground in tangled clumps, until they are left, naked and bleeding and clean and human.
"Heh, lookie at yew."
"You've no right to talk. Right dashing you look my friend!"
"...Now there's no need to be nasty."
They return to spotless walls and gleaming tile floors. The room smells of chemicals and faint mint. Cots have been made up with crisp hospital corners and starched white pillows. Gifts of pants and socks and jumpers have been left neatly folded. They waste no time in ripping and smashing and soiling.
"Ya know, ya have an Irish complexion."
"It's as I keep telling you, I am Irish."
"It's a bloody stubborn half though."
At night the grunts and hitched breathing of dozens of masturbating men fills the block. Accompanying are slick smacks and wet squelches as they swallow their shame and do what they must. There is no enjoyment in the act, none of the satisfaction that should be gleaned. They are able to quell their need for food, for water, for cleanliness, for every material comfort they've ever known, but this they can't seem to give up. They roll over afterwards, backs to each other, and pretend that they are alone, and that privacy and dignity are things that still exist.
"I have a son yaknow. He's off wit' his mother; she took 'im away when the troubles got bad. He'll be eight in May."
"I have a boy as well. I've never seen him. Born after I came over here."
"So why the hell are ya here?"
"Same as you. Because I need to be."
Visitation is a monthly hour of wonderful torture. They dress in civilian clothes, plaster their faces with smiles that fool nobody. The rickety metal tables fill with family, but the conversation is hushed and joyless, overshadowed by the looming guards and cold tinkle of shackles. Their loved ones look everywhere but at the way their skin hangs off their bones.
"That was your mother? She looks like a charming woman."
"She is that. Yer wife din't bring your boy?"
"Oh, that wasn't my wife, just my little sister. She's the only...the only one who still talks to me."
"Shame. I'm sorry ta hear that."
"Don't be. It's better this way."
They eventually touch each other. When it finally happens it seems ridiculous that they waited so long. They're too weak to do anything proper, but it's more than enough, almost more than they can bear to just rub up against one and other. Stick-thin limbs entwine while mouths nip and bite, teeth finally allowed to sink into substance.
"No. Those things kill you, you know."
The only thing they're allowed in their cells apart from the cots (which they destroyed) and their bedclothes (ripped and stained) are their bibles. Each prisoner possesses a copy of the good book so that they may read it and be enlightened and hopefully strive to repent. Most of them roll the pages into makeshift cigarettes.
"I haven't taken a shit in three days."
"Oh fuck off."
"...four days. For me."
"Fuck is this a bloody contest now?"
They build worlds out of food. The floor of their cell rolls with hills and valleys, rivers streaming throughout their kingdom. It's difficult to walk through the room without crushing some carefully sculpted landmark. So they spend most of their time sitting.
"Heard the guards mutterin' 'bout some bigwig doctor payin' a visit."
"For us? What do they think that'll accomplish?"
"'Spose he'll be tellin' us that we'll die if we do'na eat."
"Bound to try and save us then. What if they hook us up to machines?"
"Then we find a way ta unhook."
The doctor is a fat gnome-like man. They look so different from him it is as if they are another species all together. His pudgy fingers are gentle when tucks the blankets tightly over the ridges of their bodies. When he leaves they slide from the beds and lie together on the floor. They're too weak to do anything proper, too weak to even rub up against each other. So they press their withered shoulders together and though it isn't enough, it's all they can do.
"They think the smell'll make us eat."
"Shows what they know. It'll sooner make me vomit."
"Smells right disgustin' doesnit."
"Putrid. I don't think I even know how to eat anymore anyway."
"Reckon it'd be easy enough to remember it."
"No. Not easy, not after this."
The scale rattles as they mount it, feet bare and blue upon the frigid steel. The veins and arteries had stood out at one point, beneath the paper-like skin. But dehydration has sucked everything out of them by now, resulting in the skinny shriveled lines winding around white bones. The doctors hum and haw each time they see that more pounds have dropped off, as of they keep expecting them to gain. As if they cannot see the plates of food sent tumbling off their bedside tables to paint the spotless floor.
"Fuck ma arse feels flatter than a flapjack."
"Your arse is flatter than a flapjack."
"Sod off you. Just 'cause you have an astoundingly resilient bottom. Bloody inhuman poof."
"Doesn't stop it from hurting though."
"Course it don't, I said inhuman not superhuman."
They smear ointment onto the raw flesh of their shoulders, hip bones and elbows where the skin has been worn down to the bone. They pad their mattresses with sheep fleece and only lay the finest of silk sheets across their decrepit bodies. Ridiculous and opulent the trappings are, they serve well enough to rub the salve off as soon as the attendents backs are turned.
"What is he doing?"
"Who is he? Where's the doctor?"
"Fucker! Bloody sodding sons of whores!"
They must have decided that the good doctor wasn't accomplishing all they wanted him to, and the new man isn't going to make the same mistake. This man looks like them, tall and thin, not to the same degree of course, but his eyes are sharp and hungry. He knows their minds. He separates them, drags them apart. He knows that not much hurts anymore, and that this is the one thing that does.
"Why are ya here?"
"For my country, I want to, I need to, it's the right thing, I have nowhere else, you take your pick. Why are you here?"
"...I don't know."
"You don't-! Of course you know! You have to know! You...you're, you're the reason!"
"You're the reason I'm here. The reason we're all here."
"You're just pullin' ma leg. You've given me a dozen other reasons."
"And they're all true. But so is this one."
"Hell yes! Jesus, without you, none of this would be!"
"Ya mean you wouldn't be in this shithole, estranged from your kin an' wastin' away."
"No, but I'd be miserable I know it."
"How you say tha'? You'd have everything. You're a trust fund lad ya? Bloody shaked up nice an' snug back home."
"But that's no home. This here, this isn't my home either. Home is the reason, the ideas of freedom and liberation. The rest of it doesn't mean anything without."
"And yours. They're reasons too."
"Ya sound daft, ya know that."
"Maybe I am. I am suicidal after all."
"I'm glad you came."
"Could have fooled me."
"No really. I thought I could do it alone. That I was strong enough."
"You are strong."
"No I'm not. I'm a coward. My sentence is up in nine years, if I could just wait I could walk outa those doors an restart me life. I'd be thirty-five, young yet. But it frightens me, the thought that we could fail, that whatever life I might have would be the one I fought against."
"It doesn't seem cowardly to me, to fight for your dream."
"But I'm runnin', it's all I know how to do is run from tha things I can't deal with."
"I don't believe that for a second my friend."
"You're a fool, so ya don't count."
"I wish you would believe me."
"Why would I? You're a daft bloody little shit whose killin' 'imself for something that has nothin' at do with ya."
"Your arguments tend to run in circles you know."
"I don't change the fact that they're true!"
"Yes, alright, I'm from England, my family's wealthy, I could just bugger off back home when my time's up, go back to my cushy life and the wife who hasn't written once in six months, my son I won't be allowed to see, the job I will never be able to work again, not with this on my record. But I won't."
"Tha make ya a fool."
"Maybe it does, but who are you to judge me? You're here, same as me, and leaving your child just as fatherless."
"How? Because you think she's better off without you?"
"I never said-"
"You didn't have to. Shove a couple guys in a cell for months and you just start to know things about each other. And I know that you don't mean half the things you say."
"So now ya think ya know me do ya? You don't fuckin' know me, you don' fuckin' know anything!"
"I know that you're here. I know that I'm here, that there are thirty other men here, and hundreds more, thousands outside who hear your name and think /hero/. You /inspire/ people to do things, to believe things they never would have otherwise. "
"What's yer point? 'Cause it sounds ta me like ya don' have one, and I'd like to try an' sleep."
"I'm trying to say that it doesn't matter. Whatever happened to you to make you do this, to drive you to be the person you are, it doesn't matter here. Just like the fact that I was born in England doesn't matter. We're all equals here, all the same."
"Ya, sure, equally dyin'."
"Or equally alive."
"...Well ain't yew a bloody optimist."
"I've been called that, yes. Optimist, idealist, revolutionary, radical, terrorist. Funny how they mean such different things and yet be used to describe the same actions."
"Really, people called yew a terrorist. What didya do, step on somebody's toe at one of those debate sessions that they think'll help, spill some tea, what?"
"Hmm...it was at OU. A peaceful protest."
"Exactly. Things got...heated. The group I was with ended up in the British embassy. Somebody pulled a gun, there were threats of a bomb. Somehow ten people ended up in hospital and they all pointed their fingers in our direction."
" 'our'? Are your friends in here too?"
"One. Alby Donovan. The others were all sent home. Alby was busted because he brought the gun, they got me because...well...I might have had a spot of something I shouldn't have on me."
"Oh ho Professor! Not a saint after all."
"No, you become a saint after you're martyred my friend. I still have a little waiting to do."
"...why d'ya say tha'?"
"Ya say it like its so certain. It's one thin' ta joke, sometimes we need ta, but yew say it like its a definite thing."
"My friend I'm just being realistic."
"We're still kickin', and as long as we are there's a chance. That's why we're doin' this."
"Oh really...please don't lie to me now. Maybe that was why we started, but you can't pretend that you still hope to come out of this."
"Bloody hell...Wha' happened ta your fuckin' optimism then?"
"Please don't. I have excepted this."
"Fuck! So what...yer jus' waitin' ta die now are ya? givin' up? That's the biggest load o' shite I've heard outta yew yet!"
"It's not giving up. You have to understand, I have nothing left. This is the last hint I can give them, the last way I can help. I want this, to do everything that I can."
"But yer death, I don't...if yew die...you can do so much more if yew live."
"Of course I can. So can you. But that's not the point. Our deaths will set in motion such change. You said it yourself."
"What was that?"
"Nothing. Go ta sleep."
"No, I need to understand. Why are you being like this? You are the reason. I came here because I heard one of your speeches on the radio. I am doing this because you made me believe that it is the right thing."
"Don't. Jus' stop sayin' it like tha'"
"Like its me tha's killin' ya. I can't stand it."
"...Oh my friend."
"Don't look at me like tha'! Fuckin' hell!"
"Don't apologize either jeezus chris'! You're insufferable."
"It's jus', to think of it as me tha' dragged yew here, ta this hell hole, away from yer family, yer students...yew don't belong here. An' before ya make tha' face! I don't mean it tha' way. Yer too good for this place."
"...I do believe that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me."
"It's different, ya know? When I wrote those speeches, all this was jus' an idea still. Now it's real, now I have ta watch yew wastin' away before my eyes. I never imagined it would be so hard."
"My friend please believe that I want to be here. This, fighting, it makes me feel like I'm making a difference. You're not killing me, they are. And that's why we can't give up hope."
"But you make me question myself. I was so sure before ya came, nothin' coulda stopped me. But then they stuck ya in here wit' me an' I started wonderin' if this was truly the way."
"But not the only way."
"No, but it's our way."