A rather different perspective ... and a single voice.
They came in the night, of course, the discordant sound of trucks echoing around the shanties, waking the neighbourhood, a baby's sudden cry adding to the cacophony of boots, shouts and the crashing of breaking doors. I lay in the dark waiting, glad that Namono was away with her family, knowing that there was nothing to be done but wait. The chaos moved along the street, punctuated now by screams, the occasional burst of gunfire, the flashes of torches and storm lamps ... more cries.
My own door was not locked but they smashed it with a rifle butt anyway, four of them storming into the single room with AKs at the hip, one sweeping everything off the table, stamping on anything that would break, the others converging on me as I lay on the bed, hands above my head, pointlessly showing that I would not resist ... even as the guns were reversed, the blows raining down on my body ... my head...
I did not die that night, unfortunately.
Instead, I came to in the back of a truck racing along a dirt road, surrounded by a mass of other bodies, some conscious and peering terrified into the night, others lying still but bleeding, yet others, clearly ... dead, necks at odd angles, gaping wounds without any blood flowing. One of the dead was lying across my legs, her dead eyes open and staring at me. I tried to close them but I could not move my arm. I saw it was hanging limply over my t-shirt, broken in many places. I closed my eyes, prayed, if you like, and perhaps those prayers were answered ... I became unconscious again.
When I woke I was in the dark, not sure for a moment whether I was dreaming, whether this was just another of my recurrent nightmares — my nation's nightmares — but the feel of dirty straw I was lying on, the wet concrete underneath it, the constant buzzing of flies, was no figment of my imagination. I was in a large room, I saw, as my eyes became accustomed to the gloom, possibly underground but lit from a couple of small, dirty windows high in one wall. I could not tell what time of day it might be ... or even whether the light might come from a floodlight of some sort and that it was night.
There were a couple of other dim shapes on the straw which I took to be fellow humans, a rustling in the straw indicating the presence of rats, itching across my body that of lice. I was in a dungeon, then, probably the Government Information Centre in K ... a building we had all heard rumours of, some of us had seen through its high razor wire fences ... and that some had seen the inside of and survived to tell stories about. I was not surprised, knew that one day I would end up here, but I hoped that I had not brought too many of my neighbours with me.
I was also thirsty, so I went to stand up to see if I could find some water. I had forgotten my wrecked arm, had not previously known that my legs, too, would not work. I could not stand. There was no pain, which was strange, I thought, but I could see that both of my legs lay limp beneath me, a great deal of blood covering the shorts I had been sleeping in. I pulled myself over with my good arm, began to crawl towards the nearest body, hoping for news of where I might find liquid.
The body ... a woman, possibly a girl, no more than a teenager ... was dead, flies gathering on her sightless eyes. There was no water, I knew, then, and gave up my crawling, collapsed beside my companion, lay there and waited to die, if they would only let me.
It might have been days, weeks or months later. The pain had come, eventually, and gone ... to some extent. I would never walk again, I knew, but my arm had healed to an extent — grossly malformed, but movable, usable if I should ever need it. I had been moved to smaller cell of my own, fed, at times, given water that had poisoned me until my guts got used to it, shitting blood for a while, vomiting constantly ... but kept alive ... after a fashion.
And in this place, that meant I was being kept alive for a purpose, and that purpose could only be one thing. None of my family — even if they were not somewhere else in this building or another like it — could afford to ransom me, no International would be lobbying on my behalf. Therefore, They wanted information, wanted me to feed their conspiracies: Give them names that would continue to spread the web they were smothering the country with. I was not able to kill myself directly ... there was nothing sharp, nothing to strangle myself with, nothing useful ... so I stopped eating, did not drink the foul water any more. This may have provoked them.
They came in the night, of course. Boots kicking open the door of the cell, shouts, a torch shone directly in my face as they dragged me out into the corridor, threw me into a barrow, wheeled me away, guns pointed directly at me throughout. Did they think I could run away? That my one good arm could grasp the weapons, turn them against them ... or against myself? I did not know, I did not care. It was happening, I knew, and there was nothing I could do to prevent it. I hoped it would be quick, even as I knew that it would not be.
This time, I was taken to a clean room, thrown into a tiled area and sprayed with a fire hose, freezing water pummelling me against the walls until I was pulled into a sitting position and some chemical sprayed all over me — get rid of the lice, I thought, as I would get rid of you — and then left, naked, in a smaller room. This was tiled, too, with a steel door and an electric light from above. There was nothing else in it. I went to sleep. There was nothing else to do.
I woke strapped to a trolley, like you see in Western hospitals on the TV, with a man standing over me ... not an African ... attaching thick wires to my arms and chest, strapping them in place with canvas webbing. He made some comment to a man I couldn't see, in a language I couldn't understand, pushing my crippled legs around and laughing. I knew he was joking about the pointlessness of attaching his tools there and I hated him for it. Even as I was wheeled away, through to another room, this one lit by masses of lights so that it was brighter than the noonday in the mountains. My eyes hurt instantly but closing them didn't make any difference. I felt almost as much as saw a man attach the wires to a machine in the corner, reach towards a large red switch.
Despite myself, I screamed, the terror reaching me before the agony ... and the room seemed to become even brighter.
When the light faded ... which it did quite quickly ... I found myself in a room that was anything but bright. In fact, it appeared to be entirely black and I was no longer on the trolley. I was lying on a soft padded floor ... also black ... and warm, warm for the first time in ages. I tried to focus my eyes, noticed some writing on the wall — not graffiti but something official. It said, in English, French, Swahili and, yes, even in Lingala...
'You're not dead, you're not dreaming, you are alive.'
I did not understand, knew that it must be a threat, knew that this was just another phase in my long and painful death.
I did not try to move when a section of the wall opened almost like the peeling apart of two skins in the door of the shelters my grandfather had built ... and a white woman appeared, standing over me for a moment, scaning my naked body. I thought she must be CIA, perhaps French, Belgian, something similar ... I did not know that they were helping our government, could not believe that I was important enough to come to their attention even if they were. Had I broken under torture, told then what they wanted to know ... making things up to satisfy their paranoid fantasies? I wondered what sort of diabolical tools she would be able to employ, the technology she would be able to use, the power she had. Involuntarily, I scrabbled away from her, the floor smooth and soft beneath me. I was still staring at her in terror when she spoke for the first time, quietly, and in Lingala.
"I'm really sorry about the wait and the stuff you've been through in the past few weeks, we should have got you out earlier" she said, "but the wall's not a joke. You are safe, and the pain's all over. Now we just need to get you patched up, see what we can do to make things a little better for you."
And the room seemed to buzz ... and I was unconscious yet again.
This time I woke in an actual bed, like I was in a hotel room only without the shoddy furniture or the sounds of others through the walls. The room was warm and the bed soft, the quilt raised over some sort of frame around my legs, my head and shoulders propped up, one arm bandaged heavily ... but back to its normal shape. I saw a glass of water on the table beside me, used my good arm to drink deeply, finding it chilled and utterly clear, so that it felt like the water of life itself. I was still drinking deeply, hoping that there would be more, that I would not regret drinking all of this in one go, when the door opened and another white person came in.
.... There is more of this story ...