I'd been dreaming of the sea again.
I didn't remember very much, although I'd had that same dream many times. Strange isn't it, the way some dreams are like that? But I remembered the water and kneeling on the shore. Washing my face. Pouring the sea into my eyes so that the salt was stinging. I wept in my dreams and that was a secret pleasure and I didn't want to leave it. Five minutes more, facing the rising sun with my shadow long behind me. Two minutes or just one ... A single moment less than I could bear.
"Wake up, bitch!" Cold water on my face was the only bath I would know, and a voice that was deep and rough and unkind, as it must be in a place like that.
I'd learned not to cry a long time ago. Not asking why took a little longer, but all of my questions went away eventually. That's what it is to be a slave. I was numb now, except in my dreams, and numbness is a thing you can't understand until you feel it. Until it consumes you. Becomes you.
"You go on television today." There was the clattering of a metal tray being shoved under the bars, kicked towards me so that the cold hard rice was caught and tumbled off to flake on the floor.
I scrambled for it, catching the rice in my broken fingers like a living thing and pushing it between my lips. He watched me. Not smiling, not frowning, just watching. There was fruit on the tray, four sections of whitish-orange jackfruit. I picked them up carefully, one at a time, sitting with my knees against my breasts, my chin in the valley between them. Television. I was going on television again, that was why they gave me fruit. I ate it slowly, rocking back and forth and staring at the wall.
My first time had been very hard. I hadn't wanted to read the words and I'd refused. So they'd beaten me from the waist down with truncheons of rubber hose filled with sand. I hadn't been able to walk or even stand, but I'd been able to read what they told me to as I sat on a chair. My face had not been marked then, not once, nor had my arms or shoulders. Any part of me that would be seen by my friends and family was clean and soft and unbruised. It shamed me.
The second time I'd been more ready and I protested silently, staring into the camera as if my eyes would tell the truth. My voice was a flat monotone without emotion, unlike the month previous when I'd struggled with tears. They weren't pleased by this. They said it looked like I'd been drugged, and fear and pain were better than that. People would expect fear and pain, understand and appreciate it, but not drugs. That would be boring. I read it again, this time with wires attached to my sex and a car battery on a table nearby. It was like striking a match, the way he did it, sliding the red wire along the battery post for just a second. He did it again to ensure I understood what they desired. The breathless quiver in my voice; the nervous twitch and flutter of my eyelids when he would frown and narrow his gaze; the jerk of my body at even his smallest gesture; as much as my words, that was what they wanted from me.
Now, my third time. None of the others had ever done three, but they were all men and only a few had been on television even once. I was different. A third time and for all my numbness there was something there, some small hope stalking me like a disease. I wasn't completely gone, not yet, and that frightened me all the more. I suddenly felt the urge to throw-up, my stomach knotting around the sickly sweet fruit I'd just eaten.
"Let me hear you, please." This voice was not so deep, not so rough, and his accent less guttural. His civility was offensive and made me small.