The First Day In Prison: An excerpt from my first novel

The shrill ringing of the alarm was the prelude to the first event in an incongruous series that happened on our first day in prison. It sounded like the first rituals for the arrival of Iraqi planes. It startled the three of us, as if it was the end of the world.

We imitated the other women jumping up, tossing aside the sheets, rushing to the ladder, pushing others to get down first and form a line, before the alarm went silent.

Footsteps. Women mumbled. A mysterious bug died under my feet. Someone yelled. The flow in my veins chilled. Mina pulled nervously at her left sleeve with her right hand. The line of prisoners warped around the bunk-beds. The hallways emptied. Quietness replaced the noise.

The clattering of keys. The rumbling of a gate. The silence cracked and moaned.

Officer O appeared at the doorway, followed by her two armed guards carrying blankets. Zeinab stood at the head of the line. O displayed a false grin when Zeinab stared back at her, pressing her doll against her chest with the passion of a mother holding her newborn. She yelled and stomped her feet like a fighting bull, but O seemed only amused.

The officer looked at us. “Time for your daily walk,” she said.

I glanced at her boots. Still the same old boots, I thought. She looked older than the day before. Her hair looked unwashed and her wrinkles stood out under her tired eyes.

“It’s damn raining out there,” Zeinab shouted.

Officer O rolled her eyes, as if she was watching a movie she had seen a hundred times before. “I was talking to these young newcomers,” she said. “Not to oldies like you, Zandy.”

Zeinab laughed out loud and stepped back, dropping onto the nearest bed. “Have a nice day,” she said mockingly.

Officer O pointed toward the exit. “Your turn, ladies,” she said, maintaining the façade of a warden. There was always a hint of irony in the way she spoke to us. “But first, you need to wrap up,” she said, waving at one of the guards.

We were handed three gray blankets while the other prisoners hummed angrily.

What if O was really our ally and friend?

The guards shouted and our unhappy fellow inmates stopped their grumbling. We followed Officer O, and, bizarrely, felt sheltered walking behind her. Hallways and stairs looked bright and full of life. The last door unlocked and opened up to engulf us with fresh air and humidity.

It was cold. It was wet. It was gusty. But I didn’t mind. I enjoyed the wind’s coldness and the rain’s bewilderment. In line, I turned in a harmonious circle around the single cedar in the cemented backyard. We weren’t supposed to talk, not even to cough or to sneeze, so I let the rain run over my face as if I didn’t care.

It was going to be our daily routine: morning walk, back to the cell and waiting for the meals – always the same – waiting for the night, waiting to fall asleep, and to dream.


About lifeacrossthesun

Writer/ 2011 PEN USA Emerging Voices fellow
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