by Mariane Enriquez, Age 18, Philippines
Numbers swirl around in my head in no particular order as I stare at the blood-red toxic sky. I am in a prison cell, a twelve-foot ditch with bars for a roof and metal walls and flooring.
I have been here for 43,200 seconds, exposed to the elements, left to die for my crimes. It’s the thirteenth hour, my last hour to live. I wonder how is it that I am still part of the living. Indeed, I feel my working lungs, the oxygen in my blood and the beating of my heart. Technically I am still alive. Why is it then that I feel dead inside? Why had I not died already? I look back precisely 12 hours and 30 seconds, when I last held the man I loved. They had executed him, humanely. A reward for his cooperation.
I think back to the hours leading to our capture, how many times he declared he would rather die than cooperate, how many times I had to implore him to set his pride aside so that they would show him mercy.
That made him angry, made his breathing quicken and his blood boil. He did not want mercy he had said; his grey eyes flared in the dimness of the room.
Do it for me, I told him. He fumed with his mouth set in a hard line, determined to argue, but he allowed me to take his hand in mine when I reached for it. He watched as I ran my fingers over the calloused skin. I traced the lines of fate and blood on his palm, the same lines that had declared hopelessness and inescapable death. I kissed the defiant beating of his pulse. I didn’t want to see him suffer.
I told him that and his anger faded then into a sad gentleness that softened his strong features. We had no delusions that we would not die that day. Our death was certain, we could not escape it. But the universe owed me the little comfort that he could get–the comfort of a swift and painless execution.
He said he didn’t want to see me suffer either.
I pulled him to me then and whispered my promise that he wouldn’t.
He didn’t understand my meaning or maybe he did but decided not to speak about it. Either way I was grateful. We didn’t speak much after that because no amount of words could have lifted the dread in our bones. Instead, we surrendered ourselves to the yearning of our bodies, to the primal need of intimacy and warmth.
Even now, I am grateful that I kept that promise, only saddened by the fact that his death made it impossible for me to break it. They had taken away his body which was a mercy. At least without him in the room I can pretend he was still alive.
We had been ready when they came for us, already said our goodbyes a hundred times, pronounced our love so many times all doubts were erased and mourned the death of our dreams to start a life and a family together. So when they came to get us, we were things of stone. We fought back–a futile effort to escape, but a last act of defiance. We were overpowered and outnumbered and they dragged us out in chains. They hauled us into a truck and drove off.
We were told to be silent but even then we couldn’t resist.
He recalled to me, aloud, the time we met, in the scenic Outskirts where rotten plants, animals and unfathomable monsters live. How romantic our accidental meeting was especially the part where I pressed the dagger to his neck and threatened to kill him.
I laughed at him, a laughter that had little warmth and brought salt that hurt my dry eyes. I reminded him that he had disarmed me of that dagger and overpowered me to the point of surrender. And that the first thing he told me was that I was beautiful.
“And you called me an idiot after that,” he said with a mischievous glint in his blank eyes. “The first of many occasions.”
“You’re still an idiot,” I said.
He said he loved me too.
The guard stood up from his seat then, tired of having his warnings ignored, had his rifle in hand and threatened to shoot the next person to speak.
I didn’t reply anymore. Not because I was afraid of being shot. But I was afraid I would start crying.
We got to where we needed to be and we were interrogated. Together. Then separately. They asked who we were, who we were with and what our plans were. They gave us empty promises of safety, protection and amnesty. I laughed in their faces. They whipped me to teach me respect. They took us to separate rooms. He fought back as they dragged me out and I shouted to him his promise to me–his cooperation. He called my name but the door already closed between us.
I didn’t see him until later on, after they interrogated me again, after him. They told me what I wanted to hear. How he had cooperated. How he was willing to divulge information and how I should follow his lead. I spat at them my revulsion and my disgust at the betrayal as my heart sung for joy. I cursed at them, as any mad woman would do and made incomprehensible noises that drove them out of the room.
I met his eyes as they brought him to me. In his eyes I saw life, joy and hope. And I nearly burst into tears. For these were not the eyes of a condemned man. I wanted to shout at him that it was unfair. Unfair of him to look at me that way when in fact it was my fault we were here. I might as well have been the one to chain him and lock us up in this room. I might as well have been the one to inject him with the lethal serum. I might as well have killed him with my own hands.
I told him that as I sat, curled in his lap and surrounded by his strong, warm arms. I cursed myself again and again as he repeated his love for me again and again. He told me when he felt it was coming to an end. He could feel his life draining away from him. I frantically took hold of his hands and held them tight, as if doing so would keep the life in. I told him not to leave me yet. I was not ready yet. He told me I was still beautiful. And that he wished he could stop time at this moment. I told him I love him. Three times. He replied he knows. Three times.
I said it again for the fourth. This time, there was no reply. And I knew, he was gone.
When they came to get him, I fought, I screamed, and I clawed at the hands that tore me away from his still warm body. They threw me in the corner and closed the door before I could get at them.
My sentence count started then, thirteen hours for thirteen years. But it was futile. I had died with him.
Now I wait as the hour turns to minutes and the minutes shorten to seconds. And now it is too late for you. You who are listening and hearing my thoughts. For you who have invaded every ounce of my being. Those of you who hoped to see the truth behind our actions and hoped that the mind of dying rebel girl will reveal to you the plans of an entire rebel cause.
I can imagine them scrambling inside these metal walls and trying to decipher my thoughts as it processes in this microchip they embedded in my brain. But they are too late. For at the end of the thirteenth hour, the plan will be set in motion.
The speakers come alive as the seconds go down to ten.
They tell me to take this last chance, this last lifeline. I will be allowed to live if I tell them the plan.
But I only smile and laugh at the futility. I had already died. The dead cannot be brought back to life.
The count goes down to five and I hear the destruction of the bombs going off over the speakers.
At four, their screams filled the room.
At three, the siren is cut short.
At two, I crack the pill in my mouth.
At one, I’ll already be dead.
The scorching sun will rise and will turn my flesh to ash.
Mariane describes herself as: “A college student studying Comparative Literature, taking baby steps to becoming a writer.”