July 28, 2019

Serving Time

I recall how resolute the judge's stare had been, when my sentence was first handed to me. In the blink of an eye, an entire future had been ripped away and replaced with despair. A future made of cold stone walls at the bottom of a dark pit had been forced on me; a punishment so harsh for doing so little. One will certainly steal a loaf of bread when at the brink of starvation. But to be branded dangerous when no harm was ever intended is...

My throat cracks as I moan in grief at the injustice of it all. I've long since realized that the world's beauty is only matched by its harshness. Only it would punish the hungry by imposing an even deeper hunger. There's a loud clank as an iron slit at the bottom of my cell door slides open. Then the sound of a wooden bowl scraping across the rough stone floor invades my ears. I've heard it countless times over the years, decades, centuries. It's a familiar sound, comforting and maddening and heartbreaking all at once. I don't even have to look; I already know that my daily meal has arrived.

If a few stale crumbs of bread can even be called a meal. They're just enough to keep me alive, if that can even be called living.

My heart thumps for a brief moment when I do turn to look - perhaps the only sign of life I've expressed since, well, for too long. A few pieces of charcoal have replaced my usual sustenance, and I leap into action. I greedily snatch them up, walk over to my straw bed, and lay them down gently. These are truly precious treasures, and I have to take great pains not to use them all at once.

I stare up at the walls surrounding me - much of it has been covered in charcoal, at least as far up as I've been able to climb. My scribbles, sketches, and other insane ramblings cover most of the walls. There are stories of kings and queens, heroes and villains, of celebration and despair. Many images fill the spaces between: they're of happier days, places I've been, and loves who I've lost. My entire cell is a mad jumble of thoughts and hopes and defeats and darkness.

I run a few fingers across an empty patch - one I've been saving for some time - and feel the coarseness of the granite on my skin.

This one, I ask myself, is this the day I fill in this one?

I pick up a piece of charcoal, but hesitate before I continue further. I look up far above me and stare past worn steel bars and into the perpetually cloudy grey-blue sky. I dream that one day my bars will be pulled away as someone helps me out, the sun shining brightly behind them. I know better, however. The grim reality is that one day a storm will come and wash it all away; everything will be lost and forgotten along the river of time.

That's the price for hunger in this world.