By Joao Rousa
Meal times are the kindest clocks. They divide the day, help keep us focused. We are fed two times a day and each one of us can’t wait to get our plate, even though the taste of the food leaves much to be desired. How I long for a thick juicy steak!
Anyway, let me introduce myself. I’m Benny, as the name and picture on my room door states. Of course, it’s really just an extra-big cage. I’ve been here 2 years now and I’m not sure when I’m getting out.
Right opposite used to be my pal’s room-he got out yesterday, lucky geezer. Now a new one’s in there, pining away. His cheap coat looks like it’s been through plenty of homeless nights. When exercise time comes he’s going to wish he died younger than he is now. Just look at those eyes!
We’ve all been through pain, both outside and in here: betrayed, made to fight for our lives, chased down like monsters, kicked down and called names until nothing seems to matter. Sleep away your days, I try to tell him. Because in here sleep is the only escape.
When I dream I am always running away from what, I can never remember. There are trees and fields, mountains and rivers. I can taste the air, so fresh and cool, carrying with it the many scents of life. They say we are descended from a simpler race, no, a stronger and more noble tribe. Some of the ones here bear their features: a proud brow, piercing brown eyes, strong legs, chest and shoulders. They walk more slowly, pacing their rooms night and day, perhaps dreaming the same dreams. Running…
A bell sounds. Here it is: exercise time. The new one looks up. I don’t bother smiling.
One by one, the doors open. The guard on duty today never says anything but bad words. He’s the sort that finds power and strength only in attacking those who can’t fight back-and if they do, well, let’s just say things can get a lot worse.
Out into the sun, across the pavement, onto the grass, a rush and swirl of bodies and faces. The fence keeps us from going very far. I look around and see the familiar gangs getting together, playing their dim-witted games. My spot, as always, remains unoccupied. It’s in the shade, out of the way. This is where I sit and watch and wait.
The newcomer zooms out, his head low. One look at the main gang seals his fate. They close in, faces fixed in the same twisted snarls. I blink and head down. After about half a minute they let him be. Probably in his toes that seemed more like a day. Coat torn, blood streaking his nose, he looks even worse than before. And heads slinking over in my direction.
I consider flashing the evil smile that ensures I’m left alone, but his eyes make me reconsider. He sits nearby, licking his wounds. He’s a runt, a weakling; how he had the guts to stare at one of the Bigs is beyond me. Still, he’s learnt now. In here we all learn the hard way.
In my younger days I used to fight with the best of them. I used to roll in fields of gold, ruling a kingdom that seemed everlasting. No one dared look into my eyes, for fear of the fire that burned within. I was an athlete, an expert at pleasing who needed to be pleased.
That’s all gone now. I’ve got nothing to show for my former wealth, all my friends have left, even my family have disowned me. All for being too stupid and too proud.
Let me tell you another thing about this place. After a while, for the long-termers who no longer have any place in society, you are led away by ghosts. Not to freedom but to death. Yes, and Benny’s time is coming soon. Part of me wants it… and yet a part of me doesn’t.
Exercise time is over. Back to my cage.
I sit, watch, yawn, sleep…
Again the snowy fields stretch away to a setting sun. Running. I feel the others beside me, breathing hard, hearts pumping in synchrony, legs kicking white. We can sing to the moon, if only to catch the echoes of tomorrow. Something lies ahead; nothing lies behind.
More noise. It’s particularly vigorous this time, which can only mean one thing… a visitor has arrived.
I can see her now, I can’t refrain from joining the cacophony. She’s got long auburn hair, a kind face. I can’t believe she’s looking at me, can barely contain my excitement.
“That one’s got a history”, the stupid guard beside her says, “been here too long”.
She smiles at me. Oh please let it be so…
“I’ll take him”, she says. “If only to make him happy”.
Yes, yes, yes!
“Are you sure? There’s a better Retriever over here…”
“No. I’m certain”.
* * *
Out of the cage, along the corridor, enduring the envy of his former companions, Benny leaves for good. The woman beside him strokes his coat and says good words. He is happier than he can ever remember, with a great big doggy smile that will last the rest of his days.