Time to Switch Places
(Extract from the book Torn Hell by Visar Zhiti)
New prisoners were pouring in, yet we were still unacquainted with each other: becoming so was even forbidden. Without others, there is no self. An entire impoverished population, vaguely identically dressed, sheared, famished--so much so that he appears to be you, and you resemble another. No self exists, but a translucent emptiness, copied into 1000 living multiples, 2000, one million, millions… in ancient slavery, you were a slave of 3000 years ago, so long had you served prison time. Among us it was said that astronauts from the depth of the cosmos, from the moon perhaps, were able to distinguish our prisons, caverns, rows of prisoners, a long chain, longer than rivers. There were prisons nowhere else.
Among the new prisoners unloaded from the next prison truck was a young man with a very whitish face, paler than those of people coming from interrogation cells. A black jacket was still on him, tossed across his shoulders, a blazer with double vents. Maybe it was a sign of the fashion outside…
Take it to the clothing depot, they said, and you will get it back upon release, if … [rotten.] Leave your shoes and pants and put on the prison uniform.
Having done so, he emerged from the mass of surfaced newcomers, silent and slow, with a dignity stemming from such slowness. He started up the road leading to the barbed wires, ignoring the prisoners’ surging anxiety. We fixed our eyes on him. He was confidently mounting uphill, his head held high. “Hey!” voices were heard, “Where are you going? There is no way out there. The soldiers shoot…”
These cries caught the attention of inside guards, until one surprisingly rushed toward the newcomer, yelling to him, “Stop! The soldiers really do fire! “E-e-e-e-h, convict! Y-o-u-u-u, do not fire!” Without looking back, he kept on, a civilian. He walked into the killing zone, where “Do Not Enter” signs swayed in the wind, like graveyard crosses. At the nearest guard tower, a soldier, as if inside the open head of a wooden monster, was aiming from the fangs with his machine gun. “No!” cried the inside guard, “Do not fire, soldier--I am here, too!” He reached the new prisoner, grabbed his arms and dragged him. “Turn back,” he yelled, “What’s wrong with you? Why are you crossing into the forbidden zone? Do you want to be killed? Look at your friends--be patient!” The former citizen kept silent. “Are you insane?”
“As you say,” he nodded, bewildered. Approaching, he looked at us and was more terrified of us than of the guns. He must have pictured himself as one of us.
An obscure sadness overtook me. Was it for myself, or for him who wanted to be killed? I did not dare kill myself. I was not even thinking. What would I kill; we were no longer beings. Then my sadness fell entirely on the newcomer, the unknown newcomer. Better he was killed, to challenge and then to be freed. I was horrified to be thinking this way, so mercilessly about another life. I had no right to wish the death of someone else, even when they wished for mine.
What about our psychologist, if he really was one, if they were allowed, (they were considered Freudians, banned, but perhaps he became a psychologist in prison; there was no opportunity to become one, but raw material was plenty), he reasoned thus: “When the inside guard, a living rubber baton of the dictatorship, dares and saves the life of an enemy, it must mean the dictator is very sick, or dying, or rather he has died, and they are hiding his death, like they did in ancient Chinese dictatorships, where dead emperors led. By saving the life of a prisoner, the class-struggle policeman helps his own later survival, so in a certain way, he prolongs the existence of evil, moreover by denying one’s right to die.”
“What? Don’t you think the policeman saved the man’s life simply because his humanity compelled him?”
“No, no, no way. He has saved his skin from imprisonment; time has come to switch places. The police sniffed it out, how could I not sense it?”
Switching places is not change. Can’t there be a society without judges and the judged, without prisons and dictatorship?
Utopia, like communism.