A Place Called Hope by Vannessa Ho

Jao, leader of the freedom fighters, cut his way through the thick forest leaves with his machete. His people formed a row behind him, their combined steps creating a slick mud path. The jungle seemed hostile to humans constantly barring their way, scraping them, tripping them, sending bugs and beasts after them. But it was still the safest place.

A hard life in the jungle was preferable to what they had left behind. There could be no doubts about this. The only future lay forward in the path cut by Jao.

Soon there was a muted roar that seeped through the air, the first indication of their destination. Jao’s people let out a sigh of relief as they wiped the sweat from their glistening skin and prepared for the last few hours of their journey.

Jao turned around and grinned, his thick black hair stuck in clumps around his forehead, ‘Nearly there!’

A few hours more of trudging through mud and tree roots and the relentless green canopy above them thinned. Grey water cascaded down from above, mists of water spread lazily through the air making everything in the immediate vicinity wet and shiny.

It was time for them to make a new home in the labyrinthine cave systems hidden behind the waterfall they called Hope which Jao had found in his journeys as a young man before the war.

Grey swirled into familiar textures in front of him. Flat concrete surrounded him once again, the soft greens and browns of the jungle a distant memory. Harsh fluorescent white beamed down on him.

Steady footsteps marched to his door. A flap snicked open and a bowl of gruel slid through.

He opened his blood shot eyes and saw his skin clinging close to bone. Past and present blurred in his memory now days. He was often confused of when and where he was.

Every day in Bangor Prison was the same ever since he had taken back control of his mind by refusing to eat. He sat in lotus position, the bones of his ankles and bottom bruised from sitting on unadorned concrete. The entrance of the gruel bowl knocked him out of his trance twice a day.

He got up carefully, in increments that took many moments of dizziness and swaying. Then the twigs that were his legs would stumble over to the pit in the corner where he would dump the drug laced gruel. Finally he would stumble back into lotus position and hope to visit better places in his mind.

The guards thought they could keep all their prisoners docile with drugs that addled them. He would prefer to starve to death. They had already imprisoned his body. They would not take his mind.

Bangor was a place few knew about where political prisoners, rebels against Finor’s regime, were dumped to rot.

When he had first arrived the guards had enjoyed lashing him until his back was a mess of broken tissue. After a while they left him alone because he had ceased to react, so they moved on to fresh meat.

He was tired of hanging on to reality. Dwelling on the memories of this place was useless.

He opened his eyes and was confused. The door to his cell was open and no-one was standing guard. In fact the halls were completely empty. He stumbled to his feet and wandered the prison that was eerily quiet until he entered a dusty courtyard.

He raised his arm against the sun that stung his sensitive eyes and followed the sound of laughter. He couldn’t believe it, standing before him was Jao and a boy. It was his son Pascal, the boy in Jao’s photo! They were throwing a baseball to each other.

Jao seemed to notice him then and turned to him with a smile.

‘Look Pascal it’s my white friend! He is a learned man you know, he writes in newspapers for a living.’

Pascal ran up to him, ‘You’re right Papi he does have a big nose.’

Jao laughed then, the deep rumble that came from his belly when he was truly amused.

Jao stopped abruptly, ‘But you look sad my friend. Last time I saw you, you were heading home to tell the world about what was happening here.’

His voice, when it came, was slow and rusty from disuse, ‘I found out about Bangor and couldn’t resist getting evidence about it. But I was caught and now I am trapped. My secrets will die with me.’

Jao frowned for a moment. ‘Not to worry. So long as Hope exists there is a chance for a better future. It’s time to let go now friend, time to be free.’

Jao stretched out a hand. He looked behind him at Bangor Prison. It was time for his last act. He reached out and was free.

 

 

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