There is a key but it hangs outside my room and is heavily guarded. Behind the bars of my prison there is only one way to get this key.
A sign sits above the key and reads, ‘Escape can be bought for $1000’. In the bigger scheme of things such a small amount, but in my reality it may as well be 100 times that figure.
I was well fed, had a bed to sleep on, and my clothes were always freshly pressed, but these walls around me wore me down regardless. It did take me some time to give up hope. At first, every few days I would check my pocket to see if somehow I could find the required fee. Though in my heart I knew the truth, all that I would ever find would be the few coins of little value which had always been there.
Sometimes I grew desperate and pleaded with the guard, holding out my coins to him, ‘I know I only have these right now, but if you let me out I can get more’. He would smile, quite kindly, but would soon turn back to his newspaper. This always provoked a dramatic reaction from me, ‘What do you expect me to do from in here?’ Normally my continued cries would be ignored until I wondered whether I was still protesting out loud.
There is no point fighting when you suspect you are mad. Tortured with grief for a life once held, regret for a life once promised but not taken, and pained by the realisation that the time for that life will never come again. My future was always going to be this prison, but for some reason I ignored the signs.
I tried bargaining with the guard, offering him the few coins I had if he would let me have the key. He said nothing. He just took his wallet from his pocket and showed me all the colourful notes that were contained within. Shaking his head and smiling gently he slowly gathered the notes up and put his money away. I tried again, ‘Perhaps you could lend me the money and I could pay you back?’ This question hung alone in the air and was only ever answered with the dull echo of my own words.
‘What if I sold you my clothes?’ My coat was still in fine condition and my shirt was almost brand new. I saw movement from the guard and dared to hope as he stepped a pace closer to my cage, peering at me intently.
He looked me up and down, ‘I’ll give you $5 for them both’. My hopeful smile fell away and I retreated to the back of the cell as his laughter rang after me. He continued to taunt, ‘I think that’s a reasonable offer, come on now’. I made a promise to myself then and there. I was done, no more would I try or even hope for escape from this prison. I could not handle the heartbreak and rejection any more.
Growing ever more listless and despondent by the day, I craved something else. With escape out of the question what could I do? My small window provided some relief; though so high up in the wall I only really saw the passing of the days as sunlight turned into moon and starlight.
Through much trial and error I found that if I stood on top of my bed I could glimpse the treetops swaying in the breeze. It was thrilling to spot that hint of green after so long spent in the drab company of grey, black and white. I was even excited when the weather outside was overcast, rainy and grim. Watching the weather change throughout a day made me feel connected to the world and alive once more.
Standing there on my bed and letting time pass in this way I no longer felt alone. There was something worth fighting for, something waiting for me should I manage to escape. The guard never intervened during this time. He remained watchful and seemed vaguely curious about what I would do next.
One morning while stepping up on my bed to take up my observation of the world outside, I heard a noise that had not passed my ears for some time. Looking up I noticed a small bird, a sparrow, perched on the ledge of my small window. While not particularly eyecatching or colourful, this little creature held me transfixed. Daring not to move and hardly bothered with breathing lest I disturb the visit, I stood still and enjoyed the simple joy of the moment. Without warning, I blinked and the bird was gone.
Still enjoying my visitor’s short appearance in my life, I looked over at the guard who was watching me intently with a strange and knowing look on his face.
After so much time spent with thoughts swirling in my mind I suddenly felt the need to get them out and free up some space. Gathering together the few coins I had and taking the coat from my back I called out to the guard, ‘I would like to trade my coat and my coins for some pen and paper’. To my surprise the guard picked up a notebook and two pens and brought them over to my cell door. Picking up my coat and coins he then returned to his desk, taking up his newspaper once more.
Just like when my feathered visitor dropped in, the notebook and pens sitting on the floor of the cell captured my attention. Either out loud or to myself I asked, ‘Is it real?’ Bending down and picking the items up and feeling them within my hands I knew it was true. I felt a new purpose and now motivation grabbed me and takes hold.
Like a person possessed I took up that paper and grabbed a pen with ferocious energy. I began to write. Gibberish at first, nothing more than random thoughts and observations about myself, my situation and all that had taken place in my life to reach this point in time.
Eventually though my pen and paper reached a perfect unity, both in harmony with eachother, neither leaving the other’s side, with thoughts flowing freely. Unlike the earlier frenzy a peace and calmness began to take hold. While at night the light was too dim to write on paper, I instead wrote in my mind all of those things that were still left to say.
With each new day I would again take up the paper and pen, allowing myself to be overcome and swept away by a luxurious sea of words. Eventually a story started to form, slowly at first but there was no mistaking its insistence. Over time the words solidified into something real and genuine.
During this period all that existed for me was the light and the words, my words. I ate when necessary. I slept when tired. All other aspects of my life receded to the background and took up only as much time as required.
Finally my mind was open for something new. The cobwebs had been cleared away and the pen could rest once more. So much of myself was in those words that when I finally looked down on the complete story it was like looking into a mirror. That part of me that had to leave, left through these pieces of paper.
Behind me I heard a click and the cell door was released. It seems that the money was never the point. I was free.