This article has been written for a prompt during the Indifiction Workshop. You can find the prompt and more about Indifiction here.
I think it is incredibly ironic that Krishna, the cleverest God in the Hindu pantheon, was born in a prison and had died almost a royalty. On my part, I had been born really rich, almost a royalty, and am now going to die in a prison.
On the day after tomorrow, at 11:00 A.M., I will be executed. That leaves me with less than 48 hours to live. Death doesn’t frighten me, though. If truth be told, it doesn’t arouse any feeling in particular. This is probably a form of Nirvana, and if it is, it is the best thing my fate has allowed me to achieve.
Fate brought me to the Arlington State Prison, and here the Scriptures have become my only companion in life. I was never religious though, I was more of the philosophical, poetic kind. The sacrifices of Jesus Christ never struck a chord in my heart, but somehow, I have developed a taste for the Hindu Scriptures. It began when I saw some eclectic philanthropist donate an entire set of these books to the prison library. He believed that they would help the prisoners make peace with their Karma. I started reading out of curiosity, and realised that I could connect with them. I could connect with the child Prahlad who was abused by his father, and with the God King Rama, who was exiled by his father at the behest of his stepmother. And in a wry way, with the cowherd Krishna, who had fallen in love with a milkmaid. I think it is uncharacteristically lucky that I have something to occupy myself with in a prison where life is so stifling mundane.
I wonder why they need electric chairs really; the benumbing regularity of things here could be enough to drive a person to madness and suicide. Every day, an alarm wakes us up, and we are herded together to the showers to get as clean as we could. Then there’s breakfast, and everyone goes to their respective duties, which in my case is the library maintenance. I clean the room, scrub the floors, dust the shelves and check if any new books have been added – which is very rare. By then, it’s time for the next meal, followed by free time. This is the only time that varies from day to day – the time when I decide what to read. Today, it is Kalki, the tenth Avatar of Vishnu, the awaited God of the Iron Age.
That’s when Billy enters with his cronies. He comes, smirks, and eyes me lustily. His eyes, his face, his deliberate wetting of his lips and everything from his short cropped hair to his huge size 16 feet invoke just one feeling in me – disgust, and revulsion. I refuse to encourage him, averting my eyes from the group and closing my ears to their lewd words. As they deliberately walk towards me, I shut my book and leave. This hasn’t changed either, not since that day.
That day is still fresh in my mind. The memories start resurfacing as I walk out to the jeers of the Brawler and the Brutes. Not now, not tonight, I tell myself. I take a deep breath, calm myself down and begin to live the last mundane part of the perfectly mundane day – the part when we sleep.
Tonight is different, though. Billy the Brawler keeps cropping up in my mind and the horrific events of that day threaten to come back to me again. I can see the dirty floor of the bathroom, smell the soap mixed with sweat, I can hear his voice, his voice which still creeps me out… No, I tell myself, block the thoughts, think about something else, think about what you read today, think about Kalki. He is supposed to have a white horse and an arsenal of weapons. He will be born in some place called Shambala and brought up by religious scholarly people. I wonder which monster will meet his end at Kalki’s hands; I was about to read that when Billy walked in… Billy, oh Billy, the Brawler…
Then the memories flood back and my first week at the prison comes alive in front my eyes… It had been a week since I had come to the prison. I was wrongfully convicted, yes, but I had a rich father; I was sure to find a way out of the hellhole.
The prison authorities hadn’t been bad to me either; I was going to be released, after all. What was the point in toughening me up? I was given minor library duties, like indexing the few books the library housed and arranging them according to categories. I had spent most of my free time in my cell, brooding over revenge for my dead girlfriend and waiting for my father to come and get me released. After a week, I started feeling restless. After two, I came to know that my father had refused to pay for my bail. My stepmother had convinced him not to squander his money and smudge the name of his family for a good-for-nothing HIV+ son. I was fated to die an unremarkable death anyway, wasn’t I?
Till that day, I had been seething with anger and contempt and all of it was directed at my vile stepmother, damned beyond redemption. I knew it was she who had convinced my father to get Maya killed – a hooker was not a suitable bride for a house of such prestige, after all. But she had planned for more – in one master stroke, she had got rid of me too, clearing her way to my father’s wealth. Since the day Maya had been murdered, I had hatched a thousand different plans of exacting my revenge, hell-bent about getting justice for myself and for my love. But that day, I began to realise how very weak and helpless I really was. The same woman had taken away my father, my girlfriend and my freedom, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. The woman had killed me before AIDS and the electric chair could come close.
That day, I had been allotted a new cell, and had been given full time library maintenance duty. It was no surprise, given that I was one of the few who were literate, but I had hardly cared. I was entering a stage of helplessness and resignation. Billy has completed the process.
He had sneaked upon me when I was in the library, grabbed both of my weak emaciated hands in his strong muscular ones, and told me to follow his gang to the showers. A look at the gang told me that resistance was futile, and I had meekly followed. If I had known what was to follow, I would have thought of raising an alarm.
Because that day, I had been held in place on all fours by the gang as Billy the Brawler took me from behind. At first, I could only think of the excruciating pain coursing through my body. As my senses dulled, I was taken over by humiliation. With every thrust of his hips, I could see my self-respect dissolving away. Every inch of my body wanted to protest, but every inch put together was far weaker than the four men holding me together and the monster taking pleasure off my body. Then another man of the gang thrust his penis in my mouth, and I realized the futility of my protest, my emotions, my existence… Then the only though that remained was that of Maya, my beautiful sweet Maya, who must have gone through this often enough to become insane… Enough to…
Enough, I tell myself. But the images keep flashing in my head. ENOUGH! I scream inside. The flow of thoughts ebbs away, leaving me breathless and drenched in my own sweat. I am trembling slightly. I am not sure whether that is out of anger or out of fear.
With a few deep breaths, I try to calm myself down again. It doesn’t work. I wish I could smoke some Marijuana and slide into a dreamless sleep. But those days are behind me. The only solace I have now is my unfinished book.
I check the time; it is only 9:35 PM. I have 25 minutes to sleep time. The Brawler would have left by now, assuming me to be in my cell. I get up and start walking towards the library.
Curiously though, I hear voices coming out of the library as I approach. I listen closely, and they sound like Billy and his gang having an agitated discussion in whispers. I wonder why they are talking in the library, and I realise, suddenly, that at this time there are generally no guards in this area. I tiptoe to the door, and strain my ears to hear the better of it.
I can register only a few random words, like guard duty, change of shifts, spare uniforms and the tunnel. It sounds like an adventure story straight out of an action movie. And then it hits me – they are planning an escape!
I wonder where in the prison they could have managed to find enough privacy to dig a tunnel all the way out. And then the realization dawns upon me – it’s right here, in the library! That is why they used to visit the library every single day – not to harass me, but to drive me out! When I come to think of it, Billy had raped me the very day I had been allotted permanent library duties. So the rape was not out of desire. It was to instill a fear and revulsion in me, so that I would avoid them.
So The Brutes weren’t just brawn, there was quite a lot of brain involved in their planning. The thought makes me want to laugh out loud, simply out of amazement. But then I hear feet shuffling and a table creaking, which means the gang is about to leave the library. Before they walk out, I tiptoe back to a safe area, and then rush back to my cell, still amazed.
This new revelation drives everything away from my mind. For one, I see Billy in a whole new light. So far I had known that he was a boxer by profession and had come to Arlington on the charges of an armed robbery. I believed him to be a reckless brute who had thought that robbing a bank with a couple of goons and a couple of guns will be as easy as taking out a fellow boxer in the arena. And of course, I believed him to be a bully. This new focused man desperate about an escape was a whole different entity to me. While my misery had driven me to resign to my fate, his misery had made him even bolder.
Secondly, I realize that I do not care about escaping myself. I have accepted my fate, for good or for worse. It is my karma, which has brought me so far, and it is my karma which has earned me this ending. There was no other possibility, ever.
Tomorrow will be my last day in this prison, and I will live it like I have lived other day of the past five months. I will go through the daily grind and find some time to read the last part of the Dashavatharam. And the next day, I will embrace my death serenely, and probably meet Maya on the other side. The thought brings a smile to my face, and on the penultimate night of my existence, I fall into a deep slumber.
I smile as I read about Kalki. He is the apocalyptic God, mounted on a swift horse with a mighty sword in his hand. He will ‘descend from the heavens riding swiftly and kill all those thieves who dare to dress as kings’. I think this phrase implies all the corrupt politicians of our times. He will ‘also destroy all those beings that are grossly immoral and have indulged in unjust and wicked practices’.
I hope he finds my stepmother when he comes. She would certainly qualify to be on his hitlist. With that thought, I decide to close the book and go back to my cell.
Then I realize that it is early, Billy and his gang haven’t made their appearance. I wonder where their tunnel is. Out of curiosity, I start looking for loose tiles. But I don’t find anything, not under the heavy carpet, neither below the massive study table. Maybe it isn’t in the library then. Or maybe it is too well hidden. I was only being curious anyway, I am not really concerned. Without bothering to look any more, I leave for my cell.
It is time to live through the last mundane night of my existence.
I see myself dressed as a King, holding court. I am armed with a bow and a quiver full of arrows, with monkey-men guarding my person. But there is a bitter taste in my mouth. I am morally obligated to be the model king, and my subjects demand that I banish my Maya from the kingdom, away from me. My heart cries out to her, but I am helpless…
Now I am a cowherd, but my destiny has bigger plans for me. I am to leave the village where I grew up and go to the city to vanquish the evil. I would do this happily enough but in addition, I am also to leave my Maya behind. She is but a milkmaid, what place does she have beside the saviour of the world in a city of royals? The pain of parting with her mixed with the my own helplessness is such an overwhelming burden…
And now I am with Maya. She looks beautiful as she sleeps beside me, safe and content. She looks ravishing as she bends over me, almost naked, and whispers – “They say I am a drug. They say I am addicting. What say?”
She looks shocked when I tell her I have got AIDS. She looks, oh, she looks so ecstatic as I get down on one knee and ask her to marry me. She jumps and says yes, even though I have no ring to seal the bond.
I hear her voice, innocent and excited, as she tells me how my parents have invited her to our mansion. I imagine her confused expression as I tell her, over the phone, to leave the mansion immediately. For a hooker, she was ever so trustful…
And then I see her in my own bedroom – her body decorated with cigarette burns, covered in bite marks at the most intimate places, mutilated with innumerable cut wounds, stabbed in her chest…
The scene transforms, and I see my own life unfolding in front of my eyes. I see a little boy crying over his mother’s grave. I see a young man cowering as an older man throws a half-broken glass bottle at him. The young man flees the house and stops under a tree, when a group of wasted junkies start teasing him. And then a young woman tells them to stop troubling the terrified man. She has such a sweet voice! She looks at him and smiles. She has such a beautiful face! She approaches him and says, “I am Maya, you are…?”
Suddenly, the young man has a magnificent sword in his hands and he is astride a pure white horse. In a deep, resonant voice, he announces, “I am Kalki.”
There is a flash of lightening and a blast of icy wind raking the trees…
And I wake up. I instantly cover my eyes from the blinding flashlight coming from the door. And a guard holding a torch shouts, “Who do you think you are boxing with?!”
Apparently, I had been thrashing the bed in my dream. Well, it was one hell of a dream. Still disoriented, I try to calm the tumult of thoughts in my head.
The Gods of old were forced by the society to fulfill their destiny by sacrificing their love. In my case, my love had been wrenched away from me. Apparently, I too have a destiny to fulfill. It begins with avenging Maya. And I know exactly what I have to do to achieve just that!
I know that I don’t have the strength to fight even a single person from Billy’s gang. I know that I don’t have much time either. But I have 3 things. I know my opponent better than they know me. I have the element of surprise. And I have nothing to lose.
They say that when Lord Krishna had to be whisked away from the prison as a one day old baby, the gates of the prison had opened up to his father by themselves. I wonder whether a similar luck awaits me. I have one hour to find out, till the end of the day roll call.
I enter the library silently, without giving them any hint of my arrival. The look of shock on their faces is testimony to that. To their knowledge, Bruce Tracy is scared to the bone of the gay boxer and his gang. Why would he walk into their midst willingly and unafraid? This was a part of my strategy – to surprise them into inaction.
“It’s the chair for me tomorrow.” I announce to them. “Just… just came to look at the library one last time.” They exchange a look, and decide to let me be.
I start walking around in the library, touching things randomly. Their eyes follow me. As I walk beside one of the bookshelves, a few of them exchange another look. Billy narrows his eyes, but goes back to being normal the moment I pass the shelf. I notice that it is the only shelf which rests against a wall.
I start walking towards them now, ensuring that I don’t stand in their line of eyesight towards the shelf. And I throw the question, “So, when are you guys planning it?”
Two of them exchange a look again. Three glance towards the bookshelf.
Billy asks me back, “Planning what?”
“The escape.”, I reply plainly, as if it is the most obvious answer.
One of them is about to launch himself at me, when Billy holds him back. I had banked on him to do this. “Nobody’s escapin, Brucy.” he says, trying hard to sound confused and innocent.
“You are. I have known that for ages. I just want to know when.” This is just between me and Billy, I don’t let go of our eye-contact.
“What do you know?” he narrows his eyes again.
I am prepared for this question. “I know about the spare uniforms and the guard duty. I know about the pattern of shift change. I know about the tunnel.” This time, I throw a quick glance at the bookshelf and then start looking at each of them in turn, noticing every eye as it moves. Especially the eyes which glance towards the very same bookshelf again.
Billy isn’t amused. “I could pin you to the ground and rip that tongue off so you don’t squeal, you bastard!” But everyone else is too confused and scared to move.
“I know you won’t.” Otherwise, you would have done it by now. “Instead, you could help me escape with you.”
“Tough luck, mate. You would be dead by the time we leave.”
“Tough luck for you too. If I don’t escape, neither do you.” I eye everyone, slightly smiling.
In turn, they all keep eying Billy, who is silent in thought. Half a minute later, he starts speaking carefully. “We cannot help you, Bruce. We do not have enough ammo outside to escape altogether right now.”
I know that would come. “Then let me escape alone. And you all clean up after me.” He didn’t see this coming, though.
“I escape using your tunnel, but with your help, I ensure the tunnel is not discovered. Believe me, you will still be able to escape.” I look at the rest of them when I say this.
Billy is uncomfortable now, and drives the conversation back to himself. “That won’t happen. You cannot escape. Go back to your cell, Bruce.”
I smile. “If I go back, I will squeal. If you try to hurt me here, the guards will come to know, and I will squeal. If you decide to kick me in the gut and escape, well, you cannot. Otherwise you would rather take me with you, won’t you? Safer that way.”
I know I have done it right when one of his brutes speaks up. “How on earth would you escape without them guards finding out?” He says it sarcastically, but I know he is interested.
“I will help you place hints about my escape at a different location in the prison. They will never come to know that I escaped from here. After I go, one of you should seize the library maintenance duty. You can ensure that they don’t poke too much.”
One of them speaks up immediately, “Billy, let him fly man.” He looks at me then, “We will do it, bro.”
Two more of them assert their approval. I thank them jovially, and continue to eye Billy. After a while, in a resigned tone, he says, “Fine. What do you want us to do?”
Next, its all about the execution. I give my shoes and the shirt of my uniform to them. The instructions are simple and clear. Exactly at 9:55 PM, two of them are to start a brawl near one of the manned gates. A third person is to seize the chance to tie my shirt to one of the spikes of the gate and pull at it while ensuring that he doesn’t plant his fingerprints on it. Then he is to throw my shoes outside over the gate at a good distance and leave the scene to attend the roll call.
When my escape is discovered, the authorities would believe that I used my tied shirt as a rope to launch myself on the gate. The shoes will just confuse them, leading them to believe that I had an accomplice outside. They would never think of the library.
They like the plan and give their silent approval. Two of them leave to guard the library. Two start removing the books from the shelf. I watch with fascination as they move the shelf and pull some tiles to reveal a gaping hole in the floor. Billy throws a match-box at me, indicating towards the hole. It’s dark, I notice, and stuffy, and a sliver of fear creeps over my heart. Then I notice the match-box – it has a worn-out picture of a white horse. With a smile that surprises everyone, I lower myself into the tunnel. In a few seconds, I am crawling my way out, listening to the muffled sounds of a shelf getting lined with books.
It has been years since I was Bruce Tracy. I am more popular as the White Horse now. Beginning with the first double murder, I have been on a killing streak, removing the filth from this world. A few days ago, I realised that I am going to die of my disease very soon. So I admitted all those crimes, all except the one for which I was arrested to begin with years ago. I proclaimed my reasons for all the murders too. God cannot do everything, I told them. Someone had to be his own Kalki.
I am not sure that they got it though. In the end, they just sent me back to another high security prison to die at their hands. I am going to be executed in 48 hours.