You sent four officers to my place of work to summon me to your place of work. You are the Chief of Political Security, part of the Secret Police.
I am sitting opposite you now in the police station. Your chair is higher than mine, you look down on me. In this grey room across your desk. Your uniform a clear and visible display of your rank. All round the walls are filing cabinets. How many lives inside those filing cabinets? Do I know any of them? Are they my friends, my colleagues, my neighbours, someone I have passed in the street? On top of the filing cabinets to my left is a row of smaller cabinets. The kind that holds index cards – perhaps they just hold names. Behind your head is a portrait of our ‘dear leader’ looking down on both of us. Is he smiling at me? Why would he? There’s a small chair tucked in the far right hand corner almost hidden behind the filing cabinets. I didn’t see it at first. Nor its occupant. An older man, not in a uniform. Is he your boss? Your minder or mine? Who is he watching? The room would be improved with some pictures. Some of my photographs would be good. I took some at the demonstration last week. There’s the one of students running from police, or maybe the one with a young man turning his head, his arms held up to cover his face from a police baton. I know exactly the right one, the mother crouching, cradling her child in her arms. You have not spoken to me except to order me to sit down. You just stare at me, your beady eyes set deep into your hollow eye-pits. The minder on the chair is silent. I want to ask will someone go and fetch my son from school. He will be waiting for me, he won’t know what has happened to me. He is only a child. Do you have a son? Does he know what you do for the state? What do you tell him when you get home?
“So, you have come here of your own choice.”
An interesting definition of my own choice. A summons by the chief of political security leaves one with no choice.
“What were you photographing yesterday afternoon?” You bite your thin bottom lip. I do not answer. “Empty your bag.”
I begin to take items out of my canvas bag. You look at each one and then push them aside until I place my camera on your desk. You pick this up and turn it over and over in your hands. Then flick open the back and remove the memory card.
“Why do you want to use your camera for spreading subversion?” I want to say I use my camera to record. I want others to see what I see. But I still say nothing.
“I have sent my officers to your home. They are very thorough.” You glance to the minder in the corner. I can see your nostrils flare in and out as you breathe. You are now flicking through papers in a thick file on your desk. You run your fingers down a sheet.
“You’re clever, but waste your talents. I see from your records you applied for the job at the Television station and passed the tests and even the interview. But were then stupid.”
You lean across the desk and wag a finger at me. I am not going to rise to your bait. It is all there in my file. I failed the political censorship test, but I did not fail myself or my own conscience. You turn more pages in the file, my file, my life.
“You put up posters in the Botanical Gardens of all places. You defaced a beautiful place where people went to relax and were bombarded by your slanderous attacks on the state. Your desire to incite subversion knows no bounds. There are reports your outspokenness is causing dissent amongst your fellow workers. That is not your job. You are there to work and as official union representative to distribute central government notices and monitor your fellow workers. I am surprised that you do not understand this.” You slam your fists down onto your desk and my paper life is rearranged. Still nothing from the minder in the chair. Your little black eyes are now drilling into me, willing me to speak. I can see your jaw tightening and it is making your cheeks protrude.
There is a knock on the door. One of your officers enters the room. With one rapid sharp gesture you call him over. He hands you some papers and then leans in to whisper something into your left ear. I strain to listen but can only catch fragments. I hear the words ‘home’, ‘papers’ and ‘books’ repeated several times. You dismiss the officer. He turns, he is careful not look at me. In his haste to leave your presence he catches his boot on the leg of my chair and stumbles forward. I put my arm out, it is an instinctive reaction. I see his face now – he is young. Maybe only a few years older than my own son.
I watch as you begin to read the papers brought to you. The expression on your face becomes more and more animated and I watch you place your right thumb into your mouth making a small sucking sound each time the digit is withdrawn. The minder in the corner remains perfectly still, he is watching you and I am watching you – minute after minute. At last you speak.
“So what else have you been doing?” There is just the merest hint of satisfaction creeping across your lips but it is gone in an instant. “What have we found here? Writings: you are involved in an underground magazine – the April Fifth Monthly.”
I hear the chair in the corner move slightly. You turn towards the sound and then back to me.
“Stand up. You will now be detained, further investigations are required. Take off your shoes, empty your pockets, remove your belt and glasses. Now.” I do as you demand, you think you have caught a big fish, you small bureaucrat. You think you can police our thoughts. You can’t police my thoughts.
I don’t know what time it is. Midnight maybe. The truck pulls into the floodlit prison yard.
“Get off, hurry up.” A voice shouts from the dark.
I lower myself down and feel the earth of the yard, cold and damp under my bare feet.
Someone pushes me from behind and I stumble forward onto my knees.
“Get up! Get up!” The voice in the dark shouts at me.
I stumble across the yard, my bare feet slipping on the mud. Again I am pushed, this time into a room with bright lights. They are blinding and without my glasses I can only make out shapes in uniforms moving about. My name is called and I answer. The back of my neck tightens, small beads of sweat begin to run down my collar, my lips are dry and numb. I clench my hands in and out to stop them and me from shaking. I must not show my weakness, not now. I breathe in slowly trying to ignore the stench of urine.
“You,” a uniformed figure looms in front of me and pokes me in the chest with a stick “Yes you, take off your clothes and squat- now!”
I obey squatting down with my back against the wall. This time I feel the stick come down on my right shoulder missing my ear by a fraction. Then again on my left but my ear is not so lucky. Again and again the stick is brought down –right then left. The wielder of the stick has his own rhythm and is enjoying himself. The pain jolts through my body, each blow is like an electric shock. My mouth is dry, I fear I will vomit or worse. I try and concentrate on something else anything else. Then into my mind come the people I know – friends, colleagues who have been jailed. They survived by showing enormous courage. They think you can control us, break us. No, I will be brave and stand with everyone else. I will not let them see how afraid I am. I will not.