He was different. Silent and calm, his fatigue brought an unimaginable sadness into his soft, coal eyes. His gaze remained locked upon the ground and his parched lips were tightly clenched together; an unearthly comparison to the obnoxious and loud-mouthed criminals that obtrusively inhabit our four hundred jail cells. Wrapped around him was a thick green blanket caked in dirt and crawling with insects. Despite my disgust, I managed to notice his earlobe was torn: it had been horrifically severed from its attachment to the neck…
“What is he here for?” I whispered to the guard who had brought him in.
“Murder,” He breathed. “His own wife… tsk tsk” He shook his head in disappointment.
I frowned. Whatever pity had arisen for this prisoner immediately dissolved into resentment as I grabbed his elbow and shoved him into the jail cell in front of me. I turned back to the other guard, “Prisoner number?”
“408.” The guard answered, and walked away.
I looked skeptically at the pathetic mass of depression leaning against the side wall. His hair lay matted about his shoulders, brown with youth yet grey and decayed with despondence. Another guard came in bringing his dinner on a dirt-ridden red tray. The guard pushed it through the slim gap between the bottom of the jail bars and the floor, sending it skidding across the slippery stone ground, and left. The prisoner glanced briefly at the mountain of thick grey paste sitting on the tray, ignored it, and closed his eyes serenely once again.
Darkness crept slowly upon the isolated chamber as my eyelids pushed themselves stubbornly over my eyes. Struggling to maintain consciousness, I decided to start conversation with the most obvious question:
He looked at me quizzically.
“Why did you do it? Murder your wife, I mean.”
He dropped his gaze to the floor and turned his head away. I was not used to this response and tried again.
“You don’t look like the murdering type,” I said truthfully.
At this he turned his head back, his coal-black eyes locking with my brown ones. I pushed further. “I’m sure your wife was at fault. I know how women are. One day she got on your nerves, and you got carried away -”
“No, I didn’t,” He whispered. His voice was deep and rumbled like distant thunder. I leaned my rifle against the wall behind me and folded my arms.
“That explains your current situation then, eh?” I said sarcastically. He looked defeated by my cruel tone, so I continued apologetically, “I understand. No one would want to claim themselves responsible for murder.”
He looked up at me with moist eyes, “I didn’t.” He repeated.
Intrigued by his persistent denial, I asked, “Well then. Who did?”
He turned away and lay down on the mattress, shivering. I sighed, disappointed.
Hours past, I reluctantly surrendered to my stubborn eyelids and drifted off to sleep. I woke with a start. Terrified; I turned to look behind me into the jail cell, praying to God he hadn’t escaped while I slept. The mattress was empty. My heart skipped a beat as my eyes jumped to the other side of the cell, and feasted on the indescribably comforting sight of Prisoner No. 408 staring blankly out his small barred window. I grasped my chest and sighed heavily in relief. He turned around and looked at me curiously. Our eyes locked again, inviting a cruelly awkward silence. He let out a light breath and said softly, “I didn’t.”
I hesitated. “I know,” I heard myself say. A small part of me was terrified of this dirty, horrid-looking man, but a much bigger part was curious to know what the secret was behind those soft coal eyes.
“Can you trust me?” I asked.
I stepped into the jail cell and sat opposite from where he stood below the small window. He cleared his throat.
“I was happily married,” He began in his deep, sullen voice. “My wife, Lieah, she was beautiful. She was tall and dark, and when she smiled, her entire face sparkled with warmth. She used to wear these wonderfully modern dresses that clung to her waist and blended with her skin. But her eyes were the most beautiful. In anger they were a hard, shiny green, when she cried they were watery grey, and when she was happy, they shifted a shade darker into a deep indigo. It was those eyes with which I fell in love. Her love for me was little, incomparable to my love for her. Despite that, she married me anyway: the sole act I resent her for.
“My younger brother, Edward, lived with us and was the constant centre of attention. People were instinctively attracted to him; his warmth and cheer were natural sources of comfort. My wife shared these qualities and was consistently surrounded by excited chatter and laughter. I however, was not able to grasp these qualities and remained a specimen of anti-socialism. I despised parties and other social events, but I was forced to attend often out of courtesy. My wife and brother would blend and mingle instantly with the crowd, and easily start idle conversation soon evolving into shrieks of laughter and merriment. I would attempt to engage in an awkward and mono-syllabled talk, but fail hopelessly, and eventually end up sitting alone on an empty table sipping wine and dissolving into the crowd until I become thoroughly invisible.
“But these petty annoyances didn’t worry me. The rapidly developing friendship between Edward and Lieah did. Perhaps they weren’t noticing, but I definitely was. At dinner they giggled and snorted over ‘inside-jokes’ that they did not bother to share with me. They would watch sad movies at home and cry together like a pair of teenage girls. They even co-authored a book with each other, that I personally thought was stupid and messy, an opinion that their publisher must have shared with me considering his prompt rejection. Their relationship was getting stronger than I wanted.
“Then one day, I decided that they need to tell me openly and truthfully what exactly was happening between them. So after dinner, we congregated in the living room, Lieah and Edward looking completely bewildered. It was dark and raining, the rain pattered gently on the thick windows leaving beautiful patterns of raindrops clinging to the glass.
“‘I think,’ I said sternly, trying to keep my voice steady, ‘You both need to come clean with me.’ I paused, searching their faces for a change in expression. Edward’s eyes shifted to the window but Lieah continued staring into my eyes, puzzled.
‘What are you talking about?’ She asked with genuine curiosity. Edward looked at her and sighed. ‘He should know,’ Edward said cryptically. Now Lieah turned to Edward in confusion. ‘What?’ She asked a little louder. ‘What are you two on about?’ Edward walked towards me and placed his hands firmly on my shoulders and said loudly, ‘We love each other.’
My eyes closed. They only opened again when I heard the hysterical voice of Lieah screaming, ‘What?? What are you talking about Edward?? YOU LOVE ME?!’
Edward looked at her and blinked. ‘Yes,’ he said cautiously. ‘Don’t you?’
‘NO!’ She screeched, ‘You are my brother in law!’
‘That doesn’t matter!’ Edward said desperately.
‘Wait,’ I said and turned to Lieah, ‘So you don’t love him?’
‘I love you!’ she said exasperatedly and ran towards me. She hugged me and clutched me so tightly, as if she would never let go. That was the most beautiful moment of my life. When we reluctantly released each other, Edward was breathing heavily and his eyes were bloodshot. ‘I thought we loved each other.’ He whispered. He lunged towards Lieah, shrieking in frenzy. His hands locked around her neck and pushed her violently against the wall as my body stood paralyzed: I had never seen my brother in such a state. Suddenly I broke myself from horror and rushed to Lieah and pulled Edward off her. He punched me in the stomach and pulled me away from her by my ear. Suddenly my earlobe detached itself from my neck and I growled in agony. With whatever energy I had, I kicked Edward in the head, which disabled him for a valuable moment or two. The sky exploded with thunder, and the lights flickered and died: leaving us in an eerie shadowed darkness.
‘Lieah?’ I called out nervously into the dark.
“I’m here!” she cried back, her voice fraught with worry. Groping through the dim light, we finally found each other and gasped in relief and triumph. She pushed her wet cheek into my shoulder as we crouched quietly behind an armchair.
‘Where is he?’ She whispered. I dared not answer and remained silent. Suddenly lightning flashed, exposing Edward’s face contorted with hysteria, his hands wielding a gleaming dagger hanging perilously over Lieah’s head.
‘NO,’ I cried desperately as Lieah looked up in terror.
The lights abruptly sizzled back to life, revealing Leigh’s pale corpse, lying rigidly beside the dagger covered in her blood. I sat kneeling beside her body in pathetic depression. Edward crumpled to the floor and held his head in his hands, his body convulsing in violent sobs. I walked over to him and we sat together for hours until the police arrived. Then…”
The prisoner trailed off and stared into oblivion.