Chapter 2: Sacred
When I awake, it is surprisingly gracefully. I have somehow survived the dark without a single nightmare, without any screams or heart-racing moments, and actually feel the satisfaction of refreshment. Still half in limbo, I keep my eyes firmly shut and the top skirt layer held snugly around my neck, creating a cocoon of warmth which I feel I may never be able to leave. As the sounds of the world begin to rouse me, however, my location and circumstances gradually come flooding back; upon remembrance I sit almost bolt-upright, instantly alert, the peace of my sleep broken.
Swinging my head left and right, I find my saviour sat in exactly the same position as he had been yesterday; on the edge of his bed, facing me, and eating a bowl of badly-made porridge.
"Afternoon," he says, scratching his head with the back of his hand and taking another gulp of sludge. "Slept well, I trust?"
"Mm-hmm," I say, not quite adjusted to proper speech. "What time is it?"
"Gone midday," he says, "the sun's passed over now. We never know the proper time- not unless your stood over the sun dial in the Hofra, which I am not."
"In the what?" I ask, having no idea what that word meant.
"The 'Hofra,'" he repeats, "it means 'pit.' That's what we call the middle of the prison."
I glance down to the centre of the cavern. On a raised podium to the left of the ring stands a tall sun dial, chipped and worn, made from some sort of stone. By its abused condition and reddish colour, I assume the material is sandstone. Shadows on its surface dictate the hour to anyone bothered enough to care.
"I suppose knowing the time down here doesn't really make much difference anyway," I say sadly, and he nods.
"Only makes it pass slower," he agrees, then hands the half-eaten bowl to me and rises. "Eat. It's not all bad; once a month we get a drop-off. It can get brutal sometimes if people go for more than their fair share, but on the months where everyone plays by the rules it's good. Fresh fruit, vegetables. Sometimes meat- those months the fighting is at it's worse. Then your boring stuff, like grain, flour, rice... these damn porridge oats..."
I scoop some of the watered-down rice onto the spatula and it droops off sadly, as if just to support the man's comment.
"No chocolate, then?" I say, and he laughs slightly, beginning to move around papers and fold dirty clothing.
"You'd be surprised. You see, when a man gets put in here, the first thing that happens to him is that they are accosted; the men here will take whatever you have to offer. You trade your goods for your safety. Many men bring knives, thinking that everyone shall be in need of them."
"Don't the guards take stuff like that away?"
"They don't care what you bring in, so long as it never comes back out." I nod and Bane continues. "So many men bring in knives that everyone is sick of the blasted things. There's more knives around this place than there are things to use them on. Most who bring knives nowadays tend not to last long; so, the more intelligent man brings other commodities. Things that we really need down here- string, needles, shaving foam, soap, bandages, sugar. Any little luxuries like that, things that make life down here a little more bearable... and, most importantly, alcohol. "
"It's a good job you grabbed me when you did, then," I say. "I haven't got any of that, not even a knife." There's a quiet moment, and I realise immediately what he's trying to find the words for. "I suppose they wouldn't have minded too much," I input before he can say it. A dark tension fills the air and I realise just how grateful I am to this man. "What happens to the guys who don't bring anything?" I ask curiously, trying to disband the thickening in the air.
"They last even less an amount of time than the knife-wielders," Bane explains.
"So what did you bring?"
There's a long pause, then he smiles.
"Chocolate, of course." I nod and he frowns to himself. "…And knives."
I snort with laughter, almost spraying watered down porridge across the room. He shakes his head and within seconds the pair of us are laughing senselessly.
Over the next two days I find that I adapt surprisingly well to prison life. I haven't left the cell since Bane brought me in here three days ago, but that doesn't concern me much; this room has become my cage of safety within this larger cage of imprisonment. I try not to think of how long I may have to stay in it.
Bane has only left the cell to get food so far. The longest he's been gone has been about an hour. I find I'm still wary of him, but the silences between the two of us are comfortable when they arise; there is a mutual understanding developing between the two of us of there being no need to talk a lot of the time. He spends hours doing press-ups on the floor, or strengthening his arms with the aid of a bar suspended from the ceiling, to which I most certainly do not avert my eyes. A lot of the time I think he forgets I'm actually here.
The other prisoners have pretty much left me alone so far. At one point yesterday, whilst Bane had disappeared for lunch, a man had stood the other side of the bars, just staring at me. I had felt incredibly uncomfortable, and had resolved to fake sleep until Bane returned. The man had stayed another ten minutes or so, without saying a word, before I had finally heard his footsteps disappear. When more footsteps approach a few minutes later I believed he may have returned, but when I look up I saw it to be Bane, his arms wrapped either side of the bars.
"Nock nock," he says with a boisterous smile, just like he had on that first day.
"Who's there?" I reply.
"Bane who?" I ask, and for a moment I wonder if I might get an answer this time. However, he leaves off there. He beckons me towards the bars and I scoop the key from the cardboard tower as I move. It takes a good five minutes, perhaps longer, to finally get the rusted lock to yield.
A couple of hours later, the pair of us are sat in our usual positions on our separate beds. I glance about at the papers and have the sudden urge to go exploring. It would be rude to rifle through his documents, though- so I decide I'll do it next time he leaves the cell for a long while. Then a question comes to mind which I can't shake off.
Bane sits with one of the coverless books from the table on his lap, open about half way through. Its pages are worn and speckled, it's exposed spine splintering, but regardless of it's disheveled state he looks most engrossed. I don't want to disturb him, so leave him to his reading. But the more I think about it, the more I want to ask. After twenty itching minutes, I can resist the urge no longer.
"Why did you do it?" I ask, my voice sounding weak from lack of use.
I try to think of a way to word what I'm trying to express. "Save me, I mean."
Bane's eyes shift above the book a moment, barley landing a second on my own. He shrugs, exhales, and then gives me an answer. "You needed saving," he concludes, then indulges himself back into his book. I think about pursuing the matter further, but come to realise I'm quite satisfied with just that.
"What are you reading?" I ask a while later, and his brow furrows from concentration a moment.
"The Torah," he states, turning another thin-leaved page.
"You're... Jewish?" I ask in surprise, and he laughs softly.
"No," he explains. "There aren't many books available- Holy ones are some of the few permitted; they give people hope, and that's the whole point of this prison. There's a Bible and a Quran over there, as well. You may even find a Bahagavad Gita in the Physician's cell. I have read them all twice over; very interesting."
I crane my neck to get a look at the yellowed pages, curious as to the writing. I recognise the calligraphic swoop of the Hebrew language and am amazed.
"You read Hebrew?" I say, watching as he traces his finger across the page and nods. "Where did you learn?"
I sense a sudden irritation that I'm pulling him from his study, but he answers me all the same, albeit vague. "I've... traveled."
I look at the pages again, not wanting to disturb the man. Among the spidery black ink is a series of tiny pencil scratchings, letters and words and symbols scrawled into margins, lines and loops highlighting words. I want to ask about these, too, but feel I've disrupted his study enough. I ask him no more questions, simply sit and watch him read a little more. His intelligence is clear on his face- I'd known before that he was clever by his actions and mannerisms, but looking at him now brings home the fact. He seems quite the aesthete, regardless of what his hard appearance might lead one to believe. The way he looks at the pages, as though he understands every word- not just their letters and sounds but their meanings, when stringed together through sentence and paragraph, chapter and verse. As though he is reading from the perspective of the person whom himself wrote those words many hundreds of years ago. It's a quite beautiful sight, if a strange one, to see such understanding on a man's features.
I hope to see it again.
AN: I wanted to get across Bane's intelligence and focus in this chapter; sets up later events.
A big thank you to everyone who's reading this- it's my first story and the tears of joy that people actually like it is stunalicious (not a word, but it's the only expression worthy of my gratitude) x