“Mr. President, sir.”
Out of literal nowhere, a voice sounded. It was soft but from afar, a female voice. It was faint. And yet, clear enough. I am in my twenties, aren’t I? So, Mr. (who) again? Where the hell was I? And what version of reality this was! I pondered on it for a while, and ah, my mind started to wake to thought. Like clouds of darkness departing from the sky, and rays of light, now hope, shimmering through the cracks. It didn’t last long, the voice, or my awareness of it. If at all, my mind was doing a decent job, then it must have recorded a particular shift in perception, like a haze, bridging my world to one of the unknowns. An occasional breeze, sweeping me off to it, and then back. I was soon gone, alright, and the voice too, departed from me, or me from it―but with absolute certainty.
“Where was I?” was the question that kept washing through my empty mind. Funny how the question seemed to trouble me, more than the possibility of no answer. I tried to see, but I couldn’t. Tried to think, but not really; nothing, but darkness. And underneath those heavy, dead eyelids, I strayed on, swimming in confusion and choking on its excesses.
It shook me. The first wave of memories, or an alternate reality, I couldn’t tell. But my vision of it rattled first before I struggled to hold onto something. And then I saw them―my hands. The right first. So, I was real? I guessed then that so was the confusion all around me. I wanted to touch my face. I nearly scrambled to feel it, wishing I could see it. “Jo.” A voice called. And oh-it sounded much more real than the former. Pretty near, and again―quite real. I searched for it and caught a glimpse of a man, perhaps a few inches to my left, maybe more. What was this place?
I noticed the forward motion first. Then looked back at the man, and beside him to the right, I caught blur sights of more figures. They were male, about two more. And it was like a knot untying, as gently, sense started to creep to the banks of my mind, smashing thoughts where the cold rocks, on my subconscious cliff-side shore, sat bare. I looked behind the men, my eyes slowly dancing above, noticing the structure we were in, and nodding my head to its smoothened shape―a perfect streamline to the front, with an extended middle. I looked right above me. Ah, we were in the air! I nodded slowly in understanding, as I looked back at my right arm, then quickly at the left.
The latter supported a weapon, weakly, part of it hanging loosely against my thighs. My sleeves were folded to the elbow, and a watch went around my wrist. My hand looked bruised, but that didn’t seem to bother me. I, however, started to notice the military gear. I looked at my chest as I moved my eyes over to the other hand, which now supported part of my weight on something. Something soft yet firm. I looked up slowly, and it was a man, a familiar man. He nodded lightly, then looked back down at my feet. I was on one knee. “It is time.” The man said. I struggled to get up, with his help, looking over to my right side, which had two more men. I looked before me, and the plane’s underside started to open up. Ready to spit us out.
Sudden darkness. Silence. I was gone. Again, I’d presume. For how long? Who knows! A few minutes? An hour? Days? Months? Years? I couldn’t tell.
“Mr. President.” The distant voice returned. Although it did pull me out of the cloud of darkness, it also tossed me to a daze. Of everything that was happening around and away. Mr. President? What on earth was I doing anywhere near the man? And if this wasn’t reality, now, as I would hope, then when was it? And where the hell was I!
This time, I struggled. I struggled to listen; to grasp something, anything. Move; twitch even! I wanted to do something in this version of reality. Feel something. I couldn’t! My heavy eyelids couldn’t go through hell for me anyway, only to get stabbed in the back by those harsh rays, which never came with a precaution. Things haven’t changed much since, with the rays. I tried to shake my head, but the stiffness at my neck couldn’t let anything, voluntary or otherwise, crack through. It maintained its lock like a tight nut. Helplessness. Perhaps, it was the worst kind of torture, self or otherwise. The sort of pain that at times isn’t really pain, real pain. And yet, it empties everything within, leaving just an empty hollow, ready to be filled with all the possible anxieties, self-loathing and continuous forfeits; before a loop.
“Dropping you boys in 10. Get ready!” A voice filled my ears, and I quickly pulled back my right hand to cover the side with it. My eyes opened; again, I was back to the plane from before. I looked down at the earth below, and it looked terrifying. I was seized by instant paralysis, thanks to my fear of heights. Whoever these men looked up to for leadership, definitely had his tail well between his legs. I would not be their man. Or whoever Jo was.
“In 5...; 4...” the countdown started, then proceeded in a somewhat awkward succession, which in no earthly clock matched a second’ s-intervals. The man who stood beside me gave a quick pat. “Go, go, go! Cap...” A light push did it. I was out. And out of that hell.
My eyes flickered cursory the first second or two, then collapsed back, as if almost remembering why we were not supposed to be awake. Perhaps, nobody around the room noticed it, not even the female voice which once called. My one second had told me enough, nonetheless, and one of two things was clear; I was either back to absolute reality, or in the very hades.
I wished I could smile at how far my thoughts could stray. But then, there was too much in my then-crowded mind that I desired to figure out before I could let myself off, back to unknown hands. I hadn’t begun searching through my archives when the voices around me and my awareness of it―surrounding, bore more flesh, and thus, became more real; more graspable. I listened.
“We have hope, though.” A female voice said. It was the same as the one from before. “He’s a strong one. I know that. We all know that.” There was a brief pause before she went on, “Why are you here, anyway? I’m pretty sure you’d jump at the first chance of leadership you get. If I knew better, I’d even say you’re here to wish him a peaceful departure; so that, so that...”
“That’s enough, Susan.” A voice cut in harshly. It was a man, perhaps in his late twenties or early thirties. He sounded stern. “We all worked for this. I want just him to see it to the end, however. It was his baton.”
“With your kind of hunger and ambition―ha! We’ll be lucky if we’re left with any decency in what we’ve fought so much for, should anything happen to Jo.” There was a pause. She then proceeded. “The swearing-in...”
“The swearing-in―will still happen. As planned. 24 down. 48 to go. I’m counting.” Said the male voice.
“Susan. Listen. There is nothing you can do now to stop what we’ve started. And someone has to see it to the end. It will definitely not be your dead boyfriend.”
“Get out.” Susan reiterated.
“I meant... your dying friend, here. I do wish him...”
“Get out, Zak! Get out and don’t ever come back here.”
There was a noisy, slow, shuffling gait as two parties left the room. A light sob broke nearer to my left side, as the lady who had an exchange with Zak seemed to fall to despair. My heart sank underneath my cold flesh, weak bones, and my empty soul. I struggled to move with every ounce of energy I could rekindle, and my left index finger showed a faint response, which automatically left a smear of a stretch to my facial muscles. She couldn’t notice it, with her head bent over the bed, letting more of the tears flow. The next time my index finger did a better job and clutched a wisp of her hair. I pulled it lightly, and she felt it, then seized crying.
“Jo?” She called, rising in disbelief, to see for herself what she didn’t think could have possibly happened. And there it was—a faraway smile. But it was there, alright. Brief and simple. She must have remained in that position for a while, and I was at some point no longer sure whether she got my message, or had just dismissed it. I heard her rise, then felt her hands reach to mine. She held the right in both of hers, then squeezed it. “I’m getting help, Jo. Just hold it there.” She let go of my hand, then started to walk away. At some distance away, I would guess, the doorway, she seemed to stop. “Welcome back.” She said, then exited. And everything suddenly started to fade. Slowly. And I could have sworn I heard a voice read out a speech of sorts. It was a familiar voice—a deep, male voice. And it went on, in a shifting tone, perhaps long after I drifted off. And I wasn’t sure anymore, for how long I departed. But this time, I was sure I heard it―in my head. The voice:
Change. They’ve said that it’s inevitable, and time, dynamic. We dreamt of change but were too afraid to take it. ’Fed on their insults for long enough. Their thievery. And yearly deceptions. ’Letting us off to kill each other, for their glorious seats. Yields, we would never share. And as if unsatisfied, they’d come for more. Snatch what little’s left of our freedom, even of choice. And make the very laws meant to guard us against their claws, in their image and likeness. Then wink at us with seasonal bundles in exchange for signatures. APPROVED. Yes. We’ve approved fools for long enough now. What fools! We got exhausted years ago but kept walking, in these modern-day chains. We’ve kept walking. In silence, and like fools. Ha! Fools we’ve been, but NO MORE! We say, NO MORE! So now you, watch us take this spit you’ve named leadership, and redefine it for you. For the people, with the people. Now watch us. Tear down your fancy towers and build more stalwart pillars. Of hope. With hope. Of everything true, we’ve believed in. Not only as a group of individuals but as a society. A people. We’re taking this food we’ve fed to your mouths, now, without asking too. Starve to death as we redefine this now-tattered rag we once called our motherland. This time, we’ll rebuild it with the people and in our image. Watch us! As we...