Thousands of days, spent in this hole, deep beneath the jungle—the dark and I have become one. There was a time before. Long ago, there was light. I have flashes of memory, like stars that wink only to be blotted out by the night sky. I can never hold on to them long enough to remember.
I kneel, chained to the sod wall. Manacles are at my wrists and ankles. My clothing has disintegrated and rotted in the damp. My hair and beard are long and knotted. Sometimes, I rub my hands over the web of scars on my arms. Years ago, the dictator of this hell hole and his soldiers chained me here. My partner and I, we were…there was a mortar blast…he was…I lose the thought.
I reach down to a pile of rocks and shift them aside. I feel for the photograph I stashed there, thousands of days ago.
I pull it up and hold it close. Today, the cave is a deep gray and I can make out my angel’s face. She has an expression of surprised delight. Like the person who took the photograph has caught her unaware and she’s so happy to be found. I’ve spent countless hours imagining that I was the one behind the camera. Her skin is pale and covered in freckles. Her hair is braided and loose wisps curl out from behind her ears. She’s wearing only a white T-shirt, and sits cross-legged on a rumpled bed. The sun streams through sheer curtains.
My angel has kept me alive. All these years. I would’ve broken without her.
I flip over the picture. There on the back, in soft faded ink, are the words Remember, love. I run my thumb over the phrase, tracing where her pen wrote.
Her name…I don’t know her name. I swallow. It doesn’t matter. I don’t need her name to know that I love her. A soul doesn’t have a name, and hers and mine are connected. She claimed me with her picture in this lightless place.
The darkness has ebbed. I look up. The long beams of flashlights bounce on the walls. They’re here. They’ll come down the cavern within the next few minutes. Will it be torture or water? Or both? I prepare to tunnel deeper inside my mind.
I was trained to dissociate, to dive so deep in myself that no matter the pain, I would never betray my country. But I went so deep that I cut myself off from my past completely. It’s a locked door without a key.
I tuck my angel’s picture into my pocket. I’ll hold on to her today.
One man emerges, a flashlight in his hands. I’m blinded in the light.
“They sent me.” His English is thickly accented. “You die. Finally.”