He opened his eyes slowly. The flood of light that washed over him was so tantalizing. His vision cleared and he remembered where he was. The grey concrete walls were looming, heavy in the confines of the cell. Rubbing his eyes with hands calloused and leathery from the merciless sun, he stood up slowly. The joints in his body creaked and popped, echoing in the small space.
One. Two. Three. Four. He paced the full length of his universe, leisurely making then eleven steps it took to traverse the cell floor. He laid his forehead against the coolness of the wall. Unthinking, he thudded his head against the wall lightly, savoring the ache. The last of a dusky evening ebbed away slowly. The window was just too high for him to look through. He could still listen though. The powerful pounding of the ocean against the rocks far below him, occasional twittering of the odd gull were his auditory companions during his time here.
He picked up a book from the stack next to his mattress, turned it around slowly, as if seeing it for the first time. He loved his books. They provided the only escape for him. He read and re-read each book more than a thousand times, finding something new in each reading. It created new fantastical worlds, drew him into impossible scenarios and allowed him to wander far away, where no one could touch him.
She lit another candle, blew sharply on the matchstick to extinguish it. Standing back from the candle, she admired the pretty dance of light, casting mischievous shadows on the wall. Walking over to the sofa, she carefully arranged her skirt before she sat down. She wondered how he was. She took another sip from the glass of delicious wine and decided not to carry on thinking about him. It was too depressing.
Her life stopped the day he was locked up. Or was it the day the judge passed sentence on the love of her life? Maybe it was the day they transferred him to the other prison, the infamous island fortress. The visits were halted and the authorities told her that he could not have visitors. They tore up her letters for him. No more correspondence.
There was enough money for her to live her life comfortably. He made sure of that. But she never felt like it was a life worth living. Her man was lost to her. It couldn’t even be called torture. That would have been a patent lie. It felt more like her limbs were being wrenched away from her body, one by one. Her heart pounded painfully in her chest, she could imagine what the incarceration was doing to him. He was always the life of the party. He rejoiced in the company of others. Loving people was what he did. And he loved her the most. He spoke about anything and everything to anyone who would listen. His mind constantly stayed a dozen moves ahead of everyone else. She loved being the centre of his world. Everything he did, he did to create a life for them. And now, there was just a gigantic pitch black void. She could feel his fury, the rage and helplessness. He could never sit still for long. And for the last twenty odd years, her soul mate was trapped in an ugly cage, unable to interact with the world he so cherished.
The tears started up. As they did every night for the last twenty years, it flowed uncontrollably down her cheeks, sticking in the folds of her now wrinkled face. She did not bother to wipe them away.
Entering the zone again, he felt the familiar warmth penetrate his hands first, up his arms then slowly into the centre of his body. That curious, wonderful weightlessness buoyed him. It was the Light. It made him want to giggle hysterically with joy. He restrained himself. The magic colors whizzed around him and he was transported. This was another realm. He never wanted to go back. He had to find her, if only to continue this elation he felt. He could fly in this world. There were no boundaries. The peace was complete. There was nothing else. He did not miss his parties. He did not miss all the people that made up the story of his life. He did not miss the exhilaration from driving insanely fast at night in his car. He did not miss spending money on whatever he wanted.
He only missed her. And he was going to find her. To hold her in his arms again and to kiss the hair away from that delicate forehead and tell her everything was alright. In the zone, he had long conversations with her. They ate from a never-ending buffet table, drank from bottomless jugs of wine. They could stroll along, hand in hand, in that perfect light, over miles and miles of beautiful pasture. He zoomed away into the Light.
‘You are wrong for each other,’ she was told when she first met him. She didn’t care. He was young, brash and arrogant. Everything that she hated in a man, he possessed in truckloads. Yet magically, they fell in love. She forgave him his quirks. They created their lives together. She supported him through his many hare-brained business schemes. They were broke more often than they had money. She still loved him. She forgave him the times where his crazy schemes landed them in scalding hot financial soup. The times where they had to count their pennies, she didn’t hold it against him. They laughed so hard that it hurt when they had to split a sandwich because they ran out of money. They fought like crazed maniacs in their worst times. She loved him and all of it did not matter at the end of the day.
It did not change a thing. She still could not reach out to him. No phone, no visits, no letters. She knew he was alive, because she felt it. She could not confirm it. It felt like the light was switched off.
The cell had ceased to be a prison. He could escape it. It took him more than twenty years but he did it. Meditation was the key that unlocked the universe. He could bug out in an instant. He simply had to shut his eyes and enter the zone. He could see her anytime he wanted.
He now wished that the guards would leave him alone more. They were incessantly in his space. Asking him to do this or that, hustling him out of his cell, hustling him back in, searching for hidden contraband. He had to work the prison vegetable garden every day. They liked to kick him around. He took it with aplomb. He had his way out. He just needed time. The impatience clung to him like a little devil on his shoulder.
He looked for ways to enter the zone once again. He craved the Light.
She did not agree. The sentence was too harsh. She was certain of his innocence. She made the transition from forlorn lover to grieving prison widow quite easily. At first, she missed the simple things; his scent, the feel of his hands on her and the way his eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled. As time plodded on, it was the intangible parts of him. She missed how he seemed to know how to complete her sentences, how he could pop up with the funniest things at the most wrong moments. She missed how he could tell when she was unhappy even if she did not say a word. She missed the grand romantic gestures that he did for her. Helplessly, she twisted her fingers in a tight knot. How can she get to him? She had honestly tried every single legal route that she knew. It all came to naught in the end. Those were silly pieces of paper. They did no good. No good at all.
A sharp stab of pain crashed her chest. She could take the pain usually. It was never this bad. This felt different. Her hands trembled as she reached for the bottle of aspirin. Another piercing bolt of pain shot through her chest. She let out a little strangled scream, clutching her chest uselessly. Is this what a heart attack feels like? She faded into the murky darkness.
The letter hung heavily between his fingers. He could not believe it. He got his reprieve. After so many long painful years. Just like that, with a letter of pardon he was free. His mind raced through the millions of things he wanted to do when he got out. He felt joy, anxiety and a thousand other emotions all at once. But most of all, he needed to see her. He simply had to.
No more trips in his mind. Enough meditation and now, for the real thing. He had not spoken to her in fifteen years or more. He wondered what she would look like. He knows he has aged in his time here. He is fifty-six now, no spring chicken. His hair has thinned out considerably and turned almost completely white. He did lose the extra weight that he walked into prison with. The lines on his face were etched in deeply from the time laboring outdoors. But his heart remained the same. His love for her was stronger now more than ever. He wondered if she still loved him. Maybe she was married now to another man? Maybe she did not want to see him after all these years? He shook his head. No, she loves him. Everything will be okay.
He believed that the world always works itself out. He was unjustly accused years ago, accused of crimes he never did and thrown away to be forgotten by everyone. At first, she came to visit him almost every day, making the long trip on foot and by bus. He fought with every available resource he had. She carried on the battle on the outside. Writing every single person, petitioning every judge she could find. Nothing worked.
He relied on staying optimistic. It kept him alive through the countless days and nights. There were so many nights when he lain awake, his fury was a gigantic fanged monster that threatened to consume him alive. It was a tremendous effort to not kill himself out of desperation. He read everything. He counted on the stories to elevate him from the pain that he felt. He came upon meditation by accident. He found a dusty tome hidden under a pile of books in the prison library. It was written by a Thai Dhammakaya monk in the sixties and poorly translated into English. He used it to plan his escape, a spiritual way out. It was all he could do. And now, he could get out.
Tomorrow, he would walk out of this universe, back into the arms of his woman. Life was full of reprieves.
It was a beautiful summer day. She stood to straighten her back and looked up from her garden as the rusty main gate squealed open. It was him. ___________________________________________________________________________________________