Monday, 10 April 2017

How Dead Doves Proved My Fears Right

A dead dove
Back in 1999, I spent 6 months writing a book I was sure would be a winner once complete. I told some of my friends that I was writing, without giving details of what it really was about.

Someone must have told somebody else till the wrong people came to know because, out of the blues, I started coming across one too many people eager to divulge the finer details of my work. As I walked through the streets, I heard strangers make remarks when I was within earshot that spoke of the stage I had reached in the story I was writing.

Those following the developments of my story closely, who took every opportunity to have me know they knew how far I had progressed with my work were obviously using under handed methods to know what was going on in the privacy of my home. I figured the only way they could have been privy to the finer details of an idea that was not digital yet, an idea being developed behind closed doors, was through break ins when nobody was around.

I started working on securing my home from such break ins, taking care to ensure not a single window frame was not so bolted it could not be removed, and where this was not possible I placed tape or whatever material I found suitable, in crucial spaces and places, then after making sure an intruder who went to the extent of dismantling the entire door with frame to enter the home (this is done sometimes) would disturb these pieces, I took pictures of the items and checked each time I returned home if there were changes.
I started doing the same at the entrance to the home. I chained the inside then placed a padlock on the chain that had to be bypassed to gain entry. I taped the padlock's keyhole over after locking it, including areas I knew objects could be inserted to force them open and, given patterns formed during the taping process that were different each time around, I took pictures of this and would check upon return whether there had been any changes which would indicate entry.

Soon hereafter, updates on the status of my story by total strangers on the streets stopped.
As soon as I satisfied myself that the project was finished, I printed it out then sent the manuscript to a publisher.

Very early the next morning I was woken up by loud noises outside my door. Before I could get up out of my bed, my door had been broken down and large, tall Dutch police officers stood in my flat reading me my rights.

They had come to arrest me for outstanding traffic violation offences even when they were already being handled by a lawyer who had assured me there was no risk of arrest as long as the procedure he had started was not concluded.

Had he lied to me? Had he betrayed me?

I was taken to a prison facility in the north of the country, in Groningen, where I was placed in a single cell with lou, a coffee machine and a telly.

The inside of Veenhuizen prison where I spent 5 months on a starvation ration before being transferred to another prison in the middle of the country
I settled into this new arrangement and immediately focussed my day to day efforts on getting out as soon as I could. I lived in rented accommodation and I had to see to it that arrangements were made to pay the rent otherwise I risked losing property.

We were locked up most of the time and I spent most of this time reading or watching television. One day, while tuned to a local Dutch channel, I watched an African author answering questions the host asked about a book he had just published.

When asked to give a few details about the book, I was dismayed to discover it was the same as my idea, to the very last detail. It is impossible that two Africans living in two different places had both written novels in four parts or four stories following the lives of men and women who lived through the slave trade, through successive generations into the present. I could not understand what was going on because for all intents and purposes, the African on the telly was not the author of the book under consideration. I was the author of that book and I was in prison while my intellectual property was getting usurped.

Was this the reason they had locked me up? So they could steal my work?

I tried to look at this from every angle I could but only this appeared to be the explanation of the timing of my arrest.

I surmised they had also feared the aftermath in which I would be empowered by the monies that my creation would generate, and, as people who had set it upon themselves to destroy my life covertly, the likelihood I would escape their evil clutches would be increased.

The decision to take away my liberty had been made way before I had completed what I had set about doing. They just waited for me to finish it before stepping in and putting the plan into effect.

I realised with this that the prison I had been sent to may have been prepared for my arrival. The possibility some guards and inmates were aware of the plan and there for me could not be discounted.
And I became afraid for my life.

From that day onwards, I spent long periods without food, afraid they would decide to take me out by poisoning. In the particular prison, food was usually brought in with the inmate's name on the tray. It was easy as such to deliver a ready made cocktail to a particular recipient.

I realised the worst I could do was make them aware I was not eating the hot meals brought to me because then they would change their attack strategy. I started flushing the food down the toilet. The cell window opened enough for chunks of food to also be thrown out. No need to worry because there were doves that sat on the wall fence that went round this side of the prison to eat it right away.

And so I starved myself, the only time I ate something being when cold meals were served. These foods came in plastic containers and were picked from a pile of packets on a trolley. None of the packages had a name on them. Chances a contaminated item would have been reserved for one inmate and delivered with accuracy were slim given the cold meals came in assortments and we, the prisoners, chose what we wanted, but even here I realised it would be wise to take care and avoid being predictable.

Cold meals comprised a half loaf of bread with some cheese, butter, a tin of beef, tinned fish or something else to eat the bread with, otherwise it was cold meals of rice, spaghetti or potatoes with one or other sauce carbohydrates and starches are consumed with, in supermarket packaging.

I continued like this for months, only getting a chance to gorge myself when we got our little pay for the work we did in the prison and were allowed to buy food in the prison's shop.

But even with the availability of the option to buy extra food in the prison shop, I would have lost a lot of weight had it not been for the fact guys who didn't like certain foods announced this and gave the food to others rather than threw it away. This was how I got that extra amount of food as neared the minimum that a man needed to consume per day.

Many a time in that prison I found myself wondering whether I was doing the right thing, especially at times when I was very hungry. I wondered whether I hadn't simply lost my mind, until one night, I heard feet rushing to and fro in the small yard between our windows and the wall fence.

Looking out, I noticed guards rushing to and fro between the brush and flowers that grew there, picking up what looked like dead birds, dead doves they were, and many, at that.

But how had so many died in one spot, at a single time.

I remembered that I had thrown food out the window that afternoon and if anything could get that many birds dead at one time, then it was poison, and the only source of that could have been my food.

There weren't that many prisoners with the habit of throwing food out the small gap in the window and, because we could all see the place the food fell to, I knew that I had been the only one who had thrown food out that afternoon. I was in fact the one who threw the most food out the window.

The haste with which the guards dashed to and fro to pick the birds spoke volumes of what had transpired there that day, and if the intention had been to clear the evidence before prisoners saw it then they failed because they did not know how audible their boots had been in our cells.

It was something about the design of the buildings that the sounds of feet on the turf outside the windows carried very far.

The next day as we all went out to get our daily ration of an hour of fresh air, no mention was made by any prisoner of the incident behind our cells the previous night. It was not discussed or even hinted at in any of the conversations I heard between prisoners.

I wondered whether I had been the only one who had seen the event but then again that was impossible. It happened way before the time most people are asleep and the boots had made such a noise nobody could have avoided looking out to see what the commotion was about.

Other than that, I noticed a difference between how prisoners normally behaved and the behaviour that day that suggested they knew, they had seen it. It was in the pace of their walk, how they turned their heads, the look in their eyes, in the way we looked at each other.

There was intense fear in some eyes, and in others you saw rage, while others showed sorrow. And there was more silence and solitude that day than any other I remembered.

I spent the rest of the hour we were allowed to get air in the prison ground trying to see in those eyes if some were aware that I had thrown food out the previous afternoon, whether some knew it was my food that had most probably poisoned the birds. And sometimes, I thought I did, but then again there was no way of being sure.

The one thing I became sure about is the fact I had been right all along. This place, this prison was a booby trap. Some people with power in Dutch society had planned to make the environment the last thing that I saw. I knew right there and then that walking out of the place alive was going to be a tough thing to do.

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