“Prisoner number 441. The warden has summoned you.”
As I walk out of my cell, my cellmates look on sympathetically. To be summoned to the warden’s office could mean one of two things-either you were in serious trouble, or they were letting you free. I was serving a life sentence; it had to be the former.
I wonder how the maker decides fates. Every time a child is born, does he utter a blessing based on his mood? When I was born, he must have been at his worst. Sentenced at the age of twenty-one, for a crime I didn’t commit, I have spent the past twenty-one years in prison. Little did I know that my life was going to change in the next few minutes.
The warden informs me rather nonchalantly that new evidence has surfaced in my case. A terminally ill man has confessed to the rape and murder of the victim. My first reaction is hysterical laughter.
I am now a free man! And then it hits me. Baba and Aai would never know the truth. Penniless, stripped of their dignity, and taunted, they had fought for me till the very end. It had been an endless abyss that sucked the lifeblood out of them.
It’s been twenty-one days since I have been set free. I cannot recognize the person in the mirror-only a shadow of who I used to be. My bones jut out due to lack of proper nutrition. A gang scuffle in jail has left me crippled. And the light in my eyes? Permanently extinguished by the unspeakable horrors I have witnessed in my tiny rat-infested cell with a toilet-hole. I have nightmares. A child of the dark does not do well in the light.
I finally snap. I pull a stool and tie my mother’s saree to the fan. It’s time to end this. Living a free life is scarier than the pungent odour of prison. The noose is ready. All I must do is slip it around my neck to be set free, one last time. And then, I hear a whimper and persistent scratching.
I alight and kick the stool. I wonder who made their way into my dungeon of despair. And then I see him! A puppy, not more than a few weeks old. He has scars all over, just like me. He is crippled, just like me. But in his big brown eyes, I see love. And it awakens in me a feeling that I had buried long ago. Hope.
Twenty-one months have passed. I have published a book, “21 years a prisoner,” on my ordeal. I have some money now. I can afford therapy. I owe it to my friend, who saved me at my darkest moment. We are inseparable now- him and me.
“What is his name, Sir?” a curious journalist asks me. “It’s Tuwon. Short for twenty-one, my special number,” I say.
Angels come in all shapes and sizes. Mine came with fur.
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