The shock of cold water splashing all over my body startled me awake. My eyes frantically scanned the room as I tried to remember what had happened.
I am definitely not in my room.
The black walls were splattered with blood stains. A dingy toilet squatted in the corner, and iron bars blocked the doorway. I shivered as another round of cold water hit me from the other side of the bars.
A gruff voice commanded, “Wake up!”
I looked up at the tall prison guard who sneered down at me. Anger crossed his face when he saw how I watched him. He threw the remaining water in the iron bucket on me and banged the empty bucket on the bars. The echoing sound worsened my throbbing headache.
“What are you looking at?” He threw the bucket against the bars, and it fell to the ground with a clang.
My skull felt like it was going to explode, and I staggered to my feet, clutching my head and shivering. Once he noticed the level of pain I was in, he smirked and walked away. I backed away from the center of the room, retreating to the secluded left corner, clutching my arms around me as panic set in: I had been captured by the police.
I rested my head on my knees, and the tears fell down my face in endless streams. Before I could control myself, I wept openly, slamming my side on the concrete wall, asking myself whether I had made the right choice. I had gone against the government—the government!
I knew that I was meant to be brave and fearless like all the people I had read about, but I was no Mandela, no Martin Luther King, Jr. I was just a simple woman with a raging heart, a woman who was tired of seeing children ripped from their parents’ arms, a woman who knew how wrong it was to treat children like soldiers just because the government wasn’t capable of withstanding external attacks.
I had never been in prison before, but I knew that awful things went on behind the bars. I knew that I was most likely going to rot in here after being tortured and harassed. I struggled to breathe, and the tips of my fingers tingled as an army of a million little aches beat in time with the pain in my head. It took all my strength to keep from passing out. I didn’t know what would happen to me if I did.
For the next two days, I endured beatings, assaults, humiliations, and tortures which left horrific scars on my body. Even now, memories still haunt me at night, and I doubt they will ever stop.
Even before those two days passed, I stopped fighting. I know that was pathetic, but like I said, I was weak.
If they would just let me go, I was willing to stop my protests and quit my entire activist life. I was more than ready to sacrifice my values, to let the government keep on snatching kids from the streets and training them for war, to let the tears of pained parents continue to flow forever.
But they didn’t listen.
They wanted to teach me a lesson that could never be authorized in schools.
They brought him in.
When they threw Frances in, my eyes widened, my breathing stopped, and I was paralyzed.
My husband’s barely conscious body sprawled out on the floor. I was unable to move until I heard his faint cough. Then, everything came rushing to me. I screamed and dashed to his body, ignoring the pain in my own limbs. Blood flowed from his lips, and his pulse was so faint.
I had no idea that they had taken him, too, during our last protest. How would our daughter be handling this?
“I’m sorry, Frances. I truly am.” I wept as I held him close. “I brought all these problems into our family. It was stupid of me. I see that now. Everything is my fault, and there is nothing I can do now to save us from this hell.”
He gurgled out, “Not fault.”
Was he trying to tell me it wasn’t my fault?
I couldn’t believe it, couldn’t stop the tears flowing down my face.
I couldn’t stop him from dying.
He didn’t say anything dramatic or powerful with his last breath. No, there was just a quiet lull before he left this world. When he did, I didn’t scream. I didn’t shout.
I just placed a kiss on his cheek and prayed his soul found rest.
Frances gave me the courage to bear all the other things they did to me, to face all their taunts without pleading for release, to stay strong through it all.
Eventually, they released me, and eventually the government reduced their harmful activities, but now that I am free, breathing fresh air, I miss him more than ever. My daughter does, too.
He would have preferred to see the results with his own eyes, but he didn’t regret standing by my side.
Now that he is gone, I have a space in my heart that can never be filled. I cry every night, wishing for him at my side. I am no longer the person I used to be, as the pained eyes of my daughter remind me everyday. Our pain might never go away. But when I see a child with his parents and not on the battlefield, it hurts a little less. The happiness of that child reminds me that I can’t stop fighting.
I won’t stop fighting.