This extract is based loosely on a few true stories, with some details embellished and amended to protect privacies. It is written with the objective of reflecting the reality for millions of people in this world, and not to focus on any one single individual.
‘His face explained his fatigue with life. There was not a flicker of desire anymore. He came to me not for genuine help but rather a place to deliver a haunting sermon of what was not to be and what should have been in his journey. Like most of his countrymen, or rather by the very gist of his mother tongue, he could only converse to the rhythm of hyperbole and poetry. It took some time to understand what he truly meant. I had to uncover his message layer per layer, peeling the onion until the core emerged. Even the core continued to be a mystery. I couldn’t understand who he was, an innocent who was destroyed by life or a cunning manipulator simulating a broken ingénue. But what I understood was that the regime took something from him, and it seemed they took from him his ability to live truthfully. I had seen this before, it was a familiar story. Time and time again, what prevailed from this specific culture and politics was the violation of an individual’s capacity to stay honest to the inner voice.
It was only when his fifteen year old son walked in that I could feel myself shifting. That gait, the innocence that was slowly clouded by the realization that this was the card life dealt him, broke me. When he explained, somewhat casually, that he was cleaning lavatories where ever he could in the new city in order to feed his father who was too destroyed to cope with life, I could feel this rip of pain in my chest and I couldn’t breathe. Not long after speaking with both of them, I decided to call it a day and went home to rest.
It was hard to get sleep that evening and I could feel myself slithering into an uncomfortable spot between my own pain and the collective pain of a suffering people. In both the father and the son, I saw reflections of my two siblings and I could not control my thoughts from slipping through those cracks of fear and yearning.
It is impossible to truly understand what triggers the disintegration of a lucid mind but surely there is a disproportionate amount of mental health sufferers from populations controlled by a police state. There was a time in his life when he thought he deserved a place amongst the greats. He was part of the throngs of demonstrators demanding for an end to a pointless and privileged monarchy, he thought his country deserved better and they lionised their liberator as a learned egalitarian. They dreamed that eventually their motherland would transform into a Scandinavian-type model of social justice and equal distribution of wealth. He voluntarily served the state with pride until the regime destroyed his idealism, piece by piece with their tyranny of psychological warfare and physical violations.
He placed the blame entirely on theocracy, and by default, the religion which his national theocracy was rooted in. In the waiting room, I found him crouching at a corner with his hands held over his ears. When I asked him why he shuddered as he explained how he could not bear to be amongst his oppressors. Looking around, the room was full of people from his neighbouring states which didn’t make sense to me at the time. As we spent more time with each other though, I began to understand that he was deeply allergic to dogma and lumped everyone from neighbouring states as believers whose ideals were the root cause of his society’s demise. He insisted that his people were of different cut – they were too elegant a culture to ape their neighbours but they were blackmailed to transform themselves into something they didn’t believe in by force. It sparked a historical diatribe of how his empire began hundreds of years ago and why it was where it was today.
His hate did not seem to come from bigotry but rather from a place of someone who had suffered from the hypocrisy of power holders who claimed to be the trailblazers of piety yet were simultaneously harming their people psychologically, physically and emotionally. I did not share his views but I empathised with his pain.
It also opened another window of understanding for me about the different qualities of suffering. For those who left behind a free state seized in violence, their love for their own identity remained palpable. What they were looking for was ultimately, shelter over their heads and the ability to live without wondering if a bomb would wipe out their existence on any given day. For those who left behind a state controlled by dogma but still functions in relative peace, their love for their own identity was severely polluted. What they were looking for was to free themselves from self-loathing. And so, it seemed that the former’s ‘freedom’ from fear begins once they find themselves in a situation of external peace, but the latter remains imprisoned until they are able to make internal peace with themselves. For me personally, both forms of harm are sinister, though the latter was more corrosive and deceitful to the inner self.
When we parted I saw his teenage son hold his hand in a paternal way to lead him out of the room. Later I heard his son had asked if it was possible for him to return to his own country and live with his mother. He felt he could not bear the weight of his father’s sorrow any longer. I was relieved for him, but sad for his father. To be alone, and have a daily conflict within your own self, in a country not your own where you have nothing…. no one chooses this unless the alternative is more damaging to you.
‘All I want is to breathe freely’. Were his final words to me. And I sincerely hope that not only is that what he has found, but that it is also enough to heal him.’
Note: Featured Image is sourced from Pexel.