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November 17th, 2019
A distant screech of metal called out from whining hinges. Some heavy gate that Lucilius had once seen clattered shut and echoes of cold iron reverberated down the silent corridor.
Lucilius felt the two rings of his nose slowly warm and turn cold as he breathed, his pulse rippling out to his limbs, quickening and seeming to pause as it slowed in rhythm as his lungs relaxed. The cement floor was cold, seeping the heat from him, but Lucilius was content. A shuffle of sound grew, footsteps emerging until they stopped next to the cell where Lucilius sat. Another metal door opened. The cement floor clapped with the flat slap of someone thrown down. The door clanged shut and guards walked away. Lucilius watched a thought rise up and fill him with wonder about who might be a neighbor to him now. He could hear the man groaning in pain but after a time he fell quiet. And each day, when the small slider at the bottom of each cell door was opened, Lucilius could hear his neighbor scurry forward to the tiny bowl of food. Lucilius would listen to the clawing rasp of the man’s fingertips gathering every last grain of rice as he watched his own untouched bowl at the front of his cell. And each day after Lucilius was finished with his meditation, he would take the tiny amount of rice in the bowl and add it to a white block of packed rice that he kept wrapped and hidden high in the wall where the mice could not scale.
After several weeks with his new neighbor, Lucilius began to hear muffled scratchings. He moved and sat in meditation each day facing the wall where the light sounds seemed to come. Each day they grew a little clearer until one day Lucilius opened his eyes while meditating and several moments later, a brick in the wall began to budge. It wiggled and then began to emerge from the wall. It tilted at the edge of the boxy hole, hanging a moment, and then popped out. Lucilius leaned forward while sitting and looked into the hole. Through the wall Lucilius saw a pair of eyes grow wide as his neighbor let out a startled cry and jumped back. The two of them each looked at their own cell doors, listening for any movement of the guards. Footsteps slowly tapped out the measure of the long corridor, growing as they neared, pausing at the end and then turning back, meting out the distance once more.
Lucilius bent forward again and looked through the hole. Eyes met him again.
“Hello,” Lucilius whispered.
“Hi,” the neighbor said. “I’m so hungry. How long do people last in here?”
Lucilius wondered about the question a moment, remembering the many times he’d listened to the sound of a body being dragged down the corridor. How many had he heard over the years? All up and down the corridor seemed to light up with sound in his mind, and he realized then that it’d been quite a long time since he’d had a neighbor, the two cells on either side of him being empty for almost the whole time he’d been there.
He got up and removed the hoarded block of rice from it’s place high in the wall. Returning to the window with his neighbor he carefully fitted the brick of food through the hole. Gently pushing and pulling, the two shimmied it through until Lucilius’ neighbor plucked it from the tight slot. The man unwrapped the cloth and then gasped.
Wide eyes briefly looked up at Lucilius. “What? how-“ But the man could not finish his questions as he began shoving the packed rice to his mouth, his eyes glazing over, the focus leaving his face. Lucilius smiled watching the man eat his fill. Before the man could even finish the brick of food, he stopped himself, groaning from the fill for a stomach so starved. After he recovered, smiling, his face grew confused.
“How do you have so much food?”
“I save it all week,” Lucilius said.
A look of shame and guilt and horror flooded his neighbor’s face. “You must be starving!”
Lucilius shrugged, “Hunger is like shit, the more you eat the more you have.”
Lucilius looked around him at the comfortable walls of his cell.
“Here, in this place, they feed you just enough to stoke your hunger, like a fire that burns and tortures you. And just before that fire goes out, they throw in just a little more fuel…. but if you refuse that tease for a few days, you stop feeling hungry, the fire of hunger goes out. I save the food and eat once a week here. Then I have a couple of days of hunger and then I’m at peace for the rest of the week until my next good meal before the rice goes bad.”
Lucilius’ neighbor looked at him, stunned with knit brows. “Is that healthy?” he asked.
Lucilius smiled and looked around at the cold stone walls of his cell. “Funny question.”
He pulled back a moment, letting the notion roll around in his mind.
“The body is like anybody else. Important to listen to, but. . . perhaps best taken with a grain of salt rather than a grain of rice.”
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