Thanks to several things that have happened in the past weeks:
1. That horrible incident in broad daylight, even if I wasn’t there physically;
2. Reading a journal that is obsessed with the Balkans;
3. Lacking sleep due to work, the goddamned heat and an upset stomach;
4. A friend telling me my malaise is probably caused by post-traumatic stress not from ‘the Army incident’, but from ‘the detention incident’,
I had several recollections of events that have affected me deeply, and which I still don’t know how to make sense of. They seem distant enough to be almost locked away in the recesses of memory, but you know how memory works. Some items fade to black, you think, but they’re replaced by your sub-conscious reconstruction. The mind’s a powerful thing.
I’m sitting on the floor at the entrance of Block A, shooting the breeze with a fellow detainee, and enjoying as much as I can, a mug of hot lipton tea. It’s been several days since I’ve been detained, and my mind’s gone into survival mode, so I’m pretty much doing alright. Mostly alright, apart from the dissipating mental shock at being detained, and a horrible rash from wearing the same clothes three days.
I place my mug of tea next to me on the floor. It’s a coldish morning, and there’re no visitors allowed this morning due to the Amnesty International protestors causing a ruckus outside the fence. Doesn’t matter. I’ve got my biscuits, cigarettes (some of which I’ve sold) and my mug of tea.
It’s still pretty crowded on the exercise yard, even with two detainees being released this morning. A couple of my new friends laugh as they race each other around the basketball court sized yard, so to prevent themselves from going stir crazy, so they tell me.
From inside the block, there’s sounds of things being thrown and dropped. Fight? Riot? There’s a frightened voice shouting in a very unfamiliar language. Sounds Slavic.
A figure in a leather jacket bursts out of the block’s entrance, knocking into me and my mug of tea, and runs out to the far end of the yard. He’s looking to escape, the bastard. His wild, wide eyes and foreign shouting makes me think twice about confronting him over spilling my tea.
Three guards and a medical orderly bumble out after him onto the yard, telling him “Mate, calm down, mate, itsorright we’re not gonna hurtcha”. The foreign man in the leather jacket barks, points, looks around at the walls for a route, looking at the guards who edge closer. He barks again when they get to five yards of him. They pause. He stoops down, cups his right hand and scoops from the rainwater puddle and drinks. They pounce. There’s a brief but noisy struggle. He’s still yelling as the orderly plunges a syringe into his thigh.
When he’s finally subdued, they carry him off to the main building. That’s the last we see of him. I’m rustled from my shock by flies settling on the biscuit crumbs around my mouth.
Chatting with the guards later, I find out he’s an asylum seeker and a refugee from the Balkan Wars. He’s been through several refugee camps and detention centres.
I’m rattled the rest of the day, which is very long, because days in detention are generally long.
Visitors are still not allowed the next day because there’s a full-scale riot. It is started by Mainland Chinese who pick a fight with the African boys, and stupidly. They are routed. Six of them are hospitalised with serious injuries. Everything within reach are used as weapons. Chairs and tables which were brought in the day before, because of the increased population, and which were not bolted down; sporting equipment like tennis racquets, snooker cues, and the Mainland Chinese weapons of choice – toothbrushes sharpened into spikes. They were serious about causing hurt, and this must have been some simmering feud that has gone on for a while, maybe a few months before I got there. This feud, and the ensuing fight, of course, escalated into a full-on, no-holds barred, prison riot, like the ones you see in the Chow Yun Fatt movies. Puddles of blood and small fires are all that remain after they hose everyone down and back into their cells.
I was saved from harm – the African boys were after anyone looking Chinese – because I told the guards I didn’t speak Chinese, and they put me with the African boys in their cell, and being the amiable person that I am, I made friends with all of them. I was further saved from harm by the fact that while the riot was in progress, I was in the cell trying to hide my biscuits, as a few days earlier, I had my Arnotts Family Variety pack stolen from me. I had thought the ruckus outside was a boisterous game of soccer. By the time I had run out to the yard (because my African friends asked me to run), the guards had suppressed the party pretty much.
Saved by love of biscuits, lack of soccer interest, and being a friendly bloke.
Life seldom gets stranger.