He’d arrived during what should have been a beautiful summer’s day. Through a rip in the transport’s canvas covering he could see pavements, parks, buildings. They were deserted. A once prosperous capital city of half a million people reduced to an empty shell. Everyone had left. They had all been made to leave. He was coming back and knew exactly where he was going.
He became prisoner 54. No longer a name. Just a number. He didn’t know how he survived those first days.
“Traitors. Name traitors!”
It’s all they wanted. They never stopped asking. He’d had no choice. The screams of his childhood friend reminded him nightly of that decision. They had only lasted minutes. They would remain with him forever.
Most others would stay chained all day. Prisoner 54 had a job. He mopped up after the seemingly continuous torture sessions. Was it a reward for all the names? Perhaps this was his torture. Whatever the body was capable of producing he had to clean it up. He had to watch it spilling onto the stone floor of the interrogation chamber.
The stench in the tiny wash room was overwhelming. A cracked light on the wall flickered. The electricity supply stubbornly unreliable since brother number one claimed power. As he sent the grime from his brush down the blood soaked grill his suffocating layers of guilt weren’t so easily dismissed. He wondered whether he should end it. They were always being watched but it would only take a moment. The cleaning bottles. Perhaps if he drank one quickly?
No. He didn’t have the courage for that. He was sure they would come for him soon anyway. That was the ending he deserved. A quick way out was for better than him.
“Traitors. More Traitors!”
54 was almost out of names. Almost out of time. There were only two left. He couldn’t do that. He couldn’t bring his parents here. They weren’t traitors. What did that matter? None of them were.
These 333 words are my entry into the Trifecta Week 81 writing challenge. This unapologetically shocking story is dedicated to the 12,273 people known to have lost their lives in S-21. Otherwise known as Tuol Sleng or the ‘Hill of the Poisonous Tree’, this Phnom Penh genocide centre was at the heart of the Khmer Rouge reign of terror.
Only three survivors had the chance to tell their stories. What happened in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 is often forgotten. If told some would scarcely credit it did happen. It did. The world should never forget. The estimated two million people who lost their lives under the Khmer Rouge regime deserve better.