Creative Writing Activity for May 2016
My Character – Old Fashioned Elderly Lady (in her earlier life)
Lock your character in a room, a room without windows or furniture.
The heavy metal door slammed shut and she heard a key being turned noisily in the lock followed by heavy boots marching away down a concrete corridor.
There was an eerie silence. All she could feel was her own blood coursing through her veins and the beat of her heart pounding in her chest. She could neither see nor hear a thing.
She remained still on the floor where she had landed, having been man-handled through the door. She had never experienced pitch darkness as she did at that moment. She had no idea where she was as her head had been covered when she was pounced upon in her garden and although she had tried to scream for help, she knew it would not be productive so stopped and remained totally unco-operative. As a result of this she had been dragged along the ground by her arms and then lifted and thrown into the back of a large van. She was conscious of two people accompanying her and the sound of the rattling van with an engine that backfired regularly.
Having recovered slightly from the initial shock of her circumstance, she lifted one arm and removed the sack back that had stifled her.
Tentatively she sat up bringing her knees up to her chest, and grasping her legs she burst in to floods of tears and quiet sobs. Eventually her sobbing subsided and her mind began to overcome her shock.
She spoke softly, wondering if there was another human being in the same space.
‘Hello, is anyone there? My name is Nan and I am American. Please say something.’
Nan waited. There was no response, she listened very carefully for breathing or rustling of clothing but did not hear a sound. It would seem that she was all alone.
Having calmed down, she realised that she needed to establish how large the space was and whether there was a window, toilet, water supply and exactly where the door was. Not that it would help her until the door was actually opened again.
Nan crawled across the rough concrete floor in the direction she thought she had entered. It did not take long to find a wall; she ran her hands over the wall and decided that it too was rough concrete. Standing up, and facing the wall, Nan followed the wall for three steps sideways before she found a corner. Moving on in the same direction she took another ten sideways steps before she found another corner, and again, ten sideways steps took her to another corner, and she worked out that she was now back at the wall where she knew there would be a door. Running both hands along the wall, it took only one step to feel a heavy, cold metal door frame and a metal door. She could not feel a knob or bolt, only a large key hole on the left-hand side but the door itself was four of her sideways steps wide. She continued along that wall knowing that she was nearly where she had started and sure enough she quickly made contact with the other wall.
Having reached that wall, Nan slid down and rested in the corner bringing her knees up to her chest again. It was obviously a square room, not large, but not small, but most certainly very cold. Nan was now feeling the chill from the concrete on her back and rising up her legs so she unbuttoned her cardigan and wrapped it round her legs to try to keep her body heat inside.
Why had she been seized, was it something she had done, or perhaps said, was it something connected with her husband’s work as an American diplomat, she really didn’t know? He had been dispatched to Vietnam in 1962 to assist with the negotiations to end the civil war in Vietnam which had been escalating and at 20 years old, she had offered to accompany her husband in his work. On 27th February 1962 the presidential palace in Saigon had been bombed, and soon after, the war in Vietnam escalated. She knew that life would now be more dangerous but refused to return home.
Her mind was trawling through everything that had happened in the past week, what had been said, what she had overheard. She could think of nothing, but she knew that there were soviet spies infiltrating all walks of life and they reported back everything they overheard, so really it could have been anything which was insignificant to her but not to them. Perhaps they thought she had more knowledge and information than she had.
Nan realised that she had not investigated the centre of the room. She stood up, moved sideways five steps to what she believed was the centre of the wall, turned sideways on to the wall and manoeuvred herself across the open space until she felt the wall opposite. She had felt nothing in the floor. Where, she wondered was the toilet?
Nan was becoming desperate. She found the door and began hammering on it with clenched fists, and also kicked it, shouting for a toilet. In between she waited to see whether there would be a response, but heard nothing. She could wait no longer. Working her way round the room to the far corner she squatted and found some relief.
Not knowing if the floor sloped, she just hoped that it was not running towards the corner she had decided to use as her refuge. Nan took up her position in the corner and thought further. She still could not think why she might have been taken and imprisoned like this.
Wanting to know why she was being detained and by whom, Nan returned to the door and again began hitting and kicking the door. This time there was a response. She heard the large bolt on the outside of the door being dragged noisily back, the key turned in the lock and the door swung out on its hinges. After the intense blackness inside the room, light from a hand-held torch searching round the cell for her, hurt her eyes as it was trained on her face to keep her blinded.
Nan started demanding water and food, as it had been some time since she had last eaten or drunk anything, but a man spoke in a heavily accented voice and told her,
‘You can have only water and one bowl of rice each day you are held.’
Having opened the conversation Nan then asked,
‘Can I have a bucket to use as a toilet and some toilet paper.’
‘No!’ was the only response.
She asked if she was being held by Viet Cong.
This time the response was a hard slap round the head and with that the door slammed shut again.
Nan was completely disoriented following that slap and again had to feel for the door and make her way to her safe ground in the corner. Just as she reached it, the door opened again and a small canteen of water was placed in the doorway. She just caught sight of it before the door slammed again. Crawling round the floor, the metal can, warm to her hand, was located and taken back to her corner. Unscrewing the cap Nan gulped half the contents before she realised that this might be all she would get for a while, so screwing the top securely back on, she set it down beside her in the corner.
Her mind was in turmoil, she was now becoming frightened of her captors. Nan was feeling the panic rising right up to her throat, she felt her heart thumping and the pulse at her temples was giving her quite a headache. She put her head down between her knees in her slumped position and tried to regulate her fast breathing to calm her heartbeat.
It seem an age before Nan could feel the benefit of this concerted effort to calm down, but again her brain was churning, she could not understand what was happening. Would she ever see her husband or her parents and siblings again? Would she get out of this place alive? She began to cry again, this time very quietly. She did not remember dropping off to sleep, or know how long she might have dozed but when she woke she was lying on her side with her head on her arm in the foetal position. The cold from the concrete floor had chilled her bones and her muscles were stiff. Rubbing herself all over gets her blood circulating to warm up her body, she stood up and started running on the spot, keeping both hands outstretched on the wall. A few minutes of this and she felt awake and in need of a drink.
Before she could locate the canteen the door opened and a man dressed in military gear entered. He did not speak but walked over to her and took her by the left upper arm and marched her out of the door, along the corridor and into a larger room with a window. Nan was relieved to see the light but it hurt her eyes for a while. She was signalled to sit on one of the chairs at the table in the middle of the room. She did not look around; neither did she try to speak. So far she had only heard one of her captors speak so was unsure what nationality they were, although they did look very like the locals she had met. Her guard had taken up a position by the door and was standing with legs slightly apart with his arms clasped behind his back. She had noted he wore a heavy hand gun in a holster round his waist.
The door opened and the guard stood to attention. An officer entered, walked to the table, took off his cap and sat down. He laid a folder of papers on the table but did not open it, so again she could not get an idea of who they were.
The officer spoke.
‘What is your name?’
He spoke perfect English (not American), almost public school. Her mouth was very dry and she tried to speak. Her name came out quietly in a very shaky voice.
‘Speak up!’ He demanded, so again she repeated her name and managed a slightly raised tone.
‘My name is Nancy Armstrong’
Further questions were fired at her; she kept her eyes averted when answering to avoid any eye contact with her captors. One question worried her when she was asked who she was spying for. She vehemently denied being a spy and explained that she was the wife of an American Diplomat and that they had only recently arrived in the country. It seemed useless to her to continue to deny being a spy so she just kept her own counsel.
Eventually the officer stood up, replaced his cap, took up the unopened folder and left the room without another word.
She was returned to her original room and was relieved to find the canteen was still there. Taking a large swig of stale water, she swirled it round her mouth and spat it out. She then took a short drink and put the canteen back where she knew she would find it again.
The door opened again, this time she was handed a small bowl of cooked rice. There were no utensils so she ate it with her fingers, licking them clean when all the rice had gone. She laid the bowl next to the canteen up against the wall.
Nothing more was heard. She had now completely lost track of time and curled up in the corner with her arms round her legs and her head on her knees. She slept.
Some time later she woke. Standing up, she walked round the room as before, locating each corner, the door and back to her safe corner, where she sat on the floor, her legs out in front of her and her back straight up. She was thirsty and hungry. There was very little water left in the canteen but she felt she needed it. It left a stale taste in her mouth and had loosened two grains of rice that had been trapped between her teeth. She sucked on these hoping to get her mouth to water and refresh it. It worked to a degree and she was now fully alert.
The depth of the darkness had intensified since her sleep and to soothe herself she began humming tunes her mother had sung to her as a child. She thought about her family, her mother and father and her two older brothers and younger sister. She had a wonderful childhood growing up in an Old Dutch House just off Wall Street, Lower Manhattan, and spending time with her siblings and nanny in Battery Park and wandering the South Street seaport. Her father was a journalist for the Wall Street Journal, and was frequently away working on investigative stories relating to finance and corruption. Her mother, a romantic novelist, spent as much time as she could with the children when they were all young, but as they grew older and started school, she was generally busy on her Remington typewriter, clacking away in the library, until the children returned home for dinner ‘en famille’.
She ran out of songs to sing, so walked round the room several times. Finding no solace in walking she crept back to her corner and sat clasping her legs with her head down once more. She must have dozed off because the grinding of the key in the lock and the door being swung back startled her. The guard took her empty canteen and replaced it with a full one, and left another bowl of rice. Grateful as she was, it would have been good to have some fresh fruit to refresh her and a piping hot mug of black American coffee. The guard did not utter a word and she was left alone in the darkness. The water and rice did revive her for a while but her thoughts were now wreaking havoc with her mind. She felt as though she wanted to scream out, just to get someone to speak to her. Scream she did…… She waited …… She screamed again …… Nothing. A waste of time and it made her even more infuriated with her captors. Next time anyone came in the room she would try to get them to talk to her.
She waited. Nothing!
She realised that she had curled up in her corner again. How long had she been there? She put her head down and it wasn’t long before she had dozed off again, to be awakened by the door opening.
This time it was not the guard who walked in. She could not see who it was as the light was behind him, but he looked familiar. She recognised her name.
‘Nan, where are you darling? Come to me I’m at the door.’
She tried to get up, stumbled and fell across the floor and into the light from the hallway.
‘Nan, darling I’m here.’
She felt his hands lifting her to a standing position and then he lifted her so that his lips could kiss hers. Her arms round his neck and her legs over his arms, James carried her out of the room, down the corridor and onto the veranda of the building where there was a swing seat. She was gently sobbing into his neck, his hands stroking her hair and soothing her. He felt awful about what had happened to her but he knew that there was a high risk of her being taken captive whilst they were in the country that he wanted her to know what to expect if ever she were.
He had been there all the time, three days, two nights and had been so upset when she had shouted and screamed he had wanted it to end then but the military had advised him to leave her another night, knowing she would probably sleep through it anyway.
Once she had calmed herself, he took her to an apartment in the building where she could shower, dress in clean clothes and have some food and of course, coffee.
Once she was settled he sat and explained to her why this had been done in a controlled way, so that she would know what to expect if ever she were captured. He told her that she reacted so well to the isolation, no-one speaking to her, the lack of food, water or a bed to sleep on and the cross-questioning. Everyone had been very impressed with her.
What he wanted her to do, once she was rested was to go back with him to the room, look at it in the light and meet her guards, also to write down her feelings, her thoughts, her fears, who she missed and anything else that had gone through her mind.
She would not let him leave her, not even to go to the bathroom, and was amazed to find that the room she had been locked in was in fact a children’s classroom normally, with the wall painted with beautiful murals of fields, trees, animals and birds. It was there as a safe place for the children if the buildings were attacked.
Seeing this and hearing what it was used for went some way to relieving the fear at returning to look.
Nan just hoped that she would never be captured for real and subjected to this kind of sensory torture and in many ways it helped her to know that it was something she could withstand, albeit for three days and two nights, two bowls of rice and a canteen of stale water.