Nine dirty scars break the face of the blank wall.
Nine times, the big man asks. He has no interest in how many of my friends died. Black men aren’t men.
I breathe flaking paint patches into clouds scudding across a forlorn sky.
The big man laughs.
One squat table, thrust against the wall, almost homely if you press close and lock your eyes on the food.
The big man smiles.
Sixty-four fragments tucked beneath a bin, scavenged from straws poking from my pallet. I’ve lost more markers than I can recall.
I give the big man a scrap.
He leers with ravenous eyes.
Eighty markers when the soul eater visits, a grey translucence skirting the lock plate, to help me weigh the one against the many. I understand.
The big man stops smiling.
When the hours have grown as long as the roots of the Muyovu tree, and my courage withered to a walnut kernel, the soul eater wears skin of wenge, eyes of chocolate, and curls of ebony. I survey the ash of my flesh and tear a handful of desiccated wisps from my scalp. They are the colour of woodsmoke.
I remember an evening by the fire, a vermilion sunset ushering in the night. The flames began to dance and flicker and Oupa bade us hush lest the soul eater see the whites of our eyes. He will suck you dry like the charred kindling that will be left when day dawns. We have all seen the thin ones, the feeble, wasting, trembling ones, chanting their wards, knowing he will visit again once he’s had the flavour.
The big man gnaws at my bones and demands meat.
When the straw scraps number two hundred, I fall in love with the soul eater for he limps as he materialises in my cell, and I weep for joy at the numbness in my soles.
My hands make several swipes at spoon and plate before connecting, sometimes passing clean through the warped metal. The soul eater no longer keeps his hands in his pockets but tucks them gingerly beneath cloaked armpits.
The big man’s questions float above me. I hear the thud of fist and boot and bury the secret deep, even from myself.
The soul eater comes with bent back and shuffles through my cell. I stand tall but stretch thinner and thinner.
Fifteen parallel ridges define the sides of the metal bin, two handles that once bit into bruised palms, one dented lid, bowed, battered. Fifteen months. One payment for freedom. I no longer understand the coinage.
The Soul-Eater squeezes between the iron bars at the widow and smacks onto the concrete. He looks down at me, for I’ve lost the strength to raise my shadow from the cot. He proffers open hands, from which I do not cower, then lifts me gently and carries me to the door.
Heather Haigh is an emerging, disabled, working-class writer, from England. Her words have been published by: The painted word, Flash Fiction Magazine, Hysteria and Everyday Fiction.