A sample from the novel, ‘The Daniel.’
Chapter 3, The Jail
It was always the evening that would remind me that I was in the jail. It would come quietly, without knowing, like a tree growing, a tide rising. But this ocean was different. It came with a sticky heat and determined army of mosquitos, a red sky, dirty men and his voice, roaring like a bull. Haj was the prison warden. He was the jinn and here, all knew of it. His routine was well practiced, accurate, every move of his march, error free and precise and the man was a son of a bitch, a person with no empathy and a murderer of souls. I’d struggle every sunset to tear my gaze from his grand entrance at six ten. His march, an assured stride, the deep blacks of his eyes, vacuums, full of evil in a scarred face under a tight black turban that would pull at his dark skin when he’d slash the body of an innocent. Tonight it was my Nepali friend who was sitting cross legged studying the patterns of the damp, Haj’s cane crashing into Ngima’s bones, his thin spine smashed three times by the long of Haj’s stick and poor Ngimas muscles, twisting into a taught rope, his mouth opening and his lips, pulling back at the pain, his white teeth leaving his face and his small eyes entering the hollows of his own skull – while Haj stands broad and formidable, his cartoon snarl, grimaced in excitement at the pain he knew was coming after the pause delay. The red sun of my India plunges into that rising green ocean, into the deep, into tomorrow and I will spend another night here, in this jail.
My name is The Daniel and at the start of my thirty-fifth year in this world, the vampires began taking my life and they did it like the mosquito, bit by bit. I was a rich man, full of dance, wealth and romance but at thirty-six, I had been sent to a prison for a crime I did not commit. I thought my life tests were over but I was wrong about that. God was writing more wars for me, my road of trials had actually just begun and it began in this other world, a prison world, a world that had secrets, no magic and only bad. The dark face of India was to become my new training ground and I would master it, or it was going to claim me. It was nighttime in the jail and my eyes were fixed on the rust of my prison bars. Eventually, I would sleep but I did not not think that dreams would come.
September and I was en route to meet her. Rebecca. It was for the first time in seven years. A wave of Indian humanity blows in my direction, like a thick fog, into the station to board the express train from Delhi back to my home in the Punjab, next to the lake my ancestors built long ago. I watched the grass fields from where I stood and I knew that what I was to leave as virgin farmland would soon be roads and software companies on my return, but one thing was to remain through my time behind the bars, and that is the poor, the thing that will never ever change, like the man on the floor, assigned to the station, his body, injured by the sadness, a person who at one point could have been alive, well spirited, even beautiful was now an empty shell, wrinkled in the sun like the onions that he sold, shriveled and burnt, exhausted of life, given up. Waiting to be dead. My train came to platform eleven and Rebecca was floating down it, following the yellow line on the floor, like that brick road in Oz, to me, like an angel, her glorious energy and her sweet smell of pear filling the otherwise muggy and dirty Delhi station air.
I woke from my dream, the crusts in my eyes keeping them shut in the dirty wind and I was still here in this jail, it was deserted of life and dreams, it was barren, a dry concrete desert left with only the remnants of a shrub and bush left to die in the hot hot sun of prison waste. Somehow I could still smell Rebecca’s hair and see the blue eyes of her. Ngima had crawled to me through the heat, immersed in exhaustion from the hard ground on a Sunday when Haj and his black boots patrolled the dry dirt one hour earlier than any other coming night. His legs were mechanical, his shoulders, broad and stiff, scanning the prison yard for his next hunt among the hundred inmates like a hyena of the African yellow. A lone man in a white lungi cycled past our prison fence with skinny brown legs that shone as if coated in lush south Indian oils, his feet in old broken black sandles and his hands, one holding the handle bar, the other, a basket of white onions: he was the beggar from my dream and it was now obvious… my hallucinations were building – my mind was not clear and the days were turning into one. All things normal had been replaced by the jail, and I needed to keep it together, to keep from what the inmates called ‘the slip’, where the heat would become too much and you would lose your mind – forever, the powerful badlands keeping your soul as its own, the goal of the jinn. You could see some of the victims in the jail who had slipped, they were way gone, empty shells, zombies of India.
The dry was not the only thing that made the days long. A river basin ended at the jail’s gate with a smell that was kept rich in stench from a wind that blew over the yard through the nights and the long monsoon days. It was different in stench to the other stagnant water holes of Haryana, this was rich in all pollution and sights, to make even the bad men of the prison shudder in their thin and dusty jail clothes, like the bare bones of small animals, scraps of industry, factory waste and human excrement, all being blown by a wind that circled down through garbage and into the lungs of all of my friends. It stunk the most in the morning time.
My heart hurts and it is not from the dry concrete floor I sleep on and it is not from the heat of the relentless Indian sun, a red orb that drops each night into that deep silver blue, it is not from the voices, screaming at my brothers, terrifying and authoritarian with their sticks, monsters from a robot world. I’ll tell you what the hurt is from, now that I have your attention. It is from the hate that I have. The hate I have in my heart for the bad in this world that tries to stop love, to stop life, to control, to overpower, to end. You see, what I am trying to tell you is that it is like a virus, softly killing and claiming the healthy cell. India was that parasite, and I was its host and it killed me to say that, to think it hurt me harder than the prison cement that was tearing at my skin, it hurt me harder than Haj, his cane and those godforsaken black boots. Because at one time, I loved.
Have you ever stopped and focused so closely on one thing that it literally becomes another thing? Just because of the way you see it, because of your own observation? Your own intention? I have. I did… and I had never realised the true power of thought until those closest to me framed me for a crime I did not do and put me in the jail, but that would be just an observation. My name is The Daniel and I lost everything I owned, left everyone I loved and I learned of life from the harshest part of the earth’s crust, Haj’s prison yard. I made the most of my time there, I even made some friends and one day, I broke free. How did I do it? I used my mind. Perhaps you will one day. Your reasons will be yours, mine were mine and I’m going to tell the world about it all, right here and now.
I must have had the ‘lion spirit’ on that day and it came on a night when the sun and moon were both high in the sky, the lion spirit that Akash told me I had one night in Bombay when we were just kids playing cricket on Juhu beach and some bandits tried to beat on us. You see, it was no co-incidence that the guards called me The Daniel Lion, they knew that I, like the lion, had a certain way and it was based on one thing, consciousness. I felt the blood from my heart pump into my chest and ‘it is the lion in human flesh.’ I could hear my best friend whisper from three decades back when I stood on Juhu next to him, at sunset, at showdown, when we squared up to the three bandits who pushed my friend into the ground and kicked sand into his crying face. But this time it was not three older boys, it was Haj and the ground was not soft wet sand but hard and dry stone. It was the beginning of my escape, I was about to run really fast – into myself.