Monday, October 4, 2010

Biting The Clouds

Biting The Clouds
James Strauss

The door slammed. Mighty steel edifice, but like the others in the African prison, set into rickety wooden walls that you could run through given a proper set back and some sort of cover for your head. There’s not much rationality in Africa. And none whatever inside it’s prisons. Sierra Leone’s a pretty bad place, but only bad because it’s dirt poor. Prisoners are at the very bottom of that meager food chain.

Needles were shoved under the door with surgical tubing attached. No drugs. No nothing else. The H was everywhere, already there. The tough part was getting it into you. Needles rolled nicely under the door crack. A member of the African tribe (Loko) rolled the needles from his side. A member of the Kissis tribe
received each. The Kissis ran Stack’s cube. A white guy in an African prison. Called doctor because Stack told them he was an anthropologist. He heard them whisper many times about the ‘Mgeni’s’ (foreigner) education of ‘apology’ and what it must mean.

Stack was the only ‘doctor’ ever to enter the prison, they said. And so a weird respect was assigned, especially between the many warring tribes trapped inside the huge prison complex.

Stack took the needles, about ten of ‘em, and tossed them inside a little heater he was allowed. Allowed because he had a commissary account, which was funded from home. Inside, a U.S. dollar was worth over 400 Leones. A small fortune.

He boiled the needles for five minutes, rubber attachments and all. The ‘rigs’ or ‘paras,’ as they were called locally, would be sterilized, as was now the custom from dorm to dorm, since Doctor Stack had advised. Needles went under doors throughout the prison after night meals and final count. The needles meant sleep. Escape. “Biting the clouds’ as they said in Swahili. The surgical tubing was filled with liquefied heroin of unknown origin (smuggled into the facility inside female visitor vaginas).

Tubing was knotted, needle set into a vein, tube squeezed and the night could be endured into next day.

Stack grinned as he handed the sterilized rigs to the Kissis commander.

“You laugh, Stack, as you always do. Why do you laugh?” the huge black man asked, laughing himself.

Stack left the smile on his face, but responded with an answer he knew would satisfy the powerful man. A man who allowed Stack’s life to be lived with bare comfort and acceptability.

“The sterilizing of the needles will assure that the women you are with in the future will not become with child.”
Stack had learned, through hard won experience inside, the natives not only had areas where they were extremely limited in knowledge, but also had areas where they refused understanding whatsoever. Sterile needles was one of those problematic areas. AIDS was another. They didn’t accept the disease, instead choosing to believe that dying form AIDS was simply God removing himself slowly from your body.

AIDS was disappearing from the prison. Stack knew that from simple observation while serving his two year sentence. The Warden took note of it as well, but only recognized it by finally calling Stack doctor when addressing him. It was enough.


  1. More Noire ambiguity. The dichotomous nature of this 'Doctor' evokes the same split level presence as in Orson Welles' character in The Third Man. Frighteningly practical amorality. Shrewd survivalism where the context of that idiom is very limited. Microfiction that begs the question, "What happens when this guy comes out and quietly goes back 'home'?" . . .

  2. More noire ambiguity. Reminiscent of The Third Man, Stack's character begs questions that are not exactly polite to ask. One is, "What happens when this guy goes 'home'?" Survivalism of the splittest.