It’s funny, when she was ordinary she used to have such little worries, worries about things that didn’t matter, couldn’t be helped. She used to wonder if the dark haired boy who passed her in the street would ever think to stop and say more than good morning, give just a little more than a beautiful smile. She used to fret over her dress and whether her hair was pinned up quite nicely; didn’t like to hear the paper read out because it upset her, couldn’t stand to look slovenly or to have her hands unwashed. Then her worries started appearing bigger, but still they didn’t matter, not in the slightest, not when they came and took her in the night and she found herself in a place she didn’t recognise for a reason she didn’t understand. They said it would be for one night. They called it “questioning” because it was a harmless word that uneducated people could grasp.
Now her hair is cut short. You can’t keep it long or pretty, not there. It’s too much trouble. And she hates herself for the way she used to worry about money for clothes and food, because it didn’t matter, it never mattered, how could it? Once she had a room of her own with a mirror and a table spread neatly with brushes and powder where she could sit and look at herself, just sit there giving all her attention to changing the little flaws in her rosy face, admiring her own deep eyes; she wonders what she looks like now, her features marred by illness, those same eyes devoid of their old carelessness. There are no mirrors in a prison camp.
She pushes her back against the wall and closes her eyes to the bars of her cell and her ears to the sounds of the women next to her. It’s funny how she used to wish to be loved and admired, to have friends, and now she sits so close to other women that their bony elbows push into her ribs and their whimpers torment her day and night. She can’t complain, she cries too. Not for the things she used to cry about. She remembers how she cried all those years ago because a little grey cat died - a cat, just a cat, and she can’t even recall its name - and how she used to be afraid of the dark and thunderstorms. She’s not even afraid of guns anymore. She was when they first pointed one carelessly in her direction, she was when she heard them fire in the streets at night, but not now. Even death doesn’t matter, not really, just so long as it doesn’t come to any of the women in her cell. But she knows it will.
It’s funny how even though it doesn’t matter, when she closes her eyes as she’s doing now she starts to wonder - she doesn’t try, it just comes to her - wonder if the boy with the dark hair is in a place like the one she is in, if he still smiles, if he closes his eyes the same way with his back against a damp wall and his head back home. If he’s dead. Of course, he probably is. Everyone she knows is. But if he’s not, if he’s alive, she wonders (oh, she knows how ridiculous it is!) does he think about her? Try to picture her face again, piece fragments of memory together bit by bit, wonder himself if she’s dead or alive?
But he wouldn’t. Her lips press together till they are white - it doesn’t matter, not anymore. She opens her eyes and takes the food bowl that has been passed through the bars, dips her fingers into cold porridge, licking them clean, tasting tears, salty. She wonders how many minutes she will count before they open the door to let her go to the latrine. It takes three hundred of her steps to get there, but the guard on duty doesn’t always notice if you walk a little slowly and look through the grates of the hallway out of the corners of your eyes. She’ll make it three hundred and ten today.