This is a flash fiction piece inspired by the film The Railway Man.
I nudge the battered door, letting it creak, and come away from the wall it had been glued to for so long. Sunlight rushes to illuminate every corner of the dingy room. There is only a layer of dust on the faded tiles. The wooden bed—more accurate to call it a long table—is not to be seen. In the corner across from the door is a tap with a long hose attached to its mouth. It couldn’t still work, could it? My gaze follows the end of the hose connected to the tap, through its coils, to the other end, where water drips onto the floor, running down each crevice, like how a tear falls from the edge of my eye over my cracked skin after clinging on desperately. My feet grow roots that run deep into the ground, deep down, keeping me entrenched there. Invisible hands grip every part of me all of a sudden, rendering me incapable of movement. A gasp escapes my throat, as a feeling of overwhelming paralysis crashes over me.
“Patti, dear, would you please fill up the bath for me?” I call out, before returning to my incoherent mutterings of where I put my schedule notebook. “Done, darling. I’ve already tossed in some lavender and sage as it was running.” I smile.
I carefully step into the bathroom, hearing the faint click of the door as it closes shut. Inhaling the aroma of the herbs, I take in the image of the bathtub. Lines dance across the smooth exterior of the tub, swirling gracefully to form the ever so faint shape of a human face. The lines extend on, drifting into waves, like the calming tide of a familiar ocean. More lines cross and overlap, resembling the gentle spring breeze. Gingerly testing the water with just the tip of my toe, I let myself sink in once I am guaranteed of its perfect temperature. Resting my head against the tub, I shut my eyes and welcome the fragrance.
Every muscle in me relaxes. I dangle one arm over the edge, letting my fingers run over the hardened paint, following every stroke my brush made, visualizing the painting in my head—the tattoo I gave it to remind me of the fear I overcame.
Guttural screams echo endlessly in the tiny room. They ring through the entire compound, only to be muted abruptly, leaving a deathly silence behind.
I stutter and choke on my own desperate, meaningless words. I will not allow myself to be laid in that…
I let out an ear-splitting roar as I feel a hand push me towards the tub. The gentle nudge feels like a shove. I collapse on the floor, hands clutching at the edge of the tub, my nose a mere centimetre away from the surface of the liquid. Only the sound of my ragged breathing can be heard. I stare at myself—the crazy hair, the raised eyebrows, the alarmed expression in my eyes.
“Eric… It’s just a bath… What’s wrong?” I can hear my wife asking me, over the ringing in my head.
“I… I can’t… Patti… I can’t…” I can’t. I clench my teeth as the water washes over me. I imagine its icy claws making their way to my heart and brain.
Clutching my paintbrush in one hand, palette in the other, I manage to lift my foot and take a clumsy step forward. I sink to the floor where the edge of the table would have been. My brain provides me with a horrifyingly accurate hologram of the scene. I can picture the cold and distant faces, their eyes, the commander’s voice prompting the two soldiers on either side of me to spring into action. One slaps a soggy burlap sack over my mouth, and the other drags over the hose. No, there was nothing peaceful about the way he positioned the hose at me, water shooting through the scratchy cloth, into my throat, lungs, and stomach. Ignoring the pain, I thrash against my restraints, gasping, coughing, screaming, then whimpering pathetically as the hose is moved away.
Now my fingers brush away some of the dust, and it seems like the water has just dried on the cold tiles, after all these years. I lift my brush, and with each stroke, create the sight that greets me every day when I cleanse myself. One tattoo for where my fear was born, and another for where it was overcome.
About the author
Swetha Senthilkumar is a Secondary 4 student who is very passionate about literature, and calls herself a book dragon, because of her avid reading habits. She writes poetry and short stories, and has won prizes for her work, even presenting them at the National Poetry Festival and the National Gallery. Her constant daydreams are the source of her stories, and she is hugely motivated by her parents who have both won the Golden Point Award for their writing.