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We Find Each Other’s Hands through Words and Sounds

A Narrative of Living in a Detention Center
Written by Alef [1]

Translated from Farsi into English Retrieved from Harrasswatch

Harasswatch⸻ I was there again. Surrounded by those malicious walls, which were neither square, rectangular nor even trapezoidal. It was an eight-meter cell, which became more cramped at the bottom and reached four meters. We returned to where “the rape” had happened and called it the “rape scene.” By returning to the scene this name sprang to my mind. I was alone again. I laid down my blankets; I covered two blankets for my mattress, folding another into a cylinder like a legless doll and putting it as a pillow, and finally, a black one to put over my whole body. The blanket’s color reminded me of “Z,” who scared black cats. I remembered telling her she should never see such a blanket. I was mumbling when rage ignited my whole body. I was afraid of myself and of this anger; from my quick transition between the feeling of wanting good for my friends and evil for them.​

I was furious that I was alone even in seeing these moments, and at the end of the day, I could only be the narrator of these moments for my sisters. “I don’t want to be a narrator. I don’t want you to be proud of me. I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I just want this to be a shared experience between us. Like all our other shared experiences and hours of talking. But I still have to talk about this cell, this situation, and my words should not be included in your narrative.” I wrote these in the following days when I was no longer alone and went among those drawing the same as me. I wrote on the paper of a disposable cup with the pen that we had pinched. I wrote on that paper for a long time and now I cannot remember what I wrote anymore. I wrote about controlled and uncontrolled anger on the paper of two different disposal cups. One cup became black from my words, full of pain and longing, and the other from suffering and oppression. Each of us would pull our blankets over our heads and write on paper cups. We would write about ourselves, our beloveds, and each other. One day they opened the door and turned all the blankets upside down. In the middle of the pile of dirt that was raised from the blankets; I turned my back to him who pretended to look for a pen, poured the paper into another glass, and emptied the remaining water from the flask on it. I sought to hide from his prying and suspicious eyes. That same day, when those same eyes came with others and took me away, they also took my small papers full of magic words and my friends’ longings with me. “They are also killers of words, and those words will never come back to me.” But at least this time he didn’t find the pen.

​We had a hunger to connect with like-minded people and new ways of communication. Every time we went to get fresh air, if the newly arrested boys were kneeling on the floor behind the infirmary door, facing the wall, Sin would stamp her feet harder on the floor to walk to greet them with this sound. From cell to cell, we tried to find a way to greet each other and to know each other’s names. We used to leave notes for each other in the common spaces of the cells. We would exchange our names while going to the toilet in the cells. As a sign of resistance, we would yell once we found ourselves without a way to communicate. Someone yelled “AyyAh” and it echoed like dominos from one cell to the other. It was a sound that had no meaning for them and was a sign of our madness, but its function moved ahead of its meaning for us. They would bring the radio and put it in the corridor so that the sound of the noise between its waves would ride on our voices, but our ears would become sharper, and our voices would become louder.

​One day, when I was sitting in that black room facing the wall, while they were constantly shouting behind me and interrogating us for what hadn’t been done, my eyes fell on the wall next to me. I saw a familiar name written on the wall with a date. I saw the same name dated differently on the walls of other black rooms, on other days. “She must have written to her lover, who was a little over there at the time, to greet him and say she was there,” and now that name and date would greet me too. El said yes, you are right! We are familiar strangers who have now come into our lives, and we will always remember each other. One was talkative and would always jump between everyone’s words to get more time to talk. One had come from a place that never bore a resemblance to the life we had ever lived. My treatment was also boring sometimes. Each of us, somewhere out there, might not be able to stand it. But now our hearts were with each other moment by moment.

​When each of us went for the interrogation, the remaining of us restlessly waited for her to come. We were so close to each other, so we avoid walking on each others’ nerves; sometimes, when we got mad, we kept silent until it passed, or we talked and laughed. We were all worried about each other and this concern continued until the moment of freedom. That situation had brought us closer together and our strength, patience, and tolerance toward each other were much stronger than their oppression. Every rape scene has a shelter. I knew this many times when I came from that black room and asked the officer to go to the cell a moment later so that my cellmates would not see my tears and break their hearts. That cell, those girls, and what was between us was our refuge. L said, “why are you hiding your tears, let’s talk.” We talked and I realized what had happened to me in that black room. I said I don’t know why one of my fingers was shaking like that and it was killing me. The tighter I gripped it, the more it slipped through my fist from the force of the shaking. My mouth was sore. L said that every time you go to that black room and come back, a wound appeared. I remembered that I inherited this from my mother. I was six years old when I ran in front of the white car of my mother’s relative. My mother was sitting in the car’s front seat and her mouth was full of sores. She wanted to leave so that she would not return to an unsafe home. We were both crying and my mother’s tears, slipping into her mouth, burned those wounds more.

​L said that they are reviving your traumas for you. They had done the same thing with her, and the collective trauma of all of us was being called “prostitutes” and denied our rights. Sometimes a powerful father did this to us, another time we were harassed on the streets, and now were experiencing it by the interrogator’s atrocities and in the detention center. The more I met people in the cell, the better I understood the same mechanism. I understood we were in the same boat regarding the ways we were tortured, either in our families or in society. They were playing with our lives and although we knew it was a trick and a game, that game and the feelings afterwards were real. I told Mim the other day, the owner of that black room moved the chair handle and stood in front of my knees. She said that this is a threat to rape and to show what he has in his pants. They had said to Mim, “Why are you talking with the voice of an 18-year-old girl?” and had laughed. When she was describing this, her heart was still wounded by this humiliation. They want to spit their dirty desire on us even in the form of humiliation. We were trembling and hugged each other and realized that we are together forever. In that shelter, we talked about life more than ever. About the possible parties we would hold later and what we would wear there. Shin’s red shirt, which she had just bought, and the interrogator had not given her time to wear… so much so that we all imagined that she was wearing it instead of those worn gray clothes. We talked about the trips we went on and the colors, including greens, yellows, and oranges, we saw. Once L, H, and I were able to get oranges, and by the morning we peeled them, took their bitterness and chopped them very finely with the handle of a tiny plastic spoon. We made orange and honey sauce for our food. We had neither the sense of rain nor the smell of any weather or seasonal change. In that case, the smell of oranges was in every spoonful of our food.

​Anyone who came from a different cell had a different sense of humor and creativity to amuse others. We had learned so much to have fun in the cell that we wanted to become prison bloggers. We had found out how to do our hair, pluck our eyebrows, and remove our facial hair. We even knew how to write when we didn’t have any pens. We had learned how to weave a bracelet and where we should get the thread. We knew how to make sweets for tea. For each cell and in the prison, dozens of ways to survive came to our minds. Mim was right when she said that prisoners create unique things with each other’s companionship. Mim’s suffering and resistance were long enough that when she talked about these things, the depth of her words penetrated our souls. One night, when we were talking about the passion of resistance on the street, Mim said she had never been there and had always been deprived of the brilliance of shouting for freedom; that she always heard of others’ stories about uprisings on the streets. She asked whether people talk about them in the street, and there was an awkward silence to her response. We just held each other’s hands tighter and now their “absence” is more than ever alive in front of my eyes. Like right now, those who wrote about “what invisible is” are in front of my eyes. We created and are creating our scene amid the scene they created for us.

[1] Alef is the first letter of the author’s first name. Many authors started using abbreviations rather than their complete names for security purposes and to publish their narratives anonymously

We Find Each Other’s Hands through Words and Sounds

The article’s authorship comes from the Harasswatch website

Translated into English by Tanide