This is the twenty-seventh part of a fiction serial, in 786 words.
“Well it turned out eventually was going to mean never. I got very down when nobody came from the British Consulate. The parcels stil arrived, but I only kept the cigarettes, exchanging everything else for vodka, which Anna managed to smuggle in for me. I still hadn’t seen the Chief Warden of the camp, and two years after Barbara’s last visit, I made a formal application to do just that. Anna told me it would be at the start of the next week, and she would have to handcuff me to take me to the administration block. On the day, she was very apologetic, telling me she thought it was so silly to have to put an old lady into restraints. I was surprised how far away the offices were, as we had to walk for at least ten minutes, possibly almost fifteen. That walk made me realise just how vast the camp was. I could only imagine how many prisoners were held there. Outside the Warden’s office, Anna warned me to speak softly, and not to become angry”.
Helen leaned forward, lit a cigarette, then blew the smoke away from me, up at the low ceiling. I had started to become genunely concerned about passive smoking, after all the hours I had spent with her.
“In the office, a surprisingly young man sat behind a small desk covered in files. He had one open in front of him, which I presumed was mine. I had to stand in front of him, looking respectful. He asked me if there was anything I needed, so I said I desperately needed glasses so I could read properly. Even holding books as far as my arms would reach, I had started to give up after one chapter. He made a note in the file, and asked me if there was something else. His tone was kind, so I chanced saying what I was really there for. I mentioned what Barbara had said, the formal application for my release from detention. I respectfully suggested that it was taking a long time to arrange, and that I would appreciate his help in making that happen. He looked very confused, Martin. Flicking through the file, he raised his eyebrows. I can never forget what he said next.
“You appear to be misinformed, prisoner Renton. If fact, it was the Russian Federation that contacted the British Consulate, asking them to arrange for your collection from this facility as we no longer had any need to keep you here. I have the name of the person we spoke to, a Mister John Holdsworth. He is listed as one of your visitors. You understand these things have to be formally arranged. We cannot very well just open the gate and say farewell. Documents have to be signed, and you have to be handed over officially”.
She paused as I sat taking that in.
“I was in shock, Martin. They had lied to me, pretending that the Russians were causing the delay. Then after they were notified and realised they had just forgotten me, they were paying me off with food parcels and cigarettes, leaving me hoping that release was a real option. You cannot imagine how much I hated them that day. I thanked the Warden, and agreed that I would raise the matter with the next visitor from the Consulate. On the way back to my block, my legs felt like jelly, and Anna had to hold me to stop me from falling over. I asked her to get me some extra vodka, and I would make sure she had everything from my next parcel. She came to my cell after dinner, and produced two bottles, telling me to try not to be too sad”.
Talking about the vodka must have jogged her memory that her glass was empty, and she left me in the room as she went to fill it up.
“That night I got roaring drunk, and I swore that one day I would get my own back by telling my story. The next day I felt awfully hungover, but had to act sober when an optician came with equipment to test my eyes. Three days later, I received two pairs of metal-framed glasses. Anna let me look at myself in a small mirror she had in her bag, and we both laughed when she said I looked like a college professor. Everything had snapped into focus, but I had to take them off unless I was reading, or they made me dizzy. Shall we call it a day now, Martin?”
After getting my stuff together, I walked down to the seafront to read through my notes in the fresh air.