There was absolutely nothing to be done about it. I simply had to accept for the moment like everyone else and yet when the sergeant in charge got to me and screwed the ankle brace-lets up tight, it seemed like the final nail in my coffin.
Just after that it started to rain. They left us standing in the open for another hour, during which we got soaked to the skin, unnecessary cruelty but the sort of thing to be expected from now on. Finally, we were formed into a column and marched away at a brisk shuffle towards the docks.
There was a cafe and bar at the comer of the square and there were plenty of people sitting on the veranda having coffee and an aperitif before lunch. Most of them stood up to get a good view as we went past, chains clanking.
Hannah’s face jumped out at me instantly for although he was standing at the back of the crowd, he was easily visible be-cause of his height. He had a glass of something or other in his right hand, actually raised it in a silent toast, then turned away and strolled casually inside.
Hell on Earth
We were three days in the hold of an old stern-wheeler that worked its way up-river once a week, calling at every village on the way with a jetty large enough to lay alongside. Most people travelled on deck, sleeping in hammocks because of the heat The guards let us up once a day for air, usually in the evening, but in spite of that two of the older men died.
One of the prisoners, a small man with skin like dried-up leather and hair that was prematurely white, had already served seven months at Machados while awaiting trial. He painted a harrowing picture of a kind of hell on earth, a chamel house where the whip was the order of the day and men died like flies from ill-treatment and disease.
But for me the present was enough. A nightmare, no reality to it at all. I found myself a dark little corner of my own and crouched there for two days in a kind of stupor, unable to be-lieve that this was really happening to me. It was real enoughs God knows and the pain and the squalor and the hunger of it could not be evaded. It existed in every cruel detail and it was Hannah who had put me here.
Munro had done his best with me during this period, patiently continuing to talk, even when I refused to answer, feeding me cigarettes until the packet I’d given him was empty. In the end, he gave up the struggle in a kind of disgust and I recalled his final words clearly as he got up and shuffled away.
“Forgive me, senhor, I can see I’ve been talking to a man who is already dead.”
It took a dead man to bring me back to life. On the evening of the third day I was awakened by the sound of the hatch being opened. There was a general movement instantly, everyone eager to be the first out into the clean air. The man next to me still slept on, leaning heavily against me, his head on my shoul-der. I shoved him away and he went over in slow motion and lay still.
Munro pushed his way through the press and went down on his knees. After a while he shrugged and scrambled to his feet. “He’s been dead for two or three hours.”
My flesh crawled, I felt in some indefinable way unclean for it was as if death in taking this man had touched me also. Some-one called out and a guard came down the ladder. He checked the body casually then nodded to Munro and me. “You two -get him on deck.”
Munro said, “I’ll get on my knees and you put him over my shoulder. It’s the easiest way.”
He got down and I stood there, trapped by the horror of it all, filled with unutterable loathing at the idea of even touching that body.
The guard belted me across the shoulder blades with his club, the usual careless brutality. “Get moving, we haven’t got all day.”