The Leper Colony

The air.

It whistles through my lungs. Fresh. Freeing.

The sun.

It beats down benevolently. Caressing. Indulging.

I turn and the look back at the rustic gates, lodged in lairs of trodden soil. They look weak. Penetrable. As if they were never anything but. Padlocks and chains, worn and weary, hang limply from the gate’s iron bars. They speak of escape; they tell of emancipation.

I sink pointedly to my knees. Exhausted yes, but determined. Sure of the next stage. Convinced by the path set out before me. But a glimmer. The slightest of glimmers. It ricochets off a segment of railing, sending shards of light into my vision, blinding me only momentarily. Forcing me to turn away. To shield my eyes.

It shunts me into one final act of remembrance. A sullen dip into the murky pool of nostalgia.

The hillside once so full of promise. So etched in beauty. And so rapidly consumed by aberration. By ugliness. I recall the shackles. The restraints clawing at my skin. Digging into the bone, infusing my veins with poison. I remember the claustrophobia. The sickening, unending feeling of being trapped. Of being suffocated. Fully, completely and relentlessly, as each day turned to night, and night into day. The gasps punching angrily from my lungs. Dying out weakly in amongst the acrid miasma of despondency. I remember the snuffing out of hope. Easily. Indifferently. As if dampening a single match in one of the world’s great oceans. I remember the fences, the bars, the railings. I recall the barbed wire, the electrical current, the concrete. All conjoined and contorted to spell out the underlying, all-consuming and over-riding message that escape was futile. Fleeing was not an option.

Above all I remember the gates. Steadfast. Robust. Overwhelming. Their image flooded my mind, their shadows swamped my every step. They bullied me, punished me, taunted me. For my hopes, for my daring to dream, for my affliction. They seemed to pull, prod and pry at my riddled frame. Daring me to even consider attempting to scale their frame. And subsequently drowning me in scorn when my resolve inevitably dissolved. Come rain or hail, or even on the days when the sun would peek its head nervously through the gloom for nothing more than small fragments of time, the gates remained overbearing. An obstacle unable to be crossed. One not even prepared to be negotiated.

I would pick at my affliction. Scratch at my skin through nothing other than frustration. Anguish. My hideousness became an accepted fact of my life. My complexion nothing more than a cross to bear and a fact to live with. To endure. One that would, to all intents and purposes, accompany me to the grave.

I became isolated. Cut off from society. Quickly and efficiently. Cut off from contact. From consideration. From feeling. As the months grew painstakingly into years I became alone. Alone in this fortress of gut-wrenching seclusion. Out of mind. Out of sight. Scorned, forgotten. Surrounded by the impenetrable walls and gates. Travelling slowly into the darkness with nothing but my own thoughts and self-loathing as my travelling companions.

I was beaten. Broken. Used. By all accounts, done.

But then one day, the sun lingered. Not too much. Not enough to radiate the entire day with light, no. But it lingered, a fraction more than it would usually care to. It infused me with something resembling hope for the first time in a long time. Careless, thoughtless hope perhaps but hope all the same. Lying there, at that moment, in that time, soaking in the stench of my self-inflicted filth, I endeavoured to drag myself up and attempt escape at least once more. My skin, my veins, my bones, for so long so bereft, were now pulsating with energy. With resolve. Limping, stumbling, shuddering I dragged myself towards the gates. Trudging through the barren colony, forgotten and unnoticed, towards those symbols of oppression and restriction.

With a long drawn out sigh I pushed…

And the gates gave way. They opened. Just like that. Unlocked. Unshackled. Unbound. As they had been the entire time. Gates. Nothing more. Ready to be opened. At anytime. Willing to accept my courage and resolve should I have had the means to call upon them.

Opened. Just so. As if the act was the most simplest of acts a man, woman or any other creature upon this earth could have performed. And the colony, awash in all its bleak, downtrodden greyness shrunk away behind me as the freeing, sun-kissed expanse opened up before me.

And the air.

It still whistles through me. Touching each ember of my being as it travels nonchantly, and confidently, through my body.

And the sun.

It still shines. For now. At times it may retreat. Naturally, of course. But its presence will always be known to me. Will always be felt.

I pull myself up from my knees and glance back through the gates for the final time. I pity the scene, scolding myself slightly for not making the move, taking the step, far earlier than I had done. I jut out my chin as a final farewell. Confidence beginning to ooze through me. I find myself free from disease, free from affliction. Reborn. Lazarus emerged from his slumber. Daylight breaking free from a prolonged, punishing nightfall.

I turn and skip lightly down the remainder of the mountainside, confident and unafraid, ready to launch myself into arms of humanity once more.

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