I WAS lazing on the golden sands on the south-west coast of Thailand, the blazing sun beating down on my body. The view as I gazed out over the vast expanse of the Andaman Sea was breath-taking. The subtle, salty scent of the ocean engrossed me; the serenity of the still blue waters only broken by the sound of the waves lapping against the rocks.
I reached for my bag, searched for my book and was about to begin the latest Conrad Jones crime- thriller, when my eyes met those of a struggling hawker. She was well covered up and wore an old, straw hat over a tired, bronzed face.
A sharp pang of sympathy rattled inside of me. I didn’t have the heart to wave her away and found myself pointing to some fruit that I didn’t really want. I dug deep for some change, paid and smiled as she handed me some sliced melon in a bag with a pointed stick. She thanked me, gathered up her wares then strolled off on her way down the beach.
I returned to my book and was surfing through the pages when it suddenly felt hot. Can we turn it down to tropical? A bead of sweat rolled down my nose, stopped then dropped onto a page. I wiped it away, squinted up at the sun and strained my eyes. A rank stench in the air then aroused my attention and looking around I couldn’t tell what that was or where it was coming from.
My parched throat and desert-dried lips cried out for water. I scrambled in the sand for my bottle, but couldn’t find it. I stretched down for my things – my bag was gone and so were the melon and my book. I lay back for a moment when the back of my head brushed up against somebody’s feet. I turned to apologize, but couldn’t be more shocked; the beach was now packed.
So many dirty, stinky, bodies, lying crammed together within so little space.
I covered my ears as a cacophony erupted in a language I didn’t understand. Then the stench struck again. It was stronger than before and this time I recognized it. It smelt like human waste mixed with stale sweat, repulsive body odour and cheap cigarettes. I glanced around to see who was smoking; everybody was.
Something smooth and oily ran under my right hand. It felt like a cockroach, it was a cockroach. I shuffled back and watched it scuttling off. I thought it was gone, but then another appeared and then more. I brushed them away and what was once golden sand was now a dark, hard, filthy floor. My body started to tremble – my nerves were on edge.
I glanced up at the sky but all I could see now, was thick black smoke. I coughed uncontrollably until the smog finally cleared and several stained panels emerged with flickering strip lights. It was as if the sky had transformed into a ceiling of a filthy, neglected cell, crammed completely to capacity.
Trauma and terror possessed me as I realized I had to face this reality and deal with the torment all over again. My mind had been playing tricks on me, creating a mirage of a beach, a mirage of freedom. I was in the worst-place-in-the-world. I was in a Thai prison. I was in Hell.
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