by Paul Roemer
The loud buzzing of a large black housefly woke me. My tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth and the back of my throat hurts when I try to swallow. My lips feel bruised and brittle as I touch them with the tip of my index finger.
The bright overhead halogen lights create a hum that is barely audible, and the harsh white light leaves a halo effect around my vision as I cautiously pry open my eyelids. I try to shield the light with my hand, but I am unable to block enough of the lights. The uncirculating air smells stale and my clothing is damp from my sweat.
Trying to get my bearings I see I am in a windowless, cavernous room. I try to push myself to my feet, but my left arm does no longer is able to support my weight. As I look down I see there is no ground beneath me. Vertigo envelopes me. Thick glass or Plexiglas holds me. I see I am standing on a piece of thick glass. In fact, glass encloses me on six sides. I am housed in a small glass prison, and the box appears to be suspended well above the ground.
There is what I assume are air holes drilled into two of the walls above my head. I reach up, insert my fingers into the holes and try to pull myself up. The rough edges of the glass slice into my finger joints, and I drop back to the floor, smears of my blood now displayed on the wall.
Below me I see hundreds of people staring up at me as spectators would view a high-wire circus attraction. I realize I am the attraction. I yell and I pound hard with my fists against the glass walls. The yelling reverberates within the confines of my mostly sound-proofed cell. The black fly continues its loud buzzing undisturbed by the carryings on of its cell mate.
I hear the voice from below. It pauses momentarily and then it repeats itself.
“Answer the question,” it demands.
“What question?” I yell in response, but to no avail. My anger at my situation and at whoever put me here is ribald.
“Pick up the marker,” replies the voice in a monotone cadence.
I glance quickly and see a pack of colored markers lying on the floor. What question, I write. Seeing the spectators crane their necks I realize my writing appeared backwards to them. Erasing the writing with my shirt sleeve, I rewrite the message in a reverse mirror image.
The crowd draws quite. “Why me?” asks the voice.
“?EM YHW” I write. Is that the question?
Why me, comes the reply. I am to answer why I am in the glass cell, and when I do, I will be released. The hell with the voice, I am not going to play his game. I slump down and lean against the cool, clear glass and wipe the blood from my fingers on my jeans. Immediately the lights go out.
I do not know how long I was left in the dark, nor do I know if the crowd stayed, but I do recall drifting off to sleep. When I awoke there was a clear plastic, liter bottle of water in my cell. As soon as the lights come up I grab the green maker and write ‘food?’ on the wall.
Answer the question, came the terse reply.
FOOD I wrote angrily in large capital letters and hurriedly underlined it. Off went the lights. This happened so many times and with such randomness I lost track of whether it was night or day and of how many days I had been in my cell. I guessed they gave me water three times a day. There must be some way they were knocking me out because I was never aware of when they we in the cell.
My best guess from my growth of beard and from having to tighten my belt and extra two notches is that I had been confined for about two weeks without a scrap of food to eat. During those two weeks I had considered answers to the question of why me. I tried to figure out what I could have done to have warranted being locked up and humiliated publically. Try as I may I had no idea.
My attempts to wait them out, to beat them at their own game have failed. I do not have the luxury of time or patience. I have tried to envision that somewhere someone was looking for me. The police would be searching. My wife and children would have reported me missing. Were they getting close to finding me, would they be able to free me if they did?
I force myself to continue to hope, but hope does not come, hope does not push away my feelings of despair and desperation. The lights click on, and as my eyes adjust to the crowd below I lose all hope. For there, in the second row, sit my wife and daughters looking up at me. They do not look scared, nor do they appear concerned. Their blank expressions mimic those around them.
In an instant my emotions race from scarred to irrationally fearful. I start scribbling made up answers to the question ‘why me’ on the glass walls. Tears stream down my face as I scream incoherently. Mentally exhausted, and physically drained, I collapse on the floor of my cell.
In between sobs I see the blue marker lying next to my right hand. Without getting up I grab the marker and begin to write on the glass floor, “Why not me?”
In an instant I hear the whirring of the winch’s electric motor and the cage is lowered slowly to the floor and having learned its lesson the disheartened crowd leaves.
It was never about me, it was about them—why not me.