PART five: diin
Chapter 44: The Mean Ones
DIIN watched, shivering, as the guard led an older child out of the cage opposite hers. DIIN wondered what the guards did to the children they took away. Some of the guards took away the older females, others males. The ones they took always came back cleaner, but there was something wrong with them. Most tucked themselves into their blanket and cried for days. Others pressed themselves against a wall and simply stared at the ground. A few used every excuse to start a fight.
DIIN wasn’t sure if she ever wanted to know. She was glad that her turn to go away with the guards hadn’t arrived so far. She wondered if it was because she wasn’t as big as the ones who were taken away. One of the guards had told her as much that one time. You’re lucky you’re too young for my tastes, he had said, as he had given her a smile that was scarier than anything she’d ever seen before. She shivered even more as she wondered if she would be trapped in this place until she got old enough for him. She hoped that such a day would never come.
She buried her head into her knees and pulled her blanket over her. Falling asleep had become tougher since the last few days. The building she was trapped in had become colder. The blanket she had been given managed to cover her completely, but it wasn’t warm enough to stop the freezing floor from getting to her whenever she tried to lay down on it. She had started trying to sleep while sitting upright, but that had been a rather difficult task so far.
DIIN had gotten used to a lot over the last few weeks. The baths were the first to stop. She was used to getting hosed down every three to four days, but even that had been taken from her. Toothbrushes had been the next to go. The toothpaste disappeared next, just as she was getting used to cleaning her teeth with her fingers. Asking the guards to let them clean themselves had done nothing. One of the older children had done so repeatedly, and all he’d gotten for his trouble was a whole lot of yelling, and a quick trashing when his persistence had started to annoy the guards. You lot are used to this, one of the guards had screamed. You’ve been dirty your whole lives, another had said.
DIIN couldn’t figure out why they thought such things. She vaguely remembered the garbage heaps from an eternity ago. But she couldn’t recollect ever smelling like them, or smelling like she now did. As poor as they had been, as dirty as the town she lived in and its trash heaps had been, the disgusting smell that emanated from her now was entirely new to her. She didn’t like it, and she had never smelt that way before. Her parents had always kept her, and their house clean, unlike the filthy cage she had been imprisoned in.
Why did the guards think that any of the children were used to this kind of treatment? Why did they repeatedly stress that this prison was some kind of an upgrade for all of them? Many of the children DIIN had come in with were still there. And she clearly remembered none of them smelling as badly as they did now. She had heard many of older ones talking to each other. She didn’t understand everything they said fully, but she understood enough to know that this was as alien, and as disgusting, for them as it was for her. None of them were used to living in this kind of filth. They were used to poverty. They were used to hunger. But they were not used to this kind of cruelty. They were not used to this kind of loneliness. They were not used to squatting on cold, unclean floors all day long. They didn’t have much, not in the materialistic sense anyway. They came from nothing, just like her. But they had a family. They had love. They had happiness. They had a life, tough as it may have been. Most importantly of all, they had their freedom, and their dignity.
It was tough at first. But over time, many of the children got used to it all. They got used to the way they smelt. They got used to the disgusting taste in their mouth. They got used to their breath. They got used to being treated like prisoners, and with even more time, many even got used to being treated like animals. They lost the dignity they had tried so hard to cling on to. They lost the memories of their past, of their families and of their lives, the ones they kept trying to hold on to. They lost their sense of identity. Their happiness was long gone, as was their hope, but many lost their sense of self as well. They turned into husks, things that had no purpose or direction. They became withdrawn and socially inept. They had stopped smiling a long time ago, but they had now lost their ability to interact with others as well. Most felt lonely, and isolated, despite being among others. Many on the outside thought that the physical parts of the ordeal they were put through were a nightmare, one that no child should have to go through. But they didn’t realize how much more severe the mental toll actually was. The physical symptoms were still easily fixable. The mental ones were not.