Face to face with my jailer in Tesco
Human rights activist, published author and painter, Nasrin Parvaz is a member of Freedom from Torture’s Write to Life programme, the UK’s first creative writing group for torture survivors.
I was one of the first members of Write to Life. I started my writing here and apart from learning, I enjoyed being part of it. I was attending this group when I published the Farsi version of my memoir. Here is an excerpt from the English version:
It is late evening. I hurry to Tesco with my niece to buy a loaf of French bread. I fetch the bread and walk quickly, but suddenly I see two bearded men staring at me and acting strangely. They look terrified. I feel suspicious. Why are they so terrified by seeing me? Now with my niece, I’m in the queue and I look at them. I follow their eyes and suddenly see a woman hiding behind the magazines. I recognise her. She pretends to read a magazine. The two men are looking at me and then at that woman with terrified eyes.
She is one of my jailers. She is even dressed the same. She has the same light green scarf and long dress. I go towards her. I don’t believe my eyes. It’s her. She doesn’t look up. She pretends to read the same magazine. I stand in front of her and look at her. She doesn’t move. I’m surprised. What is she doing here? Is she a refugee like me? There is nothing between us, only a gap of a few inches.
I remember her behaviour when I was behind locked doors and due to stomach bleeding and diarrhoea, I needed to go to the bathroom. Like the other guards, she wouldn’t let me use the toilet more than three times a day. Sometimes when I was tormented with pain, I used to knock on the door and she would open it and ask what I wanted? I would say that I needed to go to the bathroom and she would say: ‘It is not your room turn yet’, and would shut the door again. Now fifteen years later we both are here in Tesco in London.
I remember her behaviour when I was behind locked doors and due to stomach bleeding and diarrhoea, I needed to go to the bathroom. Like the other guards, she wouldn’t let me use the toilet more than three times a day.
I don’t feel that fifteen years has passed. I don’t feel it was many years ago that she humiliated me by not letting me go to the toilet. I only feel that now we stand in front of each other with an opposite relationship. That time she had power over me. Now it’s me that has the upper hand. It is because of that, that she freezes and cannot even look at me. I can shout to the people and say: ‘Look, here is a jailer.’ I can call the security and say she must be a Muslim terrorist, call for police. I can spit in her face for what she has done to me and for what she has done to others. I can slap her face for beating and killing my friends.
Now it’s me that has the upper hand. It is because of that, that she freezes and cannot even look at me. I only feel that now we stand in front of each other with an opposite relationship. That time she had power over me. Now it’s me that has the upper hand.
No, I can’t do any of these. I’m not like her. I can’t degrade myself to what she is. No, I’m not like her. It’s a few minutes now that I have been standing here in front of her, only looking at her. I wish to see her eyes. But she doesn’t look up. Is she embarrassed? Didn’t she think that she was doing all that for god? All of them used to say that they kill us to go to heaven. Her shame that doesn’t let her look at me shows that she was paid to be a prison guard.
I look at those two men. They are watching us. They are terrified. They are paralysed. They don’t even come near to say something, to rescue her.
My niece is beside me. Like me she looks at the woman with surprise. Perhaps she hasn’t seen a lady with such a dress before! It must be more than five minutes that I’m standing here. It seems time has been frozen. I hold my niece’s hand and we walk away in silence.
Write to Life is the creative writing and performance group of Freedom from Torture. Established in 1997, it is the longest-running refugee-writing group in Britain, and the only one specifically for survivors of torture.