By Michael Warren
The yells woke him up again. The prisoner rolled over and slapped the cold concrete. He couldn’t see the sunrise from his tiny window. He couldn’t see the sunset either. Near as he could tell, the window faced south. His neighbor, however, yelled every morning without fail. His window probably faced east.
The prisoner stood up, stretched, and rubbed the ache out of his lower back. He circled the cell. Five steps one way, four steps the other. Then he hobbled over to the window and rose up on the toes of his right foot to glimpse the edge of the ocean rolling onto the white sand. He couldn’t hold the position for long, though, and the rest of the time he only saw the same twenty-six trees.
When stale bread dropped down from a hatch in the ceiling, the prisoner sank onto the bare concrete floor and ate. Staring at the wall, he let his mind wander. He couldn’t remember why he was here. He couldn’t remember being anywhere else, either. This concrete box with one small window was his world. Except for the beach. He could see it, but never touch it.
Voices and laughter drifted through his window. There were other people on the beach that day, which always made it worse, and he slid into the corner. Sometimes people came up to his window—calling in and asking if anybody was in there. Most of the time, they ignored the prison, but he couldn’t risk any interaction.
He sat silently as the voices grew louder, then quieter and quieter. The prisoner thought that they were gone, but occasionally their sounds drifted in. It didn’t matter. The prisoner sulked in his corner quietly until it got dark in his cell. Then he lay down and went to sleep.
Yelling woke him up again. The prisoner rolled over and slapped the cold concrete. He stood up and stretched, massaging the ache in his lower back. He circled the cell, and then he went to his window. He leaned up and gazed out on the beach.
A girl with brown curly hair popped up. “Hello!”
“Aaah,” grumbled the prisoner, scrambling back into the corner.
“Who are you?” she asked. “Why are you in there? What’s your name?”
“Errrrr,” The prisoner mumbled and groaned.
The yelling man next door chimed in. “Hey! Hey! I’m here,” he screeched. “There’s nobody else here. Just me. Come over here so I can talk to you.”
The girl stuck her hand through the window and waved. “I know you’re over there, with all that yelling, but I saw somebody in this other window, and now I don’t. Maybe he left. But I don’t know where he would go.”
“There’s nobody else,” the prisoner demanded. “Come over here and come talk to me, please.”
“There is. I saw him!” The girl exclaimed.
“Malaya?” another voice said. “What are you doing? Come on, we’re leaving.”
“Please don’t go!” the yelling man screeched. “I need to talk to somebody.”
“Sorry, I have to go, but you can talk to your neighbor,” the girl said. “You can’t see each other, but you can talk. Bye-bye.”
The prisoner heard the girl whistling as she left. He quietly rocked himself in the corner.
“Hey, if there’s somebody else over there, I’m talking to you,” the yelling man called out.
The prisoner stood and walked to his window. “What?” He wheezed.
“What the heck, man? How long have I been yelling, and you’ve never said anything.”
The prisoner cleared his throat. “I didn’t have anything to say. And I don’t want anybody to know I’m here.”
“But I’ve been yelling every day. I know a way out. I just need some help. I can’t do it on my own.”
“What? No!” The prisoner staggered back to the corner of his cell, trembling. A glimpse of the beach was enough. He didn’t need to go out there and experience it.
The yelling man berated him, but the prisoner stayed in his corner and stared at the concrete wall until the torrent subsided to a low rumble.
“Hey!” The bellow snapped him out of his reverie.
“What?” the prisoner asked weakly.
“What was that girl’s name? I think she’s still close. Call her over. She’ll come over if you call out to her.”
“I don’t want her to come over,” the prisoner grumbled.
“Well, too bad, because I need somebody’s help, and I am going to get it. And if you want a moment’s peace in this lifetime, you are going to help me. Now, get off your butt and call her over.”
Without moving, the prisoner called out the girl’s name. “Malaya.”
She jogged up to his window. “Hello? Where are you? I can’t see you.”
“It doesn’t matter,” the prison mumbled. “Just go to that man who’s yelling. He wants to talk to you about something.”
“I can’t see you. Why don’t you come to the window?”
“I don’t want you to see me.”
“I’m a prisoner. I don’t want anybody to see me in this place. Now, go away and talk to the other guy.”
She left, and the prisoner could hear her talking to the other man, but he couldn’t make out the words.
Soon, Malaya came back. The end of a thick rope pushed through the window and dangled limply.
“Here. I really have to go now,” she said. “Everybody’s waiting for me. Bye.”
The prisoner just sat quietly and waited for her to leave.
“Grab the rope,” the other man yelled. “We’re going to use it like a saw and rub the concrete until we can knock a bar out. It’ll be tight, but we should be able to squeeze through after that.”
The prisoner shook his head. “Just do it yourself.”
“Oh? You have more important things to do? I will get out of here, and you will help me. So pick up the rope.”
The prisoner shook at the thought of leaving the prison. He couldn’t. But if he helped the yelling man escape, then he would no longer wake up every morning to incessant shouting.
“Stop yelling in the mornings,” the prisoner demanded softly.
“Don’t you want out of that box?”
The prisoner said nothing.
“Fine,” the yelling man agreed. “I won’t yell anymore. Just help me get out. Please.”
The prisoner picked up the rope, and they began rubbing it against the concrete. It was slow but, little by little, the dust that coated the floor testified to their slow progress.
Days passed. The two men worked in unison. Not much was said. Not much needed to be said. Neither of them could remember why they were there or how they got there. Nor could they remember being anywhere else.
One night, they worked until dawn.
The next day the prisoner confessed, “I need a break. My hands are a bloody mess.”
“Yeah, mine too,” the yelling man agreed. “We’ll rest today and get back to it tomorrow.”
The prisoner shook his head. His hands wouldn’t be better tomorrow, but he didn’t have the energy for an argument. He lay down and went to sleep.
When he awoke the next day, the yelling man said, “Okay, let’s get started.”
The prisoner groaned. His hands had barely scabbed over. He bit his lip and picked up the rope.
As the days went by, his hands hurt less and less. Then, they didn’t hurt at all. After that, both men both worked with renewed vigor.
More days passed, and the groove where the rope rubbed against the window grew visibly deeper and deeper.
“Wait,” the yelling man shouted, “I saw a bar wobble.”
The prisoner waited.
“It’s almost there,” the yelling man exclaimed, laughing. “I can probably squeeze through now. When I tell you, pull on the rope as hard as you can and keep pulling. Got it?”
The other man gave the signal, and the prisoner heaved on the rope with all his might.
The rope went slack. The prisoner fell hard on his butt. He waited, listening.
A slow chuckle broke the silence.
“I’m out,” the man whispered. “I’m out.”
The prisoner saw a shadow fill his window and he scurried back to the dark corner.
“Come to the window,” the man demanded.
“Look, you can just go ahead and—”
“Come to the window. If you want me to leave, I will, but first you have to come to the window and tell me to leave.”
The prisoner peered out the window at the man. His clothes were in tatters. Scrapes, bruises, cuts, and wounds dripped blood down his arms, stomach, back, and neck. His right shoulder had dislocated and hung at an odd angle. Despite the carnage, he smiled.
The prisoner shook his head and mumbled, “You can go. I don’t think I—”
“No,” the man interrupted. “What do you want?”
The prisoner breathed deeply, and tears welled in his eyes. “I want to stand on the beach. I want to feel the sand in my toes, the sun over my head, and the ocean rolling up over my ankles.”
Tears rolled down the prisoner’s cheeks. “I want out.”
“Then let’s get you that.” The man shook a bar on the prisoner’s window, and it wobbled.
They caught each other’s gaze then grabbed that bar and started working it with all their strength. It grew looser and looser, until there were a couple of inches between it and the concrete.
The man nodded at the prisoner with a big grin. “Okay, this is going to hurt like hell. But that’s about how much space I had when you started pulling me through.”
The prisoner winced. “Can’t we open it up more?”
“It’ll open up as you come through it.” He shrugged. “I mean, that’s how I did it.”
The prisoner grabbed the rope. He stuck his head between the bars and wedged himself in the window, holding tightly onto the rope.
The man ran behind a tree to brace himself and pulled the other end of the rope. Nothing budged. The pain grew in the prison’s shoulders and arms, down his back.
Then, he felt the bar give a little. It was enough, and he slid out the window, but not before the metal bar scraped off a line of flesh down his back. His face slammed into the sand.
Blood dripped off him as he stood. The sun baked down, and he curled his toes in the warm sand.
The other man came up alongside him, and the two men gazed out at miles and miles of white sand and turquoise water. Hundreds of concrete prisons dotted the beach. The men nodded to each other and walked towards the closest one. They could, at least, give someone the rope.
Michael Warren is a land surveyor and author in Sacramento, California, where he lives with his wife, Esther, and their two children, Daniel and Zoey. He recently released his book Live Deliberately about inner healing and experiencing more freedom in Christ.