Sarah Jacob opened her eyes, coughed violently and spat up a mouthful of blood over the side of her bunk. Rubbing her eyes and scowling against the sunlight, she slowly and painfully pulled herself to her feet. She limped, dragging each step to the metal basin to perform her morning ablutions. In prison there was never a need to hurry. She stared, pensively into the mirror.
Her childhood in the back streets had robbed her of most things – her family, her innocence, and her memories. The struggles during the civil war had ravaged the only thing that remained: her youth. The day before had been her 20th birthday but she had the hunched back, wrinkled skin and sallow face of someone twenty years older. That wasn’t the worst of it. She was sure that she wouldn’t live to turn twenty-one. Her execution had been scheduled for the next day, the warden had looked at her coldly, malice glinting in his eyes but he didn’t have to tell her for her to know. She knew she preferred death by the state’s modus operandi to death by cancer. She lived in modern times , civilized society so that, when the government did away with someone they made it painless , quick and easy In contrast what her illness would do was poison her from the inside , claiming organ after organ till her body succumbed . The thought did not bear thinking about. Her brow furrowed as she made her decision, Sarah Jacob, prisoner 43584 would embrace the death sentence with both arms. She coughed again, a hacking cough that she hurriedly silenced.
She didn’t have to turn to know Betty’s eyes were on her. Their usual green greying with concern. Since their incarceration she’d started to regard Betty as the mother she had never had. She watched as the slow smile blossomed and lit up the lines on her face. Sweet old Betty. The poor soul was the only reason she retained her sanity in this hellhole. She’d need a better excuse this time. Otherwise Betty would insist on her visiting the prison doctor. She didn’t need Anne’s long face grimacing, her sombre voice, constricted with emotion, telling her the cancer had reached the final stage. The only good a formal diagnosis would do was make sure everyone on prison found out .Why did it matter anyway? Her execution meant a less painful death and for that she was grateful. She willed away her restlessness. Death didn’t scare her, mostly because Life had never given her much of a reason to appreciate it. Most of her memories were tinted with strokes of poverty and sorrow. The only moments she cherished, the only encounters she relished, had been with the revolutionaries but that too was short lived, far too short-lived. She had known, right from the moment she joined that capture was inevitable, confinement, assured and an early death, a surety. What she hadn’t counted on was genuine affection from not one, but two people. Anna may have been in the pay of her gaolers, but the doctor showed a true spark of humanity. She smuggled in treats whenever she could, sweets, gifts, small silly things. They helped break the monotony of prison life and morphed it with a sliver of reality. She would have to tell them how much she appreciated it soon, real soon. For now she spent her time counting down the hours………..
The noise woke her first. Her dearest Sarah, stifling a cough again. She flinched inwardly, deciding to herself that if it didn’t heal in one more day she was going to have to march Sarah to Anne. Betty didn’t care much for the doctor, a bossy standoffish sort of woman in general, but it was evident that she doted on Sarah. The affection was clearly mutual. She had lost a good part of her vision years ago and now her sight showed her a blurred world but her hearing was still sharp and she could easily pick out every nuance , every inflection in Sarah’s voice. The girl had been fretting ever since she returned from the warden’s office the previous day. For some reason though Sarah refused to tell her. Despite her adoration of the child she wasn’t one to pry. She shook her head, she still didn’t know what it was that Sarah had been found guilty of. That was prison etiquette; one couldn’t enquire about another’s crime or her punishment, till she volunteered it and Sarah played those cards very close to hand. She waited for the child to come to her. She knew that whatever it was they were going to find a solution, together. After that she would tell Sarah of her plans .She wanted so badly to give that child something. Her parole was sanctioned to start from the next day. After leaving the gates her first action was going to have her lawyer transfer all her worldly assets to Sarah. Once that was done he would initiate the procedures to get her out of jail. There was enough to buy her her freedom if that’s what it took. Betty sighed. She wondered what Ronald would have thought of her giving away all his wealth to some orphan. She hadn’t thought of him since her prison sentence began. The charming reclusive billionaire who had pursued her relentlessly, made her fall in love with him, married her, and then tortured her physically, mentally and emotionally for years on end till she finally built up the courage to shoot him point blank with the Colt he hid under his pillow. The money could have gotten her out, given her a second life but what second life was there for an eighty year old. It deserved to be used for better causes. The judge had issued her life imprisonment. She had no use for money but Sarah did, she could buy herself a better life. Incarcerated, she was prisoner 45863, a number. She knew she was going to die with just that identity but before she did she was going to do some good in the world. After years she had plans, and things she had to do………………………
Anne had slept fitfully the entire night. Being a prison doctor meant she had experienced her fair share of horrors, incidents terrible enough to propagate frequent nightmares. This time however, the emotions roiling within included guilt, hurt and sorrow. The warden had told her that the next morning she was going to have to administer that fatal dose to Sarah. He didn’t even know Sarah by name , just told her that the excecution of prisoner 48584 was scheduled. She smiled, a fleeting involuntary; smile as she thought of Sarah. The smile was chased away by the frown; Sarah was just so naïve. An innocent, lost little girl who unfortunately only found meaning when the revolutionaries charmed her to their cause. Now she was paying for that mistake with her life. In prison, most of the people she met were lost causes, people with no hope. Sarah was different. Anne was sure she could make a difference. All she needed was time. Time till she could raise enough money to fight for Sarah in court. Time they had now taken away from her. There had to be something she could do.
The germ of an idea blossomed into her mind. Her guilt doubled. Yet it was the kindest thing she could do. She was helping three souls find peace at once. She could get away with it, she was sure. She would have to tell Sarah about it though. Tell her, that her action ghastly though it was, had been her only choice. He only chance to give Sarah another chance. Tell her that Betty would approve of it too. Sarah would understand. She perhaps would assume Anne did it out of dislike to Betty but the girl would agree eventually, wouldn’t she? She didn’t even have to ask Betty to know she would approve; wholeheartedly. They both loved Sarah and wanted the best for her. Betty had always said that life imprisonment was the cruellest joke that life had played on her. She mulled and pondered and changed her mind several times . In the prison world Death was after all treated with nonchalance. It knocked on doors with more frequency and less theatrics than it did in the free world. She was just directing his course. Most importantly, nobody would know. All the inmates were sheer numbers to the authorities. She made up her mind.
Rushing to the documents room, she took out the execution order she was given. She filled the syringe with the poison and pulled out Sarah’s medical records folder. With minutes to spare she pulled out Betty’s folder and swapped the contents. The death she would bring about was no longer Sarah’s.