As I sat in the speeding bullet train heading to my destination, I propped open my tablet and typed in; October 5th, 2027. I stopped short at typing and stared silently into the tablet’s screen, taking in the rattling sound of the train and the environment around me. I could not focus.
An old woman sat opposite me, under an LED image of my country’s Prime Minister. The words, “REFICUL LEGAN, LEADER OF THE DEMOCRACTIC UNISIAN PARTY (DUP)” in bold. The image constantly changed every few seconds, depicting Unisia’s Prime Minister meeting the poor, attending to the sick and smiling with other world leaders. As a reporter, I knew it was but a gimmick. The photographers had instructed the Prime Minister to pose in such a way.
Adjacent to me, a teenager filled with punk hairdo stood, leaning against the train’s door and under a small television screen with a sullen look on his face, busy munching on a gum and rapidly typing away on his phone. He had his earphone’s stuck to his ears, preventing the propaganda music to penetrate his hearing from the screen above him. A loud catchy tune emitted from the tiny speakers of the television screen while the teenagers in the video clad in white tshirts with the words “DUP” printed on them, danced to the beat.
The song played in a loop throughout the journey. I sighed and stared back at my tablet. Unable to get any ideas to write, I closed it shut and was glad when the announcer announced that my station was next.
I got off the station and slowly made my way, following a throng of zombie like Unisians, sleep deprived, tired and all of whom were making their way either to work or school in the subway tunnel. We walked a plethora of LED screens of people depicted as being sprightly, positive and cheery. Everyone of them had a huge smile on their face. One of the screens showed a family of four, a couple, looking happy as hell, hugging their kids in a green field. The words, “UNISIA, A PEACE LOVING NATION” in bright orange and bold. Their happiness was a stark contrast of what I was witnessing as I slowly walked up the subway staircase, past beggars sitting on them and glum looking but hurried denizens.
I surfaced to the city centre, where I found myself face to face with more LED screens depicting the greatness of my nation. How multicultural we are. How tolerant we are despite our differences in religion and race. I lit a cigarette as I sat at the bus stop.
As I turned, behind me, I found an old television screen depicting scenes of chaos and terror. Scenes of riots and explosions. It was a short 30 second video which was looped and at every end, the narrator with a deep and serious voice would ask the viewers, “Do you want Unisia to be this way? Vote wisely. Choose DUP. Reficul Legan for PM”
It sounded like a threat to me. I exhaled a fume of smoke.
However, that was an old video. The elections had ended 6 months ago and the DUP party led by Prime Minister Reficul garnered its 11th consecutive landslide victory, reinstating his fifth term as the leader of the nation.
What a leader he is. I looked around me, there were skyscrapers and buildings of various types. The economy is blooming. I mean, that is what the papers were saying. My paper, the very same organisation I’m working for; The Veritatem Evangelicam, the country’s leading newspaper. The country is doing well, that is what we constantly reported while the alternative media, heavily criticised by the government for being biased and Opposition backed, constantly harped that it was otherwise. As a reporter, I was drawn to the fact that, despite the seeming perfection in the country, many had managed to find flaws in it. And I was slowly starting to believe in it.
It was… absurd for things to seem fine. To seem perfect. It was very fairytale like. I mean, the more I questioned – questioning the right things, that is – I started to unearth more and more truth. And the only way I could share them was through my personal blog to which I wrote under a pseudonym; John Baptist de La Salle.
The truth was, the country was in deep turmoil and it was masked so well, that very few blemishes could be seen. Crime rates had gone up, there were police personnel who conducted crimes and were gang affiliated, racist politicians, and as I covered more events, functions, I realised that there were hardly good ones left.
Even in the Opposition’s camp. Each had their own agenda and each only cared for themselves and not about the country, Unisia.
Which was why, when my editor instructed me to interview the infamous Unisian revolutionary Simon Mazzini – the very same man who was found guilty for killing 30 police personnel during a riot instigated and led by him to topple the government 20 years ago – I grabbed the opportunity right away.
I reached the Unisian City Centre Top Security (UCCTS) prison right on schedule and after registering, I was immediately whisked away by a tall lean looking police officer. We walked a flight of stairs and reached a cell with a heavy metal door.
As he motioned me in, he said gruffly to me, “30 minutes. Not more.”
I walked in and found myself in a room with a bald thin pale man, seated across me on a green table. His hands and legs including his neck were chained to each other. They were all connected and the entanglement of sorts, prevented his escape as the metal links were chained to the wall above him.
He sat staring at me emotionless, his sunken and dark circled eyes peered at me accusingly.
“H.. hello.” I said, as I sat before him. He didn’t respond but continued glaring at me.
I continued, “My name’s John Libel and-“
“I know.” he cut me short. I nodded nervously and placed the recorder on his table and whipped out my tablet to type.
“You must be new.” He said. And he was right. But I was curious as to how he knew and so I asked him, “What makes you say that?”
He stared numbly at me and droned, “Seasoned journalists would only whip out a recorder if whatever it is they’re going to write is something new and important, which in my case is not. So, I’m guessing you’re a rookie. A cadet journalist to be more specific. Probably just six months into the job.”
He was spot on. I was stumped.
“You’re wasting your time.” He said.
“But my bosses told me to interview you.”
“Oh really? Which media organisation are you from?” I was about to reply, but he cut me short again, “Veritatem Evangelicam, a government controlled, monitored and regulated media organisation. What makes you think they would want to publish anything about me?”
I had no answer to that. To be honest, I never really gave it much thought. The idea of interviewing a figure of much controversy intrigued and kept me out focus to question other things.
He went on, “Listen, I’ve met countless journalists walking through that door for the past 20 years of me being here. And every single one of them asked me the very same fucking questions. What makes yours different than theirs?”
He stared angrily at me. Here was a man, a beast, who murdered 30 police personnel on the morning of Sept 4th, 2007 during a bloody riot, asking me – a journalist – questions. It was supposed to be me asking him. So I did the only thing I could. I mustered my courage and proceeded with the interview.
“Why did you kill the 30 innocent police personnel?”
He remained silent and sat frowning at me. I asked him again.
“I told you, kid, my answer would be the same.”
I sighed, and asked, “Okay, what is your answer then?”
“That I didn’t kill them.”
There was silence in the room. I stared at him, completely dumbfounded.
“What do you mean? It was all over the papers and news?”
He let out a loud cackling laugher. Like a sick old crow. “And you believed it?”
It was my turn to be silent.
“I didn’t kill them. The police did. They shot innocent rally goers point blank in broad daylight and proceeded to replace their clothes with police uniforms. Ofcourse no one found out, because everything was chaotic, tear gas and what not. And the media, as usual, the local media arrived late. By the time you guys came, it appeared that the police had been killed.”
“I don’t believe you.”
He smiled sadly and said, “Up to you.”
He then came closer to me and said something that brought chills down my spine, “Kid, if I were you, I’ll remain in this room. It’s much safer than out there.”
Puzzled, I asked him, “What do you mean?”
Without batting an eyelid, he said, “They’re coming.”
“Who?” And that was when I heard loud but muffled footsteps coming up the stairs in the distance.
He sighed sadly and shook his head.
“Who is coming?” I yelled.
“Them. They’re coming for you. You got set up by your bosses, kid. I tried warning you.. They can’t come for me because I’m an old forgotten story. But reporters like you, the curious, inquisitive ones, your kind they fear and despise.”
“What would they do to me?”
I hurriedly grabbed the recorder and tablet and quickly made a dash to the door. It was locked. I tried pushing it open. But it didn’t budge.
And then they opened it, three men with dark uniforms and helmets. One of them, who appeared to be their superior calmly said to me, “Sir, your time is up. Follow us.”
I turned to look at the revolutionary. He gritted his teeth angrily.
“It’s alright. I can walk myself out, thank you.” Saying so, I tried bypassing them but they blocked my path.
One of them grabbed my arm and I yelled, “Let me go! I can walk by myself!”
The superior punched me in the face, with the other two kicking me in the groin. They proceeded to stomp me as I laid on the ground, shielding myself using my hands.
With my blood dripping on the floor, the superior lifted me by my hands while the other two grabbed me by my legs and carried me past, the flight of stairs, through a dark corridor aligned with its only source of light being the LED screens depicting the Prime Minister.
He beamed from every photo confidently and the words, “IN UCCTS WE BELIEVE IN HUMAN RIGHTS” flickered in bold.