Room 56 By Innocent Benjamin Bodzalekani

Feb 13, 2024 | 2023 Competition, Main Prize, Short Story Competition | 0 comments


“Get them in here!” The figure yelled. Two more guards followed right in, each one of them dragging someone by the arm. The first was a burly female. She writhed about trying to break free.

“Let go of me!” She exclaimed. Their tussle at the door went on for a few more seconds before a man dressed in all-black stepped in, brushing aside the struggling guards and grabbing the woman by the collar of her jacket before slinging her into the room with unbelievable force. The woman let out a cry as her body hit the floor.

“Hey!” Ronald yelled as he rushed to the lady’s side. Blood ran down her nose. He ripped the bottom of his shirt and handed it to her. “Here,” he said passing it to the woman. “Press it gently against your nose and tilt your head slightly back.”

The woman obliged. Ronald shot a look of contempt at the guard who was yelling, “Next!” The second guard brought in the next person who walked in without resistance. He didn’t need to be dragged like the rest had been. The door slammed shut behind him as he gave the lousiest salute ever. He was dressed in jeans and a black shirt with the words “revolution” across the back. The red beret on his head made him peculiar in appearance. For some reason, Ronald felt as if he knew him. He watched with curiosity as this figure swiveled revealing the front of his shirt, “liberation.”

At any rate, the room was filling up. There were now four people. The other was an old man who cared not to move from the bench at the opposite end of the room. The old man’s hair was grey and thinning at the crown. He had been the only figure in the room when Ronald came. He had sat in a corner, not uttering a word.

“What is this place? Where am I? ”

No answer.

Ronald reasoned he was either deaf or mute. At any rate, he reckoned he would not get any help from the old man. Ronald was tired and his head hurt. He had nothing on him to jolt his shoddy memory. The whitewashed walls and white ceiling made him dizzy. He’d stared around but only caught a fluorescent light in the middle of the ceiling. The room was windowless, with only one exit– the steel door.

“I am Bashir, nice to make your acquaintance,” the beret extended his hand. “I’m Ronald,” He shook his hand.

“And you sister?”

“Julia.” The woman said through the bloodied handkerchief glancing at the beret. The blood had slowed down on the cut on her lip but she still pressed the handkerchief.

Madala, what’s your name?” The beret turned to the Oldman.
“I don’t think he speaks or…hears.”
The old man sluggishly sprung to his feet, clearing his throat, “Mr. Zulieka.” “He speaks!” Bashir exclaimed. Ronald looked at the man, wondering why he never spoke to him.
“Do any of you have a clue as to where we are?” Ronald asked drearily.

Silence hung for about half a minute. “Maula,” Bashir mouthed. “Indeed.” The old man coughed. “Maula?” Ronald glanced. Silence once more.

“What is Maula? What are we being held for?” Ronald asked again.
“There is only one offence” Mr. Zulieka said. “It’s obvious. And we are all guilty of it.”
“We have all committed the same crime? How’s that possible?”
Julia shifted her feet and stuffed the handkerchief into her blazer’s pocket.

She stood upright in almost perfect posture. “Apparently, things happen here…” she waved her finger about, “…to people like us. I had my doubts that this place ever existed but now that I am here.”

“Well, no more doubts.” Bashir laughed. “You see comrade,” Bashir placed his hand on Ronald. “This is a place for the worst criminals. I was at one of our party’s weekly meetings when I got arrested. Must have been two weeks ago. They had infiltrated our ranks, pretending to be one of us.”

“I have heard of you. The liberation movement.” Julia said. “Your group is a rumor….”

“Precisely, we aren’t meant to exist. Only a few know of us. See, liberation implies deliverance, and that’s why I’m here comrades, for wanting a better life for everyone.” Bashir said with arms spread.

Ronald reflected for a quick second. He didn’t have a recollection of aligning himself politically with anyone.

“And we are all guilty of this? How is that a crime?”

“You seem to forget about the country we live in young man.” The old man had now weighed in. “The State abhors all acts of rebellion.”

“I don’t think that counts as rebellious,” Ronald said apologetically.
“If the State says so, it is.” Bashir smiled.
“So we are here because we have all rebelled in some way? Is that it?”

Ronald glanced. “And you Miss Julia?”
“I said the State would do well to re-open the Mozambique trade route. The economy is suffering to not consider making peace with Mozambique.”

“That’s all?” asked Ronald.

“I implied the State’s incompetence to efficiently run an economy.”

“I don’t understand any of this!” Ronald exclaimed. “Those aren’t reasons to be detained.”

“The State controls what makes sense and what doesn’t,” Julia said. “The State is supreme. That’s the law of the land. There’s nothing any of us can do. Organized movements like Bashir’s here will always get snuffed out. You can only obey the law of the land.”

The conversation died and their faces were now even more solemn. The old man went back to his bench together with Julia. Suddenly, Bashir punctured the silence. “Anyone that commits crimes against the State is often never seen after they are taken. Maula is an urban legend. It is a place for what the State deems “hardened criminals,” those who are worse than murderers.”

“If this really is Maula, then these are our last moments.” Julia sighed.

“There must be some way out. We could attack the guard when they came back, forcing our way through.”

Neither one of Ronald’s pleas was taken to heart. Even Bashir’s demeanor seemed to be dying. Ronald sat down defeated, wondering what his crime was. His head hurt more than before.


Time grudgingly went by and the silence grew louder. Ronald now fixated his gaze on the steel door. Even in the silence, it was hard to hear sounds from the other side of the door. Ronald was the only one who had no idea who he was or why he was there.

Suddenly, the steel door opened with a clang dragging Ronald out of his thoughts. A figure walked through and stepped into the light, the officer in all black from before. He stopped at the entrance and motioned to Ronald.

“Room 56,” he said.

Two more officers rushed in and grabbed Ronald by his arms. Jostled by two figures, Ronald writhed about and dug his heels into the floor in an attempt to fight them off. In his struggle, he suddenly felt a pain in his midsection. A baton had landed across his stomach and with that, Ronald slumped to the floor and was dragged out of the room as the steel door closed with a clang behind him.


Ronald lay on a cold hard floor. Someone stood over him and glanced intently. Ronald got to his feet, staggered, and struggled to hold his weight up. The pain in his midsection had subsided but not the one in his head. The man was the same officer who wore all black. He stood at ease, with hands behind his back and feet apart, and watched Ronald.

The room was smaller compared to the previous one. The light was bright, almost blinding and there were no openings except the steel door. The door opened and another man walked in, dressed in a white lab coat. He had glasses on – big and round resting on half his face. The man approached Ronald.

“Could we please get a chair for our guest here?” He glanced at the officer. “My name is Steven Pekani, Please have a seat.”

Suddenly, Ronald felt a hand on his shoulder shove him into the chair. “Thank you, officer. Well, Ronald, I’d like to learn a little more about you.” Ronald felt his heart beat quicker than normal. He wondered who these

people were and what they wanted with him.
“Where- where are the others?” Ronald stammered. “
“You need not concern yourself with them. Let’s talk about you. How you got

here, shall we?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember…”` “Yes, you do. Just try harder.”

“I swear. Please just let me go,”

Pekani leaned towards Ronald and put the back of his hand to his forehead. “Your temperature is quite high. Do you feel hot?”

Ronald shook his head nervously.
“No matter, we shall fix you up. What do you remember?”
“Hmmm.” Pekani signaled the officer who quickly marched out of the room. Pekani shifted his posture and began, “Do you recall what year this is?”
“I can’t see how that is helpful, please, I just want to go home.”
“And where is home?”
“I-I-I am not sure…”
“What year are we in?”
“I don’t know! I didn’t do anything wrong… Please.”
“I don’t deserve to be here.”
“That’s is rather ironic Mr. Ronald Chibambo, don’t you think?”
It hadn’t dawned on him but he never once stopped to wonder what his last

name was. For some reason he could recall his first name but not his last. The officer in black had stepped out but was now walking back in with a black box clasped under his arm. He handed it over to the doctor and whispered something in his ear to which he nodded. The officer once again walked out.

“I am an ally, trust me,” Pekani fiddled with the box. “I have your best interests at heart. You might not remember this but you and I are friends. Your memory is shoddy right now, which is a good thing. It proves the success of our program.”

“What does that mean?”
“You’ll understand in a moment.”

Pekani put the box on the floor and began to open it when the officer in black walked back in. Ronald looked up astounded to see three familiar faces walking in behind the officer. Julia, Bashir, and Mr. Zulieka filed up against the wall in front of him. Their faces wore bruises and cuts and their clothes were ripped and torn apart in some places.

“They were resisting,” the officer reported to Pekani.

“What did you do to them? Ronald asked as he shot up from the chair. With remarkable speed, the officer closed the distance and wrestled Ronald to the floor. He wrangled Ronald’s arm behind his back and placed his entire weight on his back causing Ronald to gasp in pain. The officer then lifted him up and forced him to take a seat.

“This was you’re doing Mr. Chibambo. Not mine.” Pekani said, revealing a hypodermic syringe. “Hold him down, officer.”

Ronald struggled against the officer as Pekani injected him in the forearm.

“The people you see standing before you are only here because you brought them here,” Pekani said, putting away the syringe.

“How can that be? I only met them not so long ago.”

“Wrong. You have known them for quite some time. You said they were beneath the rats. Take this one for instance,” Pekani pointed at Bashir. “You’re the one who delivered him to us.”

“I did what?”

“He was your comrade, your brother in arms in the movement,” Pekani emphasized. “For a while, you shared the same space. Bashir, earlier this year, the liberation came across a benefactor. A powerful ally to help push your agenda forward. A defector from the State, operating from the shadows for fear of his life. He was to make his first public appearance to the movement at Lilongwe Regional Chapter, isn’t that right Bashir?” Pekani paused and threw a glance at the bruised Bashir. “I take it you never got to meet your benefactor Bashir. Well, you are in luck because you have had the privilege of sharing the same room with him,” he added now casting his glance at Ronald. “You can thank the man behind the Lilongwe raid.”

Bashir’s eyes lit up as though he had realized some hidden secret. “You? It was you?”

“I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Ronald said apologetically.

“You traitor. You have undone years of progress. You have blood on your hands!”

Not knowing what to say, Ronald glanced aimlessly. “Look I don’t know what you’re talking about. You and I met in this prison. That was the first time.”

“You are just as bad as the State,” Bashir spat on the floor.
Julia and the old man looked on without so much as a cough.
Pekani glanced at Ronald from the side. “A number of his so-called

comrades died at the raid of their safe-house. The State is in your debt Ronald.” “Mrs. Kamlepo here was the assistant district commissioner in Mangochi. She was poisoning the citizenry with false rhetoric—rumors of a trade war with Mozambique and a struggling economy. We couldn’t have her planting seeds

of dissent. So you exposed her lies.”
Ronald looked at Julia. Her face was swollen and her blazer was torn at the shoulder.
“The old man on the other hand, well, he was a peculiar case. He had your

job, but not exactly. He was you. Supposedly. But then he became defective. A sad end to a promising prospect. We picked him up a month before you were brought in. Somehow his loyalty to the State had waned. He started saying things he shouldn’t have.” Pekani paused and faced the old man “You still remember your job don’t you, Mr. Zulieka?

Zulieka nodded with eyes still on the floor.

“Why then don’t you let the room know what it is you did…” Pekani said. “Speak!”

Zulieka lifted his eyes off of the floor, “My duty was to the State. I lived to the truth, to counter the lies spun by the opposition. I was to influence the people in my community, at my place of work, or any place I felt. I watched and observed. I reported anyone that committed any of the three capital crimes.”

“That’s right Mr. Zulieka. You were our eyes and ears, and you were doing very well. Somehow you got reality mixed up and thought yourself above the law. Right, Mr. Chibambo?”Pekani turned to Ronald.

Ronald gave him a blank stare.

Pekani reached into his pocket and fished out a pocket watch. “Doesn’t matter, your memories should be returning any moment now. You’ve done an excellent and dutiful job. You’ve proved the MYP program successful.”

“The what- what is this MYP?” Ronald asked.

“MYP is your birth child. You conceptualized it and now you’ve proved its worth. A lot more successful than State media control.”

“What-” Ronald spoke and then stopped in his tracks. Something had just flashed before his eyes. His heart rate spiked and he felt the migraine he’d been nursing grow. He clenched his jaw and closed his eyes as he started to convulse. A ringing was heard and then he heard muffled voices.

Ronald opened his eyes slowly. The bright light stung and he winced as his eyes adjusted to his surroundings. He recognized his assistant, Steven Pekani standing to his left. He was dressed in that ridiculous coat he loved so dearly. He threw his glance forward and saw Michael Gobani standing by the entrance— an ever-loyal servant to the State, given at his disposal for the MYP program.

“Welcome back, Sir.”
“Thank you, Pekani” Ronald smiled coldly.
“Did it work?”
“The results are better than we anticipated. The brainwashing works.

Excellent. Excellent!” Ronald said sounding pleased. For the past week, I couldn’t remember a thing. Even him, the scum Bashir.” Ronald laughed. So I take it the Liberation’s planned insurrection is halted?” Ronald glanced at Bashir and laughed maniacally. Bashir clenched his teeth in anger.

“We raided all the hotspots and razed down their headquarters as instructed. They’re not coming back from this.” Pekani added.

“You idiot, did you have to be that rough?” Ronald winced, stretched his hand and glanced at Gobani who fearfully looked away.

Ronald got up from his seat and walked up to the other three prisoners. He eyed them from head to toe with contempt. He started with the old man at the far left and then gave a once-over to the woman. He remembered them and their crimes and their acts of rebellion against the State. The MYP program was a success. He had proved it was possible to take away memory just as he could alter the mind.

“Mr. Zulieka, the State is indebted to your sacrifice. We have learned a lot from you,” Ronald said extending his hand. I’m afraid we don’t need you anymore.” The old man shook his hand reluctantly. A look of sorrow hung in his eye. Julia flinched at Ronald’s stare. “The lady will be reintegrated, as for the freedom fighter, brainwashed. Rather than – you know, death.” Ronald said staring down Bashir, “induct him into the MYP program. He will prove a rather interesting specimen. We shall mold him into a fine instrument for the State. That will be all, take them away, he waved at the officer.

Bashir hissed and threw a fit as he was led away. Two more officers rushed in to help restrain him.

“Liberation will come to the people,” Bashir yelled, “It will come!” he was heard as he was dragged away.



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