Strike by YZ Chin
YZ Chin’s first chapbook of poetry deter was published last year by Chicago’s dancing girl press. Her fiction has previously appeared in Malaysian anthology, Collateral Damage, Hong Kong’s Cha, failbetter.com, and other publications.
Hunger pinned her to the bunk. Starvation impaled her through the stomach, keeping her down on the thin mattress, resisting the momentum of her feebly raised head. Her neck strained to bring her vision to the requisite level such that she could observe the movement of sun against her prison walls. The sun was her way of telling the time, of estimating the next delivery of food.
Not that it mattered now. It was her third month in maximum security. She did feel secure, as if nothing would ever happen to her again, until death. The days lost their shape, shedding the definition of hours and minutes. Her body, too, lost its shape, pooling downward, lowering her center of gravity, rooting her toward dirt and dust.
They said she was staging a hunger strike. Isa, on her part, felt that the refusal of food was really to make life behind bars more interesting. The meals they brought to her cell were markers of time, and she had looked forward to the packets of rice and gravy as daily celebrations. But then she started feeling like a Pavlovian dog. The nods of the men who handed her sustenance became sinister, laced with degradation. She resented the regular reminders of her weakness and dependency.
After minutes of work, she managed to prop herself up on one elbow. A rolling wave of dizziness lurched her, listing, tipping. She smiled widely. In her teenage years, when she lived a sheltered life, she had tried many times, each attempt lasting days or weeks or months, to go on diet. It didn’t much matter what kind of diets they were, or how much science was behind them. The hope was what she needed, that blindness leading her around each awkward corner of her then-life. She wished, on the other side of each corner, to find a slim, beautiful her, standing still with folded hands, waiting.
And now, she was living the perfect set-up to obtain the thinnest body of her life. She dreamt, still smiling, of her wafer physique gliding effortlessly among obstacles thrown up by invisible enemies. Anything anybody erected against her, she slipped past with a slight sideway turn of her frame, her arms extended ramrod above her head, as if surrendering, but really, evading, winning.
She was disappointed to feel, on being next conscious, that she was again flat on her back, her previous progress negated. Shadows swum before her eyes. She opened them. Men. Men were leaning over her, explaining something, but not to her. To each other, or maybe to an unseen observer. She sighed. Rank air filled her nose. Rolling her eyes upward, she caught the glance of one man, who started talking faster.
Hands pressed down on her shoulders, pinning them. A hand touched her lips. Isa suddenly wondered what clothes she was wearing. Whether she wore any.
Another pair of hands caught hold of her ankles. Her mind, wandering, entertained the absurd vision of a single many-limbed being. It had paused its speech when it extended hands and fists to restrain her, but now it started up again. Isa thought it might be expecting a response from her, but she could not understand it. When she opened her mouth to tell it so, fingers slipped through and stretched her lips. She gagged, and mush rushed in, filling her.
Of course she tried to spit. Of course she thrashed. At first. Then the mush began to acquire flavor, become more than texture. It wasted first like somebody else’s vomit, and then like her own. And then it became her, and she was being force-fed herself.
She re-closed her eyes. A piece of advice from a lifetime ago floated up. It had been given by a man, who based his authority upon his being a loving father with a daughter of his own. He recommended that when losing out to a rapist, a woman should give in and acquiesce. In other words, have sex with him. Do not fight. For survival should be your only focus, and you ran the risk of incurring murderous wrath to no avail by fighting while you are down. Everything other than your continued breathing — be it jewelry, other possessions, body, honor — is expendable. Save your life. Do not fight.
Oatmeal. That was what was in her mouth.