Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

I’ve been locked up for 264 days.

I have nothing but a small notebook and a broken pen and the numbers in my head to keep me company. 1 window. 4 walls. 144 square feet of space. 26 letters in an alphabet I haven’t spoken in 264 days of isolation.

6,336 hours since I’ve touched another human being.

“You’re getting a cellmate roommate,” they said to me.

We hope you rot to death in this place For good behavior,” they said to me.

Another psycho just like you No more isolation,” they said to me.

They are the minions of The Reestablishment. The initiative that was supposed to help our dying society. The same people who pulled me out of my parents’ home and locked me in an asylum for something outside of my control. No one cares that I didn’t know what I was capable of. That I didn’t know what I was doing.

I have no idea where I am.

I only know that I was transported by someone in a white van who drove 6 hours and 37 minutes to get me here. I know I was handcuffed to my seat. I know I was strapped to my chair. I know my parents never bothered to say good bye. I know I didn’t cry as I was taken away.

I know the sky falls down every day.

The sun drops into the ocean and splashes browns and reds and yellows and oranges into the world outside my window. A million leaves from a hundred different branches dip in the wind, fluttering with the false promise of flight. The gust catches their withered wings only to force them downward, forgotten, left to be trampled by the soldiers stationed just below.

There aren’t as many trees as there were before, is what the scientists say. They say our world used to be green. Our clouds used to be white. Our sun was always the right kind of light. But I have very faint memories of that world. I don’t remember much from before. The only existence I know now is the one I was given. An echo of what used to be.

I press my palm to the small pane of glass and feel the cold clasp my hand in a familiar embrace. We are both alone, both existing as the absence of something else.

I grab my nearly useless pen with the very little ink I’ve learned to ration each day and stare at it. Change my mind. Abandon the effort it takes to write things down. Having a cellmate might be okay. Talking to a real human being might make things easier. I practice using my voice, shaping my lips around the familiar words unfamiliar to my mouth. I practice all day.

I’m surprised I remember how to speak.

I roll my little notebook into a ball I shove into the wall. I sit up on the cloth-covered springs I’m forced to sleep on. I wait. I rock back and forth and wait.

I wait too long and fall asleep.

In contrast to the perspective displayed in The Silence of the Lambs, in this extract, Mafi uses repetition, syntax, imagery, and first person narration to explore imprisonment from the perspective of the prisoner – a young woman in this case. Phrases such as ‘handcuffed to my seat’ and ‘strapped to my chair’ imply that she is being held against her will, and the use of the word ‘ration’ alludes to the meek conditions Juliette is being held in. Furthermore, by emphasising the ‘cloth-covered springs’ that Juliette is ‘forced to sleep on’, Mafi amplifies her predicament.

The extract does not, however, only focus on Juliette’s imprisonment, but rather also demonstrates the effect it has had on her mind. Throughout, it’s clear that she is obsessed with numbers. Mafi writes in Juliette’s voice: ‘1 window. 4 walls. 144 square feet of space. 26 letters in an alphabet I haven’t spoken in 264 days of isolation.’ The author is not only depicting Juliette’s fixation on numbers and time, but also revealing that this is the heroine’s coping mechanism. Mafi ultimately gives readers an intimate look into the mind of a prisoner who may not be guilty of her crimes.

Inês Figueira

Comments are closed.