“Hi, I am Joe”
“Hello, my name is Joseph”
I clear my throat and try again in a deeper voice.
“Yo, just call me Big J.”
Walking towards the mirror, I hold my hand out to my reflection and mime a handshake.
“Good day, Joe at your service.”
I clear my throat again and mimic talking to a crowd.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is-”
There is a knock at the door, and small voice from outside asks, “Are you ready, sir?”
I grin into the mirror, straighten my tie, pat down my new three piece suit and walk out of the room.
My real name is not Joseph, it is Bilial. Everyone calls me Billy.
Billy, Prisoner BY/031613. Armed Robbery, Manslaughter. That was me. Joe was my cellmate, back when I was a guest of the state.
From the day he got there, Joe had always talked too much. He wouldn’t stop talking about how he was innocent, how he was framed. Ha! Like everyone else in prison.
I was innocent too, I tell you, I simply tried to hug that girl and her neck broke off in my arms like a ceramic doll. And I don’t know what her purse was doing in my pockets. If only someone would listen to me.
I remember the day they brought him in, I thought to myself, this dude won’t last a month, not looking fresh like that. And when they shoved him in my cell, I thought, Hell no, I’m gonna kill him myself.
I had spent two years working on getting that room alone to myself. If I was going to be in jail for the rest of my life, I intended to spend that time in style, not sharing a tiny ass cell with another man.
Yeah, my two previous roommates died under what you might call mysterious circumstances. One of them hung hisself off the top bunk. He was skinny and tall, almost six feet so many people were saying they didn’t know how that was possible. He must have had to fold his legs underneath him to pull off something like that. But I wasn’t there at the time, so I couldn’t say for certain.
The other one slipped and fell in the prison yard. He fell right underneath some heavy rocks. Like I said, it was all very mysterious.
If this new guy knew who I was, he would have quietly requested another cell. But I tell you, that Joseph was clueless.
Jabber, jabber, jabber, all day and all night. Stories about his past, stories about the present.
Even things that I witnessed firsthand, I would come back to the room and have to hear him retell them in his annoying high pitched voice.
“Shut up,” I would say, “I know what happened, I was there!”
But you want to know something?
While I was waiting for an unfortunate accident to befall him, he grew on me.
Yup, that little rascal grew on me. Don’t get me wrong, he was still annoying as hell. And every once in a while, I would cuff him upside the head to get him to keep quiet. But I had his back.
I took care of him. As long as he was my roommate, none of the other inmates could touch him. And I assure you, with his habit of running his mouth, he would have gotten his ass kicked many times in there.
It was tiresome all his talking, and you couldn’t be sure if any of the things he said were true. Some of his stories were truly fantastical.
His brothers sold him as a slave. He ended up being bought by a high-ranking government official and working for him. Then his boss’s wife tried to sleep with him and he refused to sleep with the man’s wife.
She was probably batting her eyelids at him like, “Joseph, Joseph, come lie with me.” I imagine he was shaking like a leaf, “Oh no, oh no, you belong to my master” as he ran out of her room leaving his coat. That sounds like something that idiot would do.
I don’t know about you, but I would have tapped that, if only to keep my cushy job.
Even if she looked like a wilderbeest.
Some nights I would tease him about what she looked like. I would ask him if her lips were full, if they were ripe and inviting. I mean her lips of course, I would say, laughing. He would get embarrassed and go silent.
Sometimes he would tell stories about the future. Like precognition or whatever you call things that haven’t happened yet. At first, the other prisoners just assumed he was lucky.
Like that time he skipped the food at the prison’s end of year party. The next day, everyone came down with some serious food poisoning. People were shitting for three days straight.
Happy Stinky New Year.
There was the other time the chief warden asked for volunteers for a community service project cleaning the city streets. Everyone normally rushed for these community jobs. Even if you weren’t trying to escape, it was nice just to be outside the prison walls for a few hours, and to get a chance to check out some babes.
Samir the weasel (BY/072328. Kidnapping, Fraud, Forgery) said a group of handmaidens walked by the last time they were out for street cleaning. Handmaidens carrying jugs of water. He wouldn’t shut up about that for months. Handmaidens with jugs perched delicately on their heads, their long necks held straight. Every time Samir repeated the story, it took on a new element. In the latest version, the water from the jugs splashed on their clothes as they walked past, like they were contestants in a wet t-shirt contest.
You have to understand what an image like that means to a man who has been locked up for fifteen years.
This time it seemed like Joe and I would both get to leave the prison. The wardens usually gave preference to the well behaved inmates and, Lord knows, Joe was well behaved. But he turned it down, said he was feeling dizzy. Then he collapsed against me as we stood in line and the warden told me to carry him to the room.
The nerve of the guy. Even if my legs were suddenly chopped off, I would have offered to crawl on bloody stumps out of that prison just to be able to breathe free air for a short while. Free air and a glimpse of the girls.
The inmates selected that day never came back. The wardens never explained.
There were murmurs in the prison yard the following week that the King of Edom was in town and the prisoners had been taken to entertain him. I’m guessing they had to partake in some amateur lion taming. That little fainting stunt saved my life.
Who were we to complain? Who would we complain to? All of us were lifers. Forgotten people. We would die here, and our bodies would disappear. No one cared.
After that incident, I ate what he ate, went where he went.
Perhaps you’re thinking that I was stupid to keep such a tight grip on my life when all the future held was more time in prison.
But I hoped. I hoped that one day, I would get to leave that place.
Another interesting thing that happened after that incident was that the other inmates started coming to him for advice. We would be walking to the dining hall, and someone would pull him aside, “Hey Joe, can I ask you a quick question? I had this dream.” Or in the room at night, someone would knock on the bars and ask if they could talk to him. It was all sorts of random things, people squeezing grapes in their dreams, birds eating out of baskets, the works.
I was annoyed by the attention he was getting, and all the people coming to our cell. Things went downhill from there.
One morning, I was sitting on my bed bouncing this rubber ball against the wall when Joe told me he would be leaving soon. In four days, he said.
Prisoners like us don’t have a choice. You enter here with the expectation that you will die here. And your life becomes defined by that, by your inability to do anything other than wait.
But here he was, lying on the top bunk, staring up at the ceiling, and telling me without fanfare that he was leaving.
I had watched over him for years, taken care of him, and all for what? So he could leave me in this hole, by myself?
See, I’m not a bad person, rather I think of myself as an opportunist.
He drowned in the shower the next morning. You have to understand, people get careless, these things happen. He must have tripped and fallen face first into a bucket of water. I always used to tell him, be careful, those tiles are slippery.
I went to the warden as soon as I heard about the accident. With tears in my eyes at the loss of my only friend, I fingered two suspects, Samir and his cousin, Omar. I told the warden that Joe found out they were planning to escape and had planned to turn them in to prevent the warden from being shamed. Good old Joe.
They were both carted away to the gallows that afternoon.
In exchange for this information, I asked the warden for a favour of my own.
Two days later, when the Pharaoh sent for a certain Joseph the dream interpreter, I was there to represent.
“Hi, I am Joe. Prisoner BY/056848, Rape, Assault.”