He lay curled on the floor inside the shop with his back towards the road. Five men stood over him, covering him from view. It was like at a rugby match with the players scrumming for the ball. Except in this instance there was no ball but a man lying on the ground. They kicked him and asked him questions. But he didn’t seem to be responding to their queries. A man squatting near him held his head willing him to speak. Another man dropped down onto his haunches and began pummeling him gently. It didn’t look as though they were hurting him. It was more like a friendly fight among friends.
But the men didn’t look like friends. Their faces were hard and unyielding. It was the only shop in the area always full of people but that day there wasn’t a soul in sight. Not even the shop keeper. The only people were the man on the floor and the five men dressed in black.
And then we saw it. The reason he was unable to respond. They were stuffing dough inside his mouth. Maybe they used the floor sold in the shop. Where else could they have found dough? His mouth was open and it was full of hard white lumpy dough. You could see it at this distance. He was choking on it. Yet they kept pushing it in like his mouth was a baking tin. He was choking and trying to spit it out. They kept asking him questions and hitting and kicking him, on his back, on his stomach on his balls. He was writhing in pain. Every time they kicked him he moved in that direction as if the movement would ease the pain. Every kick was followed by a question but he couldn’t respond. He tried to but there was all that dough blocking his words from getting out. Every time he failed to respond another handful of dough was stuffed in. He spluttered and writhed but the man holding his head forced it back in.
His mouth was one big gaping hole full of dough with no place to go except down. But the dough wouldn’t move down his throat so someone poured water. It didn’t seem to help. The dough had stuck firm. He couldn’t swallow, couldn’t spit out. They got violent. Kicked him harder and faster. The heavy thud, thud of the boot crashed against his bones like low thunder in the distance.
I think one of us must have gasped out loud at the sound for the men stopped their kicking to look in our direction. Fear gripped us as we stood rooted to the spot. Would they recognise us and stop us on the road? Do the same to us for daring to show our face? For bearing witness to that which we shouldn’t? One of us managed to get free of the fear and pulled the others back into the shadows. We waited but they didn’t come for us.
Instead they picked up the man and threw him inside the back of an unmarked van. Then they sped off as silently as they came. It was over as quickly as it began. Who were those men? No one will ever know.
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