“When I was arrested, they brought me to the newer of the two prisons, which is by far the less comfortable. At the old prison, when an inmate has meetings – with a visitor, a psychiatrist, a lawyer – he is conducted across an inner courtyard, with a lawn in the middle and trees all round it, to a separate building, external to the maze of cells and corridors where the prisoners pass their days and nights. At the new prison, one never escapes detention, either momentarily or metaphorically.
“They had brought me there at six in the afternoon, and by one o’clock in the morning I was installed in my cell. The hours in between I passed sitting on a wooden stool in a kind of closet, furnished only with a washstand and that wooden stool. When I finally entered the cell that was to be my home I knew not for how long, I saw that it held another inmate, who had prepared the place for my arrival. He had laid out my bed and made us coffee on a little hotplate he had. We chatted for a few minutes, and then I fell asleep.
“The following morning I woke up feeling I had recovered something of my stamina, intellectual as well as physical. The prisoners were let out for their constitutional in the yard at nine hundred hours. This was a concrete rectangle, about sixty paces by ninety, with a water hose, for those who wanted to wash themselves after exercise, and an open urinal of gray cement for visual symmetry. The custom is that when a new prisoner arrives, he is formally introduced to the others, usually by the man who has shared a cell with him on the first night, whereupon those present in the yard, about thirty in all, shake hands with the newcomer.
“Among the prisoners whose acquaintance I made in that way was one who was quite tall, about fifty years of age, and somewhat better groomed than the rest. But what really set this man apart were his spectacles, which at once I thought rather elegant in the surroundings. ‘Good morning, Professor,’ he said, introducing himself. I was too busy being surprised by the apparent fact that he knew who I was to catch his name. Then he turned away from me, addressing one of his companions, who I saw was none other than my cellmate, M— by name.
“‘You walk with this here professor?’ he said to M— in dialect, half affirming and half asking. ‘With this here professor I walk,’ my cellmate replied in dialect, respectfully transposing the speaker’s words. ‘Well, M—, is there anything I should tell you?’ he continued. ‘There’s nothing you should tell me, Uncle T—,’ replied my cellmate. ‘I tell you nothing then,’ he concluded. Then he turned to me. ‘Have a nice walk, Professor.’
“Later that afternoon there was delivered to me in my cell a large cardboard container of fruit sorbet.”
Andrei Navrozov, born in Moscow, lives in Palermo and is European editor for Chronicles. The former publisher of the Yale Lit, he is a widely published author and translator. His Italian Carousel: Scenes of Internal Exile was published by Peter Owen Publishers.