Tunisia was occupied by France from 1881 to 1956, then came the rule of the dictators, one ruled until 1987 when he was overthrown by one of his favorite men, who ruled until 2011.
Now we're in 2011. The people rises against the old regime. The revolution forces the dictator to run away from the country. The government falls. A new prime minister is assigned. We don't accept him, he's part of the same political party that ruled since the independence. We keep the revolution on. The new government falls, too. Another prime minister is assigned. One who belongs to that same party, but wasn't "in the game" since the second dictator took over. Now the people is divided.
I'm with those who are against this prime minister. We want the manifestations to continue. The government has the privilege of being approved by a part of the people, that gives it some power. A power they are willing to use, and abuse.
I take a dozen of my friends with me and go to the capital were the critical events are happening. We join the chants and the protests... and the fight against the police. A fight the police wins, brutally, for the first time since the revolution started, and manages to disperse us.
On our way home, we have to go through a police checkpoint before we get to the bus station. I tell my friends that we should go one by one, they are surely hunting for groups like ours. I go first. They search me, then release me. Now comes my cousin. I wait for him, too close to the checkpoint. They call me back and release my cousin. Now he waits for me. They notice this. We're in trouble!
The other guys make it through, but they hold me and my cousin, why? For what "crime"? It turns out they don't need any reason to arrest people. I smell the old regime's dictatorship, and it stinks
They force us in the van. They take us to the police station, along with a bunch of other unlucky guys. Two of them are brothers, the others claim they don't know each other, all came from the protest.
They welcome us in the police station, with the old regime's etiquette of welcoming; meaning they tackle us, make us fall on our stomachs then start kicking us right there on the reception's floor. We're outnumbered, we don't have their thick sticks nor their heavy police boots, but the idea of fighting back does occur to me, to be dismissed quickly by the way my fellow punch bags are behaving.
I'm good at covering my sensitive parts, but my cousin isn't that lucky, his ear is damaged beyond fast recovery.
Among all the chaos, our eyes meet and we start laughing. It's that laughter that forces itself among best friends and usually comes at the most bizarre and unwelcome times. We try hard to suppress it, as if our lives depend on it (maybe it does). We have so many crazy and silly memories, this one will surely make it into that list.
After the welcome party, we are being led to another room. It's lunchtime. We're all hungry. They don't like this anymore than we do, but their orders are to "babysit us" and wait for further orders.
They have to entertain themselves.
There was this cool guy, (why do I always find one? There's always one that likes me whenever I meet a new group of people), this guy's way of liking is different. He starts toying me. He uses a rope or something to tie my hands and head. Not with real knots, I can easily take it off, but it annoys me, and I'm trying not to defy him. I still don't understand why he's doing this.
He starts upgrading the game, his jokes about what is waiting us all in jail will haunt me even if they don't prove to be true eventually. I try to play it cool and give him some fake signs of fear or nervousness at frequent occasions. My cousin is watching. He knows what I'm trying to do? He tries to escape eye contact. He knows the consequences. A laughter now would make this guy furious.
One specific joke makes me nervous, for real this time, the one about making us sit on glass bottles once in jail. I've heard that one before, not as a joke, but as a testimony of an ex political prisoner in the times of dictatorship. Wait! Are all those jokes that real?
I seem to understand what the cool guy wants. He wants to break me. Maybe wants me to cry or beg or something. That won't happen.
He takes his big gun, the one that shoots tear gaz bombs, and points it towards my head, or rather puts my ear inside it. I'm not exaggerating, my ear is inside the gun's muzzle. He looks at me with a smirk on his face. He is having fun. I always like people who enjoy their jobs. I actually like this guy particularly. Some kind of connection is happening between us. Is this the Stockholm syndrome?
His finger is on the trigger. Ok now, he's either bluffing about pulling the trigger or about the gun having a bomb inside it. He can't fire it in a closed room, that would choke everyone inside, including him and his colleagues.
Should I act worried? Should I scream as to not hurt his feelings and make him even angrier? I look at my cousin. He looks back at me. Oh my god, this is a mistake, this is the worst timing. I can't laugh now! But I can't suppress it either. The "cool guy" pulls the trigger. I'm still holding that laughter. I should definitely react to his attempt of breaking me, to avoid his wrath. one long second later, during which I could feel the tension in the room escalating, I try to scream, but the laughter infiltrates the scream. A funny voice I don't recognize comes out of my mouth, a baby-like kind of fake moan. Something I will joke about with my cousin for decades afterwards.
To be continued
PS:In the cover photo, I'm the guy wearing grey clothes and a red bag, standing in the front line, talking on the phone.