This is the second part of my real life experience with getting arrested during the Tunisian Revolution of 2011. The first part ended with this:
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.
(You can read the whole part HERE)
Now what is done is done, all I can do is wait for the consequences and hope for the best. I can sense him consider his options. He'd have to come up with much better ways if he still wants to keep "playing". That, or he can take what was given and contempt himself with this half-satisfaction. He decides to do the latter.
He's pointing at me and laughing, when their lunch comes. It's 4 PM in a summer afternoon, we're all sweaty and hungry. What kept this lunch for so long, I wonder, though it was none of my business. It's not like they'll feed the prisoners too!
There's this social custom in Tunisia, and probably in all Arab countries, that states: If you're going to eat in front of someone, you have to ask him to join you. Usually, he'll know you're only doing it out of courtesy and he'll decline. So if you really mean it, you'll have to insist.
"Who wants to eat" The policemen say, almost all at once, gesturing a fake offer of food.
The prisoners-to-be are all like "Do you think we're in the mood to eat now?", they all shake their heads.
The bluffer, just like me, has to take every game to the next level. He offers his plate to us, one by one, changing his wording every time. "You want some?" ... "Here, take my lunch" ... "Do you want to take it?" ... "Do you want to eat?" ...
I told you he's a cool guy!
One by one, the captured youngsters decline his offers. Until it was my turn...
My turn to smirk now. To everyone's surprise, I take the plate and start eating. My cousin gives me the most perfect mixture of a disbelieving and an amused look. I give him a sign I can bet my life he gets what it means: What? I'm hungry!
I resume my feast. What do we have here? A salad, a spaghetti, a fish, and a fruit. The fish, though... It's not a small or a cheap one... It's either a tall gilt-head bream or a fat sea bass, I'm not good at identifying them. I'm good at eating them!
God! they feed them well. No wonder they follow the orders blindly...
Sorry, cool guy, no lunch for you today.
When we finish our lunch, well, me and the policemen, they take the empty plates out, leaving only two of them with us, and they take their time doing it. What's holding them? Maybe the orders they were awaiting just came?
One familiar face appears at the door. He calls my cousin. A while later they call my name. I recognize this policeman now; he lives in a town near our city, and , apparently he wants to help.
"I know you guys. And I wish I can help you better." He says, and I believe him, I never knew him closely but I always thought he was a nice guy. Wait! was he at the welcome party? It doesn't matter now, does it? It wasn't his choice to be there anyway. And, just for his wiliness to help, I forgive him.
"but I don't have that much power..." He breaks my chain of thoughts "I can only help one of you guys."
We look at each other. He did call my cousin first. He's not asking. The choice has been made, and I'm glad it has. My cousin is here because of me. The rest of my journey would be much more awful without him, but I would feel much better knowing I wouldn't be bringing any more misery upon him.
I'm also happy about something else; his father is a lawyer. They haven't officially interrogated us yet, and they haven't granted us any phone call or any possibility to contact a lawyer. But now my family will know where I am and they will surely know what to do.
The atmosphere becomes more at ease after lunch.
We even started debating the revolution and the old regime with the policemen. Some have their own doubts about the system. They don't admit it of course but it can be seen in their faces. Some are mocking us for even having the slightest hope to change "how the world works". Of course you can guess to which group "the cool guy" belongs.
It's getting dark now, we should soon know how this is going to end. Or at least where we are going to spend the night.
The handcuffs come. We're forced into a line and led outside, towards the police van. I glimpse my older brother and another cousin of mine in front of the police station. I start walking with a swagger and a smile on my face. A celebrity being led to prison, a crowd of (two) concerned fans greeting him and waving, I wink at my cousin and give him the victory sign with my cuffed hands.
Going to prison for political reasons has been a family tradition.
The day I was born, my father was released from his third six-month-sentence in prison, all for the same reason "Belonging to an unauthorized group". Referring to Ennahdha Party, the biggest opposition party that presented the biggest threat to the dictators throne throughout the oppression era.
My uncle, the father of the cousin I just winked at, has been forced to live in exile since that same year, the year I wan born. He had to leave the country before getting captured, he had a lifetime-sentence for being one of the leaders of that "unauthorized group". That sentence is still, legally, applicable, but my uncle defied it, in the name of the revolution, and came back to his country, bringing all his family, to help build a better future.
Ennahdha Party was once legal, back when the last Tunisian dictator was faking democracy. But when he realized it was a serious rival, he decided to eliminate it, along with every other potential threat to his iron grip on power.
My little rebellious show is over.
I'm in the van with the rest of the captured protesters, not knowing where we are being taken.
A horrible realization strikes me. I have just passed the most important exams in my engineering studies. The results of those exams will decide what choices I will have for my next year in university. If I fail to submit my choice, for any reason, I will be stuck with a university that no one else has taken, or I will have to pass the exams again next year...
Even the shortest amont of time in prison, now, can cost me a year in my engineering career!