Thomas: Am I my Brothers Keeper? John Skinner Heartcry 1985

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Am I my Brothers Keeper?

 

Thomas was a bricklayer like his father before him.  He was a good man, easy to get on with and difficult to find offensive, and whose obvious shortcomings were more than compensated by his ability never to speak wrong of others.

He loved his wife and adored his children, and worked hard to give them a secure life together, the type of security he had known as a child.  Thomas had been worried recently, it was three months since he had known regular work, and the recession had been particularly cruel to the building trade.  He was therefore relieved to be offered a new job, even if it might only last a few months, putting up the final stages of the Government Correction Centre.  It was strange work, unlike anything he had known before, as he was used to putting up houses for people to live in, which had given him a lot of pleasure.  The special correction block, on which he worked, was unimaginative in design, rows of windowless, flat roofed rooms with white tiled interiors, not unlike shower rooms, except the only inlet pipes carried gas not water.  This disturbed Thomas a little, but he comforted himself with the thought that he was only doing his job, and it was not his responsibility to be concerned with such details.  Anyway his mates didn’t talk about it, although he had to admit there was an uneasy atmosphere on site.

It was some months later, after work was over, that he just happened to mention it to a stranger in a pub, no serious conversation, just passing time.

They came for him in the middle if the night, men without faces who had long ago given up the right to be called by name.  At first he felt it was a mistake, they’d come to the wrong house, the wrong man, it was only when he realized that is was no mistake, it was him they came for, that he trembled with fear and cried out his innocence; wasn’t he a good family man, a hard worker, easy to get on with, never passing judgment on other peoples affairs?

They took him away silently, with only time to collect a few personal belongings and say goodbye to his wife.  He pleaded with them as they drove off into the night, looking for some support and comfort, but he received no flicker of a response.  He too became silent, and began to hope for the best, perhaps he would be home again tomorrow, for after all, what had he done?  It was only when they reached the gates of the Government Correction Centre that his fear again began to surface, and panic gripped him.  They led him from the car, along the narrow pathway to the special correction block, which he had helped to build, even as they closed the door of the windowless room in which they put him, he cried out his innocence.

‘I’m not guilty, not guilty, not guilty,’

But soon all that could he heard was the gentle hissing of gas.

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