Cell 27 and the Match. Short story (from Where the Devil says Goodnignt.)

True story

Suz, the young scrounger, rolled a single cigarette in the stained thick ragged-edged newspaper and took the only match in the cell. Displaying it like a gold medal, she waved her fingers.

“No one breath,” she ordered, as she rubbed the door hinge to dry the edge, placed the match against it and pulled gently down. It buzzed, flickered and went out. She stared at the reduced head, wondering if there was enough left. Yaga stepped forward and rubbed the metal hinge.

“Fingers crossed ladies,” she whispered. Failure was surely the only result. Nevertheless, forty-one women prayed like never before. Turning the head – or what remained of it – to face the metal, Suz cupped her right hand and pulled again, but not as strongly or quickly. It smoked more this time, then they could smell the fumes. Her timing was not precise and she lifted the match too soon, not wanting to break it in two. As it dimmed, she quickly cupped the other hand around the glow and, had she not blown very gently into the flame back along the stick, it would have died. Suz quickly put the crude Sobranie to the glow and drew long and hard on the stiff, browned newsprint. Then, with two quick puffs, the match expired. The women pulled on their first drag in three cold days, each careful not to pull more than their routine share, but it soon became a soggy stump. It was carefully unrolled, the damp tobacco placed on the high windowsill to hopefully dry. The piece of the match was also left; the perfect tool to dig out uninvited guests. Rummaging for fleas in hair now so matted and tangled, made difficult by poor light and with many women without glasses, meaning that cell twenty-seven had a big problem.

Disclosing their lives in chats encouraged by Yaga had a marked effect on the cell’s spirits creating quiet, muted laughter that crushed despair. The criminals, the prostitute, the ill-fortuned and the sole aristocrat were now bound together.

One day, the door opened and a parcel was kicked into the cell. The nearest lifted it and said, “Irena, for you.” The middle-aged woman pulled from the opened parcel what the soldiers hadn’t stolen; a piece of salty uncooked hind of bacon and two packets of cigarettes, but no matches. From the parcel’s size, it was obvious most of its original contents had gone. This kind lady stripped off pieces of meat and passed them around. The cigarettes lasted several days. Suz was again scrounging the matches.

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