Nailed to one wall was a sign with some instructions in Farsi, which I ignored. Against another wall stood a rusty iron sink. The guard had warned me not to drink the water. She had also told me the old toilet beside the sink no longer worked. If I needed to use the bathroom down the hall, I was to push a black button near my door. This would activate a green light outside my cell, signaling that I needed to be let out.
Attached to the opposite wall was a heater with a white metal cover. It was engraved with various comments left by previous detainees. I knelt to examine them.
"National solidarity for the freedom of Iran," stated one in Farsi.
"18 Tir 1386," read another. This date on the Iranian calendar marked the eighth anniversary of the 1999 peaceful student protests that had rocked various Iranian cities before the authorities violently suppressed them. Every year since then, students had commemorated the anniversary of the protests with fresh demonstrations, which were consistently put down by force.
Ahmad Batebi was one of the students who took part in the original protests. After his photo appeared on the cover of The Economist magazine, holding up a shirt splattered with the blood of a fellow protestor, he was given a death sentence, which was later reduced to several years' imprisonment in Evin. I had read how Batebi's captors had tried to get him to say what they wanted by beating his testicles and legs and by holding his head in excrement until he inhaled it.
In 2008, when he was briefly allowed out of prison for medical treatment, he escaped to neighboring Iraq and was later granted political asylum in America.
Toward the top of the heater, someone had drawn several parallel lines, apparently indicating the number of days she had been jailed. "One, two, three . . ." I counted. "Eighteen!" I could not handle even one night here.
I puzzled over how my predecessors had made these engravings without any sharp objects at their disposal. I tried using the bottom edge of my tube of toothpaste. It was solid enough to carve into the paint.
"GOD . . . SAVE . . ." I etched into the heater, "IRAN." I had to keep myself from adding, "from these awful people." The guard might later inspect what I had written. Who knew, maybe she could read English.
As I was finishing my artwork, I heard a whimpering sound coming from the other side of the wall through the perforations in my heater.
Then I heard a neighboring cell door open.
"You must eat something," I heard the guard say.
The whimpering paused.
"I can't," a woman said in a voice barely louder than a whisper.
"OK, it's up to you," the guard replied. "You're only hurting yourself, not us."
The door closed.
"Is she still refusing to eat?" asked someone, who must have been another guard.
"Yes," came the reply.
Poor woman. I wondered why she was here and what ghastly things had been done to her.
I lay down on my blankets and shut my eyes. The air was thick with dust, and my cell smelled like a junkyard of metal and cement, devoid of life and activity. The heater wasn't working, and the room was chilly. With two blankets under me and only one left as a cover, I was shivering. So I placed two blankets on top of myself and kept only one beneath. I was a little warmer, but now my bones were grinding against the frigid cement floor.