A frown creased his brow. Not a frown of worry, more one of fury. The man stood and studied his naked captive before stalking the floor once more.
Neither man spoke for the longest time.
The captive sat on a kitchen chair, rickety enough to rock on four uneven legs whenever he shifted to find a position that didn’t pull on tendons and muscles. His hands tied low down, under the seat, made it impossible to straighten his spine. A deep-seated ache already nagging to be stretched out and relieved.
“I love my wife,” the man said to his captive. He stood directly behind the chair, the restraints not allowing the captive enough movement to turn around to look at him. “I love my wife and you hurt her.”
The seated man’s head hung down but his captor continued.
“You broke into our home. You destroyed the sanctuary that every man works for to provide for his family. I work hard to put food on the table, a roof over our heads and you come into our home and wipe out that sanctuary in one moment.” He paced again. Once around the room, head down, hands behind his back, lost in contemplation.
He stood before his captive and waited until the other lifted his face to look at him.
“You broke into my house while I was away working, while my wife slept. You didn’t find anything of much value because we don’t have anything of much value. The television is big but it’s old, you wouldn’t get much for that from a fence.”
He paused, perhaps wanting a reaction. When he got nothing, he continued.
“When no one challenged you, you became bolder, perhaps believing no one was at home. My wife slept, or rather, she was unconscious. She needs medication to sleep.” The man turned away so the other could not see the tear slip past his eyelashes.
“You entered her bedroom and I assume you watched her sleep as you judged whether she would wake or not. I thank providence that she slept on. I dread to think what you would have done if she had woken and you still couldn’t find any valuables. Would you have committed violence upon her to make her tell you? I don’t know. I can only give you the benefit of the doubt there.”
He walked once around the room again in a slow, measured pace.
The sound of a solid metal object scraping against the stone floor caused the captive to tense. His shoulder and upper arm muscles standing out as he tried again to loosen his bonds.
“The display cabinet you found at the top of the stairs held our most precious items. Not that they would have been seen as precious to you, they were pottery rather than jewellery. Our children’s first hand and foot prints cast in plaster. Our son’s first pictures from nursery school, one particular masterpiece, a ladybug, and the cup he painted for his mommy for Mother’s Day. I took him to a pottery class to make that for her. He couldn’t quite get the hang of making the cup, but she was delighted when he presented it to her. She loved the yellow blob that could have been a flower or it could have been the sun.” The man paused to look into the other’s eyes.
“But you couldn’t see the value in those items. The most precious things we had were the memories those few pieces held. You smashed them to smithereens. I’m not sure whether you wanted to hear them smash or believed the noise would wake my wife and you could then force her to tell you where the real valuables were. She didn’t wake.”
“Our children can’t replicate those things. They are irreplaceable. Our daughter will never be that small again and our son can never paint a blob that looks like a sun or a flower. They cannot replicate them because the night you broke in, I was on my way home to comfort my wife. She had to face the terrible news that our children and their nanny had died in a terrible accident.” He stopped talking because his voice cracked with emotion.
The man paced the dank room once more until he had taken control of his composure.
“My wife decided that she couldn’t wait for me to get home from my business trip. My wife took the sedatives that were prescribed for her. She sent her friends home and she took everything she could find in our medicine cabinet. When you broke into our home, she was sleeping, but she was close to death even then. If she had woken and found her precious keepsakes destroyed, that would have pushed her over the edge. I cannot blame you for her death, she had already decided to take her own life.”
He raised the metal bar above his head. It scraped the low ceiling and he adjusted his grip.
“I cannot blame you for her death, but I can blame you for taking our memories and destroying them.”
He swung the bar against the man’s left elbow. A sickening crack preceded a muffled screech as the captive screamed against the tape across his mouth. Surprisingly, the chair didn’t topple as the captive struggled.
“You smashed those precious things for no reason. I doubt you have many precious things you hold dear, so I’m going to break things that I know will cause you a similar amount of pain.”
The bar swung again, against the captive’s left shoulder. Another sickening crunch and another muffled screech.
The captive’s shoulder no longer held his arm as it should and the captor studied the arm with fascination.
“The skin, muscles and tendons are holding your arm up. I have smashed your shoulder joint. I doubt it will heal well. I don’t believe you will be able to afford the surgery necessary to reconstruct that. Your elbow will never be the same of course, that is also shattered beyond repair. Much like the footprints of my baby girl. Let’s see…”
He swung the metal bar again against the captive’s left hip and watched as his captive threw his head back at the shock of the blow. The double-reaction as the movement jerked on his damaged shoulder caused the man’s eyebrow to raise in curiosity.
“You see, when I found my wife dead, the burglary was pushed to the back of everyone’s attention – including mine of course. It was only after everything had calmed down that the police could concentrate on the break-in. By then, of course, it was far too late. They couldn’t hope for a conviction from evidence that had been trampled on by doctors, paramedics, police, even me. I had to go it alone. I asked, I paid good money to find out who would do such a thing to a grieving woman as she slept. One name kept cropping up,” he paused to wait for the screams to die down a little. When they didn’t, he simply said, “Your name.”
“So you see, you smashed my son’s cup, his plaster footprints, the cast of his little hands. You destroyed our daughter’s footprints. Only her hand casts survived. I don’t know how.” He shrugged in a pantomime of joviality.
“All I know is you smashed the only physical items I had of my family and you did it on a night that I should have been home instead of at work. I will bear the guilt of that forever. I will not bear any guilt for this.”
He swung the bar across the top of the captive’s kneecap, causing the leg to jerk violently against the restraints and pulling against the shattered hip joint. He tore the tape from his mouth and leaned in close to his ear as the cries died a little.
“I’m leaving now. I will phone and tell someone where you are. You’ll not die from your injuries; they will eventually heal. I doubt you will be agile enough to burgle anyone else, though. Oh, and another thing. Every time the weather changes, either from cold to warm, dry to damp, and even if the weather forecasters get it wrong, your joints will tell you. Eventually, the joints on your right side will begin to deteriorate because of the strain you’re placing on them by compensating for your damaged joints. Look forward to a year or so of excruciating agony as you’re repaired. Then look forward to a life of misery. I have bestowed upon you an exact copy of the pain I feel. Your pain has a visible cause. Mine does not. The physical cause of my pain has been buried but I shall feel it until I die.”
The man kicked over the chair and left the naked captive screaming on the filthy floor of the cellar.
True to his word, he called the police to tell them about his crime. Then he boarded a plane back to his home country, changed his name and lived a more simple life – alone and in mourning.