We were stuck in the Black Hole of Ghazni for months. They fed us garbage squirming with maggots. The water was covered by bugs. Soon we were too. Vermin crawled all over us. Our clothes turned as black as our flesh. God how we stank. We had to take turns moving about and standing and laying down. It was just a matter of time before we all got gaol fever: Typhus. Soon the rash appeared. Then the bad hacking cough, the fever, the aching joints and aching muscles, and the headaches. All we could do was hold each other up in turns as the sicker men curled on ground which was crawling with vermin. Pretty soon we started getting crazy with the fever. Some of the men got delirious. Others sank into semiconsciousness and then unconsciousness.
Then one day Joe just did not wake up. We pounded the cell door shouting but the guards just laughed. We put Joe in the corner and he was soon rigid as the vermin crawled over him. He was beyond caring. The guards did not open the door for three days. Fortunately it was still damnably cold. Finally they did. They hauled poor Joe and then for some entertainment they hauled Palmer into the hallway. He was a mess too. He had been beaten bloody. Now they tortured him in front of us saying if we did not surrender the fucking rupees we would all be tortured in turn. Palmer sort of spoiled the show however by refusing to scream as they tortured him. He jeered them instead. He said “You are filth. You are pigs. You have no honor. So I will simply ignore you as a Hindu ignores an Untouchable.” So we jeered our tormenters too. We called them pigs. Finally they dragged poor Palmer away and they got back at us. They boarded up the one and only window into the cell. Fortunately we got back at them. The cell was three stories high so to board up the window they had to enter the cell. We shared out typhus with our tormenters. Later we heard eight Afghans died.
They treated us worse and worse. So we became quite merry! Why? Well besides being crazy from typhus we all figured the Afghans were treating us worse and worse because they were taking out bad news on us. So what sort of bad news could that be? We figured there was an army marching through the Khyber Pass! We just had to somehow hang on! We took turns talking to focus, and to force everyone else to focus, not drift off, not give up, not drop down dead.
One chap could recall an amazing amount of Charles Dickens. He recited the latest book. We had been too far away on the Frontier to get the last installments so we did not know how the book turned out. So we debated the conclusion, each one arguing how Dickens plotted the climax. Later we found out none of our theories were right! George Lawrence had the last installment. Dickens trumped us right royal!
Others who loved the music halls sang songs or told the horny old jokes. Made me never want to attend a music hall. One chap replayed the cricket games of his village green, every detail amazingly perfect, like we were all sitting on the village green, all clean and in shiny white, drinking tea, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, watching gentlemen in white playing the national sport. When it was my turn I was flustered because Mother never allowed us to read popular fiction, much less attend the music hall. The Old Testament of the Bible was my family’s only evening entertainment. So I told stories of the house we lived in. That kept them quite amused. They quite praised me, saying how unexpected it was that I knew such good ghost stories.—- little did they know —-
Finally suddenly one day they opened the door and hauled us all out into the bright daylight. Because of the typhus and the boarded up window the light sheered our eyes like a burning iron. They dragged us because at that point not one man jack of us could stand upright or walk unassisted. Poor Palmer was hauled out too. He was a god awful mess. We did not see the women or children. We were tied up and buckets of water were dumped on us to try to wash away the worse of the vermin and filth. How those Afghan bastards laughed at us, jeering us because we looked like living corpses.
Then we were shoved into camel panniers as the camels kneeled on the ground grunting and snorting and spitting. Then the camels reared up in a sickeningly lurch like a boat reeling up in a wild storm at sea. Then for three days we were hauled like freight across Afghanistan to Kabul. In the darkness of the panniers we peered through the woven cracks to see the infamous Bala Hissar Fortress, the most infamous fortress in Afghanistan. We entered through the elephant gate and the walls of that dire bastion loomed over us. Then the camels knelt down and we were dragged out and hauled through a portal. Then one by one we were shoved under water time and again until we were gagging, near to drowning, from the water. At first I thought they wanted to drown us and curst them right royal but Palmer jeered they did not want us to share our vermin with the host of the digs: Akbar Khan the son of Dost Muhammad of Kabul himself.
In the daylight we could see how terrible we looked. We were all living skeletons, nothing but skin and bone and rotten rags. Our hair and beards were grimy and wild. Our eyes were sunken into holes in our faces. Our skin was black and festering. We stank like the grave and we looked like the grave. We looked like exhumed corpses. So what were they planning for us now?