Plot – In a far future from nowadays, prisoners can ask for a last wish before heading to death row. A new amendment allows them to ask whatever they want and the government must accomplish it, because if it doesn’t happen, freedom is automatically granted. Prisoner N.415 requests a wish not only quite impossible to accomplish but, moreover, almost perfect to escape death forever.
[Translation by Lucia Zaccherini]
The prison guard walks at a brisk pace along the cold corridor of the prisons, clutching in his right hand a white envelope with a red seal bearing the coat of arms of the homeland. Maybe someone thinks it’s strange, maybe not. No one had sealed an envelope like that for something like half a century, but among the new procedures dictated by the government, this detail had also been included. For some people it was too shallow, for others a gesture of honor and loyalty.
The prison guard reaches a gate opened by another guard with four turns of key. The metal beats heavily against the lock and the noise does not seem annoying at all, but almost a hymn to sound because in that prison, indeed in all prisons, silence now reigns. So many rules have changed and the most absurd of them all, precisely amendment 646-B41, hated by the people but adored by the inmates, is the one that allows you to ask for a last wish before heading off to death row.
The guard clutches in his hand the last wish of a man who has committed a crime that is costing him his life and when the envelope reaches the warden’s desk, he looks at it rather carelessly, since he’s so engrossed in other paperwork that he’s reading and signing almost simultaneously.
«Sir?». The man looks up and, with a nod of his head, lets him know that he can leave the envelope on the desk. He looks curiously at it, not so much to know what that criminal scum is asking for, but he rather tries to remember who the convict in question is and what time his execution is scheduled to take place, because at 4 pm on the dot that afternoon the boxing match he has been waiting for begins. Not that he likes that sport, but because it is the perfect alibi to meet his lover, a man he loves with all his heart. He suddenly snorts to himself and by the time he gets back to concentrating on his papers, the guard has already left.
When noon strikes, the entire prison mobilizes to eat lunch. The inmates on the ground floor room, the guards upstairs. A handful of men holding rifles and pistols, batons tucked into their leather belts, are enough to keep everyone under control. Only one person does not attend the table: the warden. His pace is far quicker than that of the guard who had handed him the envelope just an hour earlier. You could say he’s almost running. If he were running a marathon, he’d be able to keep up with everyone.
He opens a door and finds himself in the canteen, shiny and clean, which has nothing in common with the criminal’s room. He approaches some subordinates and invites them to follow him without almost stopping. In less than a minute, they are all in the hallway walking like perfect soldiers and when the door of the warden’s office closes behind them, the man shows the contents of the letter without saying a word. Ten eyes look at each other in silence. «What kind of wish is this?».
Without wasting time, they sent for the prisoner and reached him in a dull little sitting room, mainly used to fulfill last wishes. The person directly concerned is watching them from a gray couch. Those who now look like madmen, their eyes serious but their attitude distraught, are sitting opposite him in comfortable and expensive wooden chairs, decorated with soft damask cushions.
«Inmate No.415, can you explain your request? You will understand our astonishment at reading such a thing. I mean, you must be terrified about your condition and it’s understandable to write nonsense», says the warden.
«It reminds me of the case of inmate No.1095. He had requested to fly a plane to Manhattan», says a subordinate. A colleague interjects, continuing the conversation.
«I vaguely remember something. Well, a plane ride was doable as a last wish. You know the rules have changed a lot!». His tone was different from all those in the same room.
«You moron, he wanted to fly a plane with passengers on board and experience the thrill of landing on the Hudson River like Sully Sullenberger!». The colleague shrugs his shoulders as if trying to hide from the shit he just said.
«Inmate No.415, please can you explain your wish to us? It’s nothing impossible but you understand that it involves other people and we can’t risk putting innocents in danger. You understand, right?». The prisoner remains silent and looks at that circus of people who keeps on observing him with curiosity and disgust.
«I didn’t ask for anything absurd but I gotta be honest, I don’t think you will be able to fulfill it. It is true, however, that according to your rules, my request is lawful and always as per your rules, you know that if you are not able to fulfill it, my freedom is automatically granted. We were allowed to read every rule, every condition, every single footer because you said we were entitled to it and I am here asking you for one last wish and I expect it to be fulfilled.
According to the rules.
According to what you proclaim a right.
According to what the government has decided for us prisoners».
The tension is high as if it were a thin tissue paper ready to wrinkle and break at the slightest touch.
«Well, warden, I don’t really understand the difficulty in realizing this desire. Let’s bring the people needed here and let’s do it», says a subordinate. The warden looks at the time. It is now three o’clock and time is running out.
«Alright, alright, but inmate No.415 let me be very clear that you must maintain a certain distance from these people. It’s for their safety, but you may talk to them and you can spend time with them. In short, a real convivial moment». The prisoner laughs, trying to hold himself back.
«What makes you laugh?», asks the warden. The man stares at those suckers, smiling, aware that they haven’t grasped at all what he really wants.
«My last wish is to spend an hour with a happy family and the fact that they are happy determines whether you are able to accomplish it. I will notice if that is not the case, as will those whose job it is to oversee the fulfillment of the wish». The faces of the men, the circle of crazies in suits, are astonished.
In a moment they were all back in the warden’s office, arguing agitatedly, offended that they had allowed themselves to be fooled so easily.
«I knew the smartest guy would come along and screw us over. What the hell is wrong with our government?». Nervous and tired voices talk among themselves. Nasty words, insults, a hint of a fight arise.
«Enough!», the warden suddenly says. «Let’s be sensible. We need to find a solution here and now! If this is not a true, authentic desire, everything here will go to shit!». At that moment, a subordinate intervenes, swaggering and grumpy.
«It’s your fault warden, you had a say too! You could have avoided this bullshit amendment 646-B41, let people die by giving them one last sentence and stop! Now, instead, here we are. Next thing you know, all the inmates will revolt and in less than a year they will all be free to roam the city, but what am I saying, the country!». The warden tries to calm the agitated tempers, but the attempt is in vain and silence falls as soon as he’s pushed and slammed into the desk, causing a huge stack of papers to slide to the floor.
«You screwed up with your vote! It was yours that was decisive, everyone knows that! But you had to run to your lover, didn’t you? You’re just two fucking gays! You could have voted no on this bullshit and taken it up to your ass instead of getting us all fucked!». Silence falls.
«Don’t overreact, you know that’s not true», says another subordinate.
«Don’t you start, too! Everyone knows you don’t love your wife anymore and you lust after that damn waitress at the restaurant next door who drags her daughter around every shift. You’re all hypocrites!». The sharp words give way to great embarrassment and when that asshole is about to speak again, the warden leaves and the other colleague involved follows him.
«Warden, don’t listen to him. Everyone knows he’s a poor jerk». The warden looks at his employee and says nothing except to follow him. Immediately.
The next day, at dawn, inmate No.415 dies by lethal injection. Behind the glass, the crowd of men in a tie silently watch him die in a matter of seconds, then everyone goes back to work and continues what they were doing, as if nothing had ever happened. The warden sits at his desk. He fills out the documents. He reads them and signs them. A little later, a prison guard comes in with an envelope sealed with the homeland seal, but this time he puts it down in front of him and leaves immediately, without calling his attention.
As soon as he is alone, the warden puts down his pen and leans back in his chair. He opens a drawer and lifts a couple of folders to retrieve an envelope. This one is unsealed. Inside there is a photograph. It portrays him with his lover, or rather, his current partner: they’re a real couple now. Next to them, the employee with the waitress. She is still wearing her work uniform. When she was picked up in a hurry, she had just started her shift and next to them was the six-year-old girl.
Inmate No.415 is not present because he is behind the lens. He’s guilty of a robbery that resulted in the accidental death of three people and wanted to savor one last sincere moment together with a real family – a happy family – and unbelievable but true, so it had been, and the entire government system had been saved. The warden’s vote to support this system was the decisive one, but for a moment he took off his glasses and thought to himself…
…”I did the right thing. Didn’t I? Didn’t I? Didn’t I…?”.