All Events All Events. Social Email Us. The Lizard Cage Karen Connelly Teza once electrified the people of Burma with his protest songs against the dictatorship. Arrested by the Burmese secret police in the days of mass protest, he is seven years into a twenty-year sentence in solitary confinement, cut off from his family and contact with other prisoners. Enduring the harsh conditions with resourcefulness, Buddhist patience and humour, he searches for news and human connection in every being and object that is grudgingly allowed into his cell.
Latest Tweets Twitter Follow womensprize. A predatory animal has taken up residence in his gut. Never mind the parasites, a small panther is mutating in there. A feral dog. Evening with its lizard bounty seems very far away. To confirm that sad thought, the iron-beater begins to strike eleven a.
Teza counts each blow of a hardwood pallet against an iron bar in the compound, at the base of the watchtower. Clang, clang, clang. The timekeeper whacks the iron as hard as possible, so that the prisoners will hear him and know their time is passing. The nature of the teak coffin--of any solitary cell--is that it converts everything into distance. Time, space, food, women, his family, music, anything he mightneed or want or love: it is all far, far away. From solitary, the whole cage is a foreign country to him.
He lives on the very edge of it, straining to hear the other voices. The lizard sings. Not like a bird, though Teza remembers from first-year biology that this common cling-to-house lizard is brother to a tiny prehistoric sparrow. Then the desert wind blew and the rain fell and the scales grew into feathers. As he stares at the lizard on the ceiling, he can imagine it: the front two legs and feet stretched out, webbing, blossoming into wings.
The back feet articulated into clawed toes, which curled deftly around the thin branch of a tree. And birdsong ribboned through the steamy jungle. But before that, who knows how many millions of years ago, there was just this somewhat alarmed chirping tkeep tkeep tkeep to inspire the Neanderthals.
Like Junior Jailer Handsome. Here we are again, the singer thinks, smiling. Back in the Stone Age, among cavemen, in a cave. His stomach growls. The iron-beater is still. It's past eleven o'clock now. And Sein Yun has not shown up with breakfast. Teza watches the lizard run from the light, stop, run to the wall, stop. It runs down the wall and whisks itself out the air vent high above his head.
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Teza scans the brick wall around the vent. His eyes have learned the different colors of reptile and wall, lizard skin and skin of man, brick and spider. That's what he wants to see now. The spider. It's the color of a tiny, dirty copper pot. When the bulbous back catches the light, the copper becomes iridescent, an alchemist's metal. It glints gold, then a sheen of blue-green rises toward copper again.
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At dusk the creature deepens to red, then fades with the invisible sun. But now the singer can find him in seconds.
A fine web is strung high in the corner where the two walls meet, below and to the left of the air vent. When Teza wakes each day, he checks to see if his companion has chosen to abandon the darkness of the cell and build his new home outside. The singer thinks he's the sort of spider who should have green leaves around him.
But the spider stays. The Chief Warden thinks Teza cannot see out of this narrowest of windows. In a manner of speaking, he is correct. The vent is too high. But the spider sees. He crawls the outer wall, up and up. From the top, the spider witnesses the whole city, the gold stupas, the green trees, the streets, millions of men and women, the lakes Inya and Kandawgyi, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's famous house on University Avenue, and his mother's two-story flat, surrounded by laundry and orchids.
Daw Sanda loves her orchids dearly. The spider perceives all this and more, much more: the sky with its white-backed, blue-bottomed clouds full of rain, the horizon curving like a belly. The spider sees. And Teza watches the spider. The fabulous copper-pot spider. Is it male or female? The singer has decided the spider is male: it's too depressing to imagine a woman here. He would hate to have a woman see him now. The singer feeds his male comrade-spider secret messages, just a few words at a time, all his body can hold. Soundlessly, the spider takes in the messages and spins them out when he crawls into the world.
The glimmering threads are Teza's words.
I love you. I think of you and send wishes of health. He whispers to the creatures above him 'Ha, you've all come back to the cell for a visit, have you? You must know that Hpo Hpo told me to stop eating you. Every lizard is a small naked man. Read Extract.
The Lizard Cage – Karen Connelly – Lizzy's Literary Life
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