Witness Statement No. 248
He never wore shoes during sermons. Brown toes curled up in the grass, his long hair brushed against his shoulders while he played guitar. His dark glasses meant he could stare at the sun without flinching. He was handsome. So human it was inhuman. Above human, you could say. Sometimes he’d stroke my hair while I was praying.
"Can you feel God?" he’d whisper. "He’s in these trees, he’s in this dirt and he flows through me." Then he’d sing in a language that we all understood even though it wasn’t quite words and we’d realize that yes, it was true, He is everywhere. He flows through Father and He loves us all. Then we’d sing too, all together, black, white, rich, poor—it didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was love. Father was love. His white vestments billowed around him when he danced in front of us, and on our knees we’d raise our hands and thank him for showing us what it meant to be free.
We were safe with Father.
At first there were only a few of us—the enlightened ones. We realized that they’d been feeding us lies all along. Corporate greed was out to kill our souls so they couldn’t reach God in heaven. We didn’t need material possessions, Father gave us everything. But they were always in the background, waiting. They were always coming. Father knew this. He’d dealt with them all his life.
"They want to lock you up for being free," he said. It was the only time I ever saw him close to anger. The group stayed silent for these speeches. "I was locked up all my life. As a child they locked me up because my mother ran away. When they didn’t find me a home they put me on the streets, and when I learned how to get by, they slammed me up in prison. You just can’t lock up a soul like mine. A soul like mine has too much to give."
Of course, we understood. Poor Father. I made sure that night I protected him. I held him, wrapped my arms around his waist. I felt the buzz of being purified again, an exhaustion that lingered and settled heavy on my eyelids.
It wasn’t long after my child was born. My sweet baby girl with squinting eyes and a smile like Father’s. I just wanted her to be safe. I would’ve done anything to keep her safe. The Family always protected each other. Together, we were whole.
My interest in the "The Family" began long before the amputations came to light. This is not unique. For a long time the name was on everybody’s lips. Satirical TV shows mocked them, teary-eyed civilians appeared on news segments claiming their relatives were being brainwashed, and everyone was desperate for an interview with this so called "Father" figure, despite any background information being suspiciously difficult to obtain. When the cult moved, the supporters who stayed behind found their faith dwindling, and eventually the entire group was forgotten. For five years "The Family" was practically unheard of.
I continued my investigation sporadically, but all attempts to contact the sect proved futile. Requests I made for interviews were denied on the basis that: "Innocent civilians should not be subjected to investigation on the basis of hearsay." Their defensiveness seemed unnecessary, but thankfully my persistence prevailed. I was one of the first to get the call when the initial statement from the Camp Leader was released.
Everything you read here is straight from the mouths of the survivors and the perpetrators of this trauma collected via statements, police recordings, and self-conducted interviews. I have made the personal decision to omit names to ensure that I can discuss the case as objectively as possible without sentimentality towards the victims.
There is one exception to this rule. According to police records Witness No. 99, a young girl moved to the compound only weeks before its shutdown, made a brief statement:
"Father loves us. I will not testify against him. What he did was for the good of The Family."
Identical statements appeared in the hundreds and due to the sheer number of victims no one could press for more information for fear of wasting police time. It was years later when Witness No. 99 posted them a new statement, almost the length of this book, detailing everything that happened to her in the camps. While the police could no longer use it as an official statement, they allowed me to examine it. This statement has provided me with all the information I needed.
I dedicate this book to Witness No. 99, and thank her for her honesty.
Witness No. 99
This is how it happened, honestly and truly. Now I don’t have to lie anymore I can tell you.
I can’t tell you what they did with the arms because I still don’t know. I’m often asked "why," and frankly, I can’t answer. You never saw what they did with them. You just felt a faint aura where they were meant to be, like a line in your vision from glancing at the sun too long, or a shadow that disappears the second you looked at it directly.
It must have been late by the time they got back, but I remember it like it was morning. The grass was still crisp and every time you breathed your lungs filled up with mist. They were taking them mountain-climbing, to get them higher and closer to God. The kids who were scared of heights were allowed to stay in camp, reading and resting for other activities. The camp was for all the kids, the compound for the adults. That was how it worked, you see. I was writing in my diary when they came back. I wasn’t really supposed to, but whenever people asked I said I was writing messages to God. I wish I still had that diary. My memories aren’t always reliable.
When I was told that we had to leave for the jungle I was watching cartoons. You could do that on Saturday mornings because we didn’t have church. I’m not sure if the tear-tracks on my mother’s cheeks were real, or if I imagined them later because I feel like they should’ve been there.
"Father’s taking us away for a while. All the other children from church are going."
I can’t have really understood what she meant.
"No thanks," I’d said.
My mother had never slapped me before that. She slapped me so hard my glasses fell off my face, and light swam in my eyes. Being a victim is never as beautifully tragic as you think it’ll be. You picture a hand lightly touching the bruise, your eyes wide and welling up with tears picturesquely. Actually, it’s more snot and wailing because self-pity is never attractive. I try to remember that now, despite everything.
I still wasn’t speaking to her when she dropped me off at the camp, even after the arduous journey. I would miss her though. I’d miss her long skirts and her homemade jewelry. I’d miss the chaos in her eyes.
Camp Leader told us that something had happened on the mountain top. He asked us to be sensitive. His blonde hair was short then and he looked almost young enough to be in the camp with us. Lots of girls fancied him, even though it was a sin. Maybe some of the boys did too.
Johnny’s amputation was the worst. I liked Johnny; he was closest thing I had to a friend in the camp. We were the only ones that laughed when Father spoke in tongues and mimed when we were meant to sing. He was older than me and his fringe always dangled in his eyes because it grew too quickly. Most children were cut at the elbow but his cut was right at the shoulder. It didn’t look like a clean amputation. It looked like a deformity, a withered flap of skin with no bone. He caught me looking once. He was flipping through a book but he couldn’t really do it right. He struggled to keep it open and when he’d finally got comfortable, he’d have to turn the page and place it back down on the floor.
"I’m sorry about your arm," I said. It was a risk to say that. He sort of shrugged.
"Nothing I can do about it now."
I thought it was a nightmare at first. I couldn’t control my actions. I did whatever they told me to, even when I found out that we were staying in the camp forever. But there was another me, a real me, vaguely aware that I was dreaming, knowing that everything that was happening here wasn’t quite right.
I thought "they’d" done it. I think that’s what everyone else thought too, but it’s difficult to say since no one ever spoke about it. One girl asked the Camp Leader in a whispered confession what had happened. Camp Leader smiled and told her to have trust in The Family. Later, they cut her too. We realized then that it wasn’t a one-time thing. No one was safe.
Our parents made food for us in the compound, and Father made sure we had all the supplies we needed, but Camp Leader sometimes let us go into town as a treat. We never had any money, but we could look around at the shops and it gave us time to talk away from all the adults. Sometimes, I’d steal a few pens for my diaries. I knew stealing was a sin, but I thought God would forgive me. It was a four hour journey into town so we weren’t allowed very often. I was one of the lucky ones. I could go nearly every time a trip was planned. The amputees were never allowed, even the older ones. There were some in the camp that were still babies and Camp Leader had to look after them all. The whole time I was there I saw more and more flood in, stumps slapping by their sides, scrambling through the jungle earth with brown feet.
I remembered TV adverts from the old days about people in Africa with no food or water. They always played sad, piano music and focused the camera too long on the children’s eyes. It wasn’t exotic in the camp. When it was happening in front of you, it was just irritating. Maybe I didn’t look in their eyes long enough to feel sad. And I hadn’t heard piano for years
Witness Statement No. 1: Camp Leader
Police Officer: This interview is being tape recorded. Please will you state your name for the machine?
Witness No. 1: I’d rather not.
Author’s note: These extracts were recorded in 1992. The Camp Leader, who we will refer to as Witness No. 1, had just come forward.
No. 1: It was a woman’s arm, covered in tattoos. No one had tattoos in the camp, you understand. And children can’t get them. It made no sense.
PO: Tell me about the amputations.
No. 1: We weren’t supposed to cut adults.
PO: But you amputated the children?
No. 1: I’m here about Mary.
PO: Humor me for a moment. Why did you cut off children’s arms?
No. 1: Family must prove their loyalty to the cause and compensate for their sins.
PO: What sin?
No. 1: Every child is born in sin. The Lord does not condone fornication.
PO: This is in the Bible?
No. 1: Father told us.
PO: Of course.
No. 1: The children have the choice to be cut. They may not know they have the choice, but they always choose it. Getting cut stops the pain. When they’re in heaven they’ll thank Father for what he did to them. For them.
PO: And you believe that?
No. 1: Father said children are vulnerable to lies and corruption fed to them from a TV or computer screen. They’ll see the world outside and try to leave. If anyone found out where we were, they’d never let us be. We couldn’t let the children run off and tell others. They need to understand the world is cruel. Evil is everywhere, except The Family. The Family just want them to be saved. Salvation requires sacrifice.
PO: But you’re telling us where The Family are right now.
[A long pause.]
No. 1: This is different. They started cutting adults. He killed... That’s against the rules.
PO: Did Father teach you the rules?
No. 1: I was his understudy. He taught me things no one else knew.
PO: And when you were cutting the arms, did he tell you what to say then too?
No. 1: Yes. I told them their arms were gone for the greater good. It was something they needed and in the end it would be better, but we couldn’t tell them why. The longer they kept a secret, we said, the sooner they would be able to go back to their families and the longer they could keep the other arm. "And you don’t want to lose both arms, do you?" [A slight laugh followed by a cough. The sound of the police officer’s scribble is continuous.] You had to keep smiling and convincing them it was all okay even when they were passing out in chairs and you knew they’d probably die from the blood-loss. [The scribbling sound stops instantly.] But that didn’t happen often.
PO: There were deaths?
No. 1: It was collateral damage.
No. 1: But never with the adults.
PO: Which arms did you take? Right or left?
No. 1: Cutters never checked. If it was the less dominant one we said "we did this because we loved you and we wanted you to succeed." If it was the more dominant one we had a line too: "We knew you were strong enough to cope with this. Not everyone is. You’re one of the special ones." They didn’t cry often. The tears came during the cutting but after that the shock was too much. They accepted it after a while though. Getting them to accept it was easy.
PO: The children accepted this?
No. 1: Not all of them. Johnny was the first to challenge me. He was slightly older, had this long hair that made him look like a teenager. He probably should’ve been in the compound instead of the camp, or being taught by Father like I was. Johnny was unlucky though. He kept screaming, "how could you do this, you won’t get away with it," all that kind of stuff. It was our fault. The drugs hadn’t been as effective as they should’ve been and it was clear he was in pain. His eyes kept flinching away from the light and he squirmed constantly. Blood seeped through the bandage. It was horrible. [Pause.] See, I thought that was where the tattoos came from, someone slipping up and slicing an adult. If it happened to Johnny, it could happen again.
PO: How did Johnny get cut if he was too old to be in the camps?
No. 1: His mother had lied. She’d wanted to prove she was willing to sacrifice even though she didn’t have to.
PO: Do you remember what you said to him? To Johnny?
No. 1: It was years ago, but it’s always the same. Something like, "You need to be strong here. This is for your own good," you know. But he screamed anyway. I never saw so much hate in a child before. I called the cutters and they took him back and sliced him up to the shoulders. I told them, this time, to anaesthetize properly. That was only the first trial though, and aside from that hiccough it was incredibly successful. The children were more receptive than we thought they would be. Father was proud. That’s why he gave me permission to enter the icebox where the arms are kept. Whenever I wanted, that’s what he said. That’s how I saw the tattoos. I was one of his favorites.
PO: He told you that you were his favorite?
No. 1: He thought of me as his brother, his son, his apostle. He loved me and trusted me the most.
[His voice breaks towards the end.]
PO: You’re doing the right thing here.
No. 1: I need to stop answering questions now. Really, I need to stop.
Witness No. 99
After about a year, we stopped being allowed into town on our own. Camp Leader would accompany us everywhere. This was because I’d gotten lost once. I hadn’t meant to. I’d just gone the wrong way, confused my lefts and rights. I got scared, the panicky sort of scared where you’re struggling to breathe and you can’t cry because the lump in your throat blocks the air. I saw people in a shop who I thought must’ve been Family, but when I got closer I knew I was wrong. The woman had stars down her face over a big, red patch of swelling. I felt anxious when I imagined those stars on her face, forever. A machine hummed in the background. The man was drilling her arm. She was practically covered in tattoos by that point, but he didn’t have any. The light made his skin look yellow.
"Aren’t you a bit young to be here?" he asked. It wasn’t really a question.
"I’m not supposed to be."
"Are you lost?" He didn’t look up from the arm when he spoke. "Do you know where your parents are?"
"No," I answered. "I’m in the camp."
"Ah…" the girl with the stars on her face moaned and I couldn’t tell whether it was in pain, recognition, or pleasure. "You’re part of The Family. Welcome, sister."
"You’re at the camp?" I asked. I knew she wasn’t, she was clearly too old. But she was thin like all of us, slight and small, a bird of a human.
"I’m in the compound. You’ll be there one day."
"Thanks to the kindness of the Father."
She didn’t nod. The drilling kept on and made me feel strange, like I was dreaming and the sounds in the real world were trying to wake me up. My head span. To this day I don’t know how I stayed so much in control. For a long time I pretended I’d forgotten what she said to me.
"I know what they do to you in the camps. I know about the arms." I kept my hands steady, smiled even.
"Father forbids us to talk about those incidents. Had you forgotten?"
She sat straight up, the needle flinched.
"Jesus," the man cried out, wiping her arm with tissue. "You’ve made yourself bleed."
The lady grinned at me with teeth that now I picture caked in blood. They won’t have been. That’s just the image I have. Wide eyes with dark bags. Matted, dirty-blonde hair and wonky, ink stars scarring her red cheeks. The blood creeping through the gaps in her teeth were like my mother’s tear-tracks. Maybe, I pictured it because I thought she was dying. Maybe because I thought she was dangerous.
"You have to run away," she said, "that’s what I did. He told me my body was pure and sacred. He told me it belonged to him, for he was part of God. I’m taking my body back and I’m gonna get my baby. Then I’m going to tell the world, everyone’s gonna know. Nobody’s taking my baby from me. Nobody’s mutilating my baby."
The man with the needle kept drilling.
"I need to find my way back to the camp now," I said quietly.
She stared at me for a while, her face flickering with hurt. I couldn’t let her know I believed her, but I did. The only reason I’m still alive was because of that hope burning away in my gut.
"I’m coming back for you," she told me.
I don’t know why but I nodded.
Eventually, Camp Leader found me wandering the streets. He didn’t punish me much, a slap on the wrist. I hoped the lady with the stars on her face would come back for me, but when the days went into weeks went into months, I stopped remembering what it was I was waiting for. Then I made myself forget her. It was safer to forget.
Witness No. 1
No. 1 : I don’t justify my crimes. Really, I don’t. I know amputating all those children was wrong.
PO: So why did you do it?
No. 1 : I asked Father not to make me. Asked if I could move onto the compound after Johnny’s cut. I told him that I understood we had to ensure complete obedience, but he just shook his finger at me and said, it’s not obedience. It’s retribution. For the good of The Family.
PO: Father wouldn’t let you join the compound?
No. 1 : He wanted me close to him. Being a favorite, it was good and bad. I knew he’d never hurt me. The entire time I was there he never beat me or tested my loyalty. My parents moved to the jungle when I was sixteen, and I’d been with him almost my whole life. They wanted to sacrifice me to the camps but he saw right though them. "Lying is a sin," he’d said. They got on the floor, groveling and apologizing. I was too old for the camps, too young for the compound. He put me in charge of the children, made me his understudy. I was lucky. Father was good to me.
PO: You said being a favorite was good and bad?
No. 1 : Some parts weren’t so great.
PO: For example?
No. 1 : Well, he was doing it to save me. I know that. He didn’t want me to suffer from the lack of it.
PO: What did he do to you?
No. 1 : Some men were castrated. By choice of course. I asked if I could be but Father wouldn’t permit it. "God wants you whole," he’d said.
PO: Did he touch you sexually?
No. 1 : There were girls who got pregnant and he’d forgive them. Rub holy water on their stomach and remind them all that God speaks through him and he has the power to forgive. But then the babies had to go to the camps. To compensate for the sins, you know. I guess they were his sins too. I try not to think about it.
PO: What makes you think they were his sins?
No. 1 : He liked big eyes and blonde hair.
PO: What did he do to you? What’s making you so sad?
#No. 1 : Nothing. Nothing bad. I mean, yeah, I feel sad about it now obviously. Sad about the other girls, if anything. I thought I was supposed to be special.
No one ever called it what it was directly. Purification, they said. It was a loophole. As a favor to his favorites, he’d fuck them to quench their "sinful desires." It didn’t count as a sin that way, since he was part of God and everything he did was "pure" and "holy." No one thought he was behind the pregnancies. No one liked to say a bad word about him.
"Did he rape you?" I asked one of my interviewees. She scoffed and went red, part anger, part embarrassment.
"How dare you? It wasn’t like that. It wasn’t like that at all!"
I stayed quiet. Watched her indignation grow as the topic settled in the atmosphere. She tapped her foot, shook her thigh, fiddled with her hair. I smiled.
"Father loved us," her eyes narrowed, "and don’t you forget that."
I’m glad the bastard blew his brains out when he did.
Witness No. 99
Three hundred and nine members. That’s how many people there were in the camp and the compound combined. For me it was the entire world. Now I’m disgusted about how small-scale the whole thing was. Any time, when Camp Leader still permitted it, I could’ve gone into town and told someone. I didn’t even consider that escape was a possibility. I thought Father was everywhere.
When I was old enough to work in the compound it seemed like he was. His voice was on a permanent tannoy. Mostly it was good news. Satisfaction and happiness rates were high in the community. The Lord said we were doing great work and that He’d see us all in the kingdom of heaven. Sometimes it was bad news. He’d tell us that "they" were coming to try and shut us down. He said that "they" wanted to kill and destroy us and take away our chance at immortality. It never occurred to me that "they" meant so many billions of people. Father taught us that you were the threat. I don’t believe that anymore but lots of people do. My mother would die before she said anything against Father. I suppose you already know that if you questioned her.
When Father said he was a part of God, I pictured a tornado of colors, waves made out of souls, speaking to each of us in secret codes that only we could interpret because we were chosen and we were saved - something supernatural and beautiful that made you crumble to your knees at the sight of it. That’s what I thought of when they spoke of Father. When I remembered that he was really just the man in dark glasses who delivered our food and preached at our church, I was always a little bit disappointed. The fizz of anticipation died every time when I saw him walk onto the pulpit while the crowd all screamed together. But I screamed along too.
It wasn’t that we were never happy in the compound. When I saw my mother for the first time since the move, I thought my heart would explode. Her hair had grown longer and was turning grey. Tears illuminated her eyes. I don’t know if she cried in happiness or horror, but she wrapped both arms around me, "my child, my child, I’m so happy to see you," her head buried into my neck. I was taller than her by then. "You’re a part of The Family now. We’ll be together and whole in the afterlife for all eternity." She wiped her eyes before the tears hit her cheeks and clasped my hand while she smiled. I suppose she was relieved. I’m not sure if they ever told her I was still alive. A message came over the megaphone.
"Never break vigilance. Our survival is dependent on our secrecy. They will never stop trying to destroy us." Father’s voice was slurred with robotic distortion.
"Let’s hope they don’t get us first," I said and my mother nodded gravely.
I know what I said then, about hoping you didn’t get us. I was lying. I wanted you to come. I kept it quiet but I always hoped that one day I might leave. I idolized you before I’d even met you, before I knew who you were or what you looked like. I still love you.
I just wish you’d found us before they took my arm.
Witness No. 1
No. 1: I found out about Mary when I cut this other girl. She was too old to be cut. She’d been here for the full five years, but for some reason they saved her until the end. Toddlers were being cut around her. She saw children come and go and join the compound while she was still in camp. Father was worried about her. He didn’t think she truly believed in the word. She was always crying to be sent home and giggling through sermons. When she was eleven, I found her in town wandering around much farther out than she should’ve been. A brother from the compound said he saw her. Tex. He was on a secret loyalty mission from Father at the time and was posing as some sort of artist.
PO: Why do you think Father was suspicious about her?
No. 1: I don’t really know. Maybe it was the glasses. She always seemed so skeptical. It sounds stupid to delay a cut so long because of an inkling, I know, but they kept her at the camps until she towered over the other kids and they couldn’t delay it any longer.
PO: You recognized her?
No. 1: Over the years you begin to know all the children but she stuck out for me especially because she screamed so much. Usually, if that happened, you talked over them in a calming voice. That didn’t stop her. She screamed in words.
PO: What did she say?
No. 1: She kept asking for the woman with the stars on her face. Said she was coming for her. When they bandaged her she attempted to beat off the cutters. I’d not seen such a lack of acceptance since Johnny in the first round. He’s on the compound now. He shaved his head because his fringe kept falling in his eyes while he was working. He nods when he sees me. I’m glad he bears no grudges.
PO: Keep telling me about the girl.
No. 1: I sat her down and tried to give her the speech but she kept screaming. Eventually I gave up trying, and asked her what woman she meant. She said she’d seen this woman in town and that she had stars tattooed onto her face. She said she was coming for her. I told her I wasn’t sure what she thought she saw and she started freaking out, kicking things around the room. Eventually I just started humoring her, asked her to describe the woman. She said she looked like a bird. Small and thin, with big eyes, and blonde hair. This woman had said she’d had a baby and was trying to escape. Apparently, this was three years ago. I knew her. That was Mary. She was the only one we’d ever known to leave the camp.
PO: You said it was impossible to leave the camp.
No. 1: No one really tried. Mary did, but that was it. Father said she was a sinner now. She took drugs and killed her babies with bleach and coat-hangers. He was devastated when she left. She was one of his favorites too. No amount of purification could console him. When I told the girl all this, she started crying. Not like that screaming before but real tears. She tried to wipe them away but it was awkward and clumsy. They’re always so awkward and clumsy at first. Mary had said she’d come back for her. I guess when that didn’t happen it broke her heart.
PO: How do you know for sure that Mary’s been killed?
No. 1: Tattoos. She said Mary had them on her face and on her arms too, all the way up to the shoulders. No one else had tattoos. I let the girl go back to her mother. Her mother was good. She used to be a favorite but she’s older now. I spoke to Tex afterwards. He trusted me because Father did. He told me it’d been his job to find Mary and to hand her back to Father. She hadn’t known him well enough to recognize him at the shop because cutters and field-workers hardly ever interacted. Tex buried the body in our cemetery where the old and the botched amputees go.
PO: I should inform you that this information will probably condemn you to life imprisonment.
No. 1: That’s okay. I’m not exactly sure how well I’d cope with being in the real world anyway.
PO: Is there anything else you want to say?
No. 1: I think that’s everything. Can I ask you a question though?
[A long pause.]
No. 1: Do you believe in paradise?
PO: No. I’m not sure. I was never raised religious.
No. 1: That’s a shame. You know, I used to believe in it. I felt it when we sang in church, when I heard people laughing in the fields, when Father smiled at me and chose me to be cleansed. Now I don’t know. I just don’t know.
[The tape ends here, but not before you hear the sound of No. 1 sobbing.]
I wrote the first edition of this book in 1995, and then decided I never wanted to hear about The Family again. I respectfully refused interviews, book-signings, and television segments. I’d told a story that wasn’t mine to tell and was praised for my bravery. It wasn’t until over twenty years had passed that I heard from her. She rang me on my landline number. God knows how she’d found it, or why I’d still insisted on clinging to it after all these years.
"You wrote the book about The Family atrocities, didn’t you?"
Whenever I was asked that I always wanted to lie but for some reason, this time, I didn’t. Some may call it divine intervention. I would not.
"You wrote about me," she said.
"I interviewed you?"
"No," she said. "You never interviewed me."
I awaited the usual flood of anger flung at me by survivors who still believed in Father’s word. "Don’t you realize how much he loved us?" I rubbed my temples ready for an onslaught that never came.
"I’m Witness No. 99."
It was a ground-floor flat in London, small and minimalist. She smoked her cigarette with her real arm, her prosthetic folded uncomfortably across her lap. She ignored the tea in front of her.
"The thing is everybody knows," she said. "Not just because of your book. They heard about it from the news. They teach it in schools now, even. People always seem to know if you’re Family." She smokes, waiting for more questions.
"Why did you call me?" I asked.
"I wanted to talk to you for a while. You used a lot of my statement. It was a long statement. You thanked me in the introduction."
"You were one of the few who weren’t indoctrinated."
Her eyebrows furrowed, and I wondered briefly whether she was going to laugh or cry.
"I think I was," she said. "I cried when I found out Father had died. A lot of it was anger, but some of it must’ve been real. And it took a while adjusting to the world." She sucked on her cigarette, looking embarrassed. I didn’t press but she continued anyway. "The sex on TV… I used to start praying before I realized I didn’t have to do that anymore. I think I’m okay now. The arm helps."
That was one of my proudest achievements. When the story came to light the government funded prosthetics for the children, but the sheer number was overwhelming. Half the proceeds from my book went towards helping those get private-funded health-care. It was a huge strain on the prosthetic industry in an incredibly short period of time, but they pulled through with newer, more intelligent designs. Hers was an older, NHS model.
"I don’t like my childhood," she said bluntly. "I don’t like people knowing who I am. Thank you for the offer, but I’d rather people didn’t see the new-fangled, robotic, intelligent design and know straight away that I’m Family." For some reason, a mental image of Witness No. 99 sandpapering off an Auschwitz tattoo crossed my mind. I wondered when it was exactly that I started suffering from unwanted fantasies of self-mutilation.
"I understand," I said, but I didn’t really. I never saw shame in victimhood. "Do you speak to any of the other survivors?"
"No one except my mother," she said, "and I’ve not seen her for months. My therapist discourages me from it. My mother’s still a believer, sleeps two hours a night and only eats one meal a day. If it was good enough for Father, then it’s good enough for me." A half laugh, another drag on a cigarette. "Sometimes, I think she read your book, but she wouldn’t know it was me who said those things. Witness No. 99 could be anyone."
Her cigarette burned out so she stumped it in the ashtray. She picked up her tea. I suddenly realized that I didn’t know her name. She’d never mentioned it. It was far too late to ask now.
"You’ve not written a book since," she told me.
"And I don’t intend to. I specialized in tragedies and exposés but The Family was the worst I’ve ever seen."
"Then you’re not looking hard enough." She placed down her cup and it was quiet for a while. "Witness No. 1 is being released."
My stomach clenched uncomfortably as I thought about his monotone voice on the cassette tapes, laughing and crying at all the wrong moments.
"That’s awful," I eventually managed. She shrugged.
"Not really. Apparently he’s a new man, completely rehabilitated. He found God, the proper one, in prison and saw the error of his ways. Now I won’t keep being dragged back to testify against him every few years. It’s a win/win." Her hand was shaking. I could only tell because the prosthetic was so still. "Anyway, I’ve moved on."
I was heading to leave and thanked her for the tea. A part of my Britishness melted away when I saw her stood there, deflated, disappointed that the interview hadn’t helped her in the way she wanted. I didn’t know what she expected from me but I swallowed my pride.
"Witness No. 99, what’s your real name?"
She laughed. "So you do want to know? I wasn’t sure."
"You knew I didn’t know?"
"Of course," she said. "I never mentioned it." She reached out her hand for me to shake. "I’m Grace, pleased to meet you."
"Well, it was lovely talking to you, Grace. I’m not entirely sure what you expect me to do with this conversation."
Grace removed her glasses to clean them, balanced them on her prosthetic hand while using the other hand to rub them with the rim of her jumper.
"Your book sells constantly. Just slam it in the epilogue for the next edition."
"Okay," I smiled. "I think I’ll be able to do that."
She carefully placed her glasses back on her face.
"Much better," she said. "Yes, this is much better now."