The hanged and the haunted.

At the time when this tale takes place there were still executions at Suva gaol. The established method was hanging. This story, like many, was told to me by my father. It still haunts me.

One of my father’s medical colleagues was the appointed doctor for the gaol. His responsibility was to the health of the inmates but there was an added task closely connected with the death of a prisoner.

That prisoner would be a convicted murderer sentenced to death by hanging. The doctor’s role was to consult with the condemned before the execution, presumably to ensure he was fit to be hanged. He was also required to be at the execution on what was always a very grim early morning.

So it was that the time came for an Indian man who had been convicted of murder to meet his maker at the end of a rope. He was visited the night before the execution by my father’s friend who found the man near paralysed with fear. Hardly surprising and in spite of his crime the doctor felt sorry for him. He promised the man that he would bring him something to ease his suffering. He had in mind a sedative.

However, on asking if this were permissible he was told in no uncertain terms that it was not. There was to be no such medication on death row.

So, the morning of the execution dawned and the doctor found himself with several other officials in a small room facing a stout noose hanging over a waiting trapdoor. The condemned man was half dragged and half carried to the rope. It was placed carefully around his neck. The knot was carefully aligned where it would do most harm more quickly. The man was shaking uncontrollably. The moment had arrived.

Then, just as the trapdoor was about to be sprung, the man looked the doctor squarely in the eye and spoke. At the very moment that he did that the trapdoor sprung open. He was gone.

That moment, and the man’s accusing gaze, was etched in the good doctor’s mind for life. His last words rang forever in his ears. “Sahib. Tum dava nai deho”.

“Sir. You did not bring me the medicine.” These words and that look would haunt him forever.

Later, of course, he would have been required to enter the chamber beneath the trapdoor to establish the death of his accuser. This must have been a grim task. It was a grim place.

I was shown into this chamber myself once, as a boy. It was then that I was aware for the first time that fear has a smell all its own. Like death, it has a lasting odour, and it pervaded this space long after there were no longer executions carried out there

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