Torturing someone is not for the sadistic. Many people think it is—that you must be fiendish and brutal, and delight in your captive’s pain. Untrue.
A good torturer is kind and gentle. It takes sensitivity to know when to pull back and when to press harder. Empathy is needed, or you will have no idea when you are losing your captive and when they are about to give you everything you want.
The boy in my chair did not see it coming. He thought he was at a routine dental check-up, and he was so inured to authority that he barely flinched when the restraints closed around his wrists and legs.
“I am extracting a tooth,” I murmured in his ear. He flinched, but of course he could not move. I watched his wide eyes search for mine above my mask.
I hadn’t yet clamped his mouth, so he could still speak.
“Is there anything you would like to tell me?” I asked.
I say this all the time. It rarely elicits anything, but I like to think of it as giving one final chance before we begin what must begin. I am part of a process. I am not the one who decided this path. They choose how to walk it with me.
“Like what?” he said. I detected guilt in his voice, which told me he would not take long to break.
Adults were my usual target. It was regrettable that he was a child, but the process would not change.
Torturing supplemented my dentistry income nicely, but one cannot do a job simply for the money. It is important to know you are making the world a better place. Innocent people never end up in my chair. My job is to remove rot.
“Yesterday,” I begin, giving him another opportunity, “you had an adventure, did you not?”
Tears immediately welled.
“I was at school,” he said.
His lie was unfortunate. I applied a clamp to keep his mouth open. He didn’t need to talk again.
“You did not go to school,” I said. “You and your friend went to a liquor shop instead, where you attempted to steal some alcohol. The owner of the store recognised you and, unfortunately for you, he called me instead of the police.”
I grasped one of his molars gently with my pliers.
“Do you remember that?” I asked.
He shook his head in the minimal way they always do. It is difficult to communicate in such a position, but I understood what he was trying to say.
“I will extract a single tooth for every lie you tell,” I said. “It will be very painful for you, but completely routine for me. I strongly recommend that you tell the truth. Do you understand?”
His eyebrows lifted. The dental patient’s nod.
“Did you leave school to go to a liquor store yesterday? Think carefully before you answer, please.” I applied mild pressure to the tooth. His eyebrows lifted.
“Did you attempt to steal something?”
“Will you ever do it again?”
The minor left to right wobble of a no.
I took the clamp out of his mouth, and wondered if I should change my clientele to children. They were very easy, and resulted in less blood and noise than adults.
I waited a moment to keep him afraid.
“Simon, I’m going to let you go today,” I said, unbuckling the restraints. “I hope that you never have to come here again, apart from for a check-up. If I hear you have lied, or have missed school, I won’t be so tolerant. Do you understand?”
He raced to the door, breathing fast.
“Do you understand?” I repeated.
“Yes. Sorry Mum,” he paused. “But Mum—I didn’t do it. It was some other boys from school.”
A good torturer can tell when someone is lying. He wasn’t lying.
I didn’t bother to ask him why he had confessed, as I already knew. People will say anything if they think it will get them out of my chair. I should have picked it. I got complacent with him. An unforgivable mistake.
“Simon, I’m so sorry.” I dropped to his level and held out my arms. “I got it wrong.”
I held him tight, swallowing down the tears that always come when my job is done. It is important to remember why we do the jobs we do, but parenting can be so hard.