One of my favorite literary images comes from George Orwell’s short story, “A Hanging,” in which he describes how a condemned prisoner being escorted across an open courtyard to the gallows, steps aside to avoid a puddle of rainwater in his path.
For Orwell, that small, barely significant action triggered a sudden awareness of the enormity of what was about to occur. “I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide,” he writes. “In two minutes, with a sudden snap, one of us would be gone – one mind less, one world less.”
All the legal and bureaucratic mechanisms that had brought the condemned man to that place at that time – all the colonial bullshit that Orwell was serving – fell away in a single moment of instinctive human movement. He observed a brain that was still reasoning, only minutes before it was to be stifled.