No one seems to care

December 17, 2009
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The day they gave us a gun and a drop of cocaine to the forehead, we were branded. We were child soldiers.

The gun was a boulder of black ice, getting colder as my palms drowned in sweat. They didn’t care that it was taller than I was. The cocaine was the soldier they wanted us to be, quick, ruthless, efficient. The golden African sun- rising bright every day, clothing the sand, glancing off the metal of the guns, bathing what little trees there were… it tricked us in a world with the motto “kill, kill, kill”.
“Kill” He said. Never shouting, never out of control. The Giant was six feet tall and two feet wide. “Kill for your country, kill those traitors, wipe them off the planet! It’s your single duty… men.” He added as an afterthought. So which side were the traitors? I had seen both sides cry.
We men ranged from seven to fifteen. I was eleven- recruited only the day before. The cocaine incision still bled, my eyes were still swimming in an opaque well. The hot sand needled my legs. I heard them whimpering, saw the giant poking the butt of his gun to their chests, remembered the blood staining my mother. “It was only yesterday” I thought frantically, “she’s still alive.”
* * *
Training day.
Hoisting the guns under our arms, we shot at trees and rocks. I was lucky to shoot at trees and rocks… they said. We lifted sacks of sand and logs-dusty skin flaked away like paper. We marched, we ran, too exhausted and terrified to think. The sun scalded our backs, tricking us again with its gold. Minute by minute, the child soldiers shed their childhoods. As noon packed up her golden shawls and made way for dusk and mosquitoes, we were ancient. The only childish hope was for something to chew and for a cup of water. Our dreams wistfully calculated how it would be… if it wasn’t. Before this is over, we’ll leave. We will survive. You and me. My mother said with her smile.
“Men, you are ready now.” The Giant told us. “Tomorrow you will start your fight for your country. Your motherland. And just so you know, men, I’m not afraid to send a bullet through you when I see fit, child or no child.” He lifted his gun inches above our heads and shot at the horizon. We drank our spit and before I drowned in nothingness, I remembered my mother, begging me, “live”. My head hurt like hell.

* * *
It was midnight. We have a long way to go. Miles of sand to cross before the sun arrives. The Giant walked not in front of us, but beside us, so that he could have all of us in his view. He tried to match his gait to our slow march- trying to disguise his whip-like fists? His speech? Those eyes that somehow saw all of us in one stare? The Giant’s lifeless voice barely disturbed the desert.
“Men, a great injustice has been done to this land. Our motherland. It has been infiltrated. For centuries we have stayed silent, but now it has become impossible to do so. So what do we do?” He paused. Someday we will go to Amerikha. My mother said. You go to school, and I stay at home and cook you everything you want. Amerikha is beautiful, they say.
“So we decided to wipe off these traitors from our land- the simple solution. The simplest way is to kill. Kill the women first, they continue the race. Kill the children second, they grow. You, lucky men, apparently belong here. So you have been spared to continue the fight.”
They took her! They took Maya. My mother cried. Why did she have to be so pretty?
In the horizon was a jagged line of buildings and lights… square, circular stars.
“Are your guns full?” The Giant asked. We nodded. My stomach tied itself in to knots; my chest was as hollow as a balloon. The cool dawn breeze suddenly seemed freezing. But the only way home was to kill. That’s what he had said.
Open up! Open up! They shouted. Breaking down the door meanwhile. You, get that. The leader of the group pointed at my mother’s painting. The man turned things in his hands, dropped some to his pockets, some to the floor and kicked the others. He giggled at the picture of my father, with the fresh wrath of flowers at its feet. Then he noticed me, cowering beside my mother’s skirt. You, boy, there! He pointed at his group. No! My mother shouted. Leave him. Oh, shut up woman! He snarled as he cocked his gun at her chest. To make sure we were looking, he turned and looked at us. CRACK! Time to leave, the man said. I watched the blood seeping through her blouse and mused, my ears hurt. She stared at me and gasped, “Live”
A single bird lamented as we left.
* * *
Our ranks stopped at the edge of the town. The sun drowsily poked at clouds. Beside me someone prayed. Behind me I heard a desperate attempt to keep from crying. Every noise, every picture came to me in infinitesimal detail.
“Kill” The Giant said. “Immobilize them.” “Return at noon… now run.” He stared at each of us long and hard. “I’ll be watching.”
Without looking at each other the child soldiers separated and ran on our ways. Sobs escaped from opened dams. But not me. I didn’t cry. Swiftly I entered the town.

I had not come to the town for years… not since they took Maya five years ago. Still, with that coldness inside me I barely noticed anything. Passing store shacks, clogged up inside each other’s walls, buildings, rackety and menacing, I hurried along the alleyway, wincing at shuffles that were only mice. And finally, second by second, a golden sun took over the town. After a few more seconds, the gun under my armpit was weightless, the knots in my stomach pulled tighter. The town is waking.
“Live”, she said.

I paused at the edge of the alley. Am I ready? I wondered. Sure.
And I put my first step forward, to the town, with its people… traitors; traitors who made them kill my mother. (No, not kill, shoot.) I had no second thoughts.
Which road? I wondered. From the dark crevice I was in I could see stick like men, stick like women with babies in morning comas, walking slowly and carefully, as if scared of falling to pieces. I warned myself to not think as I looked at their tired down-turned eyes. I am a soldier now.

My feet took me to the left… an empty street. The dust floated on the golden rays. An occasional wind rattled a broken window, passed by a door pulled out of its hinges. My eyes swept for dusty afros or a brown bone- camouflaged with the trash. You can never tell where they are.
* * *
Here he is… I thought. A traitor. A murderer.
But I knew him- he was the boy at school, the other soldiers, a son.
“Help” The boy begged. Coward! I looked right in to his wide, white eyes.
“You killed my mother.” I whispered. And shot.
He fell to the pavement like the skeleton he was. Thick red blood gushed out.

“Keep the count”, the Giant had said. One.

I am a child soldier. An year has passed. No one seems to care.
Will I survive?

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Anne said...
May 10, 2010 at 9:40 am
great talent!
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