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In the distance, the roll of thunder echoes through the trees. Nature repeats its same pattern of thunder, lightning, thunder, and lightning, over and over. The blind of the lightning causes eyes to blink and heads to fall. As if a crowd is applauding, the thunder rumbles again. The wind roars in the branches and hums in people's ears. Leaves rustle horrifyingly and crackle as if they're being stepped on. Women sniffle and grasp their hair in distress. A soldier kicks a woman already laying on the ground, causing her weeping to grow louder. He screams, his low, crushing voice ringing in everybody's ears. This same command has been repeated so often that each and every woman in the camp has memorized what he's saying, even if they don't understand the language.
A truck coughs its way to the edge of the tall, electric wire fence—a dark green army truck with a stained fabric cover. Two larger men sit in the front seats, their faces staring straight ahead. Even though the truck is far away, I can smell the distinct stench of death and depression. As the wide tires screech to a halt, water splashes from the sides of the truck, spraying the fence. Pollution puffs from the back of the truck creating dark clouds behind it. Soldiers gather around the truck, yelling at the women laying inside. The men yank bodies onto the ground, ordering the ones that survived the trip to get out of their way and shoving the unfortunate people to the side of the dirt path. The back of the truck overflows with people attempting to escape the cramped space. When I was taken away and brought to this concentration camp I expected chaos and disaster, but to see this many innocent people suffer like this makes my anger rage inside me. When I get out of here—if I get out of here—I will seek revenge.
My chest tightens, and I want to scream at all of the soldiers, but the bruise on my jaw reminds me to keep my mouth shut. The agency underestimated the extent of mental and physical torture going on here. Months of training was supposed to prepare me for blind missions, but in no way did it prepare me for this situation. I didn't ask for this. When I arrived at the camp, I had plans; I expected to find a way out right away. Now I've been in this hellhole for almost two-and-a-half months, but that hope is fading quickly.
From the corner of my eye I notice a flower standing straight and tall. Some pedals begin as purple but merge with white as the petals gets closer to the stem. Other petals are completely yellow or yellow with purple zebra stripes. Underneath the iris' organic structure lays rocky, insalubrious clumps of dirt. This one iris is probably the only truly living thing within miles. I drag myself towards the flower. For minutes I stare blankly in awe until I notice mumbling coming from my right.
There's a young woman, close to my age of 22 kneeling on the soil. She's praying. Her hair is brown and greasy, falling on her shoulders stiffly. Her eyes are bright green and stand out compared to the rest of her desiccated body. Underneath her eyes are bleached brown freckles covering her nose and cheeks. The girl is dangerously thin, as are most of the people I've seen in the past month, except for her bulging belly. The poor young woman is pregnant and must be so worried about the baby attempting to grow inside of her. Her fingers tangled together are long and skinny with bright red blisters from working all day everyday. Her filthy shirt rides above her hips and on the left breast is an array of numbers: 02391-745. Probably nobody here know her name; here you are called by your number. I've never been called Eileen—only 4703-191. She reminds me of why I became an MI-6 agent: to fight for the helpless people in the world doing everything they can to survive. I've always wanted to help those people, but never did I imagine I'd be one of them. Soldiers command us to congregate in our own separate buildings for bed. I limp my way to my bunk and thinking again of a plan to escape.
Several days later, I sit once again by the iris. The petals are still bright and joyous, but the stem is leaning to the ground more than it should. The pregnant woman sits, everyday, in the same spot praying. This particular day I stay longer than usual and just rest, gazing at the clouds. The lady ceases her prayers, looks at me, and looks at the cloudy sky. One cloud forms a person lying down staring right back at me. I sit up and stare at the woman. She subconsciously realizes I am looking at her and brings her eyes down to my level.
Normally I would have felt awkward looking in the eyes of someone I have never talked to, but for some reason it isn't awkward. I can see in her eyes that we are similar. She isn't fighting for her own life anymore—she is fighting for her child's; I am not fighting for my child, but I am fighting for my people. She recognizes that as well and she lifts one corner of her mouth in a half smile, which is as much as either of us can muster.
I reach into my shirt to retrieve the piece of paper I found on the ground. Using a block of charcoal I start to write out my plan. From what I had overheard a group of soldiers discussing, we would be transferring camp sites soon. Not everyone would be going to the next location, though, due to lack of transportation space. If we are taken in the truck we were brought in, I might be able to escape. Maybe I could even escape when we travel past the fence, but I'm not sure if I have the strength to run fast enough anymore. Plus, there are many more soldiers than I can handle.
Like clockwork, the bell rings, and everyone hurriedly heads to bed.
A soldier paces back and forth between people as we feast on our scraps of bread and drops of soup. I see that the pregnant women has not been given any food, because she hasn't worked up to the soldiers' standards today. I crawl over to where she sat and hand her half of my bread and my soup. She nods in acknowledgment and stuffs the food in her mouth. Slowly, I back away to give her some space. Eventually, I make my way to the iris and lay with my head by the flower's roots.
All of the flowers petals are dead on the ground, but the flower is still alive. How does it survive? It rarely rains here, and when it does, it is a torrential storm, and the dirt can't keep a cactus alive. This iris is accomplishing the impossible: living in unlivable circumstances. If that flower can survive, then so can I. With my head resting on my hand, I start to think of my sister Jacqueline. She used to always say to me “As soon as you want to give up, that's when you have to start to try.” I've never forgotten that and whenever I'm struggling with something, I think of that and it guides me to the right path. The soldier's footsteps echo through the ground and sound off in my ear. The pregnant lady goes on with her praying, and other women wheeze and pant with short breaths.
This is the day. Some of us will be leaving here for a new but still miserable location, and others will have their last day of life. I can't believe what is going on. Since the trucks aren't large enough to fit us all “comfortably,” they are just going to kill the extra people. I take one last look at the iris and follow the rest of the women into the still dark morning. A chilly breeze stings my arms. We try to walk in a straight line, but several women keep falling and are immediately shot. If I could get down and help them up, I would, but I know it would be no use. I don't have time to spare, so I speed up as much as my feet will allow and pass people up.
Once we pass through the opening in the fence, I push a woman to the ground and she falls into another person. I use that as a diversion and tip-toe to the edge of the group. Soldiers are gathering around the commotion, so I sprint into the sparse forest. One soldier notices me running and starts screaming but can't be heard over the yelling of the women. He continues to shoot at me but misses each time and knows one woman isn't worth his time. He's probably thinking that I'm going to die anyway.
I open my eyes again to see a garden of irises, roses, and sunflowers covering the yard in front of my window. There's a slight drizzle but nothing too damaging—just enough water to nourish the flowers. It's been 60 years since I was stuck in that concentration camp, but not one day has gone by that I haven't thought about my time there. I was starving, depressed, terrified, but somehow the most memorable thing for me was that one iris. If I had never seen that flower, would I have escaped? Would I have lived longer than 23 years? I do not know. But I do know that the only way I stayed alive was having the will to live. Will Power. That's the most important. Never let yourself go. It seemed that the end would never come, but I have always believed in destiny and I had hope. If you're drowning, you'll put all your effort into trying to swim. Without hope we could not survive the obstacles life throws at us.