“Toby, it’s time to eat!” My mom yells.
“Toby, it’s dinnertime! Come down!” she howls, her mood changing from excitement to a slight touch of anger.
“Tobias,” Mom barks with an upset tone. “Come down now!”
I’ve never been a fan of family dinners, but I comply. I take out my headphones and sluggishly walk down the stairs leading to the kitchen.
“What’s for dinner?” I ask without emotion.
“See for yourself, I think you’d be quite happy,” My eyes examine the dinner table, and I discover that she cooked salmon with soup, my favorite. I seat myself in-between my mother and my sister, and I begin to fill my plate.
“What’s your goal for this week, Toby?” Mom immediately asks.
It’s the same question every day, and I always reply with the same answer,
“I want to see dad,”
My father was the greatest person I ever knew. He was always there for me. Whenever I had an issue, or a question, or something on my mind, he was always there to guide me. He would always take me along the country as part of his business trips, and we would watch football games together. He was perfect. It was only until I found out about his addiction to drugs that I began missing him. Soon after, I found him going on his trips alone, and I would be at home with my mom and sister. When I needed him to be there for me, he never was. He’s a changed person, Mom would say. That’s why we divorced. That was years ago. The only memory that gives me hope is his decision to try to quit his addiction, and he could only come home when he is no longer dependent. That was years ago, and ever since then I’ve been living alone with my mother and sister. The thoughts of my father cause the fish to gain an unpleasant taste, and I decide I’ve had enough. I swiftly clean my plate and toss it in the dishwasher, and I return to my room. I put on my headphones and drift to sleep.
. . .
My body shocks suddenly, and I wake up in a sleeping bag to find a young boy I have never seen on top of me shaking me awake. I try to shut my eyes, but the kid slaps me.
“Simuka!” He yells with an urgent tone. He violently thrashes me out of the sleeping bag and tosses me a military uniform. I view the surroundings drowsily, and the scarce amount of leafage immediately makes me realize that I’m not at all close to home. Weird, right? How did I get here? The explanations for this series of events begin to grind on my nerves. Could I have been kidnapped? Did some supernatural being wave its boundless magic wand and poof me here? Well, I don’t know, and I quickly realize that the kid isn’t here to answer my questions. I put the uniform on and follow the boy.
The child leads me toward a crowd of people that consists of mostly children, but many adults as well. One stands out in particular. He is an adult wearing a red military garb with multiple medals symbolizing prestige and honor in combat. The man is communicating with a few other adults, and they almost immediately disperse. The men come toward us and grab bags out of their pockets. I can’t tell what is inside, but when one of the men marches to me it is made visible.
There are drugs inside.
“Kuwana simba rako!” The man screams as he puts two pills in my hand. He takes one, and pats my head.
It is clear to me that this man wants me to have energy. I look around me to see what the other kids are doing. They are consuming the pills without hesitation. But I am different. I try to discard the pill, but it is out of my own control. My body won’t let me. My hands force the two pills down my throat. As my throat uncomfortably pushes the pills down to my stomach, I waddle toward the rest of the group. The children pick up guns and ammunition cartridges, and walk unsteadily toward the leaders. The pills they took are having visible effects on them, and on me as well. I see a few kids struggling to get up to their feet, others having trouble walking more than a few steps in a straight line. I feel as though I am possessed by a demon, maintaining my balance from the sensation of the drugs alone, yet I feel a newfound surge of energy. We are preparing to fight.
The adults force us to walk for hours. As we traverse the almost barren landscape, my bare feet begin to feel the strain of the journey, yet I continue to assure myself that I’m in much better condition than the others. I can tell that some of the soldiers are fading away from the symptoms of the drugs, others from the weight of the gun and tools they possess. One kid near the back decides to try to run away, and is mercilessly shot by another. Only a few bother to turn their backs, yet I am one of them. The men take no pity toward the innocent child, and the pack continues to march on. We are led into a lush forest filled with countless amounts of vegetation, and my arms begin to chill from the setting sun. A few people around me take flashlights from their pockets, but I remain alone in the dark. And then it happened.
Shrieks and cries were accompanied with an almost deafening roar. I detect a bright light and realize that a bomb was detonated. Pandemonium almost immediately enveloped the jungle. I quickly observe my surroundings, and find that the adults are attempting to give orders to the young soldiers. I notice some children crying and wailing at the sight of the explosion. My body is telling me to crouch behind the bush, and I obey. I look past the bush and see quick flashes and bangs. We snuck up on them. No, they are ambushing us. My arms are once again restricted by the soul that owns this body, and I take the gun off from my back. My arms are encumbered by the sheer weight of the gun, and only then do I realize that this body was not meant to fight.
This body was meant to have a family.
This body was meant to be loved.
As I review my surroundings I find that most of the children have either moved back or run away, and only some of us hold our ground, despite the sheer advantage the other party has. My body points the weapon toward the bright light and pulls the trigger ruthlessly, but I avert my eyes in despair. I peek around and find that I am all alone. All of the lights from behind me have vanished. Enveloped by feelings of despair and chaos, I run for my life. My only thoughts are focused on survival. As I dart away from my surroundings, I look throughout the vicinity. Now, I am accompanied only by the dead. I find shelter behind a large tree. The lights disappear, and darkness engulfs me. It’s as if the entire concept of light and hope never existed here. I once again explore my surroundings, and I find something next to me. It’s a body, mutilated and broken by bullets.
It was the same kid who woke me up. I vomit at the sight. Disturbed, I turn away and shed a tear in remorse. As I clean my mouth, my eyes catch two swift flashes of light. Two bullets pierce my gut and my head, and I feel nothing as I fall down to the grass, reddened from the tragedy of the conflict. I’m dying.
These kids were all innocent. They shouldn’t have died here.
These children lost their future, their hope, their creativity and curiosity, all to drugs and irresponsible people who wanted them.
These children never had a chance. And then I think of my father. He recognized that he is one of these adults, and he is fighting for the small amount of hope he has, just so that I can keep mine. Drugs kidnapped his hope, and he is pushing himself beyond his limits to free it. Almost instantaneously my body loses the ability to function, and my eyes shut.
. . .
I open my eyes to find that my soul and body have once again found each other. I’m alive, and in my bed.
“Toby, it’s dinnertime!” My mom yells. I rush out of my bed when I catch the first sound of my mother, and almost forget to take out my headphones.
“Mom, I’m so glad to see you again,” I remark in excitement as I announce my presence for the dinner. I trot down the polished wooden floor and seat myself.
“Toby, what’s your goal for this week?” Mom asks once again.
“I want to help dad.” I reply with a smile.