The first time I witnessed a war, I was a little girl and I remember being in a classroom full of other kids when we heard the loud gunshots; so loud that we could have sworn they were shooting right in the school compound. Of course, as little kids, we were so terrified and some of us hid beneath our desks which was a horrible protection against the soldiers if they were really in the school and decided they wanted to come in. Then from our window, I could see parents parking their cars haphazardly and hurrying up to pick their kids. Some of them had no shoes on and had green leaves tucked in their hair, shirts and car bonnets. I didn’t know what green leaves had to with the gunshots or what was happening but the way the parents ran everywhere, demanding their kids be brought out added to the mayhem and got me even frightened.
Kids started crying and demanding for their parents and some ran out to search for theirs. I know I sat glued to my chair wondering what was really going on and terrified to even move an inch; I was terrified that in all the commotion of parents getting their children out of school, we may have opened our gates to the shooters. And then, we heard it, gun shot sporadically in the air in quick successions that made the school shake. I could feel it, the earth trembling beneath my feet, begging to cave in and so did everyone else as parents started running towards the end of the school with their children to find a place to hide.
Suddenly, we were led by one of the school attendants who hid us in the toy cupboard of one of the nursery classes till the excitement died down. The cupboard was big and roomy but was not spacious enough to take over 30 children but we did not complain. In fact, it was a comfort to hear people breath; the testimony of life was soothing. It was in that cupboard we hid and prayed together till our parents came to get us one after the other.
When my father came, I had so many questions to ask him like what was going on, who was shooting but I was more interested in knowing why everyone on the road had green leaves tucked everywhere on their body, cars and why I was given. He obviously was not in the mood to answer as he was more concerned about getting me and my elder sister (who was in another class and another building separate from mine as she was a senior) home in one piece but he told me the green leaves depicts peace.
Later I found out the green leaves meant you absolve yourself from the war going on, you’re not on any side and you come in peace. Peace indeed. How do you say you come in peace when the whole town was upside down and you could be killed just because some power drunken fools feel the best way to express their superiority is by killing those who do not belong in the same ethnic group as them. On our way home, we saw houses and cars burning and too many dead bodies lying on the ground with blood coating the black tar on the road red. My dad had warned us to stay hidden in the car but I could not help it. I was drawn to the men, women children lying on the floor everywhere. There was a dead woman with a very loud gash on her neck with blood still gushing out of it and a baby crying on her back. How could you kill a woman with a little baby and then leave the baby amongst the dead. I wanted to beg my dad to stop the car and let us help the baby but I knew that in doing so, we will sign our own death warrant. So, I crouched and watched, with cloudy eyes, the horror that filled the street that was too much for my young eyes to see.
This memory stayed with me and for the three days we were not allowed to go out, it haunted me and I felt this urge to see more of the horror. Whenever my dad went to the nearby bakery to get bread for us (which was basically the only other food we could get apart from concoction rice and beans my mom managed to rustle up in the kitchen as we were almost out foodstuff before the war started), I would beg to follow him but he always declined telling me it was not safe for me to be out with him; if anything happened, I would slow down his chances of escaping quickly.
Tired of waiting, I snuck out of the house and walked to the road which was not far from my house. Ironically, it was peaceful. Everywhere was deathly quiet and not even lizards were out to play. I was just about to go back I hit a man’s feet. His body was obscured by a small wooden barricade, that was why I did not notice at first. I crouched to look at the man’s face to see if he was someone I knew and I was shocked. It was my mom’s regular customer who was always smiling at us except his neck has been slashed into two and was barely holding his head together. The right side of his face was twice its normal size with his eyes swollen shut but the left eye stared back at home in such a horrifying way that I ran back home like I was being chased.
I ran to the bathroom to scrub my hands and wash my face but his face stayed glued to my memories. Every time I closed my eyes, I would see his one eye staring at me so intently and with so much horror that I would snap them open. For a while, I could not sleep at night, I lied that it was the gun hots that kept me awake but deep down I knew what did; that it was that dead man who refused to stop haunting me.
Long after the war ended, I still see him in my dreams, not as strongly as before but if I pressed my eyes tightly together and think about that particular day in 1997, I could still see him; the gentle reminder of how people’s fight to be superior had cost a good man his life in a terrible manner. Although, I didn’t witness any major war again, I can still see the silent battle of superiority we fight everyday and every corner I turn, there’s always a man trying to prove a point of how better he is.
About the Writer - Inkheart A bit of truth and a bit of fiction; what it is, I will let you decide. The definite truth: if I am not thinking, I am writing down my thoughts...