You must login to vote
The girl left her home yesterday and is trying to find her way back. Her little brother's crying has become the most constant thing in her life. "Stop it now, we're going home," she says as she takes his hand. They are walking down a dusty street in a direction the girl thinks is home.
The girl is nine years old and her brother is four. She is wearing a faded dress with a floral pattern around the hem. The boy is wearing a collared shirt that is buttoned to the top and baggy pants that he has to hold up with one hand. Both children are wearing sandals and are dirty from the blowing dust.
They had been with their mother at the market when the explosions started. It echoes in the girls memory. The big thudding sounds when everyone seemed to freeze. And a sharp, shrieking thing that the girl tries to stay away from in her mind. Her mother had been talking to a merchant and her brother followed her out to the street where she was watching bigger kids play a game. Then everyone was running and she was staring at a boy lying in the street with his eyes wide open.
"Stop it. Stop it!" She says to her brother, shaking his arm. She pulls him around and looks into his dark brown eyes. "I'll tell Father you're being a baby." This mention of Father brings the boy up short and he stops crying. "I wanna go home," he says angrily. The girl feels tears push up in her eyes and swallows before she says, "We are going home so come on." She tugs his arm and starts off again down the street.
The children spent last night at their aunt's house. It was she who found them in the chaos of the market. The girl had taken her brother's hand and tried to go back to where her mother was. But nothing was the same. People were screaming and the children were knocked over in the crowd. The girl held onto her brother and yelled for her mother. But it was her mother's sister who appeared in front of them. She grabbed each child by the shoulder. Her grip was painfully tight.
"Why are you here? Where is your mother?," she asked, looking over their heads into the crowd. But then there was another burst out in the street and a truck was knocked over. The girl stared dumbly at it as her aunt tried to cover the children with her body. "Come on, I'm taking you home," she said, pulling them to their feet. The children looked wildly around for their mother. The little boy began to scream but their aunt was an unopposable force, running them down the street.
She brought them to her own home which was four blocks from the market. At the aunt's house there was more confusion. The oldest of her three teenage sons had not returned home and her husband was raging.
"What are they doing here? Where is your sister?" He demanded, glaring at the children.
The aunt answered in a calm tone, aware of the fear in the room. "They were at the market but she wasn't with them. We couldn't stay to look for her. Now call their house and let them know the children are safe." Upon saying this, she finally released her grip on the children's wrists.
But the phone was not working. And their mother didn't come to find them. While her aunt and uncle spoke in hushed voices in the next room and her cousins paced in the front hall, the girl sat with her brother in the main living room. She sat on a soft chair and he was on the floor with his back to her, sitting between her legs. He had stopped crying. She could smell that he'd peed in his pants. She used to enjoy scolding him when he did this but he had stopped almost a year ago and now she said nothing. She watched the top of his head bob gently as he breathed.
The girl tightened as she heard the thump of explosions in the distance. Inside the house it was weirdly quiet. Her aunt and uncle's voices carried to her over the tile floor.
"...will be looking for them. She could get killed out there."
"I could have been killed out there. I couldn't just leave them."
"She will go home and wait for word. God willing."
"God willing. But someone has to go to her."
"No one else is leaving this house while they are shelling the town."
At this the girl became confused. She knew they were talking about her mother but shelling is something you do to a nut.
"Where's Momma?," her brother asked. He had been listening too. "She's at home with Father," the girl answered, putting her hand on the boy's head.
The oldest son returned before nightfall. He was embraced by both of his parents but to the girl he seemed frightening. The arrival of someone not her mother mad her feel very bad. His brothers stood close around him asking questions. As the light outside faded, the girl began to feel panicked. She went to her aunt and told her that her brother needed to go home to change his pants.
"We have some old ones of the boys he can use," her aunt replied. The girl began to understand that they were expected to stay the night there in that house.
The children were put to bed together on a mattress in a far corner of the living room. The little boy cried most of the night. There was a terrifying argument out in the kitchen. The oldest son wanted to go and fight somebody and it made his parents very angry. The girl couldn't understand it. She heard her aunt crying. All the while there were strange sounds from outside. Still the 'crump' of distant explosions which the girl found she could picture. And now also a slight but continual rattling.
The girl awoke startled in a quiet house. The day's light was just starting to stream through the windows. Her brother was sleeping beside her. He was breathing deeply through his mouth. His face was crusty from crying. The girl looked out over the empty-looking house and made the strongest decision of her life. She was going home.
"Psss, Abraham wake up," she wispered to her brother, gently nudging his shoulder. He woke up slowly, blinking through the grit in his eyes. The girl wished he would rub it away but he didn't. She reached over and touched his face but he pushed her hand away.
"Were's Momma?," he asked as he began to remember where he was. The girl was afraid he would start crying again.
"Shhh, we're going home now. We're going to walk home." The boy looked up into his sisters eyes. "I'm hungry," he said. "Ok ok, let's go," the girl said quietly, fearing her aunt's family would wake up before she could leave. She had slept in her dress but he didn't have any pants on. The boy tried to button his shirt as his sister pulled his cousin's oversized pants onto him. "I dont wanna wear those," he said, kicking at her. "Shh, you have to. Yours are all peed. Let me do that. You've got them in all the wrong holes," she said, turning her attention to his shirt. She buttoned it right up to the top.
"These are too big."
"Just hold onto them. Let's go!"
The girl carried their sandals with them out the front door. She put hers on as her brother stood by holding up his pants and then she strapped his sandals on as she often did. They walked out into the street.
The morning is getting hot now but the street is still quiet. Only a few cars have gone by and a couple of trucks that had men with guns in them. The men were staring straight ahaead and didn't seem to see the children. Nobody seems to see them. The few people on the street move fast and quiet.
They have walked for five blocks and the girl is not sure where she is. She thinks some of the buildings look familiar but she has always been with her mother or father. She looks at her brother. He is looking down at his feet as he walks. She is holding his right hand and he's holding his pants up with the other. Now she hears a new sound from behind them. It sounds like a truck but the sound is too big. It seems she can feel it more than hear it. A man calls out to them from their right.
"Hey you kids, get out of the street!"
The man is in the front entrance of a building. There are three archways in front with a walkway behind. The sun is striking the arches so the man is in shadow underneath. The children stand squinting at him from the middle of the street.
"Come on, come here!"
The girl is afraid to go where the man is. She looks down at her little brother. He is looking back up the street towards the growling sound, a serious look on his face. She sees his eyes grow wide and then he tears away from her, running toward the archways. He looks like he is waddling in the ridiculous pants.
The girl is amazed that he let go of her. She runs after him. They reach the darkness behind the archway at the same time and are grabbed by a man who smells like cigarettes.
"Shhh!" The man says as he pushes them down behind one of the columns. The girl notices that his hands are rough like her fathers. "It's ok. You're ok." The man speaks softly to the children. But he is picking up a gun and looking out to the street. The girl grabs her little brother and holds him. She is shocked at how tense his muscles are. He is breathing hard but barely making a sound. She looks down the street to see what he saw. There is a huge, squat monster that has stopped in the intersection of the preceeding block. It is turning an enormous snout towards where they are hiding. The girl jumps as another man speaks in a hissed whisper from the column on her left.
"What did you bring these damn kids in here for?"
He has a nasty voice. The girl is afraid of him and looks back to the man who spoke softly to her.
"Be quiet. We couldn't leave them in the street."
"Hell we couldn't. Where is everyone else? We've got to get out of here."
"We've got to sit tight and be quiet," says the first man. Both children are watching him intently. He is peering around the column. "Damn," he says as the tank rumbles into motion and starts down their street. He looks down at the children. "We cant stay here with these kids," he says to his partner. The other man is breathing heavily and cursing under his breath. The children have never heard the words he uses. He sounds like an animal. Suddenly, he bolts out from the archway, running across the street and away from the tank. The street erupts in gunfire.
The children continue to stare at the man who called them out of the street. "Stay here, dont move," he says to them as he steps into the sunlight. He doesn't run like the other man but walks quickly sideways and begins firing his gun towards the tank. The girl cant believe how loud it is. But she also notices another sound, like bees all around the man. His gun has already stopped firing and she sees him doing a weird dance in the street. She makes a sound like laughing. But the man is coming apart. And the bees are all around her now, hissing fiercly by her ears and smashing into the stones. A bullet strikes the column near her head and sprays rock dust into the girls eyes. She sees no more. A deep concussion in the street knocks her into unconsciousness.
The next thing the girl knows is a ringing sound. Her eyes are tearing badly and she is trying to rub them but strong hands wont let her. She screams but it does no good. Something cool is poured into her eyes and she begins to see. Blinking through a waterfall of tears she sees a large man in front of her. He has a huge metal helmet on his head. His eyes are ghostly blue and he is speaking to her. But she can't understand him. The ringing is bad but that's not it. He isn't saying any words that make sense.
Something is missing. There are other men walking around behind the man talking to her. There is an enormous, ugly truck in the street. The monster is not there. It scared Abraham so. The girl suddenly flails up off the stones. The pale eyed man reaches to restrain her but she sees over his arm. A small bundle. Way too small. The strange men are picking up her brother. But his head hangs down and back, his face towards his sister. And his eyes are wide open.