Do you know that moment? That moment when nothing else in the world matters but the person in front of you. That moment of clarity when you realise that this was the last time you might see them;
the last time you might talk to them. These moments happen every day all over the world, but I’m pretty sure I can argue that I have had more of these moments. I was sitting next to her on the
ground. We were hidden by a large tree that sent out endless metres of shade and she was leaning awkwardly against the massive trunk of the tree. Her breathing was slow and staggered and her worn
face shuddered with each dying breath. I clasped her frail, bony hand in mine and patted the light wisps of hair on her head. The torn dress she had sewn out of calico fell into a deep hole where
her stomach was. I wept and looked around for any help or food. An older lady was leaning on a small mud brick house and looked at me and my mother. She smiled sympathetically and rushed inside the
small house. If I moved my mother or tried to carry her she would break and snap; she was so malnourished that her bones refused to work anymore – let alone her wheezing lungs. The routine trudge
of combat boots began and I pulled my mother closer towards me. They weren’t taking her. She let out a quiet yelp as I repositioned her and her head fell pathetically onto my shoulder.
Chut. Chut. Chut. Their boots moved in unison and became increasingly louder. I wiped away my tears and tried to fix my mother’s clothes. The boots stopped and one pair kept walking. There
was a rough tap on my shoulder and I looked up innocently.
“What are you doing?” The voice asked harshly.
“I’m t-taking care of my m-mother.” I stuttered. The soldier looked back at the other members of the troop.
“Your mother is dead. Stand up.” He said bluntly. I stood reluctantly and dusted myself off. The soldier grabbed at my arm and pulled me closer to him.
“You run home now, sweetheart.” He said bitterly. He smelled like hand-rolled cigarettes and dated whiskey. He released his firm grip and I rubbed my arm, looking back at my mother and pondering whether or not I should stay. “Start running, love.” I looked up at him and started to run. I ran past the troupe of combat boots and began to cry. The machine rifle shots that stifled the air pierced my ears and I stumbled and fell on the ground. They just shot her; she was next to death and would have died reasonably peacefully but they had to shoot her body; had to mangle her into a rotting pool of ripped muscle and blood. I ran until I collapsed in a heap in some front door of a building. I curled up into the foetal position and cried and cried until there were no tears left. I stayed there for the rest of the afternoon; seven troupes walked past and I hid from all of them even though I didn’t care anymore. Why care about something that is inevitable?
Each day the number of patrols increased. They sent more men to stalk the streets of my home and make sure that there were no weak – because the weak let us down apparently. That was our army’s motto: The weak bring us down; stand strong beside us! Bullshit. In this country they kill anybody that the soldiers in charge deem ‘unfit’. But the reality is that no one in this country is fit and healthy, only the wealthy – interesting how wealthy and healthy just happen to rhyme, huh? Like they were meant to go together. The poor were as good as dead. Every day when I would walk out of our government assigned bedroom/house in our unit block to go to work, there would be a new dead body – lying motionless on the ‘carpet’ed hallway. My mother and I were coming home from work when she collapsed. The owner of the steel factory that we work at made mum work overtime while he beat her because she was apparently not working fast enough. He made me go outside and I went and sat on a small pile of splintering logs. Mum came out an hour later hugging herself and keeping her legs close together. We walked for about ten minutes and then she just collapsed. I leant back onto the bricks of the doorway I was sitting in. I had nowhere to go; no father, my brothers and sisters all died when they were younger and now my mother is gone. I was waiting out my inevitable death.
There was laughter echoing out from inside the house and I tried to remember the last time I had laughed. The sad thing was that I couldn’t remember. I banged my head on the door in a sigh of
desperation and the house fell silent. I closed my eyes and waited silently. There was a soft murmur of a deep voice and then a high pitched wine of a voice replied. I stood slowly and started to
walk away calmly. The door opened and a man started to yell in a language I didn’t understand. I looked back and saw him raise his belt threateningly. I ran towards another clump of buildings and
hid behind a rotting dumpster. The man’s yell died down and I closed my eyes and cried. Why? Why do I live here? Why can’t I live somewhere where war isn’t an everyday thing and people don’t
threaten you when you sleep on their door step? I wiped the tears away and stood up again. I wanted to go home –they probably reposed my bedroom but it was worth a shot. I walked along a back ally.
It was quiet other than the sound of my shuffling feet as my dodgy hand-made sandals shifted through the dusty Earth. I kept my head down and hugged myself to keep warm from the chill night air. I
walked past a short ally that ended with a dead end. I stopped in the middle of it and looked at the wall. It was covered in elaborate graffiti but the thing that caught my attention was the
massive blood splatter that covered most of the wall. There were three corpses lying on the ground; each with dozens of bullet holes in their backs. I kept walking quickly and looked around me
cautiously – this neighbourhood was not safe. I kept my head down and kept walking towards the end of the ally. I was greeted by a desperate prostitute who emerged from behind a dumpster holding
some money in her hand and shifting uncomfortably. A dirty looking man walked out after her and placed his hand on her arse; she shivered and closed her eyes.
“Hi, do you have any money?” She begged. I looked at her carefully; she looked about sixteen – same age as me – and wore little clothing. I shook my head and looked at her eyes.
“No, do you want to come with me? I think I might still have somewhere to stay,” I asked kindly, may as well have a friend, plus she has some money. She furrowed her brows.
“If you have no money, how will you pay me?”
“Pay you? What do you – oh, oh god no! I’m a girl – and straight, defiantly no.”
“So you don’t want sex? You’re being nice?” The girl asked innocently. I nodded and held out my hand.
“My name is Leela, what is your name?” I asked.
“Pip,” I smiled and she shook my hand; I tried not to think where her hand had been.
“My place is just up the road. You coming?” She looked down the alley and then at me.
“Yes, ok, I will come with you.” I smiled at her again and started to walk down the alley. The guy she had slept with had completely disappeared. I turned around and looked at her standing still; she hurried to catch up to me. We walked side by side for about twenty metres in silence. We had exited the alley and were now on a road surrounded by decaying mud brick apartment blocks on either side of the street. We crossed the road and entered the second apartment block along. There was a man lying on the ground blocking the door way and I had to shove the door to push him out of the way. His body finally gave in and he rolled over to reveal blood smeared all over his chest – another shooting. I led Pip up the two flights of stairs and down a blood stained carpet corridor towards my shared apartment.
“Sorry about all the blood – you get used to it.” I said to Pip; she nodded knowingly. I opened up the apartment and made my way over to my assigned bedroom. It was just as I had left it this morning and no one new was sleeping in here. I pointed at the two wide planks of wood. “Your choice.” Pip smiled in delight – I guess to her this was luxury; at least there are still people worse off than this. She chose the bed on the left; my mother’s old bed and lay down. I picked up a folded woollen blanket and chucked it at her.
“For real?” She asked. I nodded and picked up one for myself. They itched like crazy but they kept you warm. The building was silent and the road couldn’t be heard while I was trying to sleep. It seemed to be around ten at night but who knows for sure? I rested my head on a plank of wood and closed my eyes; I couldn’t think about today, let alone dream.
When I woke the next morning my back was aching, as per usual, Pip was fast asleep, and there was a loud fight going on outside my front door. It sounded like two men from the yells and I stood up
and locked the door – I wasn’t getting into that shit.
“What is with all the yelling?” Pip asked, she was sitting up and rubbing her eyes.
“Just some guys, having it out. I wouldn’t go outside, they will hurt you.” Pip nodded and folded up her blanket.
“Does this sort of thing happen a lot?” She asked innocently. For someone who lived on the street she didn’t really know what happened on the street.
“Almost every morning.” I replied. She raised her eyebrows and peered at the door. It was only a small bedroom – you would barely be able to fit a queen bed in here but mum and I had managed to fit everything in here, not that we had much. I picked up a bent can of tomato soup I had stolen and dug a blunt knife into it. I took a large swig of it and handed the can to Pip. She took it cautiously and took a sip. We drank the whole can and by the time we were done the fighting had stopped and the apartment fell silent.
“Leela, what do we do?” Pip asked.
“Today we are going to look for a job because I got fired yesterday and you are not going back to prostitution.” She smiled and nodded. I stood up and looked at her. “You coming?” She realised I was leaving and stood up quickly, following me as I stepped out into the apartment. There was a man holding a rag to his bleeding lip on one side of the room and a man lying motionless in the corner of the other side of the room. The other man had blood oozing out of his mouth and nose and his face was a tainted colour of purple. Pip gasped rather loudly and I grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the apartment quickly. “If you aren’t quiet, he’ll beat you up too.” She nodded and quickly closed the door to the apartment.
I knew that Pip was working beside me; I could see her hands occasionally but I couldn’t see the rest of her. We were approached on the street by a man in a suit who asked us to come and work for some major sports label so we followed and started work immediately. They had us working in tiny little cubicles where you couldn’t move and could only focus on the moving assembly line in front of you. My only view was a small ten-year-old boy opposite me. He was tiny and thin and he was sticking his hand into machinery to twist things inside and fix things. I couldn’t watch him because I knew that his arm was going to get cut off soon and I couldn’t watch that. I continued to sew up the lining of a pair of black heels and then put them back onto the conveyor belt. We had been here for twelve hours without a break or a chance to pee and the place smelt horrible. A whistle blew and I looked around to see what was happening. Soldiers walked in and looked over the work we had done. I sat still and looked down. I heard three separate shots and then the sound of heavy objects being scraped along the ground. There was another sound and soldiers came and took away the barriers between us. They handed us each a blanket a block of foam and a small bowl of slop. I swallowed the food quickly and looked at Pip; she looked just as confused but ate her food quickly as well. There were only women on my side of the conveyor belt and they were all sculling their food. After a minute the soldiers came back in and snatched the bowls from us and turned off the lights. It was pitch black in the room; pitch black and silent. I felt around for the foam and lay my head on it – spreading the thin blanket over my shivering body. We weren’t getting out of this; there was no way that we were going to get paid – let alone survive. This war inflicts the innocent more than the perpetrators. As it is the innocent that are forced to work for free in sweatshops; the innocent that are forced to die from malnutrition; the innocent that are forced to be soldiers for their country and die ‘for their country’. This is not our war. Why us?
**Author’s note: So guys, I hope you liked this! It was written for a story challenge where the theme was survival, war and famine. Happy writing – Rose Burg xx**
© Copyright 2016 Rose Burg. All rights reserved.