July 28, 2012

 

The life of a boy soldier is one big blur … a part of one’s life that makes no sense whatsoever. For starters, we were so intoxicated with drugs that we hardly knew what we were doing or our purpose for being there.

Our school in the village was raided a few months ago and amongst other children, my big brother and I were captured and taken deep into the forest to begin our new lives as rebels. At the age of fourteen I was scared and totally relied on my seventeen-year-old brother for support both emotionally and physically. See my brother wasn’t just any normal brother; Kaluu was smart above his age … always reading science books that he could barely carry. He personified intelligence and as a kid he used to dissect birds and lizards to see what made them tick and later on in life started experimenting with drugs and how they react with one another and humans. When the rebel commander discovered his talent, he immediately put him in charge of the weeds and drugs that we consumed. His one big responsibility was to make sure that all the boy soldiers were constantly high, especially right before a mission.

A mission. The definition of a mission slightly defers from the ordinary because we killed babies, women and children. We cut men’s throats and chopped off their limbs… and the kicker to our atrocities was that we laughed all the way back and remembered little the following day.        

         One day, I noticed something weird happening to me. I was beginning to hesitate to kill. I started feeling emotions. I sympathized with the victims and even hid and vomited at the gory sights. I sat under a tree outside our camp and wondered at my predicaments. It was noon and most rebels were settling in for a midday meal. Our camp was an array of mud huts with shallow foundations, incase we needed to move out fast. I watched the tall lean of my brother approach and nodded in greeting as he sat beside me, our backs against the tree.

         “How are you feeling Toto?” He asked as he leaned forward and looked into my brown eyes. I didn’t reply. He examined me for a minute longer and then said with a sigh, “your pupils look good, you are ready.”

         I looked at him strange. “Ready for what?”

         “We escape in two hours Toto. The soldiers will be taking their afternoon nap. I have doubled the drug dosage on the guards. In two hours they will all be out.”

         I looked at my brother as though he was mad and then asked. “Did you cut down on my dosage?” I knew the answer before he replied.

         Then he lowered his voice and solemnly said, “This is wrong Toto. All we ever do is kill innocent people. This… this is not life!”

         We left in the heat of the afternoon and sure enough nobody noticed. By any luck, our empty beds would be discovered late after dusk and that is when all hell would break loose. Initially we walked then ran through the forest and headed for the hills.

         “There’s a United Nation base on the other side of the mountain. If we make it there, we are safe. The Americans will protect us!” Kaluu yelled as we dodged the branches. Monkeys scampered up the trees and startled squirrels dashed into the bushes as we blazed by. We ran all afternoon and evening. Our legs burned with fatigue but we were both good runners and so we pushed ourselves hard. When we stopped at a stream for a drink, I looked at my reflection in the ripples and did not recognize the face staring back at me.

         Nightfall came and with it darkness. Visibility was minimal and we had to slow down not to hurt ourselves: jagged rocks ripped our pants and tree branches slapped our faces.

         “We have to rest,” my brother finally said. We were tired and blind and our only comfort was that we had reached the peak of the hill.

Under the cover of bushes and rocks, we sat around a smoldering fire and listened to the lions roar in the distance. This was Africa, where the only rule that applied was survival for the fittest.

         “What happens if we don’t make it?” I asked my brother. His face clouded with sadness as he spoke, “then God help us both. Have you seen what they do to defectors?”

         I had. I had participated in killing one. I mean, the little that I could remember. The screams and empty eyes were the hardest to forget, the severed throats and limbs a blur. “I would rather die than be caught,” I said solemnly.

         It was the cue my brother had been waiting for and he pounced on it and handed me a small pill.

         “What’s this?” I asked.

         “Cyanide,” he said and upon the blank look on my face added, “it kills within nine seconds after you swallow it.” My brother studied my face, searching. Cold wind howled and bent trees, the moon winked in the sky.

         “I looked at the tiny pill and marveled at its power. “Did you make this?” I asked and he nodded. Real cyanide was hard to find in the jungles of Africa. We took a moment to digest the implications. The thought of death was enough to draw pause… silence … melancholy.

Then Kaluu pulled something else from his pocket.

         “What is that?” I asked him. My brother was holding a small gadget that looked like a TV the size of a cell phone.

         “It’s a satellite scan, to track anybody following us.” He moved closer. “See all these movements?” He pointed at the screen. “That’s our camp. “They still don’t know that we are missing. We need to sleep now and be up before dawn.”

         Sleep came quick after running all day and for the first time in a long time, without the drugs in my head, I dreamt of home: of my mum washing clothes and my sister cooking. I dreamt of the cows and childhood friends. My dreams were cut short at dawn with Kaluu shaking me vigorously.

         “We have to go! Now!” He looked anxious.

         “Something wrong?”

         He pointed at the satellite scan. “We should never have slept. They are coming for us. Look!” he pushed the scanner in my face.

         “How far are they?” I asked brazenly.

         “Four or five hours. They have been running all night. They will not stop for food or water!”

         The guerilla rebels were coming for us! Hearts pounding, we took off running with rejuvenated energy. Sleep had done us good but we had lost valuable time. Going downhill was a lot faster and we tumbled and rolled as we descended. At noon we stopped for a water break. We had to stop, my leg was cramping. We just had to stop. My lungs were on fire, my chest and throat so dry that even water helped little. At the bottom of the hill, our run trickled into a jog and eventually we started walking and dragging our feet. We were hopelessly out of breath. In front of us was a long stretch of prairie that joined the skies in the horizon.

         And then I said the dreaded words. Somebody needed to say them otherwise we would continue in denial. “The Americans are not here brother.” The scale was tipped.

Kaluu stopped and turned around, scanning every horizon. “Nooo. Nooo! I asked so many people and matched their information. It was supposed to be here!” He started crying and I ran up to him and hugged him, as we both tried to find an anchor to our emotions. I had never seen my big brother cry before and the sight drowned me.

“How could I have been so stupid!” he sobbed and I held him in my arms. We stayed in status quo for a minute then sank to the ground, all hope gone. In the distance we heard gunshots, the gleam of AK 47 metal under the sun. The rebels were descending and taunting us by firing in the air. We had seen them run before. They didn’t run like us. They didn’t run like boys. They blazed like the Olympics.

My brother and I looked at each other knowingly as we sat next to each other on the grass. We looked up and watched the rebels approach, still firing in the air.

         “Are you angry at me brother,” Kaluu asked.

         I looked him in the eye. “I don’t want to live like this,” I said as I pulled out my pill. “I’m tired of killing people.” Finally, I was able to see life, as it should be. Finally, I was once again, my mother’s son.





“Remember how we used to swim in the river when we were kids? You almost drowned,” Kaluu said and we both laughed. Deep inside we knew that this would be our last laugh. I looked around and took in the mountains; the scent of wild flowers perfumed the air; the grass waltzed in the breeze.

         “Earth is beautiful,” I said, and Kaluu nodded.

         “Together?” he asked me. “Together,” I replied.

“I love you Toto.”

         “I love you too Kaluu.”

         I was more afraid of the unknown than death itself. We held hands and lay side by side, then popped the pills in our mouths. Within seconds I felt my body spasms and it became hard to breathe. I began to choke and a sharp pain cut through my heart. I cried out in pain as I braced myself for the finale. 5,6,7 … seconds flew by. I couldn’t stand the pain. Oh, God, please make it stop! 8,9,10 … 20, 21 seconds. What was happening? Why wasn’t I dead? I tried to move my head to look at my brother, to tell him that he had been wrong, but my whole body was paralyzed. I wanted to see if my brother was still alive, but I couldn’t move. This was going to end bad if the rebels found me alive.

         And then suddenly, I heard a sound that ignited a fire inside me: the drone of jetfighters cutting through the air. The Americans had arrived!



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My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.

 

The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen

 

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