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Story of one of a multitude of children who have lost their lives, their childhood, and their family in the chaos and violence of Africa.
The Death of Innocence
by Cheryl Carpinello
It is dark and it is cold. I do not dare shiver for fear that they will hear me. My shorts and shirt are not thick enough to provide sufficient warmth. The bushes that I hide in stick in my skin and threaten to betray me with their creaking if I move. I have to breathe slowly even though my heart is racing because the movement of my chest causes the bushes to creak if I breathe too quickly. The sand my bare feet stand upon has lost the heat of the sun. I did not realize that I could become so cold in such a hot country.
I hear the far off cries and push my small hands harder on my ears. I do not want to hear anymore. I close my eyes tight. I do not want to see anymore. And their whiteness can betray me also. Moving, breathing, seeing. All of these things are necessary to live, yet all will kill me.
I feel the pounding of feet on the baked ground. I do not have to hear or see them to feel them. They echo throughout my body. Some are sad. Some are triumphant. Most are terrified.
The only thing I have that can help me is my dark skin color. It hides me in the night. It also hides my enemy.
It is darker now. There will be no moon. For that I am grateful. I have many hours yet until I see the day. If I live.
There are periods of silence. For that I am grateful. The cries are weak. There are fewer of them as the time goes by. I have tried not to recognize the voices. It is better that way.
I breath easier now. The bush has consented to be my friend for now. For that I am grateful. But I know that at any moment it can choose to betray me to them. My family and my village were betrayed.
The footsteps are few now. For that I am grateful. But when I feel them in my soul, they are stalking, hunting, constantly looking. I try not to think that before the dawn they will find me.
It is colder. My hands and feet are losing their feeling. For that I am grateful. I wish my mind and heart would lose their feeling.
The sky is twinkling above. How peaceful those tiny white lights are. Will they guide men to me when I am dead? They guided men to the baby when he was born.
The silence of the night is deafening. There are no more cries. There is no more nothing. I wonder if I could cry for help now. Who would hear me?
The only pounding now is my heart against my chest. And the pounding in my head. I wish it would stop. I wish I could stop my mind from thinking, seeing, screaming.
My legs ache. I have to move. I have to sit down before I fall down. If I fall down, they will hear. Will the bush still be my friend? Will it let me huddle in its roots? Will it continue to shelter me?
At least I am not hungry. My stomach is not grumbling. That does not happen when there is no food for days. The stomach forgets what food is like. The body just grows weak and distorted. Everyone knows this in my world.
They are all gone. My family. I heard their final cries where I stood under the window. I had to go to the bathroom. I never went back into the dirt shelter, our house.
My mother prayed and begged for my brother and sisters’ lives. My father was silenced early as he tried to protect us. Us. I cannot say that. It was not us, it was them. I was outside. I was not with them. But I was with them. Their cries tear into the depths of my soul. They will not go away.
I peeked in once while it was happening. I wish I had not. I saw the track of the knife as it sailed through the air and separated my baby sister from her head. I had to cover my mouth tightly. I had to keep swallowing. I could not betray myself. Maybe I should have. The sight is forever printed on my heart. Forever could have been over.
I liked school. I learned to read and write and draw. I wrote down some of the stories my mother would tell me. I drew pictures and was even allowed to color them. Those were good times. School was good.
I would come home teach my mother and brother and sisters what I learned. My baby sister liked the pictures. One time at school, I hid a crayon in my pocket along with a small piece of paper. I let my baby sister color on the paper. She was so excited. Then my father saw. He became angry. He grabbed the crayon and paper from her, and she cried. As he shook them in my face, he said slowly and deliberately that I must never take what did not belong to me. “That way leads to evil and evil things. Remember your grandfather.”
But I cannot. I was small when grandfather was killed. Men wanted his land. He would not give it, so they took it. I have trouble relating that to the crayon and paper. After that I did not like school as well.
People started missing in our village. Not many, just one or two every week. Mostly they were old people. Probably like my grandfather. No one ever said where they went. I think they left because there was no food.
In school, I learned to count. I am sorry for that. When the people turned up missing, I counted them. When I reached forty-six, I noticed that there were no more old people in the village. I wondered who would go missing next.
Suddenly our neighbor does not have their baby anymore.
I have closed my eyes. A bright light seared through my closed lids. Slowly I open my eyes just a bit at first. I am afraid.
There are flames everywhere. Bright yellow lights up the sky like the sun itself. It drowns out the stars. They are burning my village. They are burning my home. They are burning my family.
I close my eyes tight. The flames appear to come through anyway. I squeeze them tighter.
I clamp my hand over my nose. The smell is suffocating, sickening. My stomach turns over and over. What is that?
Then my brain works. It is the bodies. It is my mother, my father, my brother, my sister, and my baby sister without her head.
I am so cold. I huddle beneath the bush. My head is tucked into my knees. If I make myself small enough, maybe no one will see me.
The fires have burned down. The stars are fading. Dawn is approaching. What will it bring? Life or Death.
I hear voices once in a while. They are not crying. They are calling. Others answer.
I can feel the echo of feet far off through the ground. They come and then they fade. They are searching.
It is so cold. I long to feel the heat from the sun. But it may bring death.
It is growing lighter. I feel as if I am no longer alone with my bush. I see dim outlines of trees and other bushes. I look in the direction of my village, but see nothing. It is all gone. Once the ashes are blown away, no one will know it was ever there. Will they remember me?
I stay hidden in my bush. The echo of footsteps has been growing closer as the night wears on. I think they are searching for me. They know that I was not in the village. I am the only one who saw what they did in my village. I can not be allowed to tell.
Do they think the world outside will care? So many have gone missing. No one cares after a couple of days. Why?
The tip of the sun is inching over the far hills. In the distance I can see movement. It will not be long now.
The small warmth of the rising sun feels good on my body. I hold my hands out stretched so it hits all of them. I move my feet around to different areas of sand. The sand is warmer now.
I cannot run. My feet will not carry me. My skin has kept me safe all night. Now it will betray me. They will find me. At least I will be warm. I do not want them to mistake my shivering for being afraid.
A shout goes up. They have seen me.
It is no good hiding behind the bush. They have seen me.
I wish the stars were still out. How will they show men where I died if they cannot see?
They are coming closer. The sun glints off the blades of their knives.
I want to run. But they will catch me. Then it might be worse. This way maybe it will be quick.
Who will miss me?
I go to join my family. They have missed me.
When they are done with me, they will go to others. Why? Can someone not stop them?
They surround me. Madness is in their eyes. I will be brave for my baby sister. I hope she was allowed to take her head where she went. Will they let me check for it? No.
I am very warm. It is light. The glare of the sun off the knife blinds me.
Site: Beyond Today
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"Death of Innocence"
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|Reviewed by Michelle Mills
|Wow Cheryl. This gave me chills. Well done.|
|Reviewed by Jean Pike
|Cheryl, I came to AD tonight looking for something new to read, something special. Boy, did I find it here. This story is riveting and heartbreaking. I wanted to stop reading at several places, but could not. You pulled me in from the start, not letting go until the very end. This child's voice, so simple, yet strong, will haunt me. Excellent, excellent writing.|