The Story of the Centuries

By Danielle Shirley

My name? I have no name. I am nameless. I never had a name, and I shall never be named. I am. There is no reason for me to have a name, for all know me…in some way. I merely am. That is it.

I am a young mother, torn and bleeding, walking slowly on the long straight road. Hundreds of people around me, prisoners plodding along, and Roman soldiers everywhere I look. I cannot see over the heads of those surrounding me to the hills and fields. But I can look up, up at the sky, and it lifts me out of the present. I forget the fussing, starving baby wrapped on my back, heavier with each step, I forget the streams of blood coursing down my body, coating the thin wrap concealing only fragments of my skin, I forget the throbbing of my feet on the hot stones, I forget the aching of my head, where a guard threw a stone, I forget the image of my husband's body laying outside our house, slowly being coated with dust…the dust of the legions, the dust of cruelty, the dust he will become, this all I forget when I gaze into the clearness of the sky. I am brought down again by the crack of the whip on my legs, tearing the skins into even finer shreds. The sun is reaching the horizon, I am partly rejuvenated. We will rest after dark, and the long straight road will be hidden. I won't have to think about those miles and miles I must walk until morning comes. Morning. I do not want it to ever come. The darkness hides me, it hides the quivering flesh of those around me, those also aching from the whip as I do. In the darkness I can sink into the grass and be separated from my life for a few hours. When my body appeases the infant's hunger, I can rest, the wounds no longer throb, my muscles can relax, and I sleep.

Morning comes too soon. It comes with another crack of the whip, this time across my side. I sit up and the road crouches in front of me again. We are soon moving again, and thankfully the rocks are not yet hot. The soldiers plunder grapes from vines along the road. The vine owners, some already out pruning and harvesting shrink back and do not complain. The soldiers spurt juice along the road, and tease us with the tempting lushness of the fruit. They throw purple bunches down on the road, and we must walk over them, crushing the goodness of the earth into the stones. The only comfort I get is from the cooling juice I feel on my feet, when my toes sink into the round sweet fruit. This day we were given no food before we began walking, and I cannot nurse my child. It starts crying and will not stop. The guards threaten, and at last they take it. After the baby is gone, I walk easier without the burden. But the burden lingers in my mind, it lingers still in the fading wails of a starving infant abandoned. Now I have nothing left to live for. A mother must never die until her child is safe or gone. There is no reason to keep on walking this straight road. It is noon, and the stones are scorching on my blistered feet. I sink down, and the others, the rest of the quivering flesh, walk over me. Soon I do not feel any pain, any agony, the rocks are not sharp or burning, the wounds no longer sting, and my blood stops flowing down my body.

My name? I have no name. I am nameless. I never had a name, and I shall never be named. I am. There is no reason for me to have a name, for all know me…in some way. I merely am. That is it.

I am the old man piling up sheaves of wheat in a spacious field. I am alone, my son is in another field, and my son's wife in the house working. I don't remember when I wasn't working in the fields. I grew up weeding acres upon acres of crops, and in the peak of life I scythed the wheat, and now, old and gray, I bundle it for others to haul away. I am never done. There is always more work to be done. My life is not my own. It belongs to the lord, in the great castle on the hill, the lord who divides my life into duties and tasks. I eat a little, not much, just a little, I work, and I sleep. I work with the sun, when it rises I awake and work, without breakfast, until it is high in the sky. Then I have my one meal, and work until darkness falls, and I fall into my cot from exhaustion. But sometimes, during the winter, I work far into the night. In the rickety barn I thresh wheat far past midnight, flailing with all my might, so I don't freeze in the bitter cold. I don't know there is another life. This is all I have. My son too, is a slave, and his wife. I was once a young man and newly married, and my father was an old man, doing what I do now. It goes back further than I can imagine, and the cycle continues for centuries. We are the workers of the earth, and all we have we give to those above us, those who buy us with the land, buy us as they buy crops, those who live in wealth and luxury from birth to death.

The overlord inspector comes and rebukes me for my sluggishness. He doesn't realize how I am weak from thirst and hunger, how my bones are decaying, and my heart is slowly stopping. He shall someday become aged, but he will mature in pomp and affluence. He won't fade in shame, as I must. The wheat stalks are sharp and slit my hands. Traces of blood remain on each bundle. They will be sold at a fair price, but no one realizes what price these were really harvested at. The price is great, but not too great. I straighten my humped sore back and look around me at my progress. It is slow, yes, but all I can do. Far across the fields I see my son, also stooping and hacking away at the stalks. A few children also work beside him, one just beginning to walk. They are my grandchildren…my legacy…my legacy of what? Starvation? Slow death by labor? Eternal slavery? Tears come to my eyes as I watch them. They have nothing to hope for…their lives will be a repetition of what they are doing…work, more work, until they cannot lift their hands. Then they will fall to the ground, as I shall do soon. I cannot work much longer. My life will soon end. I can feel it coming, death like a deliverer, rescuing me out of this wretched world. I pity the children working, and my son. They will suffer many more years before they escape. But I will soon be liberated from this life.

My name? I have no name. I am nameless. I never had a name, and I shall never be named. I am. There is no reason for me to have a name, for all know me…in some way. I merely am. That is it.

I am the girl-child, riding in a bumpy carriage. I watch my home disappear over the hills. My home…where I was born, where I lived with my family. Now that life is gone. The man beside me bids me be still. I shrink away from him. He reeks of year's sweat and grime. He is large, and seems to be everywhere I look. I am thirteen, but undersized and appear about seven or eight. My family was very prosperous, I lived a very wealthy life. But my father wanted power and connections. What better connection is there than blood ties? That is why I am being sent across miles and miles of dangerous stony roads to another man's house. I shall be his bride. I have never seen him, but I picture him similar to the man beside me, taking snuff. My parents had no use for me. I was too well-born to be working or letting any one profit by my labor. I have one brother. He is healthy and robust. My parents are very proud of him. They were always complaining about my smallness, but I think it was their fault. My brother was fed plenty, and the best of the best. I was given the waste, what the cooks couldn't use, and what wouldn't cost anything. I wasn't worth the money my brother was.

I have been in this man's house three days now. I am slowly learning what my duty is. I am invisible and a bother until he wants me. He calls in the dark of the night and I walk down the long cold marble halls to his rooms. I am lonely here, for he is the only one who pays attention to me. When morning comes, I go back to my room, and sleep, or cry, or do as I please all day. If I ever get hungry I must find the kitchen and beg the cook a bit of food. Once a day a maid comes in with a jug of water and some firewood for the fireplace. She won't talk to me other than her rebukes. I am considered a nuisance, and someone to be left alone. There is one window in my room, and that is where I spend most of my time…gazing out across the fields, watching the snow fall and reaching my hand out the narrow slit to feel the snowflakes on my hand. But my fingers soon numb, so I must retreat to the fire and warm myself again. The snow melts at last, and the fields turn green. I am growing too, for my clothes are becoming tight and hard to put on. I am afraid to ask for more, but one day when I cannot fit into them at all, the maid found me struggling to wedge the dress on, and so understood my message. I was sent fine clothes, clothes of silk and soft fabrics. But the maid said they were only for the nights, for what I wore in the day did not matter.

Four years have passed. I have matured and am a young woman now. I still have not seen my family since I was bartered away. I don't suppose they mind, for if they did, they would have not sold me. But I do miss them. I was married to the man who I lived with for three years. When I turned sixteen we were married. He is much, much older than I, but that doesn't matter. I didn't see why we had to be married, for our relationship had been the same before the marriage as after, but he said it had something to do with me coming of age, and the Church of Rome. I still did not understand, but never mentioned it again. This man has made my life for me, all I have must be his until he dies…then I know not what will happen to me. I haven't left this castle once since I came here. I look out the windows in longing, but may never go out. He goes out on hunting parties quite often. The night he comes home there is a feast, and everyone drinks too much. I sit quietly in the corner watching until my drunken husband calls for me to sit by him. At first I blushed in shame, but now I do not mind much. At first I cringed when the goblets were passed round again and refilled dozens of times, but now it does not bother me. This is my life, and I cannot flee. Others have determined my life, and I cannot change it, so I must accept it.

My name? I have no name. I am nameless. I never had a name, and I shall never be named. I am. There is no reason for me to have a name, for all know me…in some way. I merely am. That is it.

I am the young man, dying on the glorious battlefield. All around me lay bodies strewn, distorted and crushed by others walking over them, by horses galloping on top of the ebbing lives. I am only one of many still alive. We groan and twist to die more comfortably. I wouldn't like to die contorted and twisted. I don't know where the fatal wound is, for there is no sharp pain, only a deadening throb all over. I am thirsty, and seeing the blood running down my arm, I wonder if that scarlet liquid would suffice. I laugh slightly inside. What a shocking thought. My dainty little wife at home would be shocked to know her husband was considering drinking blood. It's an interesting thought…for there was enough blood on this field to satisfy nations of thirsty people. I hear a groan not far from me, and crane my sore neck to see who it was. I see a man raise his head and moan once more, and then fall back, never to make a sound again. He was my comrade, we marched together when we came into battle. Our wives were close friends. We spend many evenings together around the fireplace talking and discussing things. But we shall never do that again. Our wives will sit together and remember their dead husbands, but we shall be rotting in this field.

I wonder what it is that makes man do these things…what possesses a man that he would march into battle like this…what ambitions did our leaders, our generals, our captains, that they would lead us into this huge tomb. Did our lives not matter? Were we just tiny fragments of the rest of the world that our lives, our loved ones, didn't matter in this great conquest? What were we dying for? Was it worth it? I see now, laying and breathing my nearly last breath, that it wasn't worth it. For one side to win…our side…was the whole purpose of this battle. But why? Why did we want to win? Not for anything noble or grand, I know that now, we wanted to win so we could bully others. I was given many numerous wounds and black eyes at the village school as a child. We are all just bullies trying to give more black eye than what we receive…trying to be the biggest, but it doesn't matter if we aren't the best. Our side was just a bully legion, trying to give the other side a black eye and make them take back the mean things they said about us. They were just a bully legion trying to give us a black eye and make us take back the mean things we said about them. That's all it really is. I thought fighting was a wonderful, even if we did die, we were dying for the good of our country, we were watering freedom with our blood…that's what everyone said…but now I know we were just licked by the other side, and there was no point in fighting. There is never any point in fighting. Why should we give up our lives so bullies can conquer bullies and become stronger?

The sun is going down, I have seen it from it's zenith to it's setting, and now I am ready to go down as well. These last hours were just the brilliant sun set of my life, and it's all over now. I don't want to live anymore…now that I realize what it is to be a soldier. It's too shocking, too revealing. I'd rather die and be obscured among this mass of dying flesh. But I do wonder…did all these other men discover what I just did? Did they discover how purposeless and wasteful it is to fight to be the top bully? If they did, and then they died, I wonder…who is going to tell the rest of the world? I can't…for I am dying, and I can see the last ray of the sun disappearing under the horizon. Darkness slowly envelopes me.

My name? I have no name. I am nameless. I never had a name, and I shall never be named. I am. There is no reason for me to have a name, for all know me…in some way. I merely am. That is it.

I am the old woman, gray and hunched over on the corner of the street. My clothes hang like shreds from my shrunken frame. I cry out for food…but there is none. No one has any, none for themselves, and none for the starving woman on the street. There are no dogs, there are no animals. They are all gone. We had them last week. Some people still have bits of their flesh leftover, hiding it somewhere, but I don't. The sun beats down and I seek shade around the corner. It has always been this way. I don't remember when it hasn't been this way. Of course it was, but under the beating of the sun I cannot recall anything more than this. All I know is this hunger gnawing at me, the groaning of my body, and the throbbing of the sun overhead. Everyday it slowly creeps up and uncovers my corner. I shift a little, around the corner, and know that it is about noon. There I lay, in the shade, for the afternoon, until the sun goes down, and it becomes cool. It is then that I go searching for crumbs, for anything to fill my stomach with. I go to the spring and drink gallons of water, varying it with a mixture of dirt, sand and water stirred into a paste. Others come too, they know it is better to wait until dark to go out, and they push me aside. Some weaker than I come, and I push them aside in the struggle for life. We were friends in better times…in prosperity our town was united and strong. Now that we are besieged…now that we have eaten the animals, our shoes, and resort to mud, now we are all enemies. We might have survived longer if we had joined together, but we did not. Here we are shoving each other away, fighting over the dirt. My son stumbles up, in the moonlight I can see his face. He recognizes me, but with his foot pushes me away from the water. Water is life, for a while, and until water is not enough, each will thrash about to the top. I do not feel bad…that my own blood kicks me further from life, for he cannot help it. I pity him…his body's craze for food has overrun his mind and heart. He might not want to do it, but he can't help it. I would do the same.

Morning comes at last. My stomach is somewhat appeased, and I go back to my little corner before the sun becomes too hot. I catch bits of conversation from people. They say the enemy is preparing to invade. I am relieved. They will either kill or feed. I don't care which…I just want an escape from this dreadful monotony of slow starvation. Today is even hotter than before. The shade is stifling, and there is no air to breath. Already there are people dying, and their cries make the atmosphere oppressing. Children scream and call out in pain. Woman clutch their infants…trying to impart invisible nourishment through a weak caress. Men lay on the ground, panting and silent. No one speaks except for groaning.

Something must happen…someone must come and murder…or we must just collapse and live no more. I cannot stand this much longer. I have endured for so many months…but this is the end. The string has been pulled tighter and tighter, and it will snap an instant. I pray the enemy will come and bring the end, for I cannot do it myself, and death by starvation is still a ways off.

My name? I have no name. I am nameless. I never had a name, and I shall never be named. I am. There is no reason for me to have a name, for all know me…in some way. I merely am. That is it.

I am the mother, with three children huddled close around me. We are dirty, and hungry. We know no other life than the barbed wire and steel that surround us. My mother was Spanish. Because she was born in Spain, three years ago the police came for us and took us off to this prison. I look around me at the countless multitude. We were not put in this steel and wire to control our bodies. The Gestapo wants to imprison our minds. For us there is no life besides this. Our eyes are blank and hopeless. That is why they put us in here…so they can hold our minds and keep us from mental escape. They know one can dream and hope in prison too, and in that way are able to keep from despair, but they take away the dreams and the hopes, and we are left with nothing but the walls around us. They are not dumb masters…they know knowledge is freedom and hope is liberty. There is nothing left of life but this, and dreaming is foolish. If we could hope, our eyes would be bright and lively…but they are dying eyes, the light slowly fading from them. Some around me are already dead, they sit motionless and cannot be glad. They eat, they sleep, they suffer, they are tortured, and there is nothing left of themselves…they sit passively and do nothing. They do not fight, they do not struggle, they sit in captivity and do not fight. It is sad…for I can feel my own heart melting away and soon I shall sit without anger, love, pity, remorse, or pain. My children may perhaps be spared, they may survive and put their lives back together, but I cannot. I cannot go back to life as it was before this. I am too far dead.

The scorching of summer passes, and winter comes. We can endure eat, but not the cold. Corpses lay around us, and I try to shelter my children from the biting wind and sleet. They see those laying down to sleep and never rising again, but I do not shield anything from them. Before we were here, I wanted to protect their tender minds from death, but it doesn't matter anymore. It is impossible to them to not come in contact with death as a concentration camp. And so they stare round at those moaning in their sleep, and wonder if tat will be their last sound before they die.

In the summer steel and cement feels cool and comforting, but in the winter it is cruel and icy. Everything except the shivering flesh around us is hard and cold. The steel never warms and the concrete never became comforting. It is there…a frozen wall we must lean against. I do not let the children sleep, for they may not wake up. We sleep a little in the day, when the sun is sometimes out, but at night I must not let them sleep. Sleep is deadly.

One not so frigid day an officer comes and takes my children, so "they can have a proper upbringing." I worry about them, but I am suddenly tired and sleep overwhelms me. Snow swirls around my body, and I don't think I shall ever awake.

My name? I have no name. I am nameless. I never had a name, and I shall never be named. I am. There is no reason for me to have a name, for all know me…in some way. I merely am. That is it.

I am a young mother, torn and bleeding, walking slowly over the hot desert sand. Hundreds of people around me, prisoners plodding along, and Roman soldiers everywhere I look. I cannot see over the heads of those surrounding me to the hills and fields. But I can look up, up at the sky, and it lifts me out of the present. I forget the fussing, starving baby wrapped on my back, heavier with each step, I forget the streams of blood coursing down my body, coating the thin wrap concealing only fragments of my skin, I forget the throbbing of my feet on the scorching earth, I forget the aching of my head, where a guard threw a stone, I forget the image of my husband's body laying outside our house, slowly being coated with dust…the dust of thousands, the dust of cruelty, the dust he will become, this all I forget when I gaze into the clearness of the sky. I am brought down again by the crack of the whip on my legs, tearing the skins into even finer shreds. The sun is reaching the horizon, I am partly rejuvenated. We will rest after dark, and the long straight road will be hidden. I won't have to think about those miles and miles I must walk until morning comes. Morning. I do not want it to ever come. The darkness hides me, it hides the quivering flesh of those around me, those also aching from the whip as I do. In the darkness I can sink into the shady coolness and be separated from my life for a few hours. When my body appeases the infant's hunger, I can rest, the wounds no longer throb, my muscles can relax, and I sleep.

Morning comes too soon. It comes with throbbing strikes of a piece of metal, this time across my side. I sit up and the road crouches in front of me again. We are soon moving again, and thankfully the ground is not yet hot. This day we were given no food before we began walking, and I cannot nurse my child. It starts crying and will not stop. The guarding men threaten, and at last they take it. After the baby is gone, I walk easier without the burden. But the burden lingers in my mind, it lingers still in the fading wails of a starving infant abandoned. Now I have nothing left to live for. A mother must never die until her child is safe or gone. There is no reason to keep on walking over these endless hills of sand. It is noon, and the dirt scorches my blistered feet. I sink down, and the others, the rest of the quivering flesh, walk around me. Soon I do not feel any pain, any agony, the rocks are not sharp or burning, the wounds no longer sting, and my blood stops flowing down my body.

My name? I have no name. I am nameless. I never had a name, and I shall never be named. I am. There is no reason for me to have a name, for all know me…in some way. I merely am. That is it.

I am a soldier, out in the desert of Iraq. I am laying by the side of the dusty road…dying. I won't live much longer, I can feel Death hovering around me, hovering like the mirages in the distance. I don't know where my comrades are, we drove over some sort of bomb, I think, and everyone went everywhere. I do not blame anyone, for it wasn't a lack of carefulness that is killing me. It was the way things where suppose to be.

The sand is rather hot, but not uncomfortable. I try to sit up, but I see that my leg is bleeding, and the blood runs over the sand in tiny rivulets. My mind is becoming muddled by blood loss and the heat. Why am I here? Why am I fighting in Iraq? I don't remember the details…it had something to do with some building back home being blown up by someone. Images of massacred children and mothers flashed through my mind. We did that. Why were we over here destroying these people's lives, because a building was destroyed. These people didn't do it. The children shyly huddled on the streets, they did not instigate the attack on my country. The cloaked woman fearfully watching us, they did not do it. So why exactly were we here? There were cruel wicked men who did plan the destruction of our towers (I remember now, they were the Trade Towers) but they aren't' these innocent confused populace. Why are we killing them? Why are we being killed? We are being killed by those who don't want us here, the husbands of the woman and children we kill, they are the ones who kill us. So why did we come over in the first place? Sudden pictures of the grade school in America were I grew up came into my mind. There was one kid who was the worst bully in the school. He would go anywhere to pick a fight with anyone. He competed with other bullies and always won. He didn't care if it was an unfair fight, he enjoyed the quarrelling regardless of who his opponent was. Why did that come to mind when I thought about America in Iraq? Perhaps we were all just bullies, and maybe America is the greatest bully of them all, going anywhere just to punch and fight with anyone…it didn't matter who. My mind and body are exhausted. My head sinks even further back into the same. I do not want pity, I want relief. I pity my fellow soldiers…they think they are killing and being killed for noble reasons. It won't be until they die that they realize the truth . They should go home and have good lives, away from the blood, the murder, and the hatred here. Each person is a bully, in a way, wanting to be on top, and each country is a bully, wanting to be the biggest and the most powerful. All of mankind has probably been this way. If I could look back and see the patterns, I would know, but I am dying in the desert. Someone else will have to turn their heads to the past, in order to learn how the future will be. I am nearly gone, my heart is weak, and my breath is faint. I have discovered this great truth, but I can't tell anyone, I am alone. Someone will have to tell the world, tell the world we are all bullies, and we should stop being cruel and over lording other people and other countries…then perhaps, if enough of the world knows, they won't go across the world to pick fights, and people won't die out in the desert because their country wanted more power. I close my eyes, and hope with all that is left of me, I hope someone will do something, that they will make the countries stop…that we can live together in peace and stay out of other people's and other country's business…I hope this with all my heart, and now my heart has stopped. The stream of blood slowly ends, and no longer trickles through the sand.

My name? I have no name. I am nameless. I never had a name, and I shall never be named. I am. There is no reason for me to have a name, for all know me…in some way. I merely am. That is it.

I am the world, I am the people. I was the ancient Roman prisoner, I was the old man enslaved in serfdom, I was the dying soldier on the battlefield. That is life, and I am life. But I cannot make life. Life comes from Love, and no one has Love when they have hate, cruelty or malice. Love comes when all is given up to others, and your empty heart overflows with Love. Will anyone pay attention? Will this story keep on for centuries and centuries without end, cruelty and tyranny repeating themselves ceaselessly? Or will it stop and change? Will it be altered to a pattern of Love and Life, instead of Hate and Death? But who will alter it? Who will look at what happened in the past and prevent it from happening in the future? For this is the story of the centuries, but it doesn't have to be the story of what is to come.

Finis