Once again, because I'm so very prone to disaster, I'm not completely sure of the geographical conditions presented in this story, and I may or may not be way off. But I believe the arrow hit somewhere near the target. Somewhere.
Summary: When Tragedy strikes, she doesn't strike alone. She brings Death and Aftermath with her. Bella detesta matribus. War, the horror of mothers.
"Dulce bellum inexpertis."
"War is sweet to those who have never fought."
I had never been so scared in my life.
Shaking and sweating and coughing from the hot flames and terrible burning fumes. With each passing sliver of a second I swore my heart was skipping beats.
The smoke was thick and blinding, causing my eyes to water and my lungs to itch; the excessive beating of my heart was distracting, however, and I panicked in place, too petrified to move or think.
Where did everyone go?
"Marjani. Go help your mother with the water," Father said to me, his deep voice lower than usual, jerking his head in the direction of the village well, where a few women were going with large vessels balanced on their heads.
Father had been crouching outside our hut with two other men from the village, somber looks on all their faces as they had been discussing something lowly.
I was standing near the entrance, pretending to be occupied in shifting wind-swept dirt out of the home, but in actuality keeping both ears open. I heard them mumble about the recent conflicts, nothing far from the usual hushed words I always picked up on. Recently, they've been talking very frequently about the Tutsi, and the name spread on their tongues more easily now, with less of a cloud of tension over their heads. Even so, they never looked anything but grim when that was their topic.
I realized how strangely older my father looked right then when he told me to leave, with deep lines in his forehead and around his mouth, both from years of worry and frowning. Though he was always quiet, my father was a man that was always entrusted great responsibilities, thus causing the rough creases on his face, along with the coarseness of his gaze.
The other two men he was conversing with glanced carelessly at me and fell silent. The look in Father's eyes was commanding, harder than the tone he used with me. If anything, I knew how to read eyes. So, I wordlessly departed, my feet scuffling against the tough dirt and adjusting the scarf over my head before going off to find Mother.
She was in the middle of a small flock of other women taking water back to their homes, but even between them, her face was a glowing star in a sound night.
Mother's eyes always twinkled, for they were large and inky, filled with a jovial simplicity that none of the other village women possessed. Her smile was white and her cheeks round, with a slender and tall figure draped in yellows and reds; I always dwelled in the pride of having the most beautiful mother I've ever seen.
"It was about time your father scolded you away," she said once I came close enough, "Listening in on other people's conversations the way you do."
"It's about the Tutsi again. What's happening?" I asked, reaching down to help load the vessel with water.
A woman by my side paused and glanced sideways at me for a moment before going back to her work, and while I didn't mind her, Mother took note of it with a knowing look on her face.
"Don't fill the bucket to the top or you'll end up spilling it," was all she responded for now.
It wasn't until my mother and I were carrying the vessels of water back home, separated from the other women, that she muttered to me, "You shouldn't just say things like that out loud, Marjani. They spark a lot of emotion in people, these topics."
"Why?" I questioned, lowering my voice, searching her face.
"There's long been talk about conflict in the cities and towns. The Tutsi are at it again. But so are the Hutu, our people. I don't understand these things too well, but from the look on your father's face, things are getting worse. I wonder what we should expect, but no one talks about these things aloud."
Mother pursed her full lips, but then relaxed her face, allowing her doe eyes to fill with a common curiosity and the slightest of worry.
I asked an unnecessary question, "Father never told you about it?"
Really, I wasn't half surprised about it. Father always tried to protect Mother from things that might make her upset or displease her, so many things that had happened in the village went unknown to her.
I, on the other hand, only found out about them by overhearing conversations by the well, or between Father and my brother Edem. However, it made everything more difficult for me to understand, for I was only able to pick up fragments of discussions, bits and pieces of a story untold.
"No," said Mother calmly, "But he never does, does he?"
When we returned, Edem had joined the discussion between Father and the other men, although I had seen it in the far distance that he had taken it by storm.
He stood where they all could see him, his voice as clear and as demanding as he looked - built stockily and strong, with deep-set eyes that commanded attention, Edem was at only sixteen years old the epitome of masculine youth. He had taken his charisma right from my mother, while I, timid and little, stood in the ways of my silent and serious father, who sat stonily nearby.
Mother stopped by the hut, just like several other people passing by had, and I set the water on the ground behind her. Now, we were listening from afar what my brother had to say, and he had no obvious problem in demonstrating it, for he raised his voice for all to hear.
"This is war. Civil war," said Edem gravely, squaring his broad shoulders, "Isolated we are, untouchable we are not. Who is to tell what will happened in some weeks, days, or even hours? We are unarmed and vulnerable to any attacks expanding from the south upwards. What we are to do hasn't been discussed yet, but we need to be discussing it now, for danger might be round the corner."
Some people gasped and held a hand to their chests, including Mother. Her black eyes shimmered in both intrigue and horror, while Father was staring hard at the ground with a look of dejection and failure upon his face.
Did he think he would be able to protect Mother forever?
I slipped my hand in her's, squeezing it comfortingly, and she went and held me close with an arm around my shoulders tightly. Father glanced up at me. His eyes were a tinge saddened, mixed with something else I couldn't read at that moment.
Edem went on to say that we were localized in a Tutsi-dominated spectrum of the land, and that it was only a matter of time before we were confronted. By then, a few women led their children away from earshot, because Edem's words were like spears to an innocent conscience. I knew because I felt it searing in my brain.
I didn't know what fear was properly, and now it was beating ever-present in my chest. But no one led me away from the speech. Mother left by herself after untangling her arms from me, to where I did not know, while I stayed and listened to my brother speak of terror stories of other surrounded villages, of massacres and loss. A mother shot dead here, a child trampled there.
I was twelve years old and scared, but I didn't know how to show it. It burned in my body and it made me want to hide, but all I could do was stand there and listen, my hands tugging at the cloth of my headscarf in an attempt to shield my ears and eyes.
It didn't work.
If there are any errors of any kind, please do not hesitate to let me know. Also, I do value constructive criticism, as I believe it helps me develop my writing tactics and my skill, so if you have an idea, please let your voice be heard!
Thank you for reading the first chapter!