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Tuesday, 25 March 2014
Through the eyes of a child - my story for the March WEP challenge.
There are many children in the world whose lives are far from optimal. Some experience various types of abuse on a daily basis, some are trafficked for sex, some are used as beggars…and the horror goes on. In warzones, children are often stolen from their families and trained as child soldiers, trained to kill. Others remain with their families, but whole families seethe with hatred against the enemy...who don't always understand they're the enemy.
My story is creative fiction - partly true...partly fictional...
The Muslim call to prayer rang across the Baluchi Valley, punctuating the silence with staccato bursts.
The dogs began to bark. The child gentled them with a light tap on each head.
He slid behind a rock on the mountain side. The desert spread below him, a dark blanket. He strained to watch the procession snake along the path.
Hate seethed through every pore of his grimy body. Filthy infidels! His fingers closed around a rock.
The patrol moved close by; he could see each soldier struggle through the cool sand. They were like cockroaches as they wriggled along. How stupid they were in their great big boots. He looked at his bare feet and smirked.
Then his smirk turned to alarm. There was a woman amongst the men. Infidel, he spat.
Elvira fought the exhaustion ripping her body apart. The lead soldiers were obviously fitter than she, a newly-arrived recruit. Her knees screamed, her thighs burned, her lungs were on fire.
This place was hell.
She was in another universe, a universe where nothing was as it appeared.
Who was friend?
Who was foe?
Elvira was on covert foot patrol with Australian and Afghan soldiers. They were outside the wire; they scaled rocky hills and walked through exposed valleys under the pressing weight of body armour and supplies. She hadn’t yet acclimatized to the blistering temperatures. The altitude was another unwelcome foe. Everyone had mastered the elements…except her.
She lost sight of the soldier in front of her. A rock lobbed nearby, narrowly missing her helmet. She tripped and fell onto her knees, groping blindly in the darkness.
She felt the eyes, but couldn’t see more than a shape jump behind a rock. Not Taliban. Too small. But aren't the Taliban just kids?
No one stopped to help. In uniform she was just one of the guys.
She forced one leg to follow the other while she prayed for sunrise.
Captain Broadhurst signalled with a soft whistle. The desert revealed the shapes of the Bedouin Kuchi camps. Too close. The order for complete silence came down the line.
Silently they moved on towards morning.
A police checkpoint.
They had nothing to hide, but checkpoints could be tricky. Best avoided.
No one even breathed as the patrol crouched and duck-walked close to the ground, swinging their weapons from side to side, holding tight.
Then it happened.
A screech soared through the darkness; a huge spotlight shone down, bathing the party in blinding white light.
‘Drescht!’ They froze like hunted animals, clutching weapons to their heaving chests.
Two policemen yelled orders. Elvira didn’t understand the language but there was no doubt what they wanted. They motioned for the soldiers to stand where they were. They stood statue still and identified themselves, all the while knowing they could be shot right where they stood.
Someone yelled ‘Australians!’ The police muttered to each other, nodded their heads, then motioned them on.
Further into the desert.
‘They were skittish because yesterday they had a firefight with insurgents in Kakarak across the river,’ whispered Private Esperance, the soldier directly behind Elvira. ‘Thanks,’ she whispered back, but she didn’t feel any better. Now her eyes saw insurgents behind the rocks, across the river, into the hills.
She was weak with the terror of what had happened - her first taste of danger since arriving in Afghanistan.
Another rock. This time it hit her in the knee.
She lurched forward on legs that would no longer hold her up. Her knees were screaming, so she fell out of line and sat down in a dry patch, sucking huge gulps of air. Not for long. She was terrified of being left behind in this unfriendly terrain.
She trudged on. I’m here to help these people. I can’t give up.
The sun broke through the mountains into the valley and lit up the shock of green land they were heading towards, the green belt.
Something flickered in Elvira’s peripheral vision. She swung round and saw a small boy, no more than six years old, shepherding his family’s goats through the green fields. He’s the one I saw earlier, she thought. More children in brown tunics peeped from doorways of rammed-earth homes, motionless, watching the patrol file past. No, it could be him...or him...
Over walls and through aqueducts, they waded towards the village of Sorkh Morghab. Here coalition forces had built a school, market and medical centre, yet it remained a hostile village.
They wandered through the market, apparently casually, weapons held across their chests. Men and young boys indicated their shops and tried to sell Elvira a burqa. She was just a woman to them after all, one who should cover herself.
A little boy approached Elvira, hand outstretched. He was only a child, about six years old, but when she looked into his eyes she saw an angry man. Was he the one who'd been throwing rocks? She shivered.
Private Esperance pulled her back. She pushed him away. 'I've got this!' she hissed.
She reached into her pocket and pulled out a chocolate bar.
He smiled a toothy smile but it didn’t reach his old man eyes.
He watched her, eyes flickering over her desert camouflage.
The child reached into his pocket and pulled out a large apple. Elvira smiled at him. No words needed. Children were so innocent; how the children suffered in wartime.
She reached for the apple, then saw it was black with age. It looked rough and mouldy. It could be mistaken for a - it couldn’t be - he was only a child…
‘Nooooooooooo…!’ someone yelled, a voice full of pain and regret.
Elvira felt the sting of fire on her lips.
She tasted the fire as it burned down her throat, slithering to her belly.
She heard the screams, the staccato bursts of gunfire.
She heard the cry of a child…