Celebrating East African Writing!
Written by Sharon Ogugu
I have grown accustomed to the stench of death, the sight of charred remains and the smell of burning human flesh. I have torched halls, knowing that they housed women and children whose attempts at muffling their terror was vain. There is a work to do and the enemy’s progeny is also my enemy.
I joined the Raia Revolt when I was twelve and shot down my first family months later – all through the head because it was too dark to risk an attempt at a limb. I became something of the general’s whore at fifteen. Life was easier in the shelter of a big man’s favour, but his head would go missing in a few months and the man after him had different tastes in women and men.
Weeks ago, we chanced upon a village in a forest we were passing through. The sky bore her blue-eyed belief in hope. The sun looked on while we spilled blood. Our hands, raised in and out of synchronicity, wielded machetes over the young whose survival was a threat to our own. We took apart bellies with their unborn; an act of mercy for they too would die.
We worked our arms and legs into a state. Even the pleasure lying in wait between the thighs of their stocky women was brief and tasking. They fought back valiantly. As if the struggle for marred dignity was theirs to win. As if they could match the strength of men with a mastery of butchering people without losing sleep over it. We laughed and let them discover the futility of their resistance. Our loins were atingle, the only parts of our bodies which did not ache from using our hands in the place of guns. The request for ammunition had been sent up the chain to our latest head at the capital. Neither bullets nor soldiers came.
The days passed slowly, lazily like the sun sitting high in the sky. The heat was exacting. Someone found a transistor radio and had tuned it. The rest of us scavenged for food. Orders arrived for us to move to higher ground in the soft stillness of dark. It made no sense to, but we interpret orders as we would our law of survival; you stay alive if you do as you are told by those chosen to sit above you and bark orders.
We chanced upon another settlement in the thick of the forest, sleeping and unaware of the volatility of their mortality. This realization was sufficiently awakened. Minutes into the usual flurry of smoke, blood and screams, my eyes fell on a figure at the centre of the wonderful mess. I moved in and locked eyes with a child. The small boy had wet his khaki shorts and stood rooted to one spot. In an attempt to clear my mind I stayed my hand for a time.
“Keep your head. The order was to take everyone out.”