FALLEN – I remember what my mother said to me before she died, “Son, try to live a good life, make the best of what you have. When you are a man, do good things.”
“Yes, Mama, I will.”
I do not know who my father is. My mother told me he was a man who came by the village and she never seen him again. She told me to never worry about him.
I am 10 years old; I lived with my mother’s friend, Yani. She is a nice woman. She took care of my mother and me while mother was sick. She told my mother that she would care for me if she died because she loved me, like her own son.
She had lost her own son to the Congo. Men came and took him away many months ago.
“We will leave,” Yani told me, “before they come back.”
She told me we will escape down river. Escape to the city. Where there are children for me to play with. So I could go to school and grow up in safety. Yani has a sister that lives and teaches at the University. She had no use here anymore after her husband had been killed.
“I will find work,” she said, “and we will live a good life.”
“For mama?” I said.
“No, your mother wanted you to live for yourself.” Said Yani.
I did not know how I would do this.
It will be better when we go to live with her sister, Yani told me. Away from the men who could come and steal boys from their mothers and fathers to make them fight.
“We will go.” She said.
I remember all this while being snatched from her arms, to be taken away like the other boys. I remember, too, Yani crying for me. I wished I told her to not cry for me, but instead pray for me. I wished I yelled this to her while I was being taken away.
“You will be men!” This is what the soldiers would yell to all of us. “You will be men, do not cry! Your mothers know that you will be okay!”
“But my mother is dead!” I told them.
Then a solider come up to me and pressed his finger deep into my chest and said,
“Then there will be no one here who will weep for you!” He then pushed me into the crowd of boys, all still crying for their families. I took my place on the bed of the truck among them, massaging the place on my chest still stinging from the soldier’s touch. Uncertain of where we were going, uncertain of who will be waiting for us when we got there.
I can still see her crying while holding on to me and being dragged with me to the truck. The brown dust from the road filled her mouth and the tears that streamed down her face parted the the dust on her cheeks. I remember her eyes never leaving my face—her hands, were not strong enough to hold me from the men.
I still see her on the road as we drove away– yelling and beating the ground with her shoes. Telling the men to…
“Please leave him!”
She is still crying.