Through the church window, the ominous sky hung like a low grey blanket, almost within reach. On her back, Asha felt the chill of the rough wall, so too the lumpy cobblestones under her sandaled feet. The woodland offered no safety, so barren was its choked stretch of thickets towards the valley, where no aid would await an attempted escape anyway. Better to face the music than be shot or slashed in the back, scurrying like an animal.
The whole village community of 59 people gathered in the church because the exit was blocked by a battered old white Toyota with a heavy machine gun mounted on the back. Families embraced each other before a life-size effigy of crucified Jesus, who unfortunately couldn’t help them. Babies were stashed under wooden pews and smothered in blankets to muffle their cries; other mothers clutched them against their breasts.
Dust fell outside as the first onslaught of bullets riddled the walls.
Asha, with her younger brother and father, had a corner to huddle into, and people to conceal her, but there was no hiding, not really. The militia wasted no time when they entered, slitting the throats of two priests. The priests had been reading the bible to the villagers and had managed to instil some calm among several elders; as a result of their murders, unbounded mass hysteria swept from person to person.
The militia reddened cassocks and lifted organs like they were genuinely having fun, trying to persuade the villagers to form a nice tidy line for their dishonourable executions. The adults however could not and would not hand over their children, so were slain in the positions they cringed and trembled in. The young men were tied and gagged before having their limbs and genitals removed while still alive and left for dead. Some were gutted as well for good measure. The machetes pierced and pruned with effortless ease, every gargling scream from every grimacing face rebounding from the rafters and fattening the fear of those still in wait, holding their dearest ever closer and blubbering ever louder. The stench of pre-digested food from open bowels deranged those whose senses had not yet been ransacked by adrenalin. The dismal din of slaughter was not without undertones of laughter, a hideous riptide permeating the butchery like a wild man’s piano under the devil’s strings. Gunfire crackled throughout, mostly into the church roof.
The colours were luminous against the chipped white walls. The one glance Asha risked in towards the carnage revealed details which spurred a fresh wave of distress in her; a long-winded whimpering vibrated in her throat and her whole body rocked in spasms. Her younger brother, four, was the first of her family to go and he did not make a single squeak as he went. Her father next, voicing his love for them even while the second gaping mouth in his throat pissed blood.
Several of the vivisected bodies stayed alive for a surprisingly long amount of time after having been chopped.
The militia man who spared her life had a face as black as midnight in a cave and eyes as white as cafe eggs. She would become the ‘token orphan’ from this extermination, he explained; a single survivor left behind to warn others what would happen if they voted against the uprising. By the time he finished spouting his absurd justifications, she was the only one of 59 left standing; by the time the rest of them had collected their souvenirs and left the church doors swinging behind them, like the saloon doors in a cowboy western, she was still standing. Just.
The militia had set fire to the church on their way out. Orange flames reached for the windows in an instant.
Silence, then, after the swift unjustly passing of life. It shouldn’t have been so that the image of the bodies and their palpable dregs, popped like tins of beans and soup, reside on Asha’s retina; why couldn’t the savage slayers have killed her too, granting the oblivion these divided deceased now rested in? The reality of the scene, disordered and purposeless, fixed her to the spot until a crow distracted her, squawking on a pew, dropping down to within a foot of a carcass. The pitter-patter of its wings as its bobbing head moved close to feed reminded her that the world, unlike her, did not stand still; the flow of life, the spin of the axis, unhesitant and ongoing, might be wretched and worthless, but it was this eternal roll of the Earth that eventually forced her out of there, scampering with guile, gliding almost, into whatever tragedy awaited her next, each slippery step leaving prints in the floor.
By Kingsley Ananenu
© Blob of Glob 2004
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The writer must not shy away from any situation.