When the government soldiers entered the village, they killed all the pigs and the ducks. They took the rice and the corn, what wine they could find. They burned the temple and all our holy books. The soldiers lined up every man in the village. I watched from my doorway until the soldiers dragged me out into the square. They looked at me in my ribbons, at the markings on my face. One of them jabbed a hand up under my skirts and smiled, but they let me stay in the square with the women. They bound the men’s hands and led them off into the fields.
“If we find out you’ve been helping the rebels,” the leader of the government soldiers began to say. He straightened his fingers and sawed his flattened hand from his left ear to his larynx and up to his other ear, then rolled back his eyes and mimed a man whose throat has just been cut. He was drunk. He laughed and blew a kiss at all of us. Then he raised his hand to motion to his men. The government soldiers fell in line behind him. He spat into the dirt and they marched off into the fields and out of sight.
When the rebel soldiers entered the village, they killed the cow that had wandered away the day the government soldiers came, and the chickens I had hidden in the cellar. They killed all the dogs and the cats. They took the last reserves of millet and pulleyed up the whiskey we’d hidden in the well.
“Where is the rest of your grain?” the rebel soldiers asked.
They threw me on the ground and kicked me. They tore my clothes with their boots and their knives. They cut my beard, yanked the ribbons from my hair.
“Where are the pigs and the ducks?”
No one would answer them. They searched every last house.
“Where are the men?” they yelled.
They lined up all the women. They left me lying on the ground. They bound the women’s hands and led them off into the woods.
“This is a government village,” the leader of the rebel soldiers said, and spat into the dirt. He turned me on my back with the toe of his boot. “If I ever hear you’ve been helping the government,” the leader of the rebel soldiers began to say, but fatigue overcame him, and he lost interest in finishing his threat. Instead he shook his head, kicked a stone across the square and wandered off to piss on the ashes of the church.
That night the government mortared the village from the north, and the rebels shelled us from the south. By dawn they had switched places. The effect was the same. All the houses were destroyed. And the shops, and the market stalls, and the school, the boarded-up ink factory and the building that had once, long ago, served as the village post office, in the basement of which all the children had sought shelter. The children also were destroyed. I spent the night on my haunches, sitting in the middle of the square, watching the rockets weep through the sky, enduring the silence as they sucked all noise from the air, and then the release, the ecstatic boom. I crouched there in the open and watched flames roll like waves from house to house. I watched roofs tumble and crossbeams fall in small tornadoes of spark. The boarded-up ink factory, filled still with solvents, leapt at the chance to join the inferno. I watched the walls of my small house shiver and dance before they fell, and I sucked the ash into my lungs.
The sun shined briefly, and the wind blew from all directions at once. Then storm clouds trundled in from north and south alike. The embers of the village were still smoking when the rain began to fall. The drops were cold and heavy, and they hissed when they made contact with the earth. Steam rose from the ruins. I stood and opened my mouth to the sky, letting the rain clean the ash from my tongue. I tore off the rags of my shirt and my skirts and my ruined stockings. The rain washed over me. My hair stuck to my face. I laughed as the leader of the government soldiers had laughed, and there in the middle of the ash-muddied plaza I showed myself naked to the world, and danced in praise of war, and ash, and rain.
Jul 5, 04:28 PMPurchase or Subscribe to Slake: Los Angeles
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