.The roar of
thetanks was frightening. From his balcony, he watched them approach the suburb, and his heart pounded. On their antennae, fluttered black flags. Groups of soldiers huddled on the turrets and hulls while others went on foot. The smell of hot oil and theexhaust fumes drifted into his nostrils and made him nauseous. A few shots were fired, followed by yells and hoots of laughter. He rushed into the empty street and wanted to run away. ThePanic spread through him, as if he were an animal being hunted. a hunted animal.He would rather die than be captured. He had seen on TV the results of what this army had done to other people-- tortured and disemboweled bodies without limbs, cut-off heads mounted on the wooden poles, men’s mutilated sexual organs shoved into the victims’ mouths, raped women and young girls, some of whom had becomegone mad. His eyes searched for an escape route, a hidden tunnel, a hole or gap through which he could vanish, but wherever he moved, he saw only the silent walls of neighbouring houses, fences and closed gates. Why hadn’t he gone after Jasmine, if he had such a strong feeling for her? He should have been abroad among sane people and let the madmen kill each other. His heart beat furiously. He had never been so afraid. Were these the last minutes of his life? All of a sudden, he was ashamed of his thoughts. How could he think of running away and leaving his parents at the mercy of the soldiers? He dashed into the house, and found them in their bedroom by the window, watching in silence the soldiers trudging through thea neighbouring street. Beside them, walked the groups of civilian men. The only sounds were the pounding of their shoes on the asphalt and an occasional cough. They looked as if they were extras in a war film. Both his parents were calm, and that had a soothing effect on him. Father turned away from the window and said, “Son, we’d better prepare ourselves. Put on a pair of strong trousers and a thick jacket. You never know how long they can hold us.” The young man did as told and dressed in a pair of thick jeans and a winter jacket, even ifthough it was hot outside. He kissed and hugged Mother, who tried in vain to hold back her tears. They all went outside in front of their home to wait for the soldiers.
“Good day,” said a tall man dressed in a camouflage uniform, a black headband around his close-cropped head, and Ray Ban sunglasses on his pimply face. He was no more than seventeen, probably a farmer’s boy who now enjoyed having power over the inhabitants of the town; the arbiter of life and death. He pointed his index finger towards Father.
“You two, the only men in the house?”
“Come with me.”
“Where are you taking them?” Mother asked.
“Don’t worry, they’ll be back soon.”
They waved at her and joined the others who streamed into the street. Men walked in silence, turning for one last glimpse of their families. The young man passed by Jasmine’s overgrown garden and his chest constricted with pain. “Jasmine, please help me.” He muttered his prayer over and over as if imploring God.
They walked towards the main square flanked by the soldiers, who seemed to be relaxed, without showing any hostility. A few of them held their rifles in their hands, but the others had their weapons on their shoulders. Suddenly, a large Alsatian bolted out of
theits kennel. It barked and growled as if infected with rabies, trying to jump over thea fence. It startled everyone, but probably mostly the soldier at the leadhead of the column, who seemed to be some kind of a commander. “Kill that damn dog!” he snarled. A few meters in front of the young man, a soldier drew a revolver from his holster, took aim and pulled the trigger. The shot was an explosion in the young man’s ears, which drowned the dog’s short yelp. He glanced furtively at it and winced at a motionless pile of brown and black fur covered in blood. The executioner slipped the gun back into athe holster, without giving the dog a second glance. The young man could not take his eyes off his sweaty back. He must have been younger than he was--a secondary school student who only few days before still sat in his class and mulled over his lessons. Then as if by magic, he mutated into a warrior who would implementtransform his leader’s ideas into reality, impeccably and ruthlessly. He was a lanky man, and the rifle slung on his back looked like a toy. How many people had he already killed with that black toy; how many families shrouded in mourning? A large knife dangled from his belt. Was it a knife to cut people’s throats, breasts, sexual organs or gouge their eyes out?
At the crossing, buses and tanks had been waiting for them, together with the soldiers, who stared at the prisoners with a mixture of scorn and interest, as if they were cattle bound for the abattoir. Among them were some middle-aged men whose looks were frightening. Their beards were bushy, hair long and dirty, and on their heads, they had strange, ridiculous black caps. Their uniforms were soiled and frayed, but the knives hanging from their belts sparkled under the sun. The young man did not dare (to) look at them, and he felt Father’s hand on his arm pulling him closer to him. “Stay close. Don’t let them separate us,” he whispered.
Soldiers hurried them onto the buses, but everything was in a civilized way. No shots were fired, no swearwords uttered, no hand raised. Father went first and then his son. “Hello,” he said and waved at the bus driver, a middle-aged man with a large paunch bulging under the uniform. The driver ignored him and stared blankly in front of him. When they sat down in the middle of the bus, Father said, “Bastard! We worked together for years, and now he pretends not to know me.” The young man looked at the driver’s flabby, sweaty face in the rear-view mirror, asking himself how he would behave if their roles were reversed. Probably he would ignore everyone-- schoolmates, acquaintances, neighbours, even family members and act like a callous murderer. Maybe he would even kill Jasmine and her family if ordered by his commander.
TO BE CONTINUED
Student or Learner