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07 February 2010 @ 01:21 pm
Birds of a Feather....  
He was startled back into consciousness by something that felt like a cold reptile crawling up his chest. His first impulse was to grab it, and as he tried to toss it aside, he noticed that it was attached to something else.

He then snapped into focus and saw that the thing that he was instinctively trying to squeeze the life out of,  was a small hand, connected to a small, ashy and bony arm. On the other end of that arm, the small round face of a child. On that face, a pair of wide grayish eyes looked at him, with a mix of pain and surprise.

That sudden awareness made him release the small hand and try to prop himself up from what he now realized was the floor, while the tiny handed creature ran to a corner and curled up defensively. He lifted his head, which now seemed to weight a ton, and looked at the child.

He then looked at his surroundings and quickly assessed his situation. With no recollection of how he had gotten there, he noticed that he was amidst the ruins of a dark hall.  Beams of daylight, entering through gaps in the broken ceiling, allowed him to see the child, sitting at a corner and piles of twisted metal, steel beams, bricks and chunks of concrete.

Turning his head, he noticed that he was also laying at the bottom of a set of stairs, as someone who'd rolled down them. Maybe he did. Was he OK?

He tried to prop himself up. A sharp pain caused him to black out.


When he woke up the room was much darker. A reddish light was now coming through the ceiling, but he could not see much. He laid there, for a while, trying to understand his predicament by putting together whatever small bits or knowledge he could grasp in that situation. He traced back his steps. The sharp pain, the child.

The child! He did not see her, but he could sense her in the dark, her breathing reached his ears as a soft whisper. She was there, probably in the same corner she was when...

He tried to move again, this time more cautiously, and a new wave of pain made him freeze. He took a deep breath, and all of a sudden, was overwhelmed with panic. He was unable to move his upper body without being struck by excruciating pains, and, to make matters worse, he could not feel his legs. He didn't know where he was, or what happened. He knew that he was helpless, and virtually alone, on a place that looked like a shopping mall from hell.

As these conclusions began to hit him, he began to hyperventilate and, when the pain and the fear became unbearable, he screamed and began to weep convulsively, in a way he hadn't  since he was a little kid.

Suddenly he heard his own sobs mixed with the voice of a child, and before he knew it, her little round face was hovering above his, gesturing with her hands "Shush" she said, followed by words in a language that was just as familiar as it was incomprehensible to him.

She stroke his hair and spoke to him softly, but nervously, probably aware of the fact that everything she said wasn't being understood. Slowly, his focus began to shift from his predicament to this little girl, looking strangely maternal for her age. He started to breath easier, or as easy as the pain would allow him to, and for the first time actually paid attention to his little partner in misery.

She looked like 5 or 6, but for all he knew she could be as old as 11 or 12. In this part of the world centuries of malnourishment had ultimately mutated the locals into some sort of pygmies. Adults were no bigger than the 14 year old kids back home and the children, you could never tell whether they were toddlers or teenagers. "This part of the world"- he thought. Then, a look into her eyes, which bore that expression of serene apathy, caused him to immediately recollect it all.

The past few months of his life flashed before his eyes. The recruiting officer, the boot camp. The look in his mother's eyes when he boarded the plane with the others. The arrival at the base. Explosions, traps, dead bodies, leveled cities. The look of hatred and fear on the faces of those they were taught to call "the enemy". The innocent civilians, usually children like that one, with that same expression of serene apathy in their eyes.

Those were the eyes of children who witnessed unimaginable horror. The eyes of lost innocence and despair.

More than the dead bodies, and the ruins, more than the screams of anger and pain and the sound of explosions and gunfire, he knew that the expression on the face of those innocent children would haunt him for as long as he lived.

Suddenly he heard noises. Voices and sounds of men speaking and fumbling around the ruins above them. They spoke the local language so he knew in a second they were "the enemy". Instinctively he reached for his handgun, which he always kept tucked in his pants as an extra layer of protection and, to his surprise, found it there.

Without thinking, he snatched the girl, covered her mouth with his fingers, and held the gun against her fragile skull.

Surprisingly, she did not fight it. Instead, she laid her little head against his chest and became perfectly still, while breathing heavily and holding on to him for dear life. She didn't want to be found by these men anymore than he did.

They were her countrymen, but war and greed turned them into scavenging mercenaries and she too knew what men like these, who made a living out of this misery, would do with someone like her. They would sell her into prostitution, harvest her organs, or use her as a mule for drug traffic.

He heard the stories, and once he accidentally ran into the headquarters of such an operation. Human trafficking of war orphans was one of the most sordid sub-products of the conflict.

He was somewhat consoled with the fact that she too, knew of it, although the circumstances in which she became aware of this fact being so young, were just too horrible a subject to even speculate on.

He began to ease his grip on the girl, and put down his weapon as he heard the men walk away. Their voices then vanished as the night began to fall and the room he was in began to fade into darkness.


He woke up in the middle of the night, and felt the girl still clinging to him. She was breathing deeply. "Asleep" - he thought. A surge of tenderness and discomfort rushed through him. He was happy for being able to offer that child some sort of comfort, but he was also unable to make himself at-ease around children.

The only child in his life back home had been his little niece. A very talkative, inquisitive and assertive little primadona, who was as enchanting as she was invasive, always taking for granted the love of the adults in her life. He adored her, it is true, but he could never convey it. He just never found a way to communicate with her. Her little pink and pastel world, full of dollies, princesses and unicorns, which were to her as real and she was to him, were a mystery to him.

She would come to him with the most fantastic stories, speak for hours and he would only answer with something meaningless like "oh, really?", or "nice". She would then look at him disappointed, and move on to tell her stories to a better audience. That always managed to make him feel awkward, but also relieved. A couple of times when she was really small, she fell asleep in his arms and he felt then just like he felt now. He thought of it with a smile in his face.

Without noticing, he began to caress the little girl's hair, and it felt just as soft as his niece's. He thought of how things would be different when and if he made it back home. How he would try very hard to patch the relationship between him and his niece. He did like kids after all and he did want, at some point, to become a father. A good father, just like his dad was. With that thought he fell asleep again.


A weird stir of sounds brought him back. He felt the girl clinging to him even harder, and shivering like a kitten in the rain. She was making some weird noises. He lifted her chin and looked at her face, which was washed with tears. She was sobbing, convulsively. He then heard the sounds coming from the outside, and froze, trying to understand what was going on.
He heard them lifting things, and running around above them. Roaring machines at distance. Voices.
They were many and they were close by. Maybe right above them.

He could now hear their voices and they were not speaking in a foreign language, but his own. He soon understood that was a rescue operation. They were probably looking for him, and other brothers in similar situation. To him that spelled hope, but not so much to the little girl clinging to him. He held her and tried to convey to her that everything was going to be OK, but would things be OK really?  They would rescue him, but what was to become of her, lost in this place, in the middle of this war, all alone?

"Jim, here!" - he heard the voices, and before he could think a couple of Marines, just like himself, came down ropes that hung from the openings in the ceiling. He clung to the little girl as they approached.

"Hey there"- one of them said - "can you hear me? We are going to get you out of here."

A medic came down the rope and shone a flashlight on his face, as he still clung to the little girl, and her to him. "I need to examine you, you will need to let go of her" , said the medic.

"No! She stays right here!"- he yelled.

"I need to check on her too. Please let go of her."

"No. You will have to take us both out of here"

The two marines were downing a stretcher to transport him. The little girl responded by clinging to him harder.

"Listen, she goes with me, or I am not going nowhere"

The medic looked at him "Listen to me: you are in pretty bad shape. Your legs are broken and infected, you lost a lot of blood. It is a miracle that you are still alive, but I need to get you out of here now or you will not make it, do you understand?"

"I don't care. Either she goes with me or I will stay"

The medic shook his head, and signaled to the marines "Let's do it".

One of them tried to pry the girl off his arms but as he attempted to pull her, his handgun was pointed to the marine's head.
"I said, she goes with me or I will stay! Now get your hands off of her!"

"Whoa!" said the medic. "You don't want to do this!"

"Try me!" - he then looked deep in the eyes of the man he was holding at gunpoint. "She is not the enemy, and I would be damned if I let her become another war casualty. She is a child, and she saved my life. I will not leave her behind!" He then looked at the medic. "Do you have any kids?"

The men held at gunpoint asked him. "Can she walk?"

"She was" he said.

"Please trust me. I will personally see that she is taken care of."

"Not good enough" - he yelled.

The medic then looked at him and his eyes were now red with tears. "It's OK marine, she is going in the helicopter with us to the base. How's that? Now put your gun down and let go of her just until we put you on a stretcher and haul you out of this hell hole."

"Do I have your word?" - he asked looking at all of them.

"Yes, you do" - they all said.

He began to lose his grip on the girl, put his gun down, then held her little hands and gave them to the medic. She looked at him with a terrified expression. He smiled at her, stroke her hair and signaled her to hold on to the doctor's hand. She was slowly removed, he was then put on a stretcher and hauled up the hole.

As they began to move away the little girl screamed, escaped from the doctor's grip and held his hand. The medic said. "It is OK, let her go with him!"

They flew both to the base hospital, hand in hand, and he only let go off her when a nun, in charge of the local refugee camp came and got her, promising that she would do everything in her power to see that she is either reunited with family or placed in a safe place.

Both the man and the little girl were sobbing as she was taken away. The last thing he saw before surrendering to the pain medication he was given were her grayish eyes, filled with tears and fear.

He would never, ever forget them either.
Current Mood: anxiousanxious
rephen: pianocatrephen on February 8th, 2010 04:39 am (UTC)
Very moving. You captured the war-torn feel very well. The dark parts were almost unbearably heavy in this piece. Wonderful work.