"There weren't cars or buses. I crawled here with nothing but my ID card in my pocket."
That's what the old man said. He probably wasn't that old, but to you he'd have looked it.
You know, I'm scared even to write this. I'm scared someone will come after me, or maybe him. That's why you'll only ever hear half the story from me.
“I lost some of my family in the big wave. The rest in the bombing. My town’s completely flattened. When you look at a destroyed city, you see the remains – the ruins of a building, or some trees, or a road. But in my town there are trees growing here the middle of a road used to be. I can’t tell where my house was.”
The old man who can smile and ask for some gum after telling you that story – who can freely, trustingly, invite you to visit his house next time you’re in town (‘just ask for the groundskeeper ’) – has far more strength than I ever did.
I was terrified. Barbed wire metres high – security checks and checks and checks. I’d promised to look for my cousin’s friend’s family. All I had were a name and two photos.
I should tell you now that I didn’t find them, so you aren’t disappointed.
I saw a body hanging from a tree. Grey and horrible, and I tried not to look. At the time, I thought about the risk of disease, but I guess one body in a tree wasn’t much in view of the raw sewage and the mound, against the fence on the far side of the camp, in which I’m sure I spotted rags and limbs.
Most of the time I focused on what expression to keep on my face. You shouldn’t look too scared, or they’ll see you’re an easy target. You shouldn’t look too cocky, or they’ll be suspicious. You shouldn’t look too anything in front of people with guns and batons.
Strange - surrounded by people starving and injured and orphaned and scared, you can’t stop thinking about yourself. Whether anyone would notice if they shot you in the head and chucked you on top of that mound by the fence, or if they refused to let you leave and kept you behind the barbed wire forever. You wouldn’t have anyone to take care of you. Do you admire the people in that camp for coping? Do you admire the one who hung him- or-herself from the tree?
But really, most of that thinking comes later because, in there, you’re focused on looking as disinterested and uninteresting as possible. (Maybe it’s different if you have a different skin colour). Maybe it’s just me...(maybe it’s different if you don’t speak the language and can’t hear their words, screaming, crying). What would you do? I’ve run out of adjectives. Superlatives. What would you do when you see or feel or know something superlatives can’t describe?
I can’t take you there. Whether or not I use superlatives isn’t important. This is only going to sound like what you see on tv every day or read in a book.
I wanted to write it down. When I was out from the barbed wire, was past the checkpoints, put my face back on, had the luxury of thinking about humanity and atrocities and that. I thought that if I write it down, people will read about it and they’ll care. Things could be the tiniest bit better.
I’m still scared. Tomorrow I’ll go to work - try not to think about it, like you. How else can I get through the day? Concession: a few minutes every hour worrying that they’ll come after me.
Voluntary apathy? Voluntary ignorance? Selective concern? Concern on tap, only when it’s required - unavoidable? Is that a crime or a right? Or are you just scared too?
Word count: 660
- This story is fictional.