SOILED by Yandani Mlilo

That night she was feeling restless, no matter what trick she tried she couldn’t fall asleep, neither could she shake off that nagging feeling that something wasn’t right. The whole day a dark feeling of gloom had followed her. Even if she had tried to explain it, no logic would have come out of it.

Just when she was about to fall asleep, she heard footsteps outside, it did not sound like one person. She sat up in the darkness of her room. She listened some more. Silence. Had she imagined it? There they were again, this time the footsteps sounded closer. She could hear the people talking but couldn’t make out what they were saying. Suddenly that nagging feeling became stronger. A chilling sensation crawled up her spine. Her body became numb, her chest heavy, her throat dried up. It became harder to breath and her mind went blank. A combination of shock and fear had taken over paralyzing her body.

Her baby’s crying snapped her back to reality. A thick smoke had filled the room, the thatched roof collapsed inside engulfed by fire. Tears filled her eyes. She grabbed the baby and quickly tried to crawl for the door. Smoke filled her lungs, and her throat and chest were becoming painful from the smoke and coughing. The baby screamed even louder in pain which made her heart bleed even more.

Outside was orange and bright, everything was on fire. She could hear her sisters hysterical scream. She so much wanted to reach out to her but a strong voice in her head was telling her ‘Run. Run as fast as you can. Save yourself and the baby’. Men with guns had taken over her homestead. they were everywhere and ordering everyone to stand in a single file. She knew a few meters from where she stood was a path leading to the forest. She would hide there with the baby until the men had gone.

Before she could even run, a hand firmly grabbed her at the back of her neck. She was roughly shoved to the ground. She painfully hit the ground. She bruised her elbow in an attempt to shield the baby from hitting the ground. She ignored the pain as she frantically tried to soothe the baby. Before she could check whether the baby was hurt, she felt a sharp kick on her side. She coiled her body in pain, never letting go of the baby. She let out a scream in agony as the man let out a cruel laugh. His laugh sounded almost evil as it echoed in her head. In a loud booming voice, the man ordered her to move. “famba iwe”. She couldn’t really understand what he was saying; she just guessed he wanted her to move. She tried to stand up with the baby in one arm. Her knees wobbled and she collapsed under the weight of her body. She tried again to lift herself up.

The man was getting agitated with her. He shifted his riffle from his left hand and something clicked. He was going to shoot her. She held the baby close to her chest and tightly squeezed her eyes shut. She felt someone grab her arm. She opened her eyes in shock and relief. Her crying had turned into loud hiccuping sobs. Her head was filled with her baby’s screams.

The fire was ceasing. The atmosphere was all thick and Smokey, the air smelled of burnt grass and clay. What once was a respectable homestead had been turned into ashes. Her sister wasn’t screaming anymore, she sat on the ground, clutching her knees tightly to her chest rocking herself back and forth. She hummed a hymn to herself. She looked like she had gone insane. Her family looked like strangers to her. Her grandmother suddenly looked so old and tired. She could see the fear in the old woman’s eyes. Although she tried to hide it, her trembling gave her away.

She looked for her father; he looked like a scared little boy. All her life she had thought of her father as the strongest and bravest man alive. She wanted to scream “baba what’s going on? Do something.” But the words wouldn’t come out. All she let out was sob after sob.

The men with the guns talked among themselves. They kept pointing at her family; she couldn’t understand what they were saying. From their tone, it sounded like they were not in agreement. One of the men broke out from the group, he grabbed her sister, she screamed for help, looking at their father. He didn’t look at her, he didn’t react. He kept bowing his head as if in silent prayer. He grabbed her and dragged her into the darkness. Three other men followed the man who had taken her sister into the darkness. She could hear her sister screaming and begging for mercy. Then she wasn’t saying anything, she was just screaming and screaming into the darkness. After a while, they heard a gunshot and her sisters screams couldn’t be heard anymore.

She saw her father react to the gunshot and he let out a soft sob. It was hard to believe that the sound was coming from him. Grandmas’ shivers worsened but she did not let out a sound. The men came back, dragging her sister’s body. They dumped the body in front of her father. Her body was facing the ground. They rolled her body over so father could see her dead daughter. They had shot her on the chest. Her dress was covered in blood. Grains of sand and dust had gathered on the dress as they had dragged her, forming cakey red mud. Father couldn’t take it anymore, he burst out crying. He looked so weak and helpless. They ordered her father to do something. Somehow he could understand them. He showed resistance. Two of them grabbed him on the shoulders pulling him up. Another removed his pants. It was too much for her to look at. She looked at the ground, clutching her baby to her chest as if her survival depended on it. It seemed they were forcing him to have sex with her sister’s dead body.

When they couldn’t get the results they wanted, they went for grandmother. ‘Muuraye’. That’s all she could hear them saying. The more they kept repeating the words, she began to understand. She looked at her father; he was on his knees with his pants down, crying. The men forced the rifle into grandmother’s hands. The old woman was shaking so much that she couldn’t even stand still let alone hold a rifle in her hands. One of the men, the one who had dragged her sister away, yanked the rifle from her hands. “uxolo bantwabami” were the only words grandmother said. He pulled out a knife from his pocket and thrust it into grandmothers’ belly, ripping her stomach open. She let out a scream, drawing everyone’s attention to her. Her screams startled the hiccupping baby. The baby started wailing frenziedly. The men’s attention shifted from the large fire they were making to her. It was as if they had forgotten about her. The men’s attention shifted from her, back to her father. He was still crying on the ground.

The men started singing; they whistled and clapped as they circled her father. They kicked him, pocking him with flaming sticks, tossing him towards the fire they had made. She could hear him screaming, pleading for mercy and forgiveness. Their singing became louder and faster, some were chanting “pisa, pisa”. Finally they pushed him into the fire, his cry of pain pierced into the darkness. They sounded inhuman as the flames feasted on his body.

In an instant her life had turned into a nightmare, in a flash she had lost everything she held dear in her life. Now the men had their full attention on her. She had watched her family being massacred right before her eyes. The baby in her arms had gone cold but for some reason unknown to herself she kept holding on tight to her.

In the news they had said the war was over and people had nothing to fear. The reign of the white man was over. The enemy had been defeated and they were now independent. Oh how father had rejoiced that day. He had made plans of moving them to the city. “We will live like the white man. Siyabe singamakiwa”. Nobody had warned them about a tribal war in a free country. The white man wasn’t the enemy; it was black people turning on each other. Destroying another tribe just because they felt theirs was superior?

Her sobs turned into a cry and that cry into a hysterical laugh. The men were still focused on her burning father, chanting and singing. She thought she could make it into the forest before they noticed she was missing. She gathered up all her strength. She started limping heading for the forest still holding the dead baby in her arms. It was almost dawn, people would be up soon and she could get help and expose the cruel men with guns. She didn’t hear the singing stop,

She didn’t hear the gunshot,

She didn’t feel the bullet hit her head,

She didn’t feel nor hear herself falling to the ground,

She just kept limping and going.

END

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