Monday, June 20, 2011

Literary Break: The War Came

Two excerpts from two excellent, recently-published books.

Sinkor, Monrovia, July 1990

"We scattered. We all ran between the houses, everyone fleeing in different directions. Some were getting shot down. Others were escaping. I went inside an abandoned building. I climbed into the eaves of the roof. There was a little platform where the roof meets the wall. I saw that there were three other men who had done exactly the same. We could not be seen from below. We lay there in absolute silence, not daring to say anything to one another...

We stayed there, the four of us, for a long time, nobody speaking in more than a whisper. It grew dark. The new morning came. We were still lying there.

At about eight o'clock, the other two decided to climb down to the ground…Augustus and I deliberated. We did not think it was safe. Throughout the night we had heard soldiers, gunfire, shouting. Early in the morning we had heard them again. We stayed where we were.

So the two went down and left, and just a few minutes later, we heard shouting, then pleading, then gunshots. And then silence; we were sure they were dead. We heard men cursing in Krahn.

And so we just stayed. On and on and on. Augustus and I. In the end, we stayed in those eaves three nights. At no point did it seem safe to come down. The gunfire was always too near. But on the third morning, we could not take it any more. We had both dehydrated. We had both become sick.

So, we came down. Augustus was our point guy. He was checking around to see where the soldiers were. We had gotten a block, maybe just a block from the building where we had hidden, when the soldiers saw Augustus, and we both ran.

I ran into a house. I was very, very fortunate. It was one of those houses you call a "straight" : you know those buildings where the front door leads straight to the back down a passage. I ran through the front door and closed it, through the back door and closed it. They thought I was in the house, they searched it, but I was still running. Ideas were just flowing to me: do this, do that, ideas were just flowing to me. I threw myself in the long grass. Lie down.

I heard people scream in the house. They were beating them. Then I heard my friend Augustus. He was crying: "Don't kill me! Don't kill me!" They said: Where's the other rebel? Where's the other rebel?" "I don't know."

And then Ba Ba! Ba Ba!

I didn't hear his voice again."

--Little Liberia, Jonny Steinberg. pp.86-88


Kilungutwe, Congo, June 2000

The soldiers herded the traders and the locals into a small house below the road, a sturdy cement structure about twenty feet by forty feet, with blue wooden doors and windows and a corrugated iron roof. The sixty people stood packed like sardines in the small house. The sun went down, leaving the room in darkness except for some cracks in the window, through which they could see a fire that the soldiers had lit outside. It was hot and humid, and the air was filled with the sound of muttering and breathing. Several people prayed out loud. A baby's cry turned into a persistent wail, until finally her mother began sobbing and said that her baby was about to suffocate.

"We called the soldiers outside and asked them to have pity on the newborn," Michel told me.

Without asking any questions and as if one cue,t he soldiers let the woman out. Suddenly, the prisoners heard screams coming from outside, first from both mother and child, then just from the child, then silence…All of a sudden, the room was full of people crying and praying to God in French, Swahili, and whatever other language came to their lips.

Michel was in the back of the room, where he was crushed against a wall as the others tried to get as far as possible from the door, through which the soldiers came and grabbed people one by one. As the people thin ed out, he was bale to get a better look at his surroundings in the half-light. He saw that one of the thin ceiling boards was loose. He hastily climbed up and bumped into several other people lying in the small space between the ceiling and the roof. It was even hotter and danker here, and he could feel the bodies of his neighbors trembling with fear. He was close to fainting and felt like vomiting.

After a while, the screams faded below them and they could hear soldiers shuffling around the sound of bodies being moved outside. Someone was counting, then a voice in Kinyarwanda said:

"How many did we put in the house? Did you count?"

"Yes there were at least sixty."

"Are you sure? Where did the rest of them go?"

"I'll check again."

Feet began to scrape the floor below them and then someone piked the ceiling boards.

"We! You up there! How many are there?" Michel's neighbors' trembling increased until he was afraid they would begin to rattle the ceiling boards. "I can hear you up there! How many are you?"

After poking for a while, the soldier went outside. They hear the men muttering with each other, and then several came back into the room. Suddenly, an iron spear tip burst through a ceiling board not far from where Michel was lying. The boards were made out of flimsy plywood and the spear pierced it easily. The next jab hit Michel's neighbor in the leg, who cried out.

"Come down now, or we will get out guns! Just tell us how many you are, and then come down!"

Several more spear jabs came through the roof. Three of Michel's fellow prisoners climbed down from the hideout. Michel turned to a woman who was lying next to him.

"We must pray now, " He told her. "we are going to die." She started crying.


"When I looked to my side, I saw a woman in white lying next to me," Michel finally said. "I hadn't seen here before, and It bought it was strange that she was wearing all white. I turned to the woman lying on my other side, who was sobbing, and asker her, 'Do you see her? The woman in white?' It was very strange to see a woman dressed all in white. It was ver dusty then; it was the dry season. White clothes were maybe things you wear to church or to a baptism. And she seemed--she seemed to be glowing. My neighbor shook her heard and continued sobbing. Then the woman in white said--her voice didn't seem to be coming from her mouth, but from inside my head-- she said, 'Stand up! Stand up now!" And I gathered my strength and just stood up. The roof was very low-- you couldn't even kneel there-- but as a stood up, a sheet of roofing came undone from its blots, and I could see the night sky. Thee was no moon that night, I remember. I stood up and slide down the roof. 'Someone's getting away!' one of the soldiers cried out, and they opened fire. I could hear the bullets whistling by me and going into the ceiling where I had been lying with the others. But I wasn't hurt. I jumped down from the roof and began running into the bush that surrounded the house. My legs were moving on their own." Michel looked at me. 'That angel saved me. God saved me."

He ran through the palm trees and the cassava fields that surrounded the village as shots rang out behind him. He kept on running until he found the hut of a relative of his on a hill several miles away. Together, they watched the village burn in the valley below them.

--Dancing In the Glory of Monsters, by Jason K. Stearns, pp. 258-260

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