May 04, 2015

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Toy Soldier

I’m a soldier. I’ve always been a soldier. Since my earliest years, my mind and body were prepped for war. At the age of eight my parents sold me to the rebel army. Sometimes I feel bad for myself but then I remember how lucky I was that I wasn’t my sister. Girls in my village are sold as sex workers. My sister was sold when she was eleven. Neither she nor I knew where she was going. At the time I didn’t understand, but now I do.  And my parents? I don’t despise them. It was all they could do. If they had kept us, we would’ve starved to death or be killed by the army. This was our escape.

My first day in camp I was forced to fight for my position. The initiation process is a one on one fight with other new recruits. I won all three of my fights. I guess you could say I was a natural but the truth is that I was just scared for my life. That was the first time I had ever fought. After we cleaned up and were given a tour, life didn’t seem that bad. The older men lived like kings. They had plenty of food and partied every night. They had plenty of women and friends. No one dared to speak up to them. Just to prove a point on the first day, one of our superiors pulled a recruit up to the front and told him to disobey an order in front of everyone. When he was asked to tie a man’s shoe, the boy refused. The man laughed, patted his shoulder and pulled out a knife and stabbed the boy in the throat.

“Disobey orders and you’re dead. Follow them, and you will be alright.” Said the man with blood dripping down his hand. He looked directly into my eyes and said “get rid of him.”

I ran up and picked up the dead boy. I recognized him. He was from my village.  When I picked him up the man said “bring him to the pile over there.” The pile was just that. A pile of bodies in a large rectangle that was dug into the ground.

Two weeks passed by quickly. We slept in every day, learned how to fight and use automatic rifles. We ate quite well. Not as well as our superiors, but we ate well. I couldn’t tell if I liked the army or hated it. The comradery was unlike anything I’ve felt before. Everyone there was alone – away from our family – but that only made us closer. We were told that we were heroes. They told us that we would save Sierra Leone from the West.

Every Friday we would all gather beside The Pile and watch two mid-ranked soldiers fight to the death. Everyone would drink and smoke and before we knew it, there would be two men in the middle of a circle. At first, I couldn’t stand watching this brutality. It was unlike anything I could imagine. After a few weeks passed, the energy of the crowd rubbed off on me and I was cheering them on too.

Kino, our general, had a hut of his own. I didn’t see him much but when he showed his face nobody spoke. Not even the loud mouth sergeants who commented on everything. Kino had a scar from the right side of his forehead down to his chin. It passed through his eye which I’m sure obstructed his vision. No one knew for sure how he got it but there were stories that went around. The most popular story was that he got the scar when receiving punishment from his general at the time. Apparently after the general cut him, he retaliated and killed the general. That’s how he got his position. Most people say he would have ended up leading the army one way or another.

One day he called a meeting after dinner. It was the first time I hear him speak. He explained that we were running low on resources and that it was time to establish dominance to our neighboring village, Dennema. The plan was to invade the city after they bought the young boys and girls. By invade, I later found out, he meant kill all of the men, steal everything of value and do whatever you wish with the women.

When Kino was explaining the details of the invasion, all of the soldiers cheered at his expressions. “It is our duty in life to take what is ours.” He said. He reminded us that “God has forgotten about this part of the world.” When looking at the crowd’s reactions, it was clear that the devil hadn’t.

To prepare for this invasion, our training increased in intensity over the next few weeks. Our training wasn’t only physical. It was also mental. Each morning we would gather with an elder and he would tell us stories. He would brag about how they were allowed to keep whatever they found. He would say that these people were planning to attack us but we would ambush them first. He told us stories that made us hate this village. He said that they bragged about raping our mothers and that they would torture people just for pleasure. Our sergeant instilled hatred in us. And hatred is contagious and powerful. Once you start to feel it, it grows inside you without control. And the only way to handle hatred is to act upon it. And acting upon it only made it stronger.

The weeks passed and we were ready to kill. We were ready to take what we deserved for once. I was ready. I wanted to kill just because I felt like a victim my whole life and for some reason, I convinced myself it was everyone else’s fault. I was ready to take revenge on the animals of Dennema. I was itching to kill them.

Finally, the day came and I couldn’t wait. I had trouble sleeping because I was filled with such hatred and excitement. I felt that somehow this invasion would fix all of my problems.

When we made it to Dennema, I was one of the first people to charge a house. I ran inside, followed by two older men, and took out my machete and laid it into the first head I saw which happened to be the father of the house. With one movement I killed him. I looked over and saw his wife and child. My mind didn’t even think – I just acted. Before I knew it, I had killed everyone in the household. The two men who followed me didn’t even have a chance to use their weapon. They cheered me on and grabbed everything of value – knowing from experience exactly where to look. They took all of the loot and gave it to me. They said “son, you’re a natural. The next house is all yours. All we ask is that you leave the women to us. Don’t kill them until we’re done with them. We’ll show you how.” At this moment I was excited to be accepted by the elders.

I ran into the next house and saw no one. I checked every room except for one. A man walked out of the room naked and I stuck my machete right through his abdomen. I looked him in the eyes as he died. As he hit the ground, I continued to stab him as if taking his life would give me mine back. The two men entered the room and I heard a woman. She wasn’t even yelling. She spoke and said “do whatever to me. Just don’t kill me.”

The men laughed and had their fun. I hesitated to enter the room. It was hard to shift gears from killing to sex. One man came out and said “it’s your turn now. Time to become a man.”

The same rage I felt when murdering the man filled my body and I was ready to ‘take what is mine’ from this poor lady.

When the second man walked out, he said “she’s good. Too bad we can’t take her with us. She’s a working girl. We don’t like them. Kill her when you’re done.” Just like a disposable cup, I was meant to throw her out when I was done.

When I walked into the room, I was stunned. The girl laid there naked. She wasn’t even crying. She dared not to look into my eyes. She was staring out the window.

“Do whatever you like, just don’t kill me.” She said.

I recognized her voice. My stomach broke into two. “Layla?”

“Jong?”

The girl I was supposed to rape was my sister.

I walked out of the room and unleashed my rage on the first man who told me to kill her. “She’s my sister!” I yelled as I stabbed him in the chest.

As I removed my machete from the man’s body I felt a wave of tiredness. My eyes started to shut and I realized I had been stabbed in the back of the neck. They say that God has forgotten about my part of the world, but I don’t believe that to be true. I believe God never knew about this part of the world, because if he did, he wouldn’t be God.  And if I get my chance to stand before him like they say, I will tell him that I don’t want to go to heaven because the worlds that he creates are worse than hell.

They say when you die, your life flashes before your eyes. That part is true.

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