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Fiction Historical Fiction Sad

April 1994

They slaughtered Mother in the church.

It was not quick. Four men. Two held machetes, one held a broken rifle, and the last, the youngest, nineteen maybe, held a wooden club stuck through with bent nails.

I guess they thought I escaped through the backway. After Mom’s ankle snapped beneath a cold brown boot, the two with machetes glanced outside. They returned shaking their heads, the dull blades glinting and grimy. The man with the rifle stepped back. He looked the oldest, with deep sunburnt wrinkles and glittering eyes. It registered in me that the man was my neighbor; he ran the convenience store near the couple who sold us chicken and vegetables from their garden.

I couldn’t blink, huddled behind the pew, peering out, and I didn’t feel much of anything. Not when they struck first her chest, then her belly, and the cries were so loud but muffled by the shouts and gunfire from the streets. The young man with the club was most enthralled by the shower. The dirt around Mother curdled dark. It would have been better if I had leapt up, cracked my small fists against their sides. They’d grab my dress, fling me down, and Mother and I would be equals.

I didn’t. I watched, the way I would watch a television set, and my head hurt. The noise was too loud, the colors to bright, the sun streaming through the rafters too saturated.

An ant crawled onto my arm. It didn’t bite and I didn’t flick it off. It held a white crumb in its jaws. Mother gasped, dark blood pooled over her skin, then a gurgle like a broken fountain from her throat and she quieted. The wrinkles of her face lessened. Her elbow, the one with the purple mole, twitched and the church was an alcove of silence in the din. The older man pulled on his short, coarse beard, a gout of blood on his jaw. His expression was not wild like the younger three. His eyes were cold scientist eyes. He spoke something low and they slipped away, dissipating into the city like embers of a wildfire.

A few minutes passed. I crept from the shadow of the pew. The white cross stood proud on the alter. Mother laid in the nave, between the seats, and dust collected on her black lashes. Like snow, I thought, but I’d never seen snow. Her identification card was torn nearby on the floor.

Her hands were soft and warm. A machete must have grazed her finger: the pinky of her left hand was cut, flung open. It didn’t bleed, pink flesh exposed. Mosquitos danced around with the dust motes. The ant crawled from my arm, up the sleeve of Mother’s butter-yellow blouse. Her lips were smeared plum. When I had asked about the lipstick that morning, she had laughed.

I want to feel pretty today.

You are always pretty.

And Mother snatched me up, tickled me, eyes crinkled in a smile.

I want to feel extra pretty. Her voice was a singer’s, deep and rich.

I brushed my fingers over her cropped hair, her bruised head. My hand came back sticky. Her eyes didn’t shine anymore, only glinted like a dead crow's.

“You are extra pretty,” I said, cross-legged next to her. I held her hand and swayed, humming a quiet tune whose name and words I couldn’t recall, though Mother had sung it just yesterday. A tear fell down my cheek, dissolved into the dirt. No sadness hung in the air, though. Sadness was a dreg of violence, and the violence raged on.

I stood. My muscles ached. How long had I been sitting? I rested my hand at the entrance of the church, the sunbaked concrete hot, and gazed out. The central streets had quieted. Colorful cloth fluttered over shattered shop windows. A dirty pink sock rested by my foot alongside the mouth of a broken beer bottle, amber shards strewn across the pavement.

I drifted through the empty street. A rustle every now and then, but when I turned, no one was there. A plastic six-ring careened past. A rumble. A white truck slowed as it neared me, but it did not stop, TOYOTA written in black on its bumper. A white man holding a young boy locked eyes with me, hunched in the truck bed. The boy waved, his face smudged, his hair orange, his eyes serene. My hand raised numbly in response and they were gone. A sheet of paper stirred in the dust.

Sobbing. A child crouched in a dirty alley behind a graffitied blue dumpster. He cried over the body of an ashen woman, clinging to her pale green shawl, shaking the vibrant fabric of her dress. He clung to her with thin fingers, his knuckles gone pale. His clothes were blotched and he was missing a shoe.

He jumped when I placed my hand on his shoulder, turned hunted eyes on me. But we were alike we were. Both of us kids with blood on our skin.

“It’s okay,” I said.

He shook his head.

I prod him. “Let’s go.”

But he didn’t face me this time. He wrapped an arm around the woman and curled into the crook of her broken form.

A fusillade of faraway gunfire. I slid down against the wall beside them. Another truck rolled by, green this time, and the men in the bed held rifles, but behind the dumpster it was safe. A clothesline wavered above, strung across the buildings from an open window, and the sky had become a muted purple. Grey clouds rimmed the horizon. Perhaps there would be rain tonight, and the streets would be cleansed.

Author's Note:

I recently watched a documentary on the Rwanda Genocide and wanted to write about it. It was a killing of Tutsi's in Rwanda that started in the city of Kigali (not where my story is placed) and spread through the country, ending after 100 days. It is a historical event that does not get enough attention and everyone should read (or watch) up on it. This story is not by any means a historical account. I did some last-minute research, but please forgive me for any cultural inaccuracies.

Tutsis were not the only group affected, but the hatred toward them was the catalyst. These were people who were slaughtered for no other reason than that they were Tutsi. Men, women; fathers, mothers, children.

It is important to look back on past tragedies so that history does not repeat itself.

With love,

-Agafia Apple

February 06, 2021 19:31

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6 comments

Karen Mc Dermott
15:08 Feb 13, 2021

What an opening line. I appreciated the attention to little details that followed; the ant, the pinky finger. I fully agree with your author's note too, that we have to learn from history or risk repeating it. Thanks for taking the time to write this story.

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Agafia Apple
13:13 Feb 15, 2021

Aaw, what a wonderful comment, thank you! And yes, I love little details and they definitely make a story three-dimensional.

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18:13 Feb 21, 2021

You presented cruelty in a cruel way... so everybody understands it! Your story is a clear detailed message to the world to stop this type of behavior that ends in war. Thanks.

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Agafia Apple
02:32 Feb 23, 2021

"Presented cruelty in a cruel way..." I don't know why but I really like those words. Thank you!

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Courtney C
20:29 Feb 15, 2021

Great work on your story. The storytelling and specificity you included really strengthened your writing, and it definitely held my interest. The time period tipped me off that you were likely alluding to the Rwandan genocide, but it was only at the end that my hunch was really confirmed. It might have helped to incorporate more Rwanda specific details instead of banking those for the end. As well, just a few spots that could possibly be rephrased: - "His eyes were cold scientist eyes." - By 'scientist eyes' do you mean calculating, disi...

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Agafia Apple
15:15 Feb 20, 2021

Thank you! Yes, I will definitely be more specific next time. I really appreciate it.

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