The sun rose early that morning. Blooming on the horizon, bathing the canopy and its mist in cool light. The creatures, usually awake and loud, rest still. No bird song, no morning chorus. The jungle itself seems to sleep. Then from the silence comes a noise. The footsteps and chatter of men.
They slip through the brush easily, nimble feet stepping quickly over the roots and leaf litter. Two men, thin but strong, bows held firmly at their sides. By observing their energetic movements you would think that they were fresh and newly awoken but these men are in fact returning, tired from the hunt. Fatigue reduced by years of hard labour and toil. In the left hand, each fellow held a small sack. Though, the weight of their prize does not diminish the pace of their strides.
Soon, the forest thins. The men slow. Before them stand two large totems, one on either side of a small gate, carved with the faces of animals. The granite like stone highlighted with rich, thick paint. A wild, wooden wall runs off around the edge of the settlement. Creepers grip at its posts, climbing up, reaching toward the sun. Stepping through the gateway reveals a village of stone and wood huts. Most built off the ground on stilts. Small ladders slung from the door holes. This place was quiet too, only the returning hunters are heard. Stalking past the huts, making their way to the epicentre. A wide stone circle juts from the ground, sitting a few feet above the packed soil. Both men halt at its edge. They bow slightly, averting their gaze from the ceremonial circle.
Above them, cross legged on the raised dais, sits an old man deep in thought. Long red feathers crown his head, like a Roman's laurel wreath. Lips move but no words are committed to the air. Hands rise and fall in rhythmic fashion. Only after the hunters make their presence known does the man open his eyes. Their sly coughs breaking his trance suddenly.
A hand is proffered from on high.
+ + + + +
Soon, the day is risen. Our village echoes with the sound of work and the cackle of women's laughter. Children play. Chasing one another or chasing animals. Always running somewhere. Men cut at a newly felled tree. Taking it in turns to strike at the timber with their short axes. The wives stand over stone bowls with long pestles. For them, the mornings consist of pounding grain into dust, then mixing the powder with eggs and water for baking. When the smell of freshly baked bread reaches the villagers, they know that the early day's work is done. Every inhabitant descends on the food hut for a communal breakfast. With the noted exception of two members of their clan; the old man from the ceremonial area and his daughter, Malaika.
Their hut is the second largest in the village after the communal hall. It stands away from the rest. On tall stilts, behind the ceremonial circle. Within its walls are stored the entire history and faith of the people. It was like their church, their museum and their university all residing in one hut.
From the opening at its farthest end steps the man with the feather laurel. He is the village's elder. The Shaman Chief. The Story Teller. The Teacher. The Doctor. Each dweller knows him in a different light. Today he’s The Shaman. Common chatter and noise dissipates when he emerges. Villagers leave their breakfast and make for the epicentre. No man or child speaks. In seconds, a crowd has gathered around the stone plinth. They bow as the chief climbs onto his ceremonial perch.
Held in each hand were the hunter's leather sacks. The old man holds them up for all to see. The watching mass whisper amongst themselves. With great care the sacks are laid down on the stone. The shaman loosens the binding of the bag to his left. It's upended. Nothing happens. The sack seems empty. Then, with a little flick of the wrist, the vessel releases its prize. Out drops a tarantula. Wider than a large man's hand. All dark brown except for small, intermittent patches of black. The thing holds its legs tightly against its belly. Slowly, tenuously, it reaches out. Feeling the rock underfoot and the sun overhead. Shaman chief reaches over and lays his hand down near the beast. Palm upturned. His other hand gently shepherds the tarantula into his waiting grasp. Both hands rise up and present the arachnid to the watching crowd and then to the sun in the sky. A murmur of approval ripples through the revellers. With little more effort the spider is returned to the earth and given its freedom.
Now the bag to the right is hoisted up and opened. The shaman pulls the binding from its neck and relieves the sack of its contents. Villagers gasp. Their gaze falls on the creature with fear and hatred. Head rising from the plinth to peer into the face of the shaman chief is a black snake. Eyes a shocking yellow, body ringed with vibrant red bands. The beast is thick and swollen like a common garden slug but its demeanour is that of a predator. It calculates. It judges. Tongue flicking at its lips.
Again, the old man lays his hand down near the creature. The snake watching his movements closely. All around, members of the crowd cry out in fear for their chief. He wears no signs of apprehension, other hand moving out to coax the beast into his embrace. Quickly, the snake recoils and strikes. Its head punching the shaman chief's forearm. Curved teeth like fishing hooks penetrate his skin. Firing a payload of toxins and death into the old man's sagging flesh.
The men of the village leap up onto the stage. Weapons are drawn. With foot, axe and club the snake is dashed into the stone. It tries to defend itself, mouth wide, neck pulled back ready to attack. But the strength and technology of the men make short work of its slaughter. Only a red stain on the plinth remains.
Malaika, shaman chief's daughter, rushes onto the stage. She envelopes her father. Arms wrapping around him. A groan leaves her when she sees the wounds. Two lumps of meat have been torn from his wrist. Now it streams with red fluid. The man falters. His stoicism diminishing. Fear and shame cover his face.
+ + + + +
Shafts of orange light filter through the canopy. Bonfires, piled high as three men, spit flames callously into the heavens. Smoke creeps past the huts, along the alleys. Flowing to the walls that circle the place. Evening encroaches too. The sun hits the horizon, looming and deep red in tone. Initialising the insect's urge to click and hum. Their chorus: incessant and robotic. Across the sky, the moon lingers. Pale and sullen. Just a white dot on an azure ocean. It's large, dark crater the only distinguishing feature.
From above, the villagers look like rats or mice, coursing around each other, swarming, rushing. Seemingly mindless. They feed the bonfires with every flammable object. Running to the forest and their homes, grabbing wood and tinder and throwing it into the huge pyres. The placement of which make a rough circle around the stone heart of the settlement. The ceremonial plinth. Still caked with blood from man and snake. As the adults work, the children stand quietly at the stone edge. Watching, gripping at each other for assurance. They have never seen their parents work in so feverish a manner. They don't behave like the people they know. They have lost their humanity somehow, lost it in their compulsion to burn and burn again.
Then the dancing and music starts. If you can call the din music. Percussive sounds of all volume and variance, meet in disharmony. Played at disparate rates. Beats not nearly matching. Their deep bass sounds vibrate through everything. Even the rib cages and hollow parts of the settlers rattle. Next comes a chorus of strange vocal harmonies. Women, with voices that undulate with astounding vibrato. Men chant. Shouting, repeating the words of their leaders. All of them unbound. Unashamed. Passionate with madness.
Once all in the village is burned, the crowd becomes a single force. It flows, running in columns from the stone centre to the chief's hut and then back. The hunters among them hold up torches. Their bodies covered in the red mud of the local river banks. Others in the maul hold up icons and pendants. Statues of animals, necklaces with metal figures hanging from them. They parade past the chief's home, brandishing their idols, chanting, shouting and then marching off again in a continuous cycle of people.
Some light flickers from inside the raised hut. A small paraffin lamp swings in the rafters. Below it, shaman chief and his daughter sit in silence. While all around them shakes with the rapturous event unfolding outside. She wipes away the moisture of tears and sweat from her cheeks, before offering her father a flask. The man fails to notice her.
The girl tries to speak but before a word is spoken her father holds up his hand. A simple gesture that asks for silence. Sudden rage comes across her.
"No! Don't do this. It's madness. You are delirious, you need to rest-," the sentence is cut short by the man's hand. This time it ends her speech with a firm slap.
"I am not so weak as to ignore your insolence. I will do what I was born to do, what I was taught to do. It is the only way."
The chief's voice wavers with every word. Strength ebbing away. His slap nowhere near as harsh as Malaika has come to know them. She stares at him. Her father's face has swollen. She can see marks like bruises about his neck and arms. His closed eyes and blank face tell her to submit to his will.
"I will not be part of it," says the girl in her exotic tongue. She rises and turns to exit the hut.
+ + + + +
"When the gods are watching,
When the eye of the sun and eye of the moon peer down.
You must act.
They must see our actions.
To judge our resolve."
The room rings with his words. Soon, the old man rises. He slips on his feather wreath. Clads himself in the wooden armour of his fathers. From a glass bottle hidden from view, he takes a long swig of some brown liquid. Then, from a box of darkest mahogany, he pulls a long thin knife, made of bone. The handle carved in the shape of a beast. The man daubs his face in red clay and is ready. With a great deal of trouble he descends from the hut.
The crowd greet him with cheers. Their chorus increasing in volume and pitch. Frenzy would be an adequate word to describe the sight. Pandemonium another. Though amongst the savage movement and fire was some stillness. A thing that the chief recognises instantly.
Standing, removed from the rest of the settlers, are a group of women. They surround a young girl. He sees them combing her hair. Painting her skin with patterns and motifs. Dowsing her with the scented water that the village's women like to make. The girl remains calm amongst them. Barely moving or showing any emotion. Doll like in her countenance. Then her head turns slightly. Her eyes meet with the chief's gaze.
The crowd parts for him. Slowly, in anguish, he walks to her. Regarding the jewellery and other embellishments. Gazing at her perfect, clean flesh. Then he is upon the group. Offering his hand to the girl. Beckoning her, daring her to follow him into the madness. She gives him her hand and is pulled away from the women. The little girl glances up at the man, his face is calm.
Now she is part of the maul. Her and the shaman chief. Propelled through the alleys and paths. Around the village's central circle. Through the stone gates and out into the wild.
The column of revellers twists and worms its way into the dense foliage. Illuminated by the hunter's fire. Their chanting and chiming brings music to the jungle. It wanders amongst the trees too.
+ + + + +
Soon enough they reach their goal. The crowd splitting into two long lines. Encircling a large, gnarled tree. The thing, sullen and mouldy, hangs over them. Their light refuses to penetrate the canopy. At its base, nestling between two huge roots is a table of sorts. Made of stone. Rectangular in shape and pitched at an angle. It's head raised up slightly. Bored into the thick slate are inch wide holes.
The chief and his young partner step out of the mess of men and women and move to the stone table. All around them the villagers contort and stamp their feet to the feverish beat. The drumming and banging making the air itself feel viscous. Like ripples through water, the sound surges at them. Shaking them to the core.
The wide circle of settlers contracts around the table. Arms are flung up with hands shaking. Then the circle relaxes, with heads all bowed. Arms point at the ground. All the bodies work together. United in dance.
The girl is helped onto the table. Still showing no emotion. No reaction to the madness of her people. She lies there on the cold slab. Hands held at her sides. Staring up into the heavens. Shaman chief places his hands on the youngster's belly. She winces. The man starts to repeat something, some incantation. Shouting it out into the night. The girl closes her eyes. A handful of red petals are thrown over her. Then, from within his armour, he pulls the thin bone knife. Its colour rendered a moody orange by the firelight. The enchantment continues, with the shaman's voice reaching up an octave. He lifts the knife up. For the world to witness it. Again, the crowd contracts, all the bodies rushing in with hands shaking. Then they bow and retreat.
The old man takes the bone dagger into his right hand and with the left he draws a circle on the girl's stomach. He makes a motion with the weapon, a stabbing movement down toward her belly button. More words are spoken loudly into the darkness. He makes the movement again but this time his arm falls without any real malice. The old man slumps over. All strength lost, muscles failing him. His head lands on the girl's waist. She jumps in surprise, not sure of his meaning. But it is quickly evident to her that the chief is not being perverse or wanton. She sees his empty eyes, his lack of inner light. The man is dead.
Muscles fail, legs give way under the weight of the upper body. The new corpse tumbles over.
All around the revellers scream in shock. Their movements continue momentarily. Some break away from the crowd and attend to their chief. Others, lacking purpose, become still. They just watch as havoc surrounds them. One hunter leaps from the melee. He steps over to the shaman's body. Peering over the shoulders of the care givers, gaining a sight of his master's pallid face. With that he roars in pain and disgust. The torch he holds is thrown to the floor. And his spear is taken in hand.
With two fast leaps the hunter is at the young girl's side. She sees him coming, eyes growing wide. The man looms over her. The spear is held up high above his head, then with all his might it's thrust down. Down into her soft, flat stomach. The tip tears through the flesh and muscles. He pulls it out. From the hole bulges a piece of the girl's intestine and a large spit of blood. The wailing doesn't start until he penetrates her the second time. Hands move down to protect her belly. The crazed hunter stabs them too, metal spear head plunging with ease through her palms and gut. Whether in shock or simply stupefied by it all, she suddenly feels the thing inside her and lets out a hellish scream. The sound of fear and fright. Piercing to the ear and disturbing to the heart. The spear is ripped out of her again. The pressure from her stomach muscles forces her organs out of the tear in her skin, onto the table. Blood washes across the surface. It courses through the holes and feeds the ground below.
Some of the villagers run to stop the hunter. They pull at his arms. Grip him by the throat and tug him away. But he is strong. With fervour he forces them off him and makes for the girl again. His face and arms speckled with crimson dots. Both hands hold his spear, raising it over his head and slamming the thing into the pit of her belly. This time, his maniacal power causes the spear to pass through her. Grazing her spine and hitting the stone surface underneath. The weapon shatters. Or at least the shaft of it does. Breaking apart in his fists. More hunters leap from the crowd. They swaddle the crazed man with their arms and pull him away. He tries to fight them off. Crying out with rage.
Now a woman steps over to the young girl. She takes her hand. And instantly starts to cry. The girl coughs. Little red spots appear around her face. Her screams reducing themselves to groans. Groans leading to laboured wheezing. She looks over to the woman. Face growing paler by the second.
"Are we saved mother?" the girl mumbles. The old woman leans over to kiss her forehead. Then she whispers something into the girl's ear.
After this, the girl loses her fight with the darkness. It descends on her, making her eyelids heavy. Making her feel calm, serene. Taking away the fear. The angst. Her eyes roll over. One final cough punctuates her life. Leaving the mother to moan and cry, alone in the dark.
+ + + + +
No more song, no more dance. No fervent chanting or banging of drums. The villagers walk along in near silence. Making their way back to the village with two fewer members. The hunters, formally so brave and strong, hang their heads in sorrow. Mothers and grandmothers pray silently to their gods, thanking them for not harming their own families.
From the highest point in the canopy comes the sound of rain patting on leaves. At first it's subtle, quiet. But the rain soon comes in heavy. The villagers are already in a state of shocked despondency. They have seen a lot this day. With the rain arrives a discovery, a new form of shock, bringing with it an emotion close to terror. When they realise that their ritual, their rite, has failed. The shaman had not completed the ceremony. The hunter had not performed any of it, except the bloodletting.
They all look up, into the sky, to see this rain. It was not unknown for storms to gather quickly in their little valley but not this quickly. And none of them had rain like this. It’s brown. Like the reddish type of brown you get from rusting iron. Gritty too, with the odour of decay.
People start to groan. Some yell out to the gods. Pleading with them for salvation. Tired women cry. Panicked men shake with fear.
From the village, Malaika hears them. She had not joined the fanatics. But she sees the rain and its foul colour. She knows that something is wrong. Fear drives her back to the chief's hut. The paraffin lamp is taken, along with her father's hidden alcohol.
Then, into the night she runs. Out of the village. Out through the gates, before any of the revellers can see her. Out and away from the madness. Toward anywhere but there.
+ + + + +
Dust clouds roll across the plateau, spiralling like tornados. The parched earth giving up and taking to the air, making it impossible to tell where either earth or sky begins. And in this murky mist of dirt, shadows move.
Things trudge along slowly. Grumbling. Huge and cumbersome. Like oversized beetles crawling up a blade of grass. All in a line. Atop some are beacons, firing beams of bright light into the dust storm. They reach a high metal fence and halt. A gateway and a large metal arm stand in their way.
From one of the hulks tumbles a large ape like creature. It's a male. The male yelps in dismay. Gathering himself up, then proceeding to kick the metal beast. From the dust cloud, another one steps. Offering a small electronic device to the angry man.
After they howl at each other for about twenty seconds, the angry human wipes a small card across the later man's device. They turn around and head in opposite directions. Angry man climbs back into his hulk and brings life to the beast. Behind him a long row of similar hulks await. They let out a few blasts from their horns and roll through the gate.
Inside the compound the storm dissipates slightly. Its sheltered position between the two limbs of the mountain behind was especially welcoming today. Within its expanse lay all that a human can ever need. Food, drink and company. And more besides. For the men in the long line of hulks, it was like a pilgrimage. It was salvation. Not to say they were pious of course. These men were hard workers, dependable even. But at this point in their travels, any one of them would gut you for a hot shower and some warm food.
They pull up. Lights cut out. The grumbling stops. Groups of men jump down from the metal hulks and wonder off into the storm. The wind forces them to walk at strange angles. It throws fine pieces off earth and stone at their bare parts. A few of them form a larger pack. Six to be precise. All medium to full size males.
The pack heads off toward the only bright, visible object in their periphery. They all see it, a large luminous red wire that spells out the word "saloo." Into the clouds they hurry. With heads bowed for protection against the biting wind. They are completely oblivious when the luminous wire in the sky flickers and changes to say "saloon."
The group rushes up to the area below the flickering light. A set of double doors beckon them. From the wilderness they have arrived. Stepping into a still environment. Calm and quiet compared to the furious storm outside.
A long bar runs along the wall on their right. The wall on the left has booths and at the back there's a small dance floor with jukebox. A door leads off from the dance area to the WCs. Not much of an establishment. Yet it holds all the items needed for a good time. Behind that long bar reside many, many forms of intoxicant and in that jukebox hide the tunes needed to feel normal again.
Each man approaches the bar. They call out to the drinksmith. He greets them and takes orders gladly. Filling up glasses quickly and doling them out to the workers. The drinks are finished momentarily. A few of the group dash off to the WC while another demands a large purchase of alcohol. When the men come back with empty bladders, they are happy to see sets of pints waiting for them on the bar. Still cold and refreshing. More glasses are emptied. Soon the place is littered with them.
+ + + + +
Hours later, music pumps from the small speakers around the dance floor. Colourful lights flash in time with the beat. The saloon has slowly filled. Most of the booths house a gang of drinkers. The seats that attach to the bar are all taken. The travellers have slowed their consumption of liquids now. The group of six males laugh and cheer with merry disregard.
"Serious! He ran up to me, started speaking, then he barfs all down the door of the truck. All I heard was "The vibrations! The vibrations!" then bleurgh!"" One of the men shouts to his friend, the barman, "It was fuckin' madness! Only god knows what that sucker had been taking! Too much wacky-tabacky I reckon!"
The barman chuckles. The type of reflex laugh that derives not from feeling humorous but from feeling the need to appear humorous. He does not want to deter the drinker but he has seen too much vomit to find it funny. From over his shoulder he hears the phone ring. Relief suddenly, a chance to move away from this dying conversation. The phone is quickly answered.
From down the line he hears more orders: “A person has been seen vaulting the fence and making their way to the compound. Get out there and look for the intruder. Take a weapon.”
The barman tries to argue but is quickly rebuked. He puts the phone down and returns to the drinkers with a puzzled look on his face.
"What’s up bro'?" Asks the drunk.
"Intruder in the compound. I'm 'sposed to go look for him. I ain't going out in that shit. Tell the guys there. Get 'em to take a walk." The barman points at the other drinkers. When asked they refuse outright. Some laugh at the thought. The message gets passed down the bar. Each patron giving an excuse, until the last man is asked. He shrugs and says: "I don't think so."
"Come on you pussy! Just take a quick look see!" a drunkard yells. The other drunks turn to gawp at the little man at the end of the bar. His shirt was different to theirs. White and clean. And he was drinking lemonade. An easy target for these hard workers. They cajole him, shouting obscenity after obscenity. The little man gives in.
"Okay, ye, fine, I’ll do it!" he manages to say over the drunks. Quickly, the barman thrusts a bat into his hands and motions towards the exit. After finishing the glass of lemonade, the smaller male accepts his task and leaves.
Out of the relative comfort of the indoors. Into the wilderness. Into darkness. Only it isn't quite as wild as the man expected. The winds have dropped. The evening seems to have calmed the weather. Dust clouds rush around him with no real threat. The lights of the compound visible now. Some flicker. You can see all the myriad of buildings, big and small. A car park with trucks and 4x4s lies before them. The roads, covered with sand and earth, run off into the night. And only the sound of wind registers in his ears.
The little man casts an eye over the whole area. Nothing moves or draws attention. A muffled roar of laughter is heard from the saloon. He lets out a sigh. Then the man squats and picks up a small stone. With his left hand he throws it up into the sky. When it falls he swings at it with the bat.
The rock fails to connect. Dropping back onto the ground with a dull thud. He takes it up again, throwing it similarly to his first try. The wild swing hits the stone but the connection isn’t clean. Through the dusted wind, up into the heavens, sailing on the breeze. Then down, down quickly. The stone tumbles from the air into the car park. Meeting the bonnet of some estate squarely. Alarms start to chirp, lights flash too.
"Not cool," grumbles the little man, turning to the double doors. He lunges away from the scene. To relative safety. Then he jumps in fright.
A crack of gunfire. It echoes from the cabins to his right. Shock grips him. The bat is held up in defence. He hears a shout, commanding obedience. The aggression was notable. One of the guards has spotted someone. His commands are shouted out again, louder this time.
The little man, who was peaceful and calm only minutes before, is caught in the grip of fear. It's icy, cold fingers wrap around him, sending a sharp shock up his spine. Like an electrode had been attached to his nerve endings. He breathes in short rasps. Similar to some poor, unfortunate fauna, trapped in a cage, waiting to die. Chemicals release from the body's glands. Readying him. Providing him the rush needed to escape.
This fear driven response, linking him with his past as a beast, comes in waves. They crash against his mind. Forcing logic out. Crumbling the foundations, knocking down the walls of his psyche. The years of programming, from his culture, his parents, his education, fall away. Leaving behind the core of the man. The base urges. The primary instinct. The need to survive.
Over the top of his own hysteria, he hears another voice. Feminine yet harsh. Both soft and strong. It cuts through the malaise in his mind. Calming him. Supporting his rational, human parts.
The need to run is gone. A greater need supersedes it. With her words still humming in his ears, he runs to the scene. Past the car park, with alarms still calling out, around the corner of the closest cabin, into the darkened alleyway. The smell of spent bullets hits him first. Sweet, tangy and acrid. But strangely moreish. This is before he sees the security guard.
Stood, rigid in an attack position. Gun pointed down the alley. Eyes trained on a pile of cardboard boxes. The man reacts as he sees the shadows move around him, quickly glancing over his shoulder to check. A small nod from the little man shows understanding of the situation. The guard nods back.
"Come out here! Show me your hands! I know you hear me, stand up." the guard shouts with less animosity than before. Having another man at his side makes his job a lot easier. A partner of sorts. He motions at the boxes with the tip of his gun.
"Go, go over. I've got your back."
"What!?" mouths the little man.
"Move now!" grunts the guard, his anger rising again. He stares hard at his partner, asking questions of his manhood with only a look. The little man lifts his bat, ready to swing and walks down the alley. Terror bubbles up in him. The cold hand of fear runs its fingers down his back again.
At the boxes, he slows. The final step will reveal the source of his fear. Bat ready to swing, face turned away slightly, he moves around them.
The darkness is pierced by bright eyes. They reflect the moon's glow like a still ocean. Wide in fear, shimmering with tears. The little man lowers his bat. Fear evaporates. Replaced with wonder.
"Hi," speaks the little man, "don't be afraid"
He offers his hand. There's no response. So he drops his bat and holds up his hands in a gesture of peace.
The thing in the darkness moves slowly. Growing from a small, shaking mass of darkness to a tall, thin shadow. It steps from the gloom. Light distinguishes its features instantly. Before the men stands a young woman. Clothed in the fashion of the local tribes. She wears a choker of leather, imprinted with patterns, with a small white stone at its centre. And in her hand she holds a bottle of whiskey, with the words "Finest Kentucky Bourbon" visible on the label.
The little man smiles faintly as he takes in the woman. She is sad and quite drunk, it's night time and there's a dust storm blowing but he can still see her purity. Her grace. She was not buxom or voluptuous. There was no sign of her character or personality. Yet he is left in awe.
+ + + + +
Lights flicker into life. A small room with a table and two chairs becomes illuminated. The door swings open. Two men hold the young woman by her arms. She struggles, to no avail. Trying to work her way free of these louts. The men laugh with derision.
She’s pushed down onto a chair and left. Door slammed and locked. Through its circular window the men make rude gestures. Their taunts and giggling are still audible as they walk away. Leaving the girl to stew. Tears pool under her eyes, her lower lip trembles. She looks around at the bland holding cell. A wooden table, with two metal chairs. No comfort is to be found.
After nearly an hour in the room, a man appears at the door. Bringing both relief and tension. She greets the sight of another human but dreads what it may do to her. He is large and powerful. Wearing clothes synonymous with the armed forces. The man steps into the room, seating himself across from the girl. A stack of papers are dropped on the table and a thin metal pen is pulled from the large man's shirt pocket.
"Good day to you miss. Now, I’m going to ask you some questions. I need you to answer them for me. Okay?" the man scribbles something on the top sheet of paper before looking up at the girl.
"Well?" he asks. "Are you ready?"
The girl hears his words but they mean nothing to her. He speaks in the tongue of the oppressors, not her native language. Not the language of the locals. She tries to speak but the man holds up a hand to stop her.
"You don't speak English? Well, well, well. What am I going to do with you eh?" he sighs. A small hand radio is pulled from the man’s belt. He presses the call button and asks for a translator to be sent. The operator confirms the order and rings off.