SOMETHING ABOUT CHILDREN and flowers and birds. They are all fragile and beautiful. They attract a second glance from every eye and their delicate nature calls for tenderness in handling them.
So it was for little Zelda, living with a hoard of kind relatives in a tight family where warmth ran smooth and care was guaranteed. She romped onto grandma any time discipline came over a misstep.
Then one day, everything changed.
For a child unaware of global or even politics and even protected from local ones, nothing made sense of the events that happened overnight. From the depths of sleep in her cozy room and warm bed, Zelda remembers her mother pulling her from her bed, wrapping her with a large duvet and stuffing her in the laundry baskets with a severe warning not to make any noise or movement no matter what she heard or saw.
She vaguely remember the stark terror on her mother’s face before she covered the laundry basket and committed her to darkness
Before the seven-year-old could wonder at the bizarre incident, the house shook with a booming sound, followed by what she was to learn later was heavy machine gun fire.
Silence followed for a few seconds before crushing of doors and screams followed. Then single gunshot sounds punctuated by more screams till after an eternity of terror which in fact was less than ten minutes, the house went quiet.
Then someone who must have been wearing heavy boots burst into Zelda’s bedroom. She knew it because the laundry basket was behind the door and when the door was pushed opened, it slammed on the laundry basket hard. She froze.
“Nothing here. We got all of them” A rough voice announced
Heavy boots matched away, after banging the door to her bedroom shut with such a force, the room vibrated. Zelda felt something warm run down her crumpled legs as squeaky sounds of the swinging door that had come off its hinges from the ruthless bang.
Zelda did not know how long she stayed or lived in the laundry basket. Out of the paralysis of her mother’s terror ridden warning, she dared not defy. Out of the stranger’s reckless statement about getting everybody, she didn’t feel secure enough to venture out to check. She was stuck in the darkness of the laundry basket. For how long, it would be determined well over 72 hours later, when the stench from the bloated bodies of her immediate family attracted stray dogs from the deserted street.
One sauntered right into her bedroom and sensing something, the dog tipped over the laundry basket. With fright held in check for so long, Zelda let out a scream beyond her years as the huge dog yelped in its own fright. She wouldn’t stop screaming even after uniformed officers with weapons at the ready came over to where she was howling like a rabid fox. She fought them with all her might when one of them tried to touch her. She understood nothing except screaming and gun shot and the memory of the voice declaring they had got all in the house.
Out of sheer exhaustion, Zelda must have passed out. When she next came to, she was in a hospital kind of facility with an Intravenous (IV) running through her left hand. She also felt extremely cold and empty of any emotion for the cold seemed embedded even unto her marrow.
“We are awake, are we?” a voice asked
Zelda turned to the direction of the voice and found a set of warm brown eyes looking at her with half a smile.
“Hello there” the man in uniform greeted
Zelda frowned. Where was she? Why was she here? And who was this stranger in military uniform? Confusion filled her young mind and it must have shown because the uniformed officer reached to adjust the IV as he continued to speak to her.
“You are safe now little one,” he had added
This time Zelda heard him from a distance as sleep took her away from this cold place to a dream house full of laughter and banter and play and fun. She was running up the stairs to her bedroom when the mother caught up with her and started stuffing her in the laundry basket. She burst out screaming and lashing out till she tore the IV from her hand leaving it bleeding before the uniformed male doctor or nurse came over and pinned her down.
Her entire body went into violent convulsions from extreme fear and sweat run rivulets down her small body. She had to be given a strong sedative to get her to quiet down and sleep.
It was the beginning of a nightmare like she has never thought of, dreamed of or even remotely imagined. Awake, she was afraid of the strangers who were always talking of patrol, red zones, and casualties and speaking and listening to some gadgets from their shoulders.
Sleep and wakefulness became inseparable. Nightmares and memories became intertwined. She could not eat or drink. She could not talk though once in a while she understood what those around her said.
Certain words seemed to be repeated around her bed, where because of convulsions, she was now strapped. Trauma. Genocide. Body count. Since she had lost speech between the laundry basket, the dog attack and the hospital, they had given her a name. Angel
Zelda lived inside her mind for so long that it became home and play ground and school all rolled into one.
School was another thing. Was she ever to go to school ever again?
Then one day, just like the night of the laundry basket, something changed.
A man came to see her. With him was a woman with a sing song voice like her grandmother’s though this one looked younger.
Zelda’s bed was surrounded by military men in fatigues with everyone’s attention split between the visitors and the tiny body on the bed.
“Sweet heart, you want to tell me your name?” sing song asked.
Zelda stared. She had long given up talking.
“Am told that they call you angel”
No word. No reaction.
“Well, Angel, I have come to take you away from this place to a another place where you will get better treatment.”
Fear shot through Zelda’s little frame like a current and having often lost control of bowels during such attacks, when she woke up next, she had pampers on. The shame of it burnt her to the core.
She was also in some motion. Sitting up a little, she saw sing song on one side of the low bed she was strapped on. Turning on the other side was a scene unbelievable. They seemed to be gliding above clouds in a speed she has never believed possible.
“We are in a plane Angel. Am taking you home,” sing song said
Zelda’s heart double tapped in her weakened stated. She wondered who this woman was and where was it she called home. But speech and tears were beyond her so she stared blankly at the speeding clouds below the plane. She slept some more.
Next time Zelda woke up she was in bed with a pink duvet covering half the bed. There were two other beds like hers with little girls like her in them. They were curled up in fetal positions as if by instructions. She turned. Sing song was there just observing her.
“Welcome to your new home Angel” she said with a smile that was absent from her eyes.
She closed her own eyes to delete the horror she felt from the vulgar smile.
And she was to know where home was in three days.
This was a home for children rescued from war zones.
That was the best news.
Each of the children aged from three to 11 had a duty to perform. And the duty involved being torn apart by an adult male while others watched.
Whatever they had fed her ensured she felt no pain even as she saw the bloody mess on the manhood of the old man who was had just raped her. She only vomited twice before she went into a convulsion that must have halted the assault. That was Zelda’s new home.
From a war zone straight to hell. That night, too like her room mates, she adopted the fetal position. The night mare of the laundry basket changed to the one of rape. And she hated the world and herself and everyone who was an adult. This deep sited loath of where she was and what was being done to her, took away all the dreams of childhood. In the void was this huge emptiness and trauma that no words could describe.
@Nancy Ndeke June 2020