MARLENE DEE GRAY POTOURA
An entry in The Crocodile Prize
Thus embedded in her heart.
Dawn came as a curse.
Grandpa mist dragged crawlers in;
Not his fault though.
Her awakening that stood still
For rifles' rule she saw!
Came hurdling at her door.
Sleepy eyed, she witnessed;
Nest she called home destroyed.
Ransacked to ashes and ruins.
Scattered, as she fled and escaped.
Rifles fired over her head.
Mother held her daughters' hands
And wept, as the distance closed.
Fathers and their sons bounded;
As they bled and cried.
‘Leave our daughters be’
‘Leave our mothers be’
Rifles whacked them.
Brotherhood and colour
Came all to nothingness.
Bloodlines and dynasties
Disrespected and destroyed.
Love, respect and honour
Erased by the power of rifles.
NIERR escaped and ran.
She hid in the overgrown trunk of an old moileu (mother tree). She lay down and curled her skinny body into its enormous embrace. The tears streaked down her grubby brown cheeks.
Nierr looked up and saw sunbeams kissing the wet dew on the heart-shaped leaves swaying in the morning breeze. She focused her tear stained eyes and squinted in the morning sun. The leaves were happy because of another beautiful day. But a sad day for Nierr.
They had come just when dawn was approaching.
As Nierr turned on her woven mat, her nose twitched and she smelt their presence lurking behind the cocoa trees. Their stench rose like the rotting carcass of a wild boar.
As she woke her mother, they heard an owl like whistle. She quickly grabbed her singlet as the door burst open and the night crawlers invaded her home.
Gunshots rang out. Without second thought, Nierr climbed through the window and ran. As she fled, she realised that the mist was moving towards the cliff. She stopped, turned and looked back.
She could clearly see her kinfolk in the light of the bamboo torches. She saw her father, uncles, brothers and cousins whacked, butted and tied hand to foot. She heard her mother, aunties, cousins and sisters screaming and weeping.
A crawler jumped in front of Neirr, raised his rifle and took aim. Nierr turned and plunged into the mist. Somehow she landed at the bottom of a gully on the soft ferns growing near the creek.
She had no idea how she got there. But she was comfortably placed, as if by unseen hands. She stayed still and listened. Everything was quiet except for the crickets and calls of dawn birds
Neirr quietly made her way up the cliff through the overgrown shrubs. She crept stealthily back to her house.
There was no house.
Only embers and ruins.
Nierr fled. She ran through the forest sobbing and a voice rang in her head: Don’t be a coward, go find your family and be with them. You are nothing on your own.
She turned and ran back to the ruins of her beloved village. Her head reeled when she saw the blood stains on the grass where signs of struggle were still evident.
She called out, “Papa! Mama!”, but her parents were gone. She called her siblings one by one, but the place was empty.
She fell forward, gripping the grass with her skinny hands, and wept. As the sun rose her village was in ashes, her home was no more, her family had gone and she was alone.
Suddenly Nierr heard laughter. She jumped into the shrubs and once more dived down the cliff as the bullets rained above her. She fled through the forest, not knowing where she was going. She just wanted to get away from the rifles. Death came with them.
Here in the embrace of mother tree, she felt the sympathy of nature that listened to her sniffing without complaint. Moileu let her sit at her glorious feet. Moileu let her listen to the birds that sang in her branches. Moileu let her lively green leaves dance to cheer Nierr after her terrible ordeal. Moileu listened silently and hid her. Nierr closed her eyes and rested; made fugitive by her own kind and seeking a solace in another she never knew existed.
As the sun rose above moileu, Nierr’s stomach rumbled with hunger and her throat was dry from thirst. She crawled out of the tree’s safe embrace and crept down to some nearby water. She found a quiet pool and lay in it for a long time.
As she relaxed, her gaze caught a papaya tree with three yellow fruit.
She climbed the papaya tree and pulled each fruit carefully. She carried them to the pond and washed them. She found a strong twig and pricked the one with the softest membrane. Then she opened it and ate the juicy yellow contents.
She hid the other two that she would perhaps eat later.
After her stomach was filled and her thirst was quenched, Nierr slowly started walking back to the mother tree. Her eyes filled with tears as she thought of her family.
As she rounded a rosewood tree, a gun barrel was placed on her chest. She screamed and tried to run, but a crawler held her skinny hands behind her back while another one slapped her face and yanked the mimis (traditional necklace) from her neck.
Two other crawlers with rifles stood in front of her. She screamed again and struggled to free herself. Another crawler knocked her on the forehead. Her head reeled and she swallowed hard. The smell that hovered around the crawlers was unhygienic and Neirr felt suffocated.
Suddenly, the breeze – which had been calm - turned into the brutal rhythm of a wailing gale.
She could hear the tree’s branches whooshing and creaking angrily. The leaves were now doing a frenzied chant. The whole forest was angry.
Mother tree bellowed an angry moan and her old bark creaked, sending messages to her kin through boundless unseen roots. The tree clan agreed that grandfather tree, standing in front of the crawlers, should join the great earth of secrets.
In seconds known only to the secrets of the forest, grandfather tree was uprooted from the soil and its hard old trunk fell on the crawlers who were consumed by the hungry dirt. As grandfather tree fell, the twigs lifted Nierr and moved her to safety.
The wind subsided and turned into a cool sweet zephyr with a serene innocence.
The tree clan observed the rules of the four elements of earth when a five-year daughter of Eve wept under mother tree and found solace in the comforts of her great roots.
Because innocence forgets.