The Assin village was quickly becoming a grave. The skulls of babies hung on trees like hardened fruits, and hundreds of bodies filled the only river in the village. Amanda heard stories of people killing their Assin neighbors, soldiers raping pregnant women and murdering scores of Assins. She didn’t flinch when she saw a truck carrying hundreds of Assin bodies; it was the new normal.
Many Assins had fled to Kikusi, the nearest city to the village, while others flocked to churches and school buildings. Local radio journalists were preaching to listeners about the various ways to kill. International journalists littered the streets occasionally with the aim of photographing the women and children who looked the most hungry or sad, and would then return to the convoy of United Nations peacekeepers to eat their lunches or retreat to their hotels in Kikusi.
It had been a week since Aunty Miren died and since then, Amanda rarely left the house but always kept a close eye on Kofi. She told him that his mother had gone on a long trip, and became used to creating storylines anytime a gunshot or scream interrupted the village’s new silence. It was only after Kofi fell asleep that Amanda cried, rocking back and forth and staring into nothingness.
The only bright part of her days was Asamoah’s visits. He was always very careful because he knew that it could be disastrous if the soldiers saw them together. They trusted each other even though they knew they shouldn’t, and spent long hours behind the house talking about music, the weather – anything but war. Other times they would sit in silence (keeping matters about war safely in their minds), not bothering to fight the chemistry which had developed between them.
On one of their usual afternoon meetings, Amanda and Asamoah talked over the silence of the village.
“Do you remember when you caught me at your house?”
“Yes, you were spying...” he teased.
“Mr. Asamoah! Tell the truth, I was not spying, I was just...checking.”
“You are always so curious, Amanda, and that is what I love about you.” She remained silent as emotion replaced the humor in their conversation. She smiled at him, seemingly calm, but had she been a cartoon character, she would have had hearts as eyeballs.
“What is going on here?” a voice asked and fear froze Amanda’s heart. “Lie on the floor NOW!” Amanda and Asamoah tentatively obeyed.
The soldiers then called Asamoah a traitor and attacked him. While on the ground, Amanda shook with fear, in synch with the blows and kicks the soldiers fired at Asamoah. When she heard him groan in pain, her muscles clenched and stiffened as though she were the one being beaten.
One of the soldiers held her down, swinging a club at her anytime she yelled Asamoah’s name. Fueled by Amanda’s pain, the soldier slashed Asamoah’s left cheek with the machete, and blood gushed out and stained his gray shirt. After Asamoah could no longer resist, the soldiers dragged him away.
Amanda was on the ground stiff with fear, as she saw the blood trickle down his cheeks, his swollen left eye and limp body. She looked at him and he looked back, and she knew he wanted to return to the prior moment as much as she did. Then Amanda could no longer see Asamoah and her heart sank slowly. Loneliness was a toxic gas suffocating her.
There was little food left in the house, and she could only feed Kofi once a day. She always kept him inside, so he would not have to witness the cruelty from the soldiers. His skin was now cracked and he had lost the glow in his cheeks. Amanda hated the times she said No when he asked for food or worse, when he asked for his mother.
Three days after the soldiers had taken Asamoah, Amanda packed her belongings. There was no more food in the house, so she had been thinking about a plan to leave with Kofi for days. The night was perfect for her escape: thick fog was like a translucent blanket and it would be difficult for the soldiers to notice them. It hid any traces of the stars.
As she packed her clothing, Amanda decided to write Asamoah a note, hoping that someday he would return to see it.
For the first time I felt alive,
Death is now the past,
and you are my present.
I wish we could last,
but into the future we must dive,
And you will always be the reason I live.
While Kofi nestled in her arms, she walked away from the only home she had ever known, attempting to obliterate painful memories so she could focus on the future. When she had temporarily placed the memories safely at the back of her mind, she realized that it was the first time in a long time that she felt alive.