“Sam..we’re out of food.” A voice as frail as a dragonfly's wing sang, gentle hands but quivery hands laid on my shoulders and shook me awake. The soft smell of jasmine and decaying livestock mingle, seeping through the thick wooden walls. “The markets are closed, they said they are also out of food.” The concern was evident in her trembling voice. A million thoughts rushed through my mind. Our worst nightmare has come true. The end was near I could feel it and this drought was going to kill us. I pushed those thoughts away and tried to clear my mind.
The delighted screams of young children rang in the small and hollow hallways, oblivious to the crisis that has clouded over our fragile country, ready to tear it apart, bit by bit. I sat up and rubbed my bleary eyes, trying to wake myself up. I looked out the window; my eyes wandered around the city wide as saucers, as they landed upon hundreds of decaying bodies rotting on the streets and the trees struggling to live, not a single green leaf in sight.
I quickly changed into my working attire and headed out the door. I stepped onto the front steps and the dry air stung my eyes, bringing me to tears. Fear became a tangible, living force that crept over me like a hungry beast, immobilising me; my brain, holding me captive. Goosebumps crept onto my arms at the thought of -
“No,” I told myself, pushing away those thoughts. It wasn't the time. I had to stay strong.
I adjusted the straps of my rucksack, the fabric worn and covered in a fine layer of dirt and grime. As much as I wanted to deny it, we were one of the lucky ones. One of the few that managed to survive.
“The lucky ones” I thought to myself, my throat tightened with unshed tears and burning anguish. Rather than breaking down right there, I trudged angrily through the sand and made my way to the city center, listening to the haunted cries of the dead.
Suddenly, I stopped cold in my tracks. I was at the base of a hill. The hill which once had gargantuan oaks and sycamores towering over the district like watchful guardians. The hill that adored an assortment of breathtaking flora and fauna of all colours and sizes. All of them swirling together forming an aurora of colours, like some imaginary place with no issues.
But it was just that. Imaginary.
Then, out of nowhere the peace and quiet were disturbed by screams of terror and cries of agony, ripping through the air excruciatingly slow, as if someone was dragging a blunt knife across their bare skin. I stood there hesitating. Glances darted around, my head turned as if looking for answers.
Shots were fired.
The gunshots rent the still air- too powerful to be a backfiring car. The noise reverberated in the ears and rang out far over the hills. Moments later, more gunshots came thick like winter hail. The tin projectiles cutting through arid and dusty air, oblivious to their purpose. Each one rips into something, be it inanimate or living, spilling tree sap or blood with equal feeling. My heart began to hammer against my chest, every muscle in my body screamed at me to flee, but I remained frozen. I hurried and examined the scene for shelter; I threw myself into a ditch, I slid down bringing my knees to my chest, but the fear seemed to rise behind my eyes.
All the once green lands of the Earth were no more than ash and sand. The air was heavy with the smell of burnt flesh and smoke hung in a haze that partially obscured the blood-red sun. The cities stood like skeletons, barren wastelands, empty now that the police had taken whatever the drought did not. Even the oceans evaporated and turned into semi-stagnant pools of death and decay. The skies were desolate, no birds flew or sang. And all while the oppressive heat rained down like the breath of hell.
Moments of silence passed by and there was a comforting stillness on the outside. I crawled out, meticulously scanning the scene. I tried to stay as close to the ground as possible, keeping my eyes on the path ahead of me, concealing the setting around me.
As I approached my neighbourhood, night had fallen and enveloped the city in a blanket of darkness. I scurried down the path towards the house, my shoes slapping against the steps that led to our front door. Once I got there I felt my heart plummer suddenly, the dull pain of grief weighing down on my chest like a thousand bricks. The ache in my limbs, miraculously gone, and was replaced with numbness I had never known.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.
Against the dark night sky all I could see was the crumbling walls that were nothing more than a silhouette of some previous existence. The smashed glass that was once a window lay on the ground like a thousand daggers. I pushed the door open to reveal the wreckage that was my house. The homely and cozy ambience was snatched and no longer within my reach. Every room had been violated, some very little- books thrown around. Some were demolished- our bedroom had been torn apart with our clothes and other belongings thrown all over the place.
I went through the house frantically looking for Alice in the remains of our home. I called out for her, yelling her name in sheer horror and despair.
But I was left alone, nothing but silence accompanied me. It was the kind of thick silence that kills, engulfing me into its embrace and gnawing at my insides. This type of silence seeped through my pores, like a poison slowly paralysing me.
In the half-light I sat in misery, mourning the loss of not only my home but also my best friend and companion. I had to leave, it was no longer safe for me to stay there. I traveled with just the clothes on my back and took nothing else with me. I had no food in my system and it had been hours since I last had a drink of water.
I sauntered back into the heat, dragging my feet across the ground. At that point all of my energy seemed to have diminished and every ounce of my body seemed to weigh me down, tugging at my fear almost begging me not to go. I paid little mind to it; the rustling of my trousers seemed to give me some sort of satisfaction.
I knew I had arrived at the harbour when I saw the large group of people moving together like a multi-headed beast. The salty breeze slapped me every few seconds making sure I got onto the boat. All around me I could hear sounds of children wailing and their mothers trying to provide a source of comfort.
I stepped onto an overcrowded dinghy. I had never been on a boat before and I was terrified by the sheer number of strangers crushing me into the back of the boat. I found a small spot and sat down. I brought my knees to my chest trying to minimise the space I took up. I glanced up at the sky, it had been an hour or so since we left the harbour and the panic had calmed down a bit, but as that thought came to mind the little raft began to sway violently and it made a dangerously loud creaking sound as the waves thrust forward in great amounts of power. The waves churned swallowing the boat whole with all of its contents. It just seemed to be that luck wasn't on our side.
This was the point when complete chaos had erupted. People were screaming until their voices were hoarse. Everyone moved to one side of the boat; the side that was still above the surface of the water. Catastrophe was let loose as the waves bounced off the wrecked raft, only to attack it again. I watched as people flung themselves off of the boat. I froze. Before I had time to process the situation my body was plunged into the dark waters. Salty seawater gushed down into my lungs, causing a surge of intense pain to ricochet off my ribs and around my torso. The water filled my lungs and I could feel the blood pounding behind my eyes. I desperately clawed at the water, trying to shoot to the surface while my lungs swamped with slimy liquid and I convulsed uncontrollably. The dark waves churned threateningly, I held onto a wooden plank to keep afloat. My breaths were agonisingly painful and terribly short. I looked around and watched as the heads bobbled against the surface. Children were weakly trying to push themselves out of the water with their arms and legs; some made it and some did not and they sank to the bottom.
It was deafeningly quiet.
All motion ceased. All the energy had seeped out of my body. I had nothing left. I was debilitated and completely empty, devoid of even the will to exist. I wanted to waste away into nothingness, to disappear. I was broken, torn into pieces, and crushed. My body was shutting down. I had nearly stopped breathing. I could no longer feel my heart beating. I closed my eyes and tried to accept my impending death. I visualised Alice’s face. I wished I could see her face one more time before I died. She was speaking to me calmly in my head, telling me it was an illusion. There was no water, there were no floating bodies and there was a way out. I stopped hurting. I stopped shaking. I prayed with every ounce of faith I could muster that her voice was telling me the truth.
I opened my eyes but nothing except calm water remained. I felt the heavy blackness and hopelessness return. I listened to my shallow and raspy breathing. I looked over and out of the sixty something people on the raft, only five managed to survive. We were the only ones still hanging on.
“Look!” A scratchy voice called out.
In the distance we could see a light flickering and many figures hunched over closely together. The light seemed to get brighter and closer. Soon we could hear their chatter and a dominant voice yelled at us to stay put. I felt the blackness and melancholy fade and subside. The little dinghy approached us and pulled us onboard. I looked down at my hands and they were wrinkly, exactly like a newborn’s. They wrapped us in a giant piece of cloth and after hours of sitting on a cramped and unsettled boat we arrived at our destination.
A shaky breath rattled within me as I began to scan what seemed like mountainous terrain rather than a small hill. My arms and legs screamed in protest, weighing me down almost like another warning sign. One I ignored again. The fatigue seeped into my limbs with every shuffle up the hill. Everything in me told me not to go to the top.
Yet I still ignored it.
We walked up together, we all supported one another. Mothers wrapped their babies on their backs and we made our way to the top, despite the fact that we were all physically and mentally exhausted. It was deadly silent, which I thought was unusual, but it was understandable.
Finally, the sun rose filling the sky with shades of orange and pink. Peach and magenta, amber and rose, radiating hope, a new beginning. Another chance to live. The start of a brand new day. Mellow blues and pinks blurred together in a silver mist. Even when the world was drowning in grief and hardship, the sky remained beautiful. That was the only thing that kept my hopes up- if the sky remained vivid and powerful then so could I. Once we reached the top, I felt a lump in my throat but I ignored it. I looked down admiring the new life ahead of me when I felt a hand grab my shoulder so violently that I fell to the ground. Armed men marched around hollering orders at us and separated us from the women and children. Then, they threw us into the back of a cold lorry and drove for hours, no one knew where we were heading and no one dared ask or even look in their direction until finally we came to a stop.
Dark, cold, empty, the room stood silently at the end of the corridor. The fluorescent lights flickered as the walls screamed out in pain, the lifeless shadowed figures curled up in corners of the cell, whispering their demented secrets. I carelessly dragged my feet across the floor, my baggy shirt pierced with holes and stained with blood hung from my bony figure. The guard removed my handcuffs and my skeletal fingers instantly clutched the cell bars trying to resist entering this new life. I screeched, rattled the bars, threw myself around, and shouted. I began kicking and throwing punches at the guards. They tackled me to the ground; restrained me and threw me into the cell, slamming the gated door.
I sat in the corner of the cell. My hands and feet were raw with blisters, I could see the skin scrape off and the fresh, red flesh underneath emerged. Without proper food or water, I knew I would not last long. The shackles around my ankles were heavy, and after the thirty hours, I had been sitting there with nothing to do no sleep had been permitted. My thoughts became random as the delirium set in and I had lost track of where I was; my mind was a surging perplexity. I no longer felt like a human being neither was I treated like one so living did not matter to me anymore. As I sat there contemplating what to do with this rush of fury, something caught my eye. Something so beautiful and charming, a bleary white figure came close to me and almost blinded me. She had a long white gown on and the more she moved closer the more her face seemed familiar to me.
It was her. Alice.
Her eyes shimmered in the light that came through the tiny vent, I could not just sit there so I reached my hand out to touch her but she was gone. Gone. She flew away. I stood up abruptly, I struck out at the overseer, one punch made all the stronger by the adrenaline in my system. The man crumpled to the floor and I stepped back, bewildered and unsteady on my feet. In minutes the other overseers were there in force and rained down bullets until my blood soaked the floor beneath me. As I took my last breath I felt at peace. Maybe even happy.