I have known for months it was coming. Seven seasons of rain since my parents died, it is time for it to happen. The blood staining the cloth is not the sign of the godsí preparation for my marriage as it is for many girls. For me, it is only the sign that I have one more thing to fear if the soldiers come in the night.
Iíve been safe so far. No man has even looked my way Ė an orphan too young to interest them. My hut has been neglected, my brother and I left in peace to try and scrape a life from the dust and floods of Mudama. Kadokechi is not much protection, though he is older, but my youth has been a shield.
He has taken to drinking in the last year. He told me when I was seven that he would never touch the liquor because he knew he had to take care of me. Then the wars came and he was forced to hide from the soldiers who kidnapped young men from villages while we slept. He and others from our village hid in the jungle for two months while the raids happened. When he came back, he was changed. He said he had seen what happens to those who are captured, and he wanted the memories out of his head. It was then he started drinking.
The women, they tell me I should be thankful Kadokechi was not taken from me in the night raids. They tell me I should be grateful I have been protected so long. Some say I should cut my face or break a leg to make myself less appealing. Others say the soldiers prey on those who are deformed or crippled. I know they mean well, but their advice is always given with their children in their voices. If I am attacked, their daughters are safer. I must choose my own means of protection.
There is a dragging pain in my belly, unlike the familiar stabs of hunger. It is a constant, terrifying reminder of my peril. Worse than the attack would be the illness sure to follow, and a diseased child to remind me daily of my shame.
A missionary came to our village months ago. He said that we never need fear again if we believed in a man named Jesus. He said this belief could drive away demons and keep us safe even with revolutionaries everywhere and children being abducted every night. He said we should stop cutting ourselves to protect against those who come to use us as they choose. I believed him. I didnít burn my face as I had planned. I tried to find Kadokechi to tell him, but he was too drunk to stand and angered by my insistence. I went back, filled with hope despite the bruises Kadokechiís drunken hands left on my face and arms. My heart was at peace when I prayed to this Jesus. In my childís eyes, this meant I would not have to fear the day of my transition to adulthood.
I hate the smell of blood. It conjures phantoms of destruction and pain and death. I am surrounded by it, for there is not enough water for me to waste on cleansing until it is past. Alone with this terrible smell, it is hard to remember the Jesus the man spoke of. Does Jesus know this fear? Sometimes it seems as if the missionary couldnít understand or know.
He said he would go back and tell people in America about us, about how we live and the fear that forces us to do so. He spoke of ending the night raids and making it safe for us. He left, and we have been waiting for his return over a year. He said people in America care about us and want to help as brothers and sisters in this Jesus. He promised he would bring help, just like Jesus brings help to our hearts. I believed him as I believed Jesus, and yet...
Days pass and there is talk of more raids. Kadokechi is drunk almost constantly, and when he is not, he tells me I am a fool to believe the missionary. I still pray he returns as he promised. As the fear of bearing a child of violence grows, I canít help but wonder.
Was he lying?
Authorís Note: Not every child has the privilege of an adolescence spent in America. www.invisiblechildren.com
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