Due to war scenes, reader discretion is advised.
Smoke spiraled from the ruins, almost obscuring the sun as it slipped over the horizon, daring to lighten a new day. Daring to make real the nightmare of the darkness. The rays reached long fingers through the rubble, touching me with a hint of warmth, prodding me to struggle to my feet.
I groped my way onto firm ground, a shroud of shock still draped over my brain. Around me loomed shapes that had once formed homes, now tumbled and broken, shifting and swirling in the choking smoke. The world had been crushed, as if by a massive foot intent on annihilating the Darfur people.
And I, was I the only one who had escaped? All around me lay those I loved--my family, my neighbors. I did not look at them, did not want to see them so helpless, ripped in pieces by the anger of the Janjaweed. I was alone. So alone it scared me.
As I turned to look around, I noticed my left arm flop loosely against my side. The shoulder twisted out, a piece of flesh torn away. I felt no pain. Nothing but fear, aloneness. Drop by drop, my blood joined those around me. I sunk to my knees. This then, was how it would end.
Then I saw him. At first it was only a movement, a dark shadow somehow different than the churning smoke. Then he materialized--a little boy. A person! I stumbled toward him, toward that symbol of life, of hope. He cried out to me and I saw it was my cousin, little Bashir.
We held each other and wept. Two boys, two children that had become men in that moment, in that darkness that would last despite the sun’s steady rise in the eastern sky.
It was Bashir who thought to wrap my arm, stemming the flow of blood and securing my arm in a crude sling. The pain began then, wakening my senses and urging me to get out of there, to leave the place of death behind us.
“We must go to Grandfather, young cousin.” I put my good hand on his head. He stood so sturdy and strong, despite the cuts and bruises that marked his dark face. Despite the devastation that surrounded us. I pulled him close. “We must leave. Go to Grandfather in Chad where the Janjaweed do not come. We will be safe, Bashir, safe if only we can reach the Sudan-Chad border.”
Before we left we pulled canvas over those around us, straightening the dresses of the women and girls. We covered the evidence of rape and anger, giving the bodies the respect that had been wrenched from them in the waves of men who had preceded the bombs.
I did not let myself feel. Did not let myself remember. It was better that way. Better to only move forward, never look back.
I was trembling by the time we reached the dirt road. My lungs fought to find breath in the haze around us, and I wavered, struggling to steady my feet. Bashir reached warm hands to wrap around mine, whispering in a voice that was tiny, yet somehow strong. “We must pray, Turabi. We must pray to God to help us.”
I let him pull me to my knees, there in the middle of the dusty road. “Whom do we pray to, Bashir? Do we pray to our gods, or to the One the mission teaches of--the Western God whom they say will save us if we only ask?”
“They say He is not a western god.” Bashir looked at me, his dark eyes earnest in childish faith. “They say He is God of all. It is He we must pray to, cousin. Only He can reach us here.”
So our voices rose to Him, there in the middle of the African plains. He was new to us, yet I felt somehow we were not new to Him, that He had been waiting for this time, waiting for us.
A new kind of life began to stir in my heart and I knew I had been given a gift. Indeed, two gifts, for one was a small presence by my side, and the other a presence in my soul.
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