Choice is a word they use for good things, here – choice day, choice person, choice book … but the word haunts my every dream and nightmare. My choice was not good and I live every day demanding of my God why I could not see past one day’s misery … why he didn’t warn me. Why, why, why.
The Day of The Choice began, for me, when the screams of my little sister belched down the school corridor. “They’re here! The men are here! They take mummy and daddy. They’re here!”
I knew what men and dashed from my desk to see my little Amena scampering towards me, arms and legs flailing as adults followed in a crowd, their bodies fuzzied by the sun’s scorching through the arched window behind them. When people yell that they’re protecting you, it’s always protection for them; for their shame, their cowardice. Never for us. Never ever for us.
I scooped my sweet, howling sister up and ran like a gazelle from a herd of lions, dodging many others with their arms outstretched. Our protection was our family, our neighbourhood, not these others. We fled down the street, around bomb craters, up back alleys and secret places only us children knew. Not the direct route home but the one to avoid the baying adults.
The gravel driveway had been torn up, a windstorm of flaying jeeps, probably, and the front doors hung open, one handle broken. I stepped inside onto the cool tiles, put panting Amena down and listened. Through the silence I heard a childish wailing. Our mother, oh Sweet Jesus, our mother. The guest room was empty of people but the floor was littered with rubble. The walls were blackened and much was missing. The wailing called me on and Amena followed, her tiny fist in mine.
The kitchen was empty and the wailing, I realised, was above us. We dashed up the stairs, Amena stumbling, me picking her up, and into our parents’ room. We stopped. My heart stopped. My brain stopped. All of my eighteen years slammed into me and I felt helpless, childlike. I turned Amena out into the corridor and slammed the door shut. She screamed but I couldn’t let her in.