(written by adam ansel)
I would like to think to a certain extent that I am incapable of committing the same atrocities that lay before my eyes, but in all confidence I must admit, if I was in the same situation, if those same choices that were before them stood before me…
The day began overcast, high towers of rolling gray clouds blocked out any chance of the sun’s rays shining through. I walked along in the early morning dawn, passing dust-covered plant life and small ramshackle homes where scarcely clothed children played barefoot in the front yard, even at this hour of the day. The parents were nowhere to be seen; they had more important matters to tend to, tending to the crops, working so they would have enough money for food. The children were fine, even at a young age they learn to fend for themselves around here.
I could hear shouts in the distance, but that was typical music to my ears during my morning walks, usually just friends sharing morning greetings or enemies sharing early morning threats, and as usual – I ignored them.
A fine mist started to fall and my eyes glanced to the sky and as I expected the clouds had filled heavy and dark with rain and were soon going to unload themselves upon my head and any others who were out in the open at this time of day. I quickened my pace, not wanting to finish my walk soaking wet. I turned my eyes downward to my feet and watched them pass one another faster and faster, not quite a jog, but very similar. When it rains here, it really rains. The streets empty, there is not a soul to be seen and for good reason – if you get caught in a sudden rainfall, you will be wet the rest of the day because most likely the sun isn’t going to shine.
I walked around a corner the same way I did every morning and a scene of madness filled my vision. There in the middle of the road stood five men, with their backs towards me, armed with machetes, watching as another man, also holding one, raised his arm and brought it down with tremendous force. He did this over and over, and then my eyes flickered down to what he was striking and I saw it was a body. A body that had long given up any idea of protection, and lay limp, convulsing with every blow. Streams of blood ran in small rivers, criss-crossing this person’s dark skin. This man, whoever he had been was surely dead, but the assailant continued chopping and hacking away like he was slaughtering some awful beast. What could a person have done to deserve a mob killing like this? This thought filled my mind until I glanced at the side of the road and saw five other bodies, mutilated and barely recognizable as having been a human once. They were taking turns.
I turned to walk away, to leave them to their own course of justice or whatever one may call it, but one of them called out to me. I made the mistake of turning and I saw who it was. This man lived in the house next to mine, I greeted him almost every morning, he knew who I was as well, there was no getting away from this confrontation.
I walked towards them trying to keep my eyes averted from the bodies that I was passing, but still they took a mind of their own and kept glancing at the mangled corpses that lay beside me.
As I approached them the man I knew handed his machete to a partner and walked out to greet me.
“Good morning friend.”
I stood in silence.
My eyes met his; there wasn’t a trace of regret or confusion about what he was doing.
“What have they done?” I said.
“Then why are you doing this?”
“Listen. Long ago when people first came to this land, it was our people, people like you and me. Our ancestors settled here, they raised families here, they began this great nation. But then, people like these ones came along and ruined it all. Because they had more money, they thought they had more power, so they began oppressing us and now the time has come for their judgment.”
“These people are not oppressing you,” I said with anger rising inside of me. “They are living the same lifestyle as you, living in the same small homes as you, their children go to the same school, how can you say they are oppressing you?”
“They would, if only given the chance.”
I turned to walk away from him, but his hand reached out and grabbed the back of my shirt.
“My friend,” he said as he turned me around. “You are either with us or against us.”
Four of his companions joined him and circled around me.
A heard a scream and looked past the man I once thought of as good. Another of his companions was dragging a lady towards us. Utter fear was in her eyes. He drug her up to where we stood in the middle of the road and threw her at my feet.
My neighbor handed me his machete.
“Like I said, you are either with us or against us. So choose – kill or be killed. Today we have started a war against them and we will not stop until they have all left or are dead. And we will easily kill those that side with them, even if they are one of our own. Like you.”
I looked down at this woman, who had turned her face to the ground and then back up at the men surrounding me. Overhead a peal of thunder rumbled out and the rain that had been threatening to fall all morning finally came.
“Well friend, what is it going to be? Are you with us or against us?”
I looked at the machete that I held in my hand…
You see, the beast lies within us all, just waiting for a chance to come out and make itself known, and don’t say that you could resist it, for you don’t know what situations are going to come your way as you make your way through this life. You don’t know the choices the day will bring. Who’s to say if you will be the killer or the victim? Be honest with yourself. I have stood there, on the very spot where 15, 000 innocent people were brought together and slaughtered like some unhealthy race of livestock. I have seen what a human being persuaded by the wrong people is capable of doing. And I know that it made me sick, it made me sick to think that one person could do this to another. That they could do this to their fellow countrymen, to their neighbors and friends. But let’s face the truth, it happened.
When she woke up that morning, it was just like any other typical day. She scrubbed the floor first, then lit the charcoal and prepared some tea for breakfast. At first light she woke her sleeping child and while he got himself ready for school she finished the simple chores around their small home. After breakfast she walked him to the main road, said goodbye, and watched as he walked towards school. Not until he was out of view around the corner did she turn away.
When she arrived back at their home she gathered their soiled clothes and filled a basin with water and soap. And as she washed her mind drifted away.
She saw her son as a grown man, a doctor. He had finished his schooling, first in his class at university, and although he had come from a poor background, he had been offered a job in a large hospital in another country. When he told her what his salary was going to be, she nearly fainted. Would she leave home and come live with him there? Life was bound to be better. She was getting old, and tired, this would be the best way for her to spend her remaining days. Together with her son –
Voices coming towards her home awoke her mind from the dream she was enjoying. There was a group of men coming and the things they were saying…
Five men came into view, all holding machetes and with smiles upon their faces.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Yes,” one of them said, “you can come with us by your own will or we can take you with us by force.”
She dropped the shirt she was holding and made an attempt to run for her home, but one of the men caught her before she made it.
“I see that you are going to be a difficult one,” he said.
They led her along the path where just an hour ago she had led her own son to school and out onto the main road. Another man holding a machete stood guard over six other people who were kneeling in front of him.
The man leading her forced her onto her knees next to an old woman who had tears running down her face.
“Dear people,” the man who had been standing guard began to talk. “Long ago your ancestors came and invaded our home land and unfortunately our ancestors did nothing to stop them, but we are not like them. Today, we have started the campaign that should already be finished. Your race, and anyone that helps you will soon be gone and we will have our country back to ourselves.”
He looked at the other men who stood behind those that were kneeling. She was thrown to the ground and then pulled off to the side of the road, as were five of the others. Only the old woman was still left there, on her knees, helpless. The man stood in front of her and raised his machete and brought it down into her body with a resounding thump. The machete was raised to the sky and brought down again and again. The force with which it hit shattered her frail bones and brought death quickly. But these men did not stop there, death was not their ultimate goal, they wanted total decimation of the body, so they were unrecognizable as a person.
When he finished he looked at one of his partners and said simply, “your turn.”
This went on and one by one these men took their turn killing until a man came around the corner. She was the only one left; the man that had lain beside her was a bloody corpse in the middle of the road. She watched as they gathered around the man that had stumbled upon their massacre. He turned to leave, but they wouldn’t let him, the leader of the group wasn’t finished with him yet. Then the killer that stood beside her grabbed her by the hair and drug her towards where the rest of them stood. She was forced to the ground and they all gathered around her. The leader handed his machete to the man who had just been forced to join them. He looked first at the machete then down at her. She turned her face down into the dirt so she didn’t have to look at these evil men. She felt the first drops of rain fall upon her back and in between the rumbles of thunder she heard the leader of the group say to the new man:
“Well friend, what is it going to be? Are you with us or against us?”
What decision would you make? What decision would I make? Let us pray we are never faced with the circumstances that would force us to choose.
With a clang, the machete fell to the ground, bounced once, and then came to rest in the dirt.
Surprisingly, it’s not so much the things I saw that will stick with me in my everyday memory, those I can shut away into some dark recess of my mind. It’s the smell I can’t forget. It will haunt me for the rest of my waking days. The smell of death and decay, of rotting corpses, the scent of violence – unrestricted violence, that stench of what human beings are capable of doing to one another will always be with me.
The stench of what the beast within us all can do if unleashed.