by Lawrence Lefcort
I can see the Savages’ dwellings from my backyard. They lie in the distance just beyond the barrier and up the dusty, barren hills. They are so close, my spine crawls. I can practically hear their wild goats cackling from across the valley in the desert breeze. The Savage barrier is thirty feet high, but I wish it were higher. I wish I didn’t have to look at them. The enemy.
Ever since our people returned to this land, our land, they’ve tried to destroy us, to drive us out. This is our home but the Savages don’t want us here. That is why we need to keep them out. We have no problem with them, actually. And if they would be willing to live in peace with us, we would gladly do so as well.
Before the first war, the Savages were offered their own country by the Other World, but they rejected it – because they didn’t want to share it with us. They were more intent on annihilating us instead of living side by side. When our people first returned here, the Savages were living in swamps and squalor. Malaria and disease were rampant. We transformed the dry and barren land into a fruitful oasis. But the Savages weren’t very impressed by that.
Eighty years ago, during the first war, after the Savages attacked us, we had no choice but to expel them from their villages. We couldn’t have them living among us any more. Our armies told the non-fighting Savage inhabitants that they must leave their homes for a few days, until the fighting stopped, and then they would be allowed back. Our armies guided them to the border, and let them flee behind enemy lines to reunite with their brothers and sisters in Savage territory. What army in the Other World would have behaved in such a kind and moral way?
Anyway, it was better this way: separation. Of course we couldn’t let them return and reclaim their dwellings after the war ended, even though they had lived there for who knows how many generations. They had lost that right. Besides, we needed those homes to house our own refugees who were arriving by the boatload daily from the Other World. The Other World also wanted to destroy us; millions of our people had already been killed there, and we would still be hunted by the people of the Other World to this day, if we didn’t have a country of our own. So we had no choice. It was our duty to help our own..
But this did not please the Savages one bit. In fact, it seemed to make the Savages hate us even more. Despite the fact that we had let them live and had reunited them with their own people, they wailed and screamed that they wanted to go back to their homes and their villages. They howled, wept and sang songs of longing to return. They cried “We will never forget!”
They were as stubborn as donkeys and refused to build themselves new homes until they were returned to their original villages. They stayed in their camps in protest. Who would do such a thing? Not that we made it easy for them to do anything else. Strictly enforced military regulations made it illegal for any Savage to build a home outside their exiled camp. Savage dwellings had to be built upward, one on top of another, and never be allowed to expand outwards. We denied them access to building permits, water and electricity, and sanitation services. We couldn’t have them propagating, prospering and planning for the future where they might attack us again. It was better this way. At first our army ruled over them, it was supposed to be temporary, until they decided they were ready to make peace with us. But for some unknown reason, the fires of the Savages’ hatred for us seemed only to swell as the years went on.
Eventually, they would send their young men and women into the hearts of our cities, in our markets and bus stations, to blow themselves up, killing many of our civilians, and terrorizing us as a whole. So what choice did we have? You see, the Savages need to be taught a lesson, they need to be put in their place. We needed to crack down on them. We had to build a large barrier, to prevent them from sneaking into our land. And we did this at great cost. The Savages live less than a half hour’s drive away. We are sandwiched between them to the east, and the sea to the west. The Savage lands are very close to ours. We need to be careful. Always on alert. We live in constant fear of a massive Savage attack.
That is why we have developed the most powerful army in our region, and one of the most powerful armed forces in the Other World. We have stockpiled a large amount of nuclear weapons, just as a deterrent. But even though everyone in the Other World knows about our nuclear weaponry, officially we act like it doesn’t exist. We need to protect ourselves if the Savages or anyone in the Other World ever tries to destroy us again.
Our best and most trusted ally is the richest and most powerful state in the Other World. They give us billions in Other World currency every year for us to use as we please. I’m not sure why they do this. Maybe they think we’ll use it toward our own destruction.
But we use the money to control and punish the Savages, until they come to their senses and accept us, make peace with us. We build walls and checkpoints, we develop bombs and weapons to destroy their villages and towns, and when needed, to kill their mothers and children to teach them a lesson. Savages only understand one language…the language of force. Because who do they think they are launching their crude antiquated rockets at our cities? Don’t they know that our high tech anti-rocket systems can shoot down 99% of their rockets? Why do they still try?
Once while watching television, I heard one of those radical left-wing activists say that the Savages are angry because they think that our leaders will never allow them to live freely on their own land. They think that our ultimate goal is for them to leave their lands, so we can have and rule it all for ourselves. Humph! Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is true that the roots of our people stretch all across Savage land. Our ancestors inhabited that land before the Savages did. So we would have a legitimate claim to it. Many of our holy sites are scattered throughout Savage land, and we need to have access to them. Our army provides this for us through a network of private roads that are off limits to Savages.
I also heard that the Savages are livid because we have built colonies on their land without asking them. Seeing our people encroaching on the tiny amount of land they still have left really infuriates them. But if only they would make peace, it would all be better. Legend says there was a time when both our peoples lived harmoniously side by side. And some even suggest that we both originated from the same biblical father…how ludicrous!
I’ve never been to a Savage village but I hear that they are dirty – littered with fly swarming garbage, that no one bothers to pick up. Their goats and their livestock live among them! Their sanitation habits aren’t as refined as ours and their religious practices are bizarre and frightening. The Savages often breed like mosquitoes, a family of seven living in a two bedroom apartment. The Savages pay taxes to our governing military forces, but they don’t receive any municipal services such as garbage collection. We can’t have our upstanding citizens risking their lives in Savage territory to pick up their garbage.
It was the Ragmeny empire in the Other World that tried to destroy our people not so long ago. The Ragmenies would describe our people as rats, as a disease to be eradicated, like filth. The Ragmenies looked down on us like animals, like vermin scum. We must never forget how we were treated. The world must never forget, lest it happen again.
I hear that in their elementary schools, the young Savage jackanapes are taught how to strap explosives on their chests and to detonate them when they sneak into our cities. I’ve never been to a Savage village. Since the barrier was constructed it is illegal for my people to enter their occupied territory, unless you’re a soldier, like my big brother Yori. My brother Yori is in the army. I’m so proud of him, defending our country and its people from the Savages as well as from threats from the outside. He’s in the paratrooper division – a special elite force that takes only the cream of the crop of soldiers. It’s considered a great honour to be chosen for paratrooper service. After their service, paratroopers often get the inside track on key jobs in business, politics and industry. Yori is doing our family proud.
Every Friday afternoon he returns home from his army base for a day or two. He serves inside of Savage territory, capturing terrorists and keeping us safe.
But since he joined his elite squadron last year, just after he turned nineteen, I noticed something odd about him. He used to come home on Fridays and sing and dance around the dinner table; we’d talk about movies and basketball and premiere league football; we’d tell jokes we’d recently heard and laugh and laugh about them. We were joyous. But these days when he returns home, he looks so solemn. He throws his pack down on the floor and heads straight up to his room – he doesn’t even say hi. And more often than not, he doesn’t come down for dinner. The gaping hole his lack of presence leaves at our dinner table makes my heart sink and my eyes water. That’s why, sometimes just before dinner, I would tiptoe up to his door – and occasionally I would hear muted sobs and murmuring. I was gravely concerned. What was going on in there? And what was happening to Yori? One Friday evening I couldn’t take it any more. I walked silently up the stairs, and approached his door. Should I knock? I turned the doorknob and gently opened his door. He lay on his bed, flat on his stomach, his face in his hands.
“Yori,” I said approaching him. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Please leave Rish,” he said.
“I can’t bear to see you like this anymore, Yori. Won’t you open up to me?”
He didn’t answer. I stood there, silent. Then I asked again: “Yori, you’re worrying me. Please trust me.”
“It must be so hard on you, being around them all the time,” I said nervously.
“It’s not what you think,” he said. “I don’t know if you’re ready to hear it.”
“Now you’re scaring me. I’m going to be joining the army next year and I need to know what I’m going to be up against dealing with the Savages. I’m not afraid. I’m your sister for god’s sake! We’ve always been there for each other.”
“This military occupation is killing our country” he said.
“We’re losing our collective soul, by keeping a whole people in bondage.”
“What the hell are you talking about??” I said.
He took out a cigarette, opened his window and lit up.
“Two weeks ago, at about three o’clock in the morning, we raided one of the Savages’ homes. A fifteen year old was identified as having thrown stones at some of our armored vehicles. We stormed in there, woke the family up with our shouts, wielding our guns, yanked them out of bed, and lined them up. There were all crying. The mother was wailing and praying for God to help her and her family. Her daughters were sobbing. They held their babies and small children who were howling. We handcuffed the youth and dragged him outside, his mother screaming, begging and pleading with us not to take her baby boy. I’ve experienced this same scene countless times in the past two years. It has ceased to affect me. I feel like a rock under twenty feet of snow.”
“We threw him into the back of the truck and blindfolded him. My colleagues subdued his mother and his family with their machines guns, preventing them from following us. They never stopped screaming and sobbing.”
“The boy lay in the back of the truck. He was trembling from fear and from the cold. We sped off to the military prison, and once we arrived, we threw him into solitary confinement: a tiny windowless cement cell, no bigger than a walk-in closet.”
“He was left there for twelve days. Everyday I was ordered to administer daily beatings: I kicked him all over his body, especially his lower back and groin areas; I had a baton which I used regularly to jolt him on his head, and on his legs; I would punch him hard in the stomach and in his face. Everyday I heard his grunts, his moans and his cries. He would beg me to stop. I never did. I spat on him, deprived him of sleep, and I would try to put the fear of God into him by threatening his family, telling him that we knew who they were, and they would suffer the same fate as him if he didn’t tell us what we wanted to know. All this to get a written confession out of him, which I did. And to get him to rat on his friends, two of whom were brought in at the same time as he was, and placed in solitary confinement as well.”
He paused, as if the grim reality of his words was like a swinging cement demolition boulder that had just pummelled him.
“For throwing stones at tanks Rish…for allegedly throwing stones.”
My body felt ice cold…frozen. I couldn’t move or speak.
“I’ve seen and done some horrific things done, Rish. I’m deeply ashamed.”
I didn’t know what to do or say. I was stunned at what I was hearing.
“The worst was yet to come,” he continued. “I was told by my commanding officer to bring the boy into an interrogation room. This room was adjacent to another interrogation room where you could only see half of what was going on. I sat with him in one room, and my colleagues brought his friend into the other. My commanding officer touched an electrical wire to the wall on the side where we both could see, and then moved to the other side of the room, where we couldn’t see what was happening. He then touched the wire to the other boy’s skin.”
“The screams that emanated from that boy’s throat weren’t human. I’ve never heard a shrill cry like that in my life. I can’t get the sounds out of my head. No matter how hard I try…especially when I’m alone at night.”
“The looks on their faces when they are finally released, is one I can’t really express in words. It’s beyond trauma, shock, and pain. During our army training they would show us pictures of some of our ancestors who survived annihilation by the Ragmeny empire. After their imprisonment, they were like lost skeletons. They had been deprived of food, water and sanitation for more than four years, living in filthy conditions. The depths of their eyes were hollow. The shock of their experience having numbed their soul, they seemed half-dead. I saw the same thing in these boys faces: the physical and psychological torture and duress they’ve endured has cut out a part of their soul. Their innocence destroyed, they are no longer children. That has been taken away from them forever. They are like zombies. But when they look at you as they leave, it seems like it’s not them looking out from behind their eyes. It’s as if another force is there…a divine-like presence. It’s staring back at you as if to say: “I know what you’ve done here. You crossed a line, and we both know you will suffer for it.”
“I remember when you were fifteen Rish. To imagine someone doing that to you, God forbid, well…I can’t.”
“But if they were threatening our soldiers with stones…they must be stopped” I cried.
“Maybe,” he said, snuffing out the cigarette.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a tactic.”
“A military tactic. To keep the Savages in line. To maintain a tight grip on them. So they won’t protest, won’t lash out. We target their boys, we put the fear of God into them, so that they’ll want nothing more to do with the army or the soldiers when they get older. We traumatize them purposely so that they’ll be obedient subjects later on.”
“What are you saying Yoshi?”
“We’ve done this to hundreds upon hundreds of kids every year. I see my friends – how they become addicted to inflicting violence, how they change. They become angry, hardened, withdrawn individuals. They become child abusers of the worst order. Legal criminals. And then when their army service is done, they’re sent back to our society to fend for themselves as best they can. More often than not, the violence seeps into their family life as well.”
“Many travel to exotic lands like Urdu and Jailash, to escape; smoking all kinds of drugs, losing themselves in cults or just wandering drugged out for years – unable to cope with the pain, unable to bear the anguish of the violence they’ve inflicted on other human beings…children.”
“Those who do manage to reintegrate into society are basically fucked up for life – keeping all those dark secrets buried deep down in their souls, at the depth of their psyches. They will never again feel whole, or be able to be truly happy. They’ve sacrificed their lives for the army, in the name of our country. But has torturing fifteen year old boys really helped us as a nation? Especially when we consider ourselves a light unto the world?”
“When I return home on weekend leave, and look at the people walking down the street, I often ask myself ‘Did they torture Savage children too? What kind of ghastly deeds were they forced to do during their army service?’”
“But they hate us.”
“And we despise them,” he said soberly.
After a pause, he continued: “I started thinking, what if they’re not savages at all? What if they’re just normal people like you and me? What if they love their families and their communities as much as we do? What if all they want is to be free, just like us? And who are the real savages anyway? Have we become what we are so desperately trying to repel?”
“I can’t sleep at night, Rish. I’ve demeaned, assaulted, beaten and tortured hundreds of young boys, mothers, fathers, sisters and even grandmothers and grandfathers. Innocent people and their families. All I see are their faces, especially those of the children. Is this what the Ragmeny ZZ officers went through after the last Great War? Were they haunted by the faces of our ancestors who they stripped, starved, and killed?
“Stop talking,” I said. “You don’t know what you’re saying!”
“Military service is corrupting and has been corrupting our young people for decades. We don’t know what a normal life is supposed to be like anymore. We send our young to fight, to behave like monsters, and they come back to society completely screwed up, damaged goods, inflicting violence on to their own families, and our society sweeps it all quietly under the carpet and bears the brunt: that’s just the way it’s always been. Until your child turns eighteen and you tearfully send him off to the same fate you had to endure. What worse feeling for a parent than that? Haven’t we sacrificed enough already as a people? Do we need to keep sacrificing the beauty and innocence of our young people?”
“You don’t really know what hell is until you’ve inflicted violence onto another person. It feels like I’ve betrayed everything that is true inside of me. Shame and endless regret is all that I feel now. Happiness is gone. Is this how those who tortured and killed our ancestors felt like? I wouldn’t wish this feeling on anyone, not even my own worst enemy. May God forgive me for what I’ve done. May God forgive us for what we’re doing to poor, innocent people.”
And with that, the tears started to flood down his cheeks. And then came deep sobs from the pit of his gut. The kind of sounds you hear from wounded howler monkeys in the jungle. I just watched him in disbelief. My hero reduced to shambles.
“I see it in their faces everyday, Rish,” he began again through the sobs. “They don’t hate me because I’m this or that, they don’t hate our people. They detest me because I’m a fucking soldier ruling over them with an iron fist, on their land, making their lives miserable, when all they really want is to be free, and for us to just leave them alone.”
“They’ll always want to destroy us, Yori,” I barked instinctively. “It’s always been like that. Even if there’ll be peace for one hundred years, at some point, given the chance, they’ll try and drive us into the sea.”
“We are caught in a wicked game, you and I, Sis. I’ve witnessed horrific things: mortally sick babies left to die because our checkpoints refused to allow an ambulance to pass through and reach the hospital; girls and boys, thirteen, fourteen and fifteen years old shot and killed for no reason at all. But not a soul from our side ever hears about it. No one wants to know about it. And the saddest part of all is that no one would care even if they did know about it!”
“And it’s not like these horrors are happening halfway around the world. They’re happening in our own backyards, not even a half hour from where we raise our children! What are we doing Rish? What kind of monsters have we become? We were once the most oppressed people in the Other World. Innocent victims, we barely escaped annihilation. Somehow we’ve become the oppressors. Did we not learn anything from our experience? Is it true that the abused child, if not rehabilitated and healed from his trauma, will become an abuser himself? Are our people that abused child, Rish?”
“All I know for sure in the depth of my heart and soul is that our young people should not be drafted into military fatigues, given weapons and sent out into the field. They should not be forced to torture and kill innocent people. Yet this is what’s happening in order to maintain our brutal military occupation of Savage land. It’s slowly killing our collective soul, and I fear that it may already be too late for our people.”
I couldn’t feel my body. His words pierced through my skin and into my veins as if they were loaded with anaesthetics. The room became cloudy, as if I was looking at it from behind foggy glass. My head hurt. I staggered out of his room and just as I reached the door, I heard his voice faintly from behind: “Sis, you must believe me…”
That’s the last time I would hear him speak.
The heat surged back into my body. Angry flames seeped up from the depths of my chest. I flared back to face him: “You’re lying! It’s not true! How can you say such things? Someone must have gotten to you, drugged you! Who is forcing you to talk like this??”
He couldn’t answer. He just stared back at me with tortured, defeated eyes.
The anger had boiled over into a burning, seething numbness. It was as if my body temperature had risen to a point where I could no longer feel anything. Like the blue glow at the epicentre of a bonfire. I turned, mindfully stormed to my room, and closed the door. I sat on my bed in disbelief. Was Yori mad? Was he suffering from some kind of post traumatic symptom of an attack? What if the neighbours had heard him?
He didn’t come down for dinner that night. He left early the next morning to go back to his base. The following week to the day, two officers showed up at our door. Yori had been found with his eyes closed in a jeep in an army garage, resting peacefully after a night inhaling fumes.
I walked onto our back veranda and leaned onto the railing. I looked out over the hilltops. Those forbidden, hostile slopes. I saw the homes and the villages silent in the orange purple glow of the setting sun. I thought about a fifteen year old boy. I thought about all our boys, and theirs.
I put my face in my hands, and wept.