Prompt: Look at the photograph… look into the child’s eyes
Word Count: 700 words
Deadline: Wednesday 7 September 2011 – Midnight EST
LOST BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
By Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
The girl’s frightened exhales warmed the back of my hand. She tried to push forward out of my grasp, but I held her back, in the shadows.
“Il est trop tard, enfant. Votre mére new peut pas vous aider maintenant. Chut!”
Moments passed as my words sunk in… the girl ceased her struggling. She collapsed helplessly against me. I felt the hope drain out of her, like water through a sieve. This was the worst part… these few moments. Once again… I had to harden my heart for the task ahead.
In silence, we watched… the army truck drove away, the squeak of its ancient suspension as the vehicle bounced over the rutted road and away from the village. As the roar of the diesel’s exhaust faded into the inky night, I led the girl out of the narrow alley and we made our way in the opposite direction that her mother was going. Torment and unbelievable hardship lie in one direction… and only the barest promise of hope in the other.
Only if her mother believed that her child was safe would she be able to hold on to even a shred of hope… and hope was all that was going to save her and the other wretched souls enslaved in General Tjoboka’s work camps… and not just lie down and die, crushed beneath the boot heels of yet another blood-diamond despot. And it was only their survival… and that of the rebels hiding in the jungle… that offered any hope that her country would one day again breathe the air of freedom.
None dared ask themselves if sending their children away was too high a price to pay for only the promise of freedom one day for all their peoples. If they began to question that… and the ensuing doubt of ever seeing them again… it was only a matter of time before hope died. And with it… their homeland.
Hours later, the jungle trail ends at a driftwood-strewn beach. With the moonlight shining down on the rising tide, the girl and I make our way along the packed sand the final mile to the harbor.
“Another little ‘maid’ for some bourgeois French pig, Justine?” The harbormaster’s coarse voice greets us as we walk out on to the quay.
“Better she should service the Paris elite than starve with her parents in the work camps… better for you and me, that is. Here is your share, Henri.” I reply, pulling a small pouch of gold coins from my robes and thrusting it at the disgraced flic now eking out a living taking bribes in the once-thriving Ivory Coast port city.
Sensing that I am in a foul mood, Henri waves us through the gate. The clink of gold coins echoes as I lead the girl up the gangway of the rusting hulk moored quayside. The captain is waiting when we step on to the deck.
“Un moment, s’il vous plait… mon capitaine?” The grizzled head nods in acquiescence… he steps away. I turn and kneel in front of the girl.
“Yvette… enfant… vous devez écouter soigneussement à moi.” The girl begins to cry. It is only with an effort that I do not… turning my heart inward… a stone.
“Écoutez-moi… you must try to forget your mama and papa. This is the way it…”
“C’est la volonté de Dieu?” Her dark, liquid eyes bore into mine.
I cannot answer her.
That was five years ago. Five years of sleepless nights. Five years of not always silent torment.
It is a different ship that greets me now as I walk out on the quay. A shiny, clean ship… over the radar mast, the flag of the British Merchant Navy waves. The railing is lined with the shining faces of happy children.
Tears well in my eyes… I search the faces.
After what seems an eternity, the gangway is lowered and the children begin to disembark.
The first child steps off the gangway… her face in my dreams a thousand times… a young woman now. Hesitating only a moment… Yvette runs to me… arms wide… her laughter a counterpoint to the tears pouring down my cheeks.
“Sister Justine… Sister Justine!”