They were running through a slum. Shanty houses with crude electrical cables, pipes that poured water off corrugated iron roofs into the pathways; it gave the urban jungle a wild feel. The young recruit expected a panther or a tiger to jump down and show its teeth.
That had been what they had been learning in school that day. His teacher was describing a large cat with stripes called a tiger that lived in jungles. He imagined a jungle was a strange, dark place; with fluorescent trees like on the cartoons he watched after school.
A tiger was fierce and didn’t think twice about killing its prey, his teacher had said, making clawing movements at the girls at the front. They fell back in shock and delight, giggling and shrieking. The teacher laughed.
Then the door was kicked open. It was kicked because it was normally opened slowly, when the headteacher entered – to give the children a chance to pretend to be working when he came in. But the door smacked against the wall and shuddered.
The young recruit crouched behind some boxes. His ill fitting boots caused him to stumble every three steps and he fell behind the main group. He slunk down with his back to the boxes. He was thirsty. It was hot here. The people, so many people and the heat.
He saw eyes in doorways. I see you. He smiled. But the eyes, they did not smile back.
The soldiers took everyone outside; the girls, boys, teachers, even the janitor. The teachers and the janitor were killed first. One of them, a teacher who taught the older boys, was arguing with the soldiers. He was wearing a brown sweatshirt, a white collar folded neatly over the top. His shoes were shiny and caught the sun.
The young recruit was too busy looking at the sun on the man’s shoes to realise he was dead, his feet crumpled under his knees. The soldiers approached the children. Barking orders, a short fat man with curly black hair, told all the older boys to come forward. He swore a lot. They went through each class, year by year, picking boys out. They came to his class finally. He was the only boy they picked. They said he was big enough.
He heard a sound behind the boxes and tried to stand to look. A boot hit his face. He saw colours whirl, mix together and form impossible rainbows. The spinning stopped and he saw the jungle, the fluorescent jungle made of wires and water pipes. He heard steps of others joining them. He remembered he was thirsty. He remembered he was fierce.
No more boys were chosen after him. All the boys were led to a truck. Inside were dead people. The short man said we had a choice. The young recruit took a gun, following the lead of the older boys. The boys killed all their school friends, all the girls and the remaining boys. They buried them outside the school. They drove away.
They gave him boots and trousers.
A man stood over him; he was sweating very badly. Sweat made his face shiny, almost underwater. The young recruit looked at him and made a claw like a tiger. The man, desperate and furtive, pulled the trigger of the rifle.
His name was Guzu. He was seven years old.