The shooting practice continued the next day. Guzu’s arm ached and he felt like his ears were stuffed with cotton. The sound of the rifles exploding made him dizzy. In the morning, again they were called out at dawn; the slow light of day only just showing on the horizon. Guzu was taken to a row of empty oil drums and told to fire at straw targets next to the fence, some twenty metres away.

He rested his arms on the drum and used it to steady his hand. Squinting, his right eye almost closed he tried to follow the line of the gun and make it line up with a target. He shot and the oil drums shuddered, his neighbour looked at him questioningly and said something Guzu couldn’t hear. He was still mouthing “I can’t hear you”, when a tug on his shoulder caught his attention; he turned to see all the other boys moving toward the parade area.

He shrugged at the neighbour apologetically and smiled shyly at the owner of the hand who had warned him that they were to line up. Pistol heavy in his hand, he stood in line on the second row. The army men were there again and soundlessly arguing with the militia commander, the small fat man. He waved them away and the older man walked inside the building gesticulating furiously with wild sweeps of his hands.

The commander came over to them and barked a command. Guzu watched what the other boys were doing and saw them stand up straight, arms by their sides. He followed suit, hoping it was correct. The rat faced commander walked lazily up and down the three lines of boys. He stopped before an adolescent, a tuft of brown hair on his upper lip. The commander said something and the boy choked and stuttered. Guzu still couldn’t hear and couldn’t understand what was upsetting the boy.

The commander clicked his fingers and two men, dressed in militia fatigues grabbed the boy by the shoulders and half dragged, half walked him to a separate shed. It was made of concrete and had small windows with iron bars. Guzu was looking at the boy animatedly talking with wide eyes to his captors and didn’t notice the commander stop in front of him.

“Something interest you there, boy?”

Guzu’s still couldn’t hear; he was frantic. Should he nod or shake his head or do nothing? He shook his head and looked at the floor. The commander’s stomach trembled from the periphery of Guzu’s vision and he glanced up to see the commander laughing and walking on, away from him. His knees felt weak. From the left hand side, the scarred soldier was stood. As the commander dismissed them he walked over and grabbed Guzu firmly by the shoulders. Shaking him he said; “Never ask about that place boy, never talk about it or look at it. You hear me, son?”

Guzu looked blankly at him, his head still fogged from gun shots. The scarred man mimed holding his nose and puffing his cheeks out hard. Guzu tried and his ears made a painful crack; everything was loud and hurt. The soldier told him again to never look or ask about the shed again. He called it the shed. “It’s not your business son.”

“Say it back to me; it’s not my business.” Guzu copied the man and the soldier smiled. “You’d better get back to practicing; you’re going to need it.” He walked away leaving Guzu alone on the parade ground.

At the end of the day they were given soup and bread. Guzu was starving, he hadn’t eaten in two days and didn’t realise how much he needed the food. He drank the soup and chewed slowly on the bread. It was hard dry rye bread and took many chews to soften it so he could swallow it.

After the food they were returned to their barns and Guzu made for his corner before another boy could get there. Having his back to the wooden wall was more comfortable than the kicks and punches in the night from disturbed sleepers and those having nightmares.

They were awoken the next day before it was light. A number of trucks had arrived in the night and they were pushed aboard. They drove through wooded areas, past huts around which a strange smell that to Guzu felt like something burning was lingering. They arrived at a village; a poor one with no car batteries. He wondered if he had been here on the trek to where they lived now but had no memory of the old, poorly clothed villagers or their dilapidated shacks they lived in.

There were animals wandering freely around a well that had fallen into disrepair. Sheep with lambs and chickens pecking at the wild grasses. They were ordered to get out and line up. In line they were each given a gun; Guzu was given a pistol. They laughed at his size when they reached him; “this one ain’t carrying no rifle, it be bigger than him.” They laughed again, passing him a smooth black pistol. The line on top of the gun that he used to aim was roughened and weathered.

The commander stepped out of a car and walked over to them.

“My children.”

“My children today is the day.”

“The day you begin.”

To Chapter Thirty-Seven – The Village of My Birth