‘What is she wearing?’ I thought to myself. ‘I know its just night prep, but doesnt she realise the cute student teacher will be patrolling?’
These were my thoughts, as i dressed up for prep. In my school, Aboke Girls, most of us were from the village, Lira or Gulu, and some from Apac, but one thing for sure is that we knew how to dress as well as those in kampala. We were allowed to wear our own sweaters over our uniforms, only for night prep, so you had to make sure the sweater was nice, or rather ballistic as many of us termed it.
I got dressed, in my pink and yellow sweater, ontop of the dress i would shorten with safety pins during prep. Make-up! What would i do without it? I put my black crayon and vaseline into my small purse, and headed to class.
Three hours. We were expected to read for three hours before we were sent off to bed. The night was just like any other, or rather, every other. I drew pictures of my teacher on my book, and threw papers at the girls in my dorm whose looks i found pathetic. Not that i could understand their pain; i was one of the prettiest girls in s.3, and i go to kampala for christmas every year. That alone made me different from them.
Finally it was 10pm.
Dormitory time.
I re-touched my make-up, just incase i passed Mr. Olobbo on my way out. Confident that i couldnt look any better, i headed out.
There he was, standing at the doorway.
‘Goodnight sir’, i blurted out. All i wanted was that smile, and all would be ok. Just like everyother night, he did not dissappoint.
We entered the dormitory, and the prefect, Lanyero Celia, locked the door. I was not sleepy, so i decided to play make-up artist with some friends of mine. They each took turns, and i applied make-up on them. If only i had known what was to come, i would have spent the night scalding my face.
At 11, the matron called out for lights out. Silence descended upon the compuond. This was common. The darkness always brought with it the ghosts of the dead. This is what we were always told, and this is what kept us quiet.
This night was just the same, or so we thought.
At about 10minutes to midnite, it started.
I heard noises and gunshots. We all did. I jumped out of bed and run to the window. Fire had been set to one of the classrooms. Everyone around me started to scream. I was paralyzed. We knew it was them. We just never thought they would dare to come to the school. My dormitory was nearest to the classrooms. I knew they were coming for us, even before they hit the door. Even before they broke it down, and marched us out one by one, guns to our heads.
Silence covered the compound once again, but the smell of death prevailed. The taste of fear was salty, and that of death was bitter. But the pain, oh the pain. That was unbearable. It started deep in my heart. Even before they hit me with the butt of the gun, even before the rebel’s boots met my face. I felt it. I felt it coming, and for a few seconds, it haunted me. After that came the feeling of hopelessness. How many had we heard that had survived rebels’ attacks? How many had lived to tell the tale? Less than a dozen in a whole region. Who was i to think i would be one of them? To think i would stare evil in the eye and walk away to safety.
I lay on the ground, not daring to look up. Lanyero the prefect; I remember her cries. She was asked to kill someone and she refused. I remember her screams. To this day, they pierce through to my soul. Her hands were cut off. A panga was used. They claimed they had no time to play with their food. That is what they called us. ‘Besides, she had no use for them,’ one of the rebels shouted.
She was forced to keep quiet. We learnt to keep our pain hidden. To cry was to seal your fate.
After what felt like an hour, we were asked to stand up and walk. No looking back, and no slowing down. Many of us were given luggage to carry, and whoever slowed down was eliminated.
I remember Sister Mary. She was our white religious teacher. She walked with us, begging the rebels to let us go.
‘Take me instead, she wailed’. But they had no use for a white face. Morning came, and we still walked. When the midday sun was up, we were told to take off our clothes and lie down, face up. With guns cocked within reach of our heads, we mouthed no objections. The leader, or the one who we thought was the leader at the time, smiled. ‘Iwill keep 20 for myself, and the rest, you can have sister.’
‘Please God dont let him pick me.’ That was the only thing runnig through my mind.
‘Beautiful girls with firm breasts.’ Thats what he wanted. Ajok, my bed-mate, was picked first. I had done her makeup perfectly the night before, and i remember everyone telling her not to wash it opff so she would look as pretty in the morning.
I cringed. This cannot be happening.
He walked infront of us. ‘Otti,’ they called him. He picked another girl i could not see, and then i heard him,
‘YOU’ he bellowed.
‘Yes, You hu as de pink en yelo sirt on’
Tears flowed down my eyes. I was picked third. So much for always wanting to be the prettiest around. I would give anything to have my face disfigured. Anything to be laughed at and thrown at papers for having a pathetic face. A face only a mother could love is what i was wishing for. I stood up. All eyes on me, just like i always wanted; only this time it was different. I watched the girls i had insulted everyday lie there on the ground. I watched their ugly faces sigh with relief and i knew many of them had nothin to worry about. For the first time i was filled with envy. Why was i beautiful? Arach, Acayo, Anyanywii, why didnt i look like them? Why couldnt i hide among the charcoal coals and blend in? Maybe then i would know how it feels to escape the fangs of hell. As their shapeless bellies rose with every breath, i stayed with my thoughts.
With my thoughts, time passed. The 20 girls were chosen, and the rest were left to go. They left us their sweaters for the long journey that loomed ahead. I watched Apio and Acen walk away. Turning every few seconds to make sure no one was after them. Sister mary insisted on coming with us. She wanted to have all of us back, but that was not going to happen. We begun the journey once again. As i felt my feet glide across the long reeds, i also felt a pain deep in my chest. A pain that said the worst was yet to come.
With this, i lifted my head and walked toward Sudan.