She howled and howled, head back against the bin, fingers clinging to her cup. She wailed, and would have pulled her adam’s apple up through her throat for someone on the street to listen. No-one listened. No-one stopped. No-one answered her cries for business, disgusted by her scabby arms and dirty skirt.
At night her children would come and throw bread at her. They were keeping her alive just for spite – she’d passed down both life and death to them. Sometimes she heard their fathers raucous laughter from the pubs and clubs around. At those times she would tear her flesh with her teeth like an animal, both woman and dog.
“Don’t let them win!” she howls “Don’t let them win, anything but that!” she wails and wails, like a child, battered and thrown away. Rainwater fell into her cup - she’d swallow it with the coins - and into her dress, which fell apart though she use both arms and her knees to hold it together. She tipped her head into her hands, pouring out tears until life left her and the night took her.
Leaving two words lying on her lips:
It disappeared, tossed like rubbish in the wind.
An ambulance slowed past her, and she was taken inside. But all around the ambulance was a street of men and women just like her, hanging on to their fingers or necks, covering the marks made by the heavy jewellery they used to wear. All of them were rich, became poor, and now have as much shame as they once did money.
This is where I found myself, reeling with the smell, stunned by the sight. I staggered backwards, and one of the women grabbed me:
“A man! Look at me! Look! At! Me! Stop just for a while even if it’s just to kill me.
Behold, see the great freakshow sideshow, the most contemptible woman on Earth!
Come hear my story; how I used to be a princess, aye, and a virgin
Daughter of the King but now I’m worse off than a prisoner in a dungeon, and if someone wants me they can have me. But no-one does. Listen to me!
What I’ve done holds me down like cold rusted chains around my neck and arms. Thick and heavy!
The LORD gave me His kingdom, beautiful and pleasant, and I violated it
I did to its villagers what has now been done to me, twice over
A day before disaster, I laughed it up in the palace, surrounded by my men and my friends and my wild animals.
Have a look in my palace if you don’t believe me. You’ll see their corpses.
My men are dead, my allies betrayed me, my friends are dead, my tigers dead. Death, death, death. Now I wish He’d killed you too! Don’t forg-”
I wrestled from her grip, her teeth in my neck. I throw her back and run over bodies to try for escape, all the while thinking of her clinging blooded fingers. Her pale, wretched eyes. I will never, ever forget them.
Looking back I see her shadow fall, a twitching corpse among the bodies, the last of her weak strength spent. Yet I still feel afraid, and curse the noise my feet make. I stop at an alleyway for breath and peace.
I have never seen anything like…
In the shadows I see something – is it the woman’s ghost?
My eyes adjust. There are children there, quietly laughing as though hiding with a secret joy. I stumble over, hushed, and the shadows disappear. Children, five or six children, and something in their grip, fixing their attention. They chew on it and toss it, fight for it and defend it. My fingers freeze together and my chest feels like ice when I see their teeth claw at it: A human arm. A woman’s arm.
They look up at me, sores on their hateful little faces. I see behind them a trail of bodyparts, mostly women, some men, black or white stacked against each other.
I run away, not caring what sound my feet make. I run as far and as long as I can before my body stops me.
I see another woman, a child in her arms, both of them starving. I want to save the woman from the child. I want to save the child from the woman. I want to kill them both and end their pain. What I have seen must never be spoken, yet never forgotten.
The child whispers in the Mother’s ear: “Food and toys. Want food and toys.”
I push against a nearby door and find my way into a dark – no lights, no electricity – looted room. I need no light to tell me what touch has told me several times. There are sores on my face, just like the childrens. Yet scaldingly painful as they are, such marks are nothing to the pain and deformity of a harrowed mind.
I have never seen anything like this, such affliction, like the end of a world. I will never, ever forget it.
These are schooled children. What has happened here?
Something horrible must have taken this place for normal healthy children to fight over-
These women were once their mothers. Where are the men?
My heart has been melted and poured out as tears, I hammer my fists on the floor and cry out for decency. I saw families brought down to the ground and covered in dirt. I saw victims fighting victims, young girls made repulsive, the streets stinking of soiled rags.
What can I do.
Why should this happen?
It has never happened, in any town, ever before.
I pull the scabs from my face and realise I’m no distanced observer. I’m as diseased as the children, though not as filthy, and all that lies between me and the women is a matter of a few long a few agonising days. I sympathise with them no more, I relate to them now. I am one of them!
I find myself drooling and whispering out as they do: “Don’t forget.”
I throw open the door and run out, from darkness to dimness, north if I can judge it. I need to get out of here, leave this cursed little hole while I still have some strength. My feet batter the ground, and fear follows fear. Any of the streets I am running from could hold some death for me. Up ahead, the gates and towers of the border, poking over lesser buildings. My eyes widen. I run faster, feel free-er.
I saw the elderly old men a good minute after they saw me. Clusters of them, which now became lines. Some of them young, but mostly old, with the look of wickedness where wisdom should have been. They look weak, slightly gaunt and atrophied but healthy in comparison to others here. They see me. In their eyes I know they mean to rape me.
I cannot find it in me to fight them and I break down into the dust, waiting for them to take from me what should never be taken.
These sores – my skin shrivels to the bones, dry as sticks. I hear a cry and catch some words.
I survived this day a little while, in some small way. Reliving it could kill me but you need to know.
I find myself crying out to God for there is no-one else – the city is destroyed and I will join the rest of its people who remain. I do not know if His hand caused our disaster. I do not know if our own hand caused it. I do not know if He offers love, love or rage, or simply rage or even if he knows me. I must and will appeal to Him. All I know…
If he calls to you
If he calls for you
Let him speak
He can wrap His words around you
Or take His breath from within you.