Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: The Family Reunion (06/05/08)
- TITLE: The long road home
By Sharon Kane
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With her son’s strong arms embracing her emaciated shoulders, hot tears streamed down Tarisai’s wizened face and washed away 20 years of fear and pain. She had never forgotten that fateful day when the soldiers arrived in their village. The whole family awoke to the smell of smoke and the sound of their neighbours’ screams. Snatching the baby from where she lay on the sleeping mat beside her, Tarisai strapped her to her back and they fled from their house. Her husband caught five-year old Pedzisai and their eldest child Rumbi by the hands and together they ran into the corn fields. The soldiers were still rampaging through the village. By staying low and moving quietly the family escaped detection and slowly moved away from the screams and the acrid smell of smoke.
For several days they survived in the forest, until they stumbled into an ambush. Thirty seconds later Tarisai was running through the bush. She had seen her husband shot and Rumbi captured. When she last saw Pedzi he had been dawdling behind the family group picking berries. Though her maternal instinct screamed that she should go to him, wisdom told her his best chance of survival lay in her abandoning him.
Tarisai stumbled through the next five years in the refugee camp. Daily she visited the camp office, scanning the photographs on the wall; photographs of unaccompanied children who had made their way to other camps. Every night she dreamed Pedzisai’s photograph was among them; every morning she awoke to the cold reality that he was lost to her.
With the end of the civil war she made her way to her home area where she continued the same meaningless routine. Her dreams were haunted by a little boy picking berries. His cries pierced her bleeding heart, but her aching arms never reached his helpless form.
“The first years were awful Mum. I had to survive any way I could on the streets. Every night I looked for a new place to sleep so the police would never know where to find me. I became an animal, living by instinct, eating from rubbish dumps, stealing, fighting… No, you don’t need to know. It is gone. I was just a small boy. Every night I fell asleep crying for you. I dreamed you were holding me in your warm arms. I prayed the dreams would come true.”
“I don’t know why she noticed me. I guess the Lord must have heard my prayers. One day a white lady with kind eyes asked me if I was hungry. I thought it was a trap. Many times I ran from her. The day I dared to trust her was the day my whole life changed. She took me to an upstairs room in a back street where I bathed for the first time in 6 years. She gave me clean clothes and hot food. That was the end of my life on the streets. There were 8 of us boys there. Swapping our stories helped us deal with the pain, and living together taught us to share and to work. We learned to read and write and to know God as Father. When I turned fifteen she arranged for me to be a carpenter’s apprentice. I was useless at first! But he was patient and I got my certificate at the end of the three years. That day I decided to look for you, paying my way by doing carpentry jobs.”
“Of course I had no idea where to start looking! I went to where the refugee camps had been, but they were dismantled long ago. I knew nothing of my family history except Dad’s name. Knowing what had happened to him I reckoned it unlikely you would have returned to his village, but where else could I go? After two years I finally found his home area. A few people remembered him, but no one knew where you might have gone so I just kept searching… I met a girl last year. I wanted to have your blessing on our wedding. She is waiting for me!”
For the first time Tarisai saw on her son’s face the same lovely smile she remembered from his childhood. She also smiled. “Son, that’s enough for now. There is much to say. Come, meet your sister. Let’s eat. Tomorrow we will go find your girl and you will tell us how you found your way home.”
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