My hands shook as the preacher helped me up the steps into the pulpit. I was in a town far from home and felt quite nervous. “Don’t be scared,” he whispered, “Just tell your story.”
I took a deep shaky breath as he squeezed my shoulder. “It was back in 1976,” I began, “and they came by night, sinister shadows slinking by the river, creeping along walls, infiltrating our village. I hated the darkness. Every sound, every crack of a twig, every howl sent jolts through my nervous system.
First they took Amos, then a month later Jackson and Banda. My husband and sons, abducted in the night and tortured and killed for refusing to join the freedom fighters. That left Sipiwe and myself.
Our village sat amongst black granite hills and tall yellow grass, a sure target for soldiers from both sides. They arrived like a mist at night, raping, plundering, stealing our food, and then melted into the shadows. I kept Sipiwe close to me, her plump cheeks and dark eyes a reminder of Amos.
‘Keep us safe, God,’ I prayed day and night. ‘Protect us from this war. Let it end soon. Bring peace to our country.’
It was a clear winter’s night when they forced their way into my hut. A dark-skinned soldier smashed his rifle across my skull. ‘We need food woman. Give us what you have.’ I sobbed for days afterward, especially when I discovered new life growing deep within my womb. ‘How could you let this happen, God? Haven’t I lost enough?’
Six months later our village got caught in crossfire late at night. Bullets whistled overhead as I reached out my hand for Sipiwe. Then I remembered she’d gone to the outhouse. I staggered to my feet, mortars tracking through cold air as I screamed. ‘Sipiwe! Sipiwe! Where are you?’
I found her lying on damp soil near the outhouse, a chunk missing from the back of her head. ‘Sipiwe!’ I pulled her lifeless form into my arms, rocking to and fro, anger and grief surging from deep within. ‘Oh God, how could you let this happen?’
The women from the village surrounded us that night. They carried Sipiwe and myself back into our hut and they held us, murmuring words of comfort, praying, weeping. It was at the first light of dawn that the first ray of peace penetrated my shattered heart.
She’s with me, Thandi. She’s safe in my arms now.
I looked down at the broken shell of my daughter. Her skin was muddy, eyes closed, her limbs stiff. Congealed blood clung to my bosom where I’d cradled her.
Your family is safe with me.
‘But it’s not fair, God. I want them here with me.’ Tears streamed down my cheeks, splashing onto Sipiwe’s face.
You will see them again Thandi.
‘And what about this ... this thing growing inside me?’ I gestured angrily at my swollen belly. ‘This is all I have and I don’t even want it.’
Accept my peace. I can turn all things for good.
I prayed as I handed my daughter over to be prepared for burial. It didn’t take away the pain but I knew she was with God; that there was no more fear in her life, no more suffering and hardship.
Three months later I gave birth to a son and I determined that although he was a product of war and pain, that I would raise him to have a different spirit. I declared night and day that this child would be a peacemaker."
People were dabbing their eyes as I finished my story and the preacher stepped up next to me. Putting his arm around my shoulder he smiled around at the congregation. “And that is exactly what she did, folk. I’d like you to meet my mother.”
Inspired by growing up in Zimbabwe while the war was raging in the 1970’s. The rural people often got caught between the freedom fighters and the army and suffered terribly as a result.
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