Leah Barker

walk to freedom

I jerk out of my sleep, sweat dripping down my forehead. It is mid-summer, the hottest time of the year. I look up at the sky through the hole in the roof. It was just past
midnight. I glance around at the hundreds of people lying on the ground next to me on their plastic bags that they had just barely been fortunate enough to get. Lately people will find any sheltered place to stay; no matter how shabby or crowded it was, just as long as are safe from the LRA. They are terrible people. They take children, as young as four years old, hand them a gun, and tell them to get as many people to join as possible…or kill them. If they don’t, they are tortured and put to death. My mind flashes back to when I was younger on that terrible night that they took my parents away. Awoken by my mother, she grabbed me by the hand, carrying my brother, trying to run to safety. When we reached the back door, she whispered in my ear to never loose faith in God, and as long as I was alive, I was never alone. She told me to be brave, and to take care of my brother. A gunshot shattered the night sky. Screaming, running, with my brother in my arms, I dared to glance back, only to see that she was gone. That was 3 years ago. I am now 8 years old, and I still don’t doubt that one day I’ll see them again, if not on the earth then in heaven.
            My mind snaps back to reality. I take the plastic sheet that I’m laying on and wrap it around my brother, Manu. I study his 5-year-old face, so young and innocent. His ribs are clearly visible from the lack of food, and his hands and feet are bloody and blistered. I try day to day to protect him from the outside world, and to provide for him the best that I can, but I wish that he could have all the privileges that so many people are not fortunate to find. 
Now to think of tomorrow. Were will we find food? Water? Will there be enough places to hide? Turning over to my side, I dread the long day ahead. My brother and I are headed to a camp for the Africans running from the LRA. I don’t know exactly were it is; only that it is somewhere in the south, in the lower part of

            My stomach growls and I decide to sleep to get rid of the deep sickness in my stomach. We have a long day ahead.


            “Themba, wake up! We have to leave!” I sit up and look around. Everyone is folding their sheets and moving out. I start to do the same. Manu helps gather up the little things we have- a canteen and a compass, which we had found the morning after our parents had been taken away. Realizing that almost everything we had had been stolen by the LRA, we decided that staying in our little shack would be pointless. From there, we stayed at any shelter we could find. We never have any certain place we were going. We just try our best to stay alive and stay hidden, but just last week, my thoughts changed. I overheard two men talking about the safety camp-that they have food and water there, plus the safety from the LRA. They also have schools. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to read! And right then and there I see a tiny ray of hope, that maybe there was a way of escape for my brother and I.
            So we set out, with nothing to lose except each other. I step out in to the hot African sun, Manu following close behind me. I know the risks we we’re taking, that each day that we step out into the open we are in danger of being captured. But I am willing to risk it. I don’t want to spend my life day to day struggling to survive. I want to be free. But for now, I have to find food. Manu is hungry. Even though he doesn’t say anything, I know he is by the loud noise his stomach is making. He knows times are rough, yet he hardly ever complains. I am pretty hungry myself. We haven’t eaten since about a day and a half ago, and that was only a small piece of bread. Seeing no houses or dumpsters near by, I decide we can wait a little longer.

            I glance at my compass, and we start heading due south. “Things are going to get better,” I tell Manu. “You’ll see.” He nods his head, not because he knows that it will, but because he hopes it will. And I hope, too.

            I look up at the sun. It’s directly above me, meaning that it’s just
midday. Dodging in and out of hiding, I see a small house in the distance, and I know what I must do for my brother and I to survive. I lead him behind a bush. “Wait here,” I say sternly. “And don’t move!”
 “Where are you going?” he asks. “Don’t ask questions,” I say. “If you want to live to get to the safe camp, you will listen to me.”
And with that, I run off toward the house. Slowing down as I approach it, I sneak up to the window and peer in. not seeing anybody, I climb over and into the two-bedroom shelter. As quickly and as quietly as I can, I search under there bed for a small container. I feel something smooth. Sliding it out, I open it up. Food! It was filled with beans! Manu would be thrilled. I turn to leave, only to see two bare feet standing in front of me. “What do you think you’re doin’?” I don’t bother to look up and see who it is. I make a swift dash for the window, but before my feet can leave the ground he catches me and turns me around to look into his heated eyes. “I asked you a question. You’re not leaving till you answer me!”
“Please, don’t turn me in! Don’t take me to the LRA!” I plead. He looks at me sternly.” Calm down, I’m not taken you anywhere if you answer my question.” 
“I-I was only getting food for my brother. Please. We’re trying to get to a camp we heard of were we will be safe from the LRA.”
“Oh, I see.” He said in a weary voice. “All right, I’ll let you go. But if I ever hear of you stealin’ again, I just might have to turn you in.”
He lets me down slowly, and hands me the container of beans. “Here,” he grumbles, and walks off.
I let out a sigh of relief and look at the small container in my hands. Manu will be so pleased that we are fortunate enough to have this. And that man….why hadn’t he turned me in? And why had he given me his food? Oh well, I think to myself. It doesn’t matter now. All that matters is that we can eat.
I hurry back to Manu, who is still were I left him. “What is that?” he asks, pointing to the container in my hand.
“It’s food. Beans!” he smiles hungrily and holds out his hands. I scoop some out for him, and a little for myself. “We won’t eat it all now. Save some for later.” I tell him as I take a bite. Oh, it’s so good! I savor every bite, and then tell Manu that it’s time to move on.

We walk for about two hours or so, and then stop to rest. The sun is setting, but we will keep walking. The heat scorches our skin. Our feet are blistered from walking all day. But we press on. We have to. We must stay hidden and safe.

 As the moon shines to guide our way, I hear something in the distance. Screaming. Yelling. A young child and her sister are being dragged out of their little shack. The father is fighting them. A gunshot. And then the younger rebel looks up…and right at my brother.
“Run!” I grab his hand and yank him to the side as I use every muscle possible to sprint ahead. My eyes dart frantically for a hiding place- I finally spot one
and I pull my brother into a dark alley.  
“Their coming!” Manu whispers, but I take my hand and cover his mouth. They stop right in front of us, their eyes searching for us. Then I spot a woman in the distance. She looks a lot like-
“Mommy!” Manu yells, and yanks my arms loose, giving away our hiding place and exposing himself. The rebels quickly grab him, slapping him, telling him to be quiet or he would die. I shrink farther back into the darkness, covering my mouth so I won’t scream. Tears stain his face, but he keeps quiet. I want so badly to save him, to reach out and grab him. But I know it won’t do any good. They’d take us both.
One of the older rebels tells the younger one-about 10 years old- to search the alley. He’s carrying a huge gun. I sink even farther into the darkness only to hit a wall. I was trapped.
He steps into the darkness and spots me. Our eyes meet. He looks at me for a moment, a veil of sadness covering his eyes. Then he walks off. “There’s nobody in there,” he states.          
Nausea creeps into my stomach as I watch my brother be taken away. Someone hands him a gun. “You will take this and learn to use it. Either they join, or they die. That’s the rule.”

And with that, they disappeared into the distance. The woman that I thought was my mother walks by and I can clearly see by the moonlight that it was a mistake. And now I’m alone. And my brother’s life is in the hands of the very people that we were running from, all because of me. I close my eyes to try and get rid of the pain, thinking it will go away. Instead I fall into a deep deep sleep…

 I open my eyes and and look around me. Where was I? Where was Manu? Then suddenly, my mind flashes back to the night before, and I realize that I’m on my own, and my baby brother is gone. I reach into my pocket and grab my compass, moving it around until it points south. Dusting myself off and standing up, I decide to continue my journey to the safe camp. And so begins my long walk towards the south.
I gather up the only possessions I have and start out. I want to get to the camp before the new moon. And so I walk, thinking much about my brother, but holding back the tears. For when I cry, people see I’m remembering what I had. Then they say, “We should kill you so you do not remember these things.” So the tears stay inside for no one to see.

Days go by, then weeks. I grow weaker and weaker, for the energy that I have from the little food that I find is used up by walking. But I keep the faith, and with each step I take, my eagerness grows, and I know that even though no one is with me in person, someone is with me in spirit. This is what keeps me from giving in, and the more troubles I have, the more this feeling grows. And I know that somehow, someway I will make it.

And he did. A couple months later, he arrived at the camp. They willingly and lovingly took him in. he is now 12 years old, attending school, and staying in dorms with the other kids who traveled hundreds of miles on foot for their freedom. They are his family. Most people do not know about these children, just because they have not seen them, or heard of them. But they need help. They are people; just like you and me. They cannot stay invisible any longer. Their stories must be told.




All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Leah Barker.
Published on e-Stories.org on 12/08/2008.


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