She must follow.
Sunlight bites down on her skin, a skin dry and rough like the stones her tiny, callused feet step on. She’s tired, and her lips’ scars are open, craving for water as much as her eyes crave for closure.
But the others keep marching, so she must follow.
For twelve-year-old Magool, everything has been a blur for a while, now.
She cannot quite tell how long it has been since she left home, or rather, when the trucks came by to take her and her mother. It is hard for her to recall how and when she escaped from the camp they were kept in after the armed men took them from the trucks. Looking back, it is even harder to remember how her mother’s face even looked like.
The only things Magool sees nowadays are the children that found her. They’re of different sizes and ages, but are all so alike in that “they fight for freedom”, as the Commandant keeps telling them.
They’re her new family. At least, she believes they are, sometimes.
Today is a very special day for Magool. She knows this as soon as the group stops moving and makes way to show her a man on his knees, his hands and feet tied. “A farmer of the regime that took your mother away”, the Commandant says, as he hands her a machete.
She knows what she must do.
Magool looks down for a second, her eyes meeting themselves in the rusty surface of the blade, and she can take in the nothingness staring right back at her. Her grip tightens around the hilt and the sounds of the other children chanting around her return, urging her to get it over with.
The farmer bows his head and makes no sound, no longer struggling. He’s so much like her, the poor man.
It takes a while to get it done.
She swings her arm up and down repeatedly, her movements sloppy but determined. The red warmth is now splashing all over her as she keeps on hacking at the back of the farmer’s neck. The blade gets stuck a couple of times, but she persists, ignoring the sounds of bones shattering with the impact.
The man’s cries are silenced by the roars of her peers, and with one final blow, she is finished. The farmer’s the head rolls at her feet, eyes still open before rolling back one final time. She wonders if she is jealous of him.
The others acknowledge her as one of them, though Magool can tell their smiles are holding hands with her blank expression.
The Commandant’s hand rests on her shoulder, and his voice is beaming with pride and warmth as he tells her how strong she is. He’ll probably have her by his tent when they finally go to rest, as other men have taught her before.
Magool is twelve years old. But in this place, childhood dies early, and hers followed.