I hear the sound of guns firing away somewhere in a distance. Shouts, rising and falling like emotions on a rollercoaster.  I shake my head. It’s real. The war is really here. I am falling into the deep black pit that emanated that thick nauseating smog, through the blurry hypnotizing window, my dream eye. Maybe, I should walk out of the high grasses. Not giving me a moment to think about it, subconscious Mooti, still in his dazed state, gives me his disapproval. I crouch lower, drawing my bruised knee to meet a completely ragged chest. The crickets are beginning to chirp closely around me. It is dark, and the attack doesn’t seem like it is stopping soon. I look down at the shadow of my torn shirt and shorts. The blood on my body has dried, and it seems like the pain from my wounds is getting worse. I wince and close my eyes, trying to ignore the grass poking at my suffering skin. I try not to think about my family, but as I push the thought aside, Baati Mooti’s voice comes tugging at the edge of my mind.

“Those Nuer and Dinka bastards are barbarians. They are trying to exhume old bones of malicious emotions towards us. This is not about abducting children or rearing cattle. They want to exterminate the Murle race.”

I begin to shiver because the only word that stands out from Baati’s words can’t stop repeating itself in my head. It goes on like a strong mantra. Exterminate, EXterminate, EXTerminate, EXTERminate… I freeze as I sense rather than hear that there is a presence with me. Behind me. The mantra increases at an alarming tempo. I check the possibilities of a vicious exterminator standing behind me. A Nuer warrior, or a Dinka bastard? How did he know I was in the high grasses? How did he track me to this place? No! The Nuer devil that shot Baati!!! Why is he standing so stilly behind me? EXTERMINATE me already! By Baati’s principles, I turn to look into the face of the man who would bear my blood on his hands, to stare into his face while he betrays patriotism. Two little earthlings stand gazing at me when I turn. “Humans, Mooti. They are little humans. Children.” I decide to ignore over-corrective subconscious Mooti.

“Hello…” I say to them, trying to regain my voice and straining my eyes in the dark to make out the gender of the owners of the two pairs of eyes standing out in the dark. Their only response is a continued stare from scared and cold little lenses. Maybe they don’t speak English. I begin to weigh my Murle linguistic capability, and conclude that it would be effective.

“Abona,” I say, the word sounding easier than I thought it would be. They are still staring at me. I decide to probe further. “Kazi zaar cugun nƐ? Kazi zaar cigan nƐ, Mooti.” I resolve that asking about their names and telling them mine would make them loosen up and speak to me. This time, their eyes move but there is no respond. Subconscious Mooti stands firm in place, and folds his hands around his chest. He is not backing down from this challenge. “Abaai niina ŋaa? Where do you live?” I quickly whisper in Murle and English, not sure which they understand anymore.

“We perfectly understand English,” a frail voice hisses in mock response. Thank God, the situation was getting awkward.

“Why didn’t you respond when I first spoke then?” I add quickly, afraid that the voice would go silent again.

“I am Korok, and she’s Tutu.” He answers the question I asked earlier, ignoring the immediate. I pick up the minor masculinity from his voice. Good, he’s a boy, and the other is a girl. 

“I am Mooti.” I extend my hand for a handshake and the dark coldness blows at it. Ok. No handshakes. I withdraw my hand to its previous position behind my back.

“You’ve said that already,” the voice hisses at me again. I and subconscious Mooti resolve that we won’t get along with him.

“It’s just you who is speaking,” I whisper when I begin to hear gunshots in the distance again. Korok and Tutu draw closer to my side.

“Tutu doesn’t speak,” he hisses again. He has to stop doing that.

“Is that by choice or…”

“She can’t speak,” he interrupts, and I know he is giving me the sardonic look.

“Oh…” I look away, feeling stupid. “Hello, Tutu,” I say, smiling into the darkness. I do not want her to think me rude. I am relieved and reassured when a hand, from the darkness, touches mine and shakes it. Good. Tolerable Korok is already a handful. Before I could say anything else, Korok pulls Tutu to the ground, and in the little light I make out that he has put leaves for both of them to sleep on. I stare silently as I watch both of them stretch out on the ground and become utterly silent almost immediately. I sink to my behind, and continue to stare at their outlined figures in the dark till I fall asleep.

I wake up feeling someone’s breath on my face. When I open my eyes, I find two big eyes peering into my face. I sit up, looking totally confused. Then I see them staring at me as though I were a cobra ready to strike. Korok and Tutu. He looks a little taller and older; his hair looking like it had the glory of being jet black once. His clothes look hung on him. It makes me wonder how long they have been out of wherever they called home. When I turn to take a careful look at Tutu, my gut fills up with nausea. There is a thick streak of dried blood between her legs. I look away, as I follow the traces upward. When I look up towards Korok again, he is giving me a sardonic look and regarding me closely. What did I do?

“I checked around, there’s a river down the hill, we can drink and bathe there,” he announces, and I quickly recognise that he was addressing my facial reaction to Tutu. 

“Ok…” I blurt, looking down at my entwined fingers. Korok is already the leader. He regards me again, impassively, and turns towards the adjacent direction, he pulls Tutu’s hand and they begin to walk towards it. The river. On our little journey towards the river, I come to terms that Korok is less of a talker and more of a doer, and Tutu is… not a talker in any way.

“We will both keep watch while Tutu bathes. The Nuer warriors can be anywhere around this area, and they would be delighted to see three Murle children lying around for them to use for their sport.” Korok is already bending down to collect water into the container he had with him from last night when we get to the river. A Doer. He turns to me and I nod. He turns to Tutu and whispers to her and she nods too. She begins to take off her shorts, and I move back slightly.

“We are supposed to give her privacy to… you know,” I stammer while Korok looks at me like I was some simpleton. I feel stupid talking to him. You know. He should know this. Yaati never allowed me bathe with my sisters or look on while they had their baths. But Tutu is standing naked before us, and Korok thinks I’m stupid to plead her privacy.

“We have to remain here to make sure of her safety and ours. She’s nine, there’s no need emphasizing privacy on her.” Korok has a point. I exhale and prepare for the awkwardness that is about to follow. Tutu looks from me to Korok before stepping into the river. She shudders when her right foot touches the water. As she takes step after step deeper into the river, I notice the redness in the water which she leaves in her wake. I stare hard at the redness flowing and dancing around in the water like red smoke emitting from repugnant incense, and my stomach walls tighten. Red smoke from Yaati. Red liquid from Baati. Red smoke and liquid from Tawan and Macar. Red. Red. Red. Before I can stop myself, I empty my gut into the bush, my legs shaking fiercely as I did. When I stand up, cleaning my mouth, I catch a glimpse of fear and pity in Korok’s eyes. Oh. 

“I am alright.” I announce to the air.

“It’s your turn,” Korok replies. He is impassive again. Tutu begins to walk towards me, out of the water and I freeze. She is all cleaned up, all beautiful, all…naked. Subconscious Mooti is nowhere in sight. Traitor. I begin to look at my fingers again and I know that I have given myself away. I am suddenly alarmed. It’s your turn. I begin to deliberate the best way to take off my clothes with Korok, and especially Tutu, looking on. Awkwardness. I decide to face away from them, taking off my torn clothes with one swift movement. I wince when the air blows on my wounds, and Korok’s question startles me from behind.

“They dripped the burning plastic bag on you too?” He sounds surprised.

“Yes. They also tore out some fingernails.” I do not turn to face him. No one should see the fear, terror, and darkness in my eyes.

“They did same to me.” His tone is soft now. “He’s not so bad after all.” Subconscious Mooti is back again.

“Oh…” I say, because it is all I can say. I step into the river. It is cold.

“You have an accent,” Korok continues, still looking at me. He is talking. To me.

“I was born in London,” I reply blankly and I hear Tutu gasp. Good sign. I decide to go on. “My parents got married in London. My sisters and I were born there. We actually live there. We just returned to the Sudan because of some issues my Baati wanted to sort out relating to the crisis. We were on our way to the city… we were on our way back when…” my voice trails off as emotions cloud me. Red. Red. Red. I begin to walk out of the water, my head bowed.

“Why did your Baati bring you back to South Sudan when he knew there were crises?” Korok is taking off his clothes, though his eyes are on me.

“I guess he didn’t know the crisis was this serious,” I shrug. “He also wanted us to know the place of his birth and breeding. My Baati is… was proud of his origin. He taught us the Murle language, and made us use it, sometimes. He made me and my sisters call him Baati, and my mother, Yaati.”

“Your Yaati, was she from the Sudan?” 

“Is.” I correct him. “She was still alive when I escaped. She helped me escape. She asked me to go to the camp in Pibor. They would provide us security there. I pray she is still alive. She is a Murle woman. She christened us Murle names.” 

“I pray so too,” Korok coos. Wow. “Pibor is not far from here. We are on our way there.” He continues, walking out of the water. I nod, looking away. “Tutu is my sister,” he announces. My eyes dart back to him.

“What happened to her?” The question is out before I can hold myself back. I quickly glance in Tutu’s direction and there is pure horror on her face. God!

“She was raped,” Korok cringes as he says it and though I already know she was raped, I cringe too. “Three Nuer devils,” he whispers as though the words were a taboo. My hands fly to my mouth. Poor Tutu. I look in Tutu’s direction, and terror stares back at me. Korok suddenly sits on the floor, and he gets my attention. “Her tongue was cut off when she spat in their leader’s face. Tutu is a stubborn girl, wiser than her mates. Our Baati and Yaati tried to stop them but they were killed. They raped her while she bled and… and…” Korok begins to cry and my chest constricts. For the first time, he looks like the child he really is. I stand looking beyond shocked. Her tongue was cut off. Tutu doesn’t speak. “…and what brought more horror was not just the raping but that she cried without a sound, and shouted pure silence.” Korok finds his voice again. Jesus. Now I understand his initial coldness. His trauma. I glance at Tutu and she stares back, not at me but through me. Her trauma. I look down at my hollow hands which Yaati and Baati once held. My trauma. Our trauma. 

“ Tawan and Macar, my elder sisters. They were raped too. They were twelve. They were twins. They killed them.” It was my turn to cry. I do not tell Korok and Tutu about my Yaati. Yaati, Tawan, and Macar. Red smoke on lines. I am surprised when Korok comes to me and wraps his arms around me. Tutu scoots to our side and wraps her little arms around us too. As though I implored her to do so, she opens her mouth, and in place of her tongue, I see a beautiful pink of nothingness. Beautiful pink nothing. I close my eyes and all I picture is consanguinity. It’s too quiet around when we unwind from each other. The birds have stopped chirping. Something is wrong.

“Move and we will blow your little heads.” A voice bellows from somewhere in the bushes. On cue, many men in Nuer Soldier uniforms emerge from every corner around us. How did they get here? Tutu suddenly becomes frantic. She runs into the river, splashing water all over. The gun goes off. Darkness.

                                                                 * * * * *

Korok’s scream wakes me up from my deep sleep. Not the nightmare again. I jump up to find him struggling with himself again. I shake him vehemently, and he sits up. He cleans off the beads of sweat that are trickling down his face, and begins to sob silently. I hold his shoulders closely, rocking him like a baby.

“Is it about Tutu again?” I ask, though I know it is. I have nightmares about Tutu. About Baati. Yaati, Tawan, and Macar. I have Nightmares. Korok nods and I rock his shoulder more subtly.  “She’s safe now,” I say, not just to convince him, but myself. Sunrays are beginning to find their way into the room. We slept into the better hours of the morning. I sit beside Korok. He is calm now.

“Dayiin,” Anyan announces as she brings our breakfast into the tent. In two days I have grown to acknowledge the selflessness of the woman who serves us food at the Pibor camp. I still remember the motherly smile she gave us when we were first rescued from the Nuer soldiers, and brought to the camp.

“KatalnƐ,” I reply, smiling, thanking her as Korok does same.

“Abona juruŋ? How are you?” she looks from me to Korok.

“Li Kabona,” I smile again. Korok replies almost immediately. We are fine.

She pats our heads and leaves. Korok eyes me with expectation, and we both rush toward the food. As I close my eyes to pray, words do not come forth. I only see Tutu in a garden of beautiful pink roses. Beautiful pink something. She waves her hand and touches every pink something. Baati, Yaati, Tawan, and Macar stare back at me silently. They say nothing. Nothing. I open my eyes. I know that this is my silent horror.