My name is Exodus. I am the only surviving member of my family. There are times that it feels as if though they are right here beside me, and other times when it is dark and cold and it feels as if though I will never lose this hollow pit in my belly. Tonight I will try again to escape from the camp. I made my mind up the moment I heard that my sister had been shot in the other camp for dropping a bucket of water. She was the last. I am now free – there is no more left for me to lose in this place, nothing to cling to.
Today I received a beating for looking a guard directly in the eyes. It was a mistake. I was merely squinting away from the sun when my eyes met his. He came at me with a lustful savagery, the butt of his rifle smashing into my ear. I can still hear a high-pitched whining sound, and my blood is beating painfully around the bruise. The high sound reminds me of the singing insects from my village, when I used to lie on my back under a marula tree, the fruit thudding to the ground.
The others are asleep. I listen carefully for the guards’ cruel laughs and gravel-grinding boots. It is quiet and the moon is full. I get up silently and step carefully towards the door of the hut. My knees creak so loudly I fear they will awaken the entire camp. My breathing, I must control my breathing and my heart. If I panic I will be lost. I peer around into the darkness and I see the fence in the distance. My feet are blistered and I wince as I hobble forward. I forget the pain as I focus on the approaching criss-cross pattern of the fence. When I approach it, I lie completely flat in the dust, my heart roaring like thunder. I have not been noticed.
With a sudden movement I grab the bottom of the fence and lift hard. It comes away from the ground and opens up, like welcoming arms. I crawl for my life and I am on the other side, my back scratched and stabbed by the cruel metal. There is no shelter nearby, I must run. The moon cheers me on and I let my body fly. I discard fear and despair and hatred, all the bitterness and horror of the camp behind me. I run until I cannot breathe, and then I fall flat on the ground, gasping at the dusty air and clutching at the rocks. I am a rock. I cannot be seen. I am forgotten and insignificant, like a stray piece of dead grass floating down a river. After a few minutes I spring up like a cat leaping at a bird and race onwards, towards my freedom. Soon my body is shaking and dripping with sweat that smudges the blood on my face, arms, legs, feet.
After some time I look back. There is no sound. No one is pursuing me. I am in the clear. They will only discover me in the morning when they force the labourers back to the mine. Then they will roar with fearsome anger. They will shoot in the air. Their vengeance will be dealt out to the others. They will kill three for me. For every one that escapes, three must die. That is their rule. They are savage bastards and I hope they rot in hell. They are not following me. They are asleep. I am safe.
The sun rises on my new day of freedom. It begins like a whisper, softly the light changes, slowly and carefully, hardly noticeable. The moon has long since disappeared, my gentle guardian during the terrible night. The light gains strength and courage. I see the sun’s blaze on the horizon. Come, my darling, do not be afraid. I will be your lover. I will be good to you. You and I can enjoy the beautiful day together. I will dance in your warmth.
I feel myself shaking with tears. My eyes are crusted with blood. My bloody tears drip from my chin and splash into the red dust. Someday I will see you all again. I miss you so very much. I will never forget a moment we spent together. My prayer rises and is carried off by the fresh morning breeze. A hadeda breaks my reverie. Hurry! Hurry! Its call echoes behind me as I run forward. The sun is on my left. I must keep it there. I am going south.
During the day I must keep out of sight as much as possible. There is a chance that the butchers will guess that I am headed towards Angola. In a small clump of trees I find a hiding place where I can wait out the day. I startle a large snake. It hisses at me with disgust but crawls away into the bushes. A lizard lies sunning itself on a rock. With a stick I manage to crush it and make it my lunch. I have no water. If it rains, I am assured of a good drink. I lie down in the grass, my body out of the sight of the cruel world and I fall asleep.
I dream of torture and screaming and death.
Something is dripping on my face. I open my eyes. It is completely dark and it is starting to rain. Carefully I pull a large leaf towards my mouth and allow the rain to drip into my mouth. My thirst quenched I stand up, stiff and very sore. Where to now, Exodus? Which way is south? There is no moon and no stars. I have to guess. I am horrified at a sudden thought ‘ what if I am walking back towards the camp? I stop, dreading. How stupid! Why didn’t I leave a mark to point the way? I crouch in the shelter of a rocky ledge and wait for the rain to pass. Looking up I see faint stars and there! Miracle! The cross points towards my freedom. I scramble across rocks and bushes. Now I feel every sharp rock and stick poking into my bloody feet. I must carry on.
The road surprises me. I am delighted and afraid at the same time. The road means people, but also means my feet will be spared. I find a walking stick and begin my hurried trudge along the road. Soon I find a happy rhythm and begin to hum a song my mother used to sing. I used to sing it to my boys also. It comforts me and I feel light as a bird. Giggling, I break into a run, and I laugh at the bats flitting past, keeping me company in the moonlight. Are you guys coming with me? I am going to Angola! Angola! Let’s all go to Angola! You guys will love it there. Plenty of fruit to chew on, lots of good-looking lady bats. And fantastic caves to hang in. I hear the caves in Angola are lined with gold, you guys will be living in style. Come on, fly with me to Angola!
The bats laugh at me in crazy bat language. They squeak with delight. Yes Exodus, yes! We will come with you to Angola, where the lady bats are something to behold, and the fruit is ripe and juicy, and every tree branch is covered in gold so that we bats can hang out in style. Yes, for sure, we’ll see you in Angola. We’ll hook up at the fruit market in Luanda and spy out the hotties as they fly past. For sure!
I collapse and the light fades. The darkness carries me away.
‘It seems as if our man is waking up.’
‘Hello, mystery man. Do you speak Portuguese? Falar portugues?’
‘Let him rest awhile. He needs it. The doctor said at least another week until he should get up.’
‘Lucky guy. I wish I could sleep in for a week. My feet are killing me!’
My name is Exodus. I have found a new home in a kind land. The man who found me told the doctor I was probably lying in the road for two days. He brought me to Angola in his big Toyota Land Cruiser. He paid the guards to let me through the border, and left me at the hospital with all my bills paid up front.
He found the diamond in my pocket. Oh, that diamond. It was as big as an acorn. It caught the light and turned it into heaven. Now the man has it, and he is gone. It will bring him misery, this I know for sure.
I am free of it. I am free.