By Angela Gilbert
As he runs, Yassin scrapes his thumbnail over the part of his finger that pulls the trigger. It used to hurt. Now that he’s twelve, the skin has toughened and leathered. It doesn’t hurt anymore.
Yassin’s feet fall in time with those around him, the RENAMO. They charge for the hospital in Homoine, where the FRELIMO wait. They are the ones responsible, he is told, for how hard life is in Mozambique. Yassin knows because the RENAMO shout it to him. They have for three years. After Mozambique was liberated from Portugal in 1974, the FRELIMO created a government even worse. He tells himself killing the FRELIMO is necessary. He has to believe it. He has to believe what Hamza tells him to believe.
As they run, Yassin narrows his eyes. The people he’s killed have wide eyes. People in charge have narrow eyes. He doesn’t feel like he’s in charge, but if he keeps his eyes narrow, the FRELIMO will think he is.
Yassin learned about wide eyes three years ago, when Hamza, the tallest of the RENAMO, shoved the gun into his hands. He remembers two guns. One quivered in his arms, its thick, black metal burning in the African sun. The other, also hot and burning, pressed into the skin at his temple.
A moment of silence.
A man Yassin knew from his village kneeled at his feet. A man with wide eyes, like Yassin’s. His finger tensed on the trigger, and the silence ended with thunder and a throbbing finger. Claps on the shoulder and shouts of affection replaced the hot metal against his head.
“RENAMO is your family now,” Hamza laughed. He pulled a golden box out of his pocket and tossed Yassin a red wrapper filled with melted chocolate. He remembers his quaking hands as he unwrapped the brown richness and licked the wrapper clean. More chocolate in his palm, this time beside a pinch of white powder. Yassin hesitated. He didn’t trust the powder. He felt the gun against his head again. Another choice. He used the second chocolate to swallow the powder as their laughter swam around him. His head swam with their laughter. He looked down at the gun in his hands, at the collapsed man at his feet, the red river flooding from his head. The scene staggered before him as he struggled to understand, as his teeth gritted against the flecks of powder still clinging to his tongue.
“RENAMO is your family now,” he whispers to himself as their feet kick up the dust on the road to the hospital. They don’t feel like his family. He remembers his family. He misses them. But out loud, he agrees with the RENAMO, so they’ll keep him. Before he kills, he agrees with the RENAMO, so he can keep himself.
The powder helps.
Homoine rests in a silence suddenly invaded by charging feet. The sun’s rays have barely wormed their way into the sky as the RENAMO run through the dirt streets lined with shacks covered by thatched roofs. The cement building rises from the dirt road, pinged and chipped from bullets and distant explosions. The hospital.
The first ward at the entrance. That’s the target. Some FRELIMO escaped the attack yesterday, and that’s where they’ll be, getting treatment for their injuries, until they can go on ripping terror through their country.
The RENAMO will storm the hospital, kill the stragglers, and escape without a problem. Most of those who live in the shacks around them don’t have guns. Most of those who do will have wide eyes. The others belong to the FRELIMO, and Mozambique needs them to die, too. Yassin knows this because Hamza screamed it into his face this morning.
Hamza plows through the hospital’s entrance, the RENAMO following after him. Yassin charges through, and his narrowed eyes take in the scene before him. Brown mattresses and discolored blankets splay every inch of the dirty floor not covered by spindly cots. Gray and red bandages cover gashes in brown skin. Tourniquets made of cloth hug hanging limbs. Blood and insides are strewn across patches of gray wall. The smell is nothing but dirt and blood. These signs of trauma tell Yassin how easy this will be. All eyes before him are either wide or closed.
The guns erupt. Yassin’s finger pulls and pulls and never throbs. FRELIMO voices bellow, then whimper. Their bodies stiffen, then crumple. As silence takes the air around him, Yassin, careful to keep his eyes narrow, pulls air into his lungs. He tastes the insides of those who had themselves been breathing just moments before. He turns his face and body towards the exit, his thumbnail again finding the patch of leather on his finger as he shifts his gun to his left hand.
He feels Hamza’s hand on his shoulder, flinching from the rough touch of Hamza’s skin, even through his shirt. “We’re not done here,” comes a growl as Hamza pivots Yassin’s shoulder towards a hallway that spiders off the trauma ward.
The FRELIMO lay dead. What else is there to do?
Yassin’s eyes widen as he feels a shove towards a room filled with small cots. Small, wide eyes look up at him over small, wet cheeks. Small hands cling to small blankets. Small lives hang before him. Hamza’s lips curl around his teeth as he nudges Yassin’s gun towards one of the small bodies.
The other men all chuckle around him.
Yassin darts his wide eyes from the small body of the child in front of him to the large body of Hamza to the right of him. He narrows his eyes and flashes his gun up to his right.
He feels his muscles tighten as he starts to pull the trigger.
His finger is tough, so he knows it won’t hurt.