by Sarkis Antikajian
When he saw the soldier’s boot grinding his father’s chest, blood spurting from his face, the boy knew his world had changed forever.
When he saw his mother on her knees, trembling hands stretched out pleading for mercy, the innocence of hope abruptly ceased.
When he saw the man’s stick pointing at his mother’s forehead, fear replaced the tranquility he knew.
And when he heard the words “INFIDELS,” he knew there was no way to hide—not even in their own home.
The galloping horseman thundered past, throwing dust and gravel in their eyes and faces, caked with grime and sweat. The village materialized in the distance. His mother’s fingers gripping his hand stiffened.
“Aleece, quick . . . cover your head.”
His 12-year-old sister, walking a few paces ahead holding 10-year-old Garo’s hand, didn’t comprehend the urgency in her mother’s voice.
“Mama, I would suffocate in this heat.”
“Listen to me. Do it until we pass this village.”
The villagers appeared in numbers. Men, women, and children lined the trails for a circus show. The children held rocks challenging one another to hit a target. Women showered the bewildered deportees with profanities and spit, and the men spied prizes for the taking.
Among hundreds of their brethren, herded like cattle by soldiers on horseback over unmarked trails or untraveled rocky roads, they trudged the barren land for days, destination unknown.
Throughout the day forced to walk in the hot sun with no food or water and in the cold night they huddled in the open, shivering.
Evidence of suffering strewn on the trails—torn up shoes, clothing left behind, abandoned empty water bottles, the broken glass crushed by the hooves of horses.
They passed bodies, dead or dying. Some perished out of starvation, others beaten to death, and most of the elderly left behind to rot. Along the side of the trails, wild dogs gathered around the heaps of humans.
His mother’s shoes tore apart; sharp rocks cut into her bloodied feet. She wanted to endure, if only for her children. When she faltered with exhaustion a soldier threatened her with his whip. “Move, you filthy whore.”
She screamed with terror, “Mama, mama, help me. Mama, mama . . . help me.” His sister’s voice trailed in the distance as the man had his arm around her neck almost lifting her off the ground. His brother ran after them, but two men subdued him and dragged him away—first thrashing, then silenced as he also disappeared in the crowd. His mother’s hands clenched. Helpless and in despair, she pleaded with the men, “Please, have mercy on my children.” She held onto a soldier’s boot. “Please, help my children.” Unable to brush her off, a sharp blow knocked her to the ground. “Get up,” the voice yelled. She stood.
With no food or water for days, weak and dizzy, she could hardly walk. Sweat and blood ran over her eyes. Her feet bled profusely. When she thought of her abducted daughter and son, horrific images came to her mind and she sobbed silently. Is this the end? She wondered.
She stopped; held her 8-year-old son close to her. She wanted to tell him that he needed to go without her. Then, a blow on her head spun her around and she hit the ground dragging her boy with her.
It must have been hours. He lay on the ground exposed to the harsh sun. In his dream, he floated in a lake over cool, clear water, his mother beside him laughing and cheering him on.
He opened his eyes. He almost didn’t recognize her. Blood covered her face. Her black dress torn and bloodied. “Mama?” She didn’t move. He panicked. “Mama?” He touched her cold hand. She opened her eyes just barely. “Are you hurt?” She whispered. “Mama, Mama!” A hint of a smile formed on her face. He looked around as if hallucinating. “Mama, we are alone. We can run away.” She didn’t tell him. Something sharp had pierced her back. God help us.
“Leave . . .” Her lips quivered, the word almost inaudible. “Mama, I don’t understand.” He brought his ear close to her mouth.
“Go. Seek help . . . beg if you have to.” He looked in her eyes; his tears dripped on her face.
She smiled, “Go . . .”
She closed her eyes; He tried to wake her up, but that was impossible. He bent down and kissed her hand. “I will be back for you.”
He walked for an hour, stumbling and falling and getting up again. He kept looking back where his mother lay until she disappeared from his sight. Hungry and thirsty and so tired, all he wanted to do was sleep a peaceful sleep, just like his mother, and never wake up.
He heard a sound. He panicked. He had been lying on the ground, for how long, he didn’t know.
He opened his eyes. Buzzards circled in the sky.
A dark shadow, like an apparition, loomed over him. He couldn’t breathe. Into a deep well, faster and faster he fell. His nails scraped the walls. His sister’s screams echoed louder and louder.
Mama . . . where are you?
A towering figure shielded his face from the harsh sun. “Please Effendi . . .”