Chapter 2: The Bengals
René watched streaks of water as they slithered their way down her window. Fields of tall grass passed by, and, in the distance, the forest passed by slower. The drudgery of the rest of the group’s talking was soon blotted out as her mind wandered in her unconscious self. She could still hear what they were saying, but she was beginning to slip away.
Now deep in thought, René’s mind was now fully wandering through memories long past, many of which she tried very hard to forget. She closed her eyes, and though the others kept talking, she wasn’t listening. Her mind was taking her back. Way back…
When she opened her eyes, she was no longer sitting in the back of a small jeep, but standing in the middle of a small village. The two suns that set behind her were yellow and orange; the latter one filled up the whole sky. Around her, small structures that seemed to have been scrambled together and were made out of strange materials stood. Used spaceship parts, broken bits of plastic, and other oddities made up these dwellings.
René walked over to one of these. Her destination was a twisted piece of broken ship hull leaned against a variety of strewn-together junk attached to a half-broken storage container with a makeshift door. It was around three Eriks wide by two Eriks long, with a small upstairs where René slept. It wasn’t much, especially compared to the city that lay a few miles south, with its sturdy concrete structures and metal roofing; but, it was her home. It was hers and her family’s. And that was better than most people who lived on this planet, most of whom were, because they were indebted to one warring faction or the other, essentially slaves. At least René’s family was free.
She paused for a moment before entering, after hearing the pitter patter of little feet behind her. She turned suddenly to see who it was. A horde of children were heading her way, and she winced as a tide of laughter and smiles surged around her. When they had passed, one little girl remained, with a small blue scarf around her neck, standing there in front of her, smiling.
René looked at her for a brief second before smiling back.
“Udadwe!” the little girl squealed, before running and jumping into her arms.
“Hello, little one,” René said to her, hugging her back, “what have you been up to, you Zama?”
René’s little sister grinned back, and then took something out from her little green satchel. She presented a jar that was glowing yellow-green. Inside, a little glowworm wriggled around, and its bioluminescent body sent patterns reflecting off the glass.
“Where did you get that?” René asked her sister.,“they’re practically impossible to find!”
“Wanikeza izi waliniki!” Zama said with a smile, and pointed into the distance, where a small group of children were playing.
“Over there? Just in the sand?” René asked enthusiastically, “well, aren’t you lucky, missy!”
Suddenly, one of Zama’s friends ran behind her behind her and tugged at her satchel, urging her to go play. Zama looked up at René, unsure of what to do.
“Go play with your friends,” René said, “don’t let me hold you back.”
Zama looked at her friends, then back at René. She finally made up her mind and went to hug René one more time.
“Fishi wake, René,” she said.
“I love you too, Zama,” René said.,“now go to your friends!”
Zama ran off with her friend. The shadows began to grow longer, and the two suns dropped lower. The sky was almost full with the half-circle of the red sun on the distance. René smiled. She marveled at how children were so full of hope and happiness, and didn’t have a care in the world. She looked around the village, at the other adults, who were wearily going about their day with a sad look on their face. René was determined to be happy when she got older, and to not grow up to be like them.
In that moment, René was happy. Zama was happy, so by extension, she was happy too. She walked around, marveling at the environment under the setting sun. This arid planet in a backwater system of a galaxy that would no sooner forget her than share in her struggles was, no matter how unforgiving, her home. And home was where she belonged.
While René took this all in, she didn’t notice a convoy of armored vehicles moving closer and closer to the village, the sound of their engines growing louder as they came. A sudden bout of shouting ensued. Someone’s screams shook her awake, and she turned to see what was going on.
She heard a familiar voice calling her name.
“René! Zama! Get over here now!” her mother yelled.
René ran over quickly. “What’s going on?” she asked, concerned but not yet shaken.
Her mother replied, “it’s the Bengals. Where’s your sister?”
René turned and ran, calling out her sister’s name. The Bengals were here.
The Bengals were a militant faction that controlled the areas east of the village. Normally, they kept to themselves but occasionally fought with the other groups for reasons no one really knew. They were horrible people, and slayed entire villages of people who they deemed as their ‘enemy’. Occasionally, they needed new recruits and weren’t afraid to prey on children to join their ranks.
They’re not taking Zama! René told herself firmly, pushing through fear.
René ran to the spot where Zama was playing, but she wasn’t there. The shouts had gotten louder now, and screams could be heard at increasingly frequent intervals.
“Zama!” René screamed. “Zama!”
Turning a corner, she saw a group of children being led by an elderly woman. She scanned through them and sighed in relief when she found Zama.
“There you are!” she said, and ran over to her.
Zama smiled when she saw René and ran over, breaking out of the group of children.
“Ukudala nathi!” she said, pulling her hand.
René stood firm. “No, we can’t play right now, Zama. We have to go home.”
Zama tried to relent, but René wasn’t in the mood to argue.
“No, listen to me, Zama!” she yelled, “we have to g—”
A gunshot rang out, followed by the sound of an automatic weapon firing. The group of children screamed and ran about; the old woman tried to regroup them.
Zama screamed, and ran over to hug René’s arms.
“Ngi yasabe!” she cried to René.
René pulled Zama along quickly as shouts, screams, cries, and the sound of weapons firing erupted around her.
“It’s going to be okay, Zama,” René said, fighting back her own fear, “we just have to get back home.”
Pulling Zama along, René saw a mangled body ahead of her covered in blood. The white eyes of the unmoving man stared back into hers, and she was chilled to the bone. She covered Zama’s eyes as she turned a corner and through a gap between dwellings that led to her own. The image of the corpse still fresh in her mind, she saw her home ahead.
René was terrified as she ran to the door of her home, holding Zama’s hand firmly. Her father was waiting for them outside, and pushed them both in before bolting the door shut behind them. The sounds of suffering outside instantly were subdued.
“Go, hide!” René’s father said, pushing them up to the top room, “no one is going to harm you,” he said with a grim smile, “I promise.”
He shut the trap door that led to their hiding spot, and the room was purged of light. René held her sister tight as they waited silently for it to end.
For a while, it seemed like it would, and everything would be okay. René kept telling Zama this over and over again, until she almost believed it herself. Then the pounding on the door came. René’s heart stopped.
The pounding was brutal, like someone was beating someone that had tortured them all their life. It was the kind of pounding that scared you just by the sheer ferocity of it. Suddenly, the makeshift door was kicked in, and splinters flew everywhere. René held her breath and placed her hand over Zama’s mouth, muffling the sound.
René heard shouting — angry shouting. Her father shouted back, and so did her mother. René’s parents sounded scared, but defiant. The intruders were asking where they were hiding the children, and René’s father lied that they had none. The angry voices grew more ferocious, until a shot rang out. Her father cried out in pain. René then heard what seemed to be a fight ensue below her. A voice screamed in pain, but it wasn’t her parents’. There was another shot. Her mother screamed before being silenced by another shot. Her father yelled out more as she heard a cracking sound, and another unknown voice cried out in pain before being silenced.
There were no more sounds after that, apart from her father’s cries to her mother. When her mother didn’t answer, he breathed out heavily and sadly. She heard fiddling with the lock beneath her, before the upstairs compartment was flooded with light again. She saw her father’s face with blood smeared across it, but he smiled nonetheless.
“You are safe,” he smiled, despite the circumstances, “come, we have to leave.”
René and Zama crawled out, and their father helped them down. On the floor of their house, two strangers’ bodies lay, one with a stab wound in the forehead, and the other with a smashed-in face. Then René saw her mother, and looked away. Her head was bleeding out on one side, and René knew that she was gone.
Zama saw all of this too, and looked away quickly. René grabbed Zama’s arm, and held it firmly. René’s father took one last look at his wife, reciting a prayer in her language. He then told them they had to move, and do so quickly.
Zama and René were about to follow him when they heard more shouts, coming straight this way. Their father yelled at them to go hide, but by now, it was too late. A group of men with rifles and guns came running inside. One of them grabbed Zama, while another grabbed René. Their father shouted and violently punched the one who was holding Zama in the face; the attacker fell over and released his grip.
“Run Zama!” their father yelled, “r—”
A myriad of shots rang out, and René’s father turned to face her, a number of red splotches dotting his shirt. He looked at her right in the eyes. Behind her, Zama was holding René’s arm. René shook it off. René’s father yelled through raspy breaths one more time.
“Run…” he said, before falling over to the ground. Dead.
Zama was still holding on to René’s hand, but she was still shaking it off, even while being restrained by one of the men. Soon, though, she felt the grip weaken. She looked down suddenly, and saw that her sister had been hit. She fell to the floor, blood beginning to form on her little stomach. She looked up, trying to force a smile, but tears were running down her innocent face.
“Fishi…wake…” she tried to say, through rasp, weak coughs, “fishi wake…Udadwe.”
Zambia’s little blue scarf was now stained red, and she held it out to her. René took it gently into her hands. She saw her life slip away, as she went limp in René’s arms. René was frozen. She looked back into Zama’s lifeless eyes. Tears were running down her cheek, as she hugged Zama’s lifeless little body close to her.
“Fishi wake Udadwe,” she whispered back, “I love you.”
She closed her eyes. Just a few hours ago, Zama had been playing, laughing, and smiling with the other children. Just a few hours ago, Zama’s smile had made her the happiest girl in the galaxy. But now…she was gone. Gone. René’s sadness broiled inside her and turned into a growing rage. It grew and grew, until she could no longer control it. Laying her sister at her feet, she stood up. Her shirt was still being grabbed from behind.
Breathing heavily, she clenched her fists.
She began quietly.
“YOU BASTARDS!!!” she screamed.
She turned around, and with clenched fists smashed the man behind her in the head with her fist. He fell over, blood pooling around him.
She turned to the next one, who tried to shoot, but René was too fast for him. Screaming in anger, she took a gun that was lying beside one of the dead men and bashed him in the chest. As the man was coughing blood, she hit him again in the head, killing him instantly. She fired at the other two, using up all the bullets. Their deformed corpses slumped to the ground.
More men came in behind her, snatched away her weapon, and dragged her out. René was hysterical. Screaming and kicking, she flailed around, crying as they dragged her out of her home, and towards an awaiting truck.
“Zama!” she screamed, “I’m sorry! I’M SORRY! ZAMA!!!!”
Her vision blurred, and everything began to go black, as she was overcome with anger, loss, vengeance, and sadness.