Short Story Dora’s Turn By Jackee Budesta Batanda
War is always, in any place, at any time, a terrible thing. The heart cries out against the killing, but still it happens.
Somewhere in Uganda, Dora and her friend Acayo, who tells this story, are fighting in a war. They carry big AK-47 guns, and they know all about death and killing, pain and fear. They are children, twelve years old…
The little boy’s cries are getting quieter, weaker. I can only just hear the words. ‘Please, please… ah, no, no, no… Help me… help…’
Now there is a louder voice, the voice of Mad Tiger, our commander. He is fourteen years old.
‘Hit him harder!’ he shouts at us. ‘Get closer to him. Use your whips – harder!’
The noise of our whips through the air is louder than the boy’s cries.
‘Our war is good,’ shouts Mad Tiger. ‘We must clean out bad people. We are soldiers – no escaping, no running away, everyone must fight.’
The other commanders smoke their cigarettes under a tree. ‘Go on,’ they laugh at us, ‘get blood on your hands.’
The boy on the ground stops moving. Our whips are still. It is over.
I feel ill. There is something hard in my throat, like a stone. I can’t breathe. My friend Dora also tried to escape, and she’ll be next. They will order me to kill her. Dora and I have been close. We are both twelve years old. Dora, who is going to be a doctor after the war… Dora, who wants to save lives, to stop the killing… Dora, who has been my friend when I wake in the night, screaming, because I can see the faces of all the people that I have killed…
The AK-47 is heavy on my shoulder, and I stand, waiting… waiting for Dora’s turn, and the stone in my throat gets bigger.
‘Acayo!’ Mad Tiger shouts. I turn and look at him, hiding the fear in my eyes. It is a crime to show fear. My mouth is shut in a hard line. This helps to stop the tears coming into my eyes.
‘Yes, Afande’ I say quietly. My voice must not be angry or unhappy or afraid, just quiet. That way he will not hear my fear. I give a soldier’s salute to my commander, take my gun off my shoulder, and hold it up against my body. The gun points up to the black sky and the full moon. And the moon looks down at us, watching these deaths.
Mad Tiger smiles, his teeth shining white in the moonlight. He looks pleased. ‘Are you ready?’
I cannot speak, but I nod my head.
They push Dora forward, and she falls on the ground in front of me, trembling. She is so small and thin, like a flower shaking in the wind. Our eyes meet. We cannot use words so we speak with our eyes. I don’t want to do this, my eyes tell her.
But Mad Tiger and the other commanders are watching us, so I take Dora’s arm and pull her to her feet. I want to ask her questions – Why did she try to escape without me? Why, Dora, why? We have always known each other’s secrets before tonight.
Holding Dora’s arm, I push her towards the trees. The killing will happen there, behind the trees, where no one can see. They are watching me, I can feel their eyes on my back. Perhaps they are following us, but I can’t turn round to look. My legs are trembling. The stone in my throat gets bigger. My hands are hot and wet, and my fingers are making red marks on Dora’s arm.
I take my hand away. I can’t do this, not to Dora. We’ve been here together for three years.
‘Don’t be sorry,’ Dora whispers. ‘You have to do it. Everybody has to do it.’
She mustn’t talk, someone will hear. Afraid, I look behind me. We are alone. Quickly, I push Dora further into the trees. We stop. I’m cold. I’m afraid.
‘I can’t do this,’ I cry.
‘You must,’ Dora whispers. ‘Or they’ll kill you too.’
‘Then they must kill us both.’ The stone in my throat goes away with those words. ‘You’re my friend. We can run away… look for the government’s soldiers… ask for help…’ I speak excitedly. We can do it.
‘Acayo,’ Dora says, ‘stop this talk. You know we-‘
At that, moment comes the sound of heavy guns behind us, where Mad Tiger and the others are.
‘What…?’ whispers Dora.
Suddenly I understand. Those are government army guns, not our guns. A helicopter gunship has found Mad Tiger’s group.
‘This is our chance!’ I drop my gun and take hold of Dora’s hand. ‘Run!’
Dora stares at me, not sure.
‘Do you still want to be a doctor?’ I shout.
Suddenly Dora’s feet come to life again. And the ground under our running feet trembles.