a/n: Honestly, I just couldn't get this out of my head. I saw "Tears of the Sun" last week on TV, and really liked it. You might not have seen it, or might not be a huge fan, but to sum up the film, a group of Navy SEALs go into Nigeria, which had a recent coup, to retrieve US citizens from danger. Along the way, the SEALs find they can't abandon the Nigerians who will be hunted and threatened with ethnic cleansing from the new rebel government.
I wrote this in first person, which was a challenge for me considering I generally don't like it, but hopefully it fits. I felt it had to be first person. Oh well. Send me feedback, if you please. Thanks!
Chapter 1: The Village
I watched. Nothing more, but watched, as the people who I cared for as friends and neighbors were riddled with bullets. Those were the lucky ones. And as they died, I was riddled with guilt. Because I sat, watching up in the hills, waiting for it to be over.
If I'd thought it through, I might have done something different. But the rebels came fast, and once they showed up, I had no chance. At least that's what I told myself, as I hid amongst green ferns and trees. As soon as I heard the first screams, I ran.
I came to Nigeria more than a month ago. My parents thought I was crazy, and really, I don't fault them for that.
"Jane, going to Africa isn't a fresh start. It's suicide," my dad had said. My reasons, he acknowledged were noble, but that wasn't enough. 'A humanitarian' was what I wanted to be. But looking down on the carnage below, I doubted I could ever be selfless or really make any difference.
The rebel soldiers pulled a woman from a hut. I couldn't tell who it was, not from this distance. My eyes were never that good. But I easily heard the shot that ended her screams. A string of gunfire followed, and I quickly looked to see where it was coming from.
A mother and two children were the targets. I shut my eyes, bowing over to the ground, and trying not to scream in mourning. I knew that woman. I took care of her kids when she was working in the fields. A whimper escaped my lips, and I slapped my hand over my mouth.
I kept my head at the ground, cradling myself beneath the foliage, as if that would make things better. It didn't. All I saw in my mind was a face with each shot I heard. I tried not to think who was dying next, and even more I tried not to think of how I was failing them like a coward in these hills above the carnage.
Horrific screams echoed over the village and in the little valley it was situated in. I heard a man screaming, over and over again. He was terrified. Against my better judgment and for the first time in a few hours, I looked.
It was Nmumbu, someone who didn't really trust me because I was American, but nice otherwise. He was bound by a tire, of all things. Two soldiers stood over him, and poured gasoline on him. One soldiers held a lighter. No, no. Please, not this. I'm not sure if I was hoping I wouldn't hear the screams, or that Nmumbu wouldn't suffer. I shut my eyes again.
And suddenly his screams stopped. Instead there was weeping. I frowned and peered over the leaves that blocked me from view.
The two soldiers were down. Dead, it looked like, but . . .
Something moved in the corner of my vision. I tensed, ready to run, but the movement was further away, down by the village. Then figures emerged from the greenery.
Soldiers. But I could see the difference in what they wore. In the way they moved. Americans. I looked back to Nmumbu, who looked around wildly for why he wasn't dead. He quieted when he saw the Americans, but they didn't stop to free him. No, don't stop. Nmumbu wasn't the only one still alive. Please, save the others. Save them, because I hadn't done a thing.
Uncurling myself from my cowering posture, I sat up and watched the Americans move with complete precision. They split in two groups. One moved to the far side where I couldn't see them, and the other neared the side closest to me. I ducked down into the leaves more. I'm not sure why.
The Americans had guns drawn. Rifles, semi-automatics, I'm not sure what else. I'm trying to be a humanitarian, not an Army recruit. They moved single-file to the source of more screaming. It was a woman screaming, and I knew what was happening. My heart sped up in the anticipation of the Americans' interference.
I didn't hear any shots from that group, but I imagined they used silencers. Or maybe the screams were louder. I just stared, waiting for something good to happen. Good is a relative thing, so I guess I just hoped to see—
I gasped. A woman was coming out, alive and clinging to one of the Americans. The relief I felt was probably nothing to hers. She was sobbing, but the American said something to quiet her. He left her, and followed the others further into the village.
My breath was short in coming. Hut after hut, they moved, checking each one. Where shouts, violence, and screams were heard, the Americans moved in faster. I willed them to succeed, to save as many as possible.
Their whole raid on the rebels in the village lasted maybe 10 minutes. The rest, before the Americans came . . . I think it was morning when they came. It had to have been, because I decided to go for a walk, just around the perimeter of the village. I did it every morning, and today it saved me.
Me, but no one else. I hadn't saved anyone.
More shouting made me forget about that briefly. A rebel ran from the village. He glanced once over his shoulder, realizing he wasn't alone. From his size, he couldn't have been more than 18 years old. He ran full out, right towards the hills.
I ducked beneath the foliage. He kept running, and I could hear the ferns and grass under his feet. He was getting closer.
What do I do? I think he was armed, but that helped him, not me. I glanced to either side of me, thinking maybe I could hide—I've done really well at that so far—but then I saw his feet.
He looked to be 40 feet away. I closed my eyes and hoped he'd just step over me.
And then, he stopped. Five seconds later, his body dropped to the earth and I nearly shrieked. His eyes were open, staring at me, past me, ahead at what was to be his escape. I never heard the shot that marked the back of his head.
My stomach twisted then. I nearly threw up.
Trying to see past the mangled mess of his body, I saw one American soldier staring up at the hills, watching for movement. I froze, not wanting the rebel's same fate, even though I wasn't one of them.
The American nearly looked right at me, but he was searching with his eyes. Eventually, he turned away, back to the village. I remembered to breathe at that point. He'd saved me, I figured.
As I watched the Americans gather the few survivors, I kept looking to that one soldier. He had a mohawk of sorts, which I thought was funny on a white guy, but the seriousness in his stance said he wasn't to be taken lightly. None of the soldiers were. They were the real deal.
He seemed to hide any feelings for the survivors or the dead. I saw one soldier in a bandana kneeling over some of the villagers and another soldier privately emptying his stomach behind a tree. A bald-headed soldier noticed that, but said nothing. I think everyone felt this was no time for teasing, even if it might lighten the mood.
At this point I recognized a few survivors. Nmumbu washed off the gasoline on him. I saw others, but in all maybe fifteen people. The village held 80 this morning.
"Fifteen people," I mutter to myself. Sixteen. If I counted myself. I looked for anyone I was close to, but couldn't discern my best friends. I did see the form of one friend, a young woman named Maria, of all things (even as a native Nigerian).
She wasn't moving.
Suddenly I felt so tired. Emotionally I was drained, and physically, well, I just didn't feel I could move. Something inside of me refused to, because I didn't want to go down to the survivors. I could see myself trotting in, and everyone glaring at me. "Where were you?" they'd ask, but I just couldn't see myself answering.
So I laid down where I was, just yards away from a dead rebel, and a short run from the saviors of the village.