I owe the Xuuxu my life but no gratitude. Once they flushed us from our valley and stood us naked, side by side in the long grass under the sickle moon, lowlands clansmen that the colonists favored—by which I mean tolerated and bestowed with courtesies that felt like slaps on the jaw—they had to kill the lot of us, including my parents and sisters, the one I liked and the one who died knowing I didn’t. They should have killed me too, and I wish they had; instead, they spared me as a witness to their petty ferocity. When the warlord swept his hand above my head to point me toward my exile, I flinched all the way to the ground, thinking my turn had come, and all the stupid killers slapped their weapons across their thighs and laughed and spit until I would have silenced them if I’d had a weapon of my own. They kept me as a mascot. They never tired of slicing the air above my head with their machetes to see me dive, and I, to my shame, couldn’t help but throw myself into the dirt. You could stop reading now, I know, and I wouldn’t blame you. I haven’t described the machete blows that fell that day, their singing swiftness, or the sound of chopping down trees that meant they had struck another bone. I don’t think I can. I know I don’t want to. A woman they had tied standing to a tree, a friend of my mother’s, looked at me with pitying eyes, but nothing could prevent them from holding me by my shoulders and hips and forcing me into her again and again. They laughed and told me I was a man but I felt like something less.
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