Oct/Nov 2010  •   Fiction

Circles Within Circles

by Jerry Budinski

We arrive at the well and find something new has been added to the game. Children. It seems the refugees had come to believe their littlest children were immune from the carnage. No more. Most often the janjaweed, the horse-devils, poison the wells, but they leave a few untainted to serve as bait for their prey. It could be the devils lack the patience to watch the wells for very long without their blood feast. I suppose if the locals train dogs to fetch their water, we'll be finding canine corpses next.

As in a ritual, the men climb out of our Land Rovers, but this time we just slump to the ground cross-legged and stare. A sort of lethargy has set in, which makes the futile game we play seem near its conclusion. Down twelve-nil, but protocol says we must struggle on to the final horn. It is a game because the devils can surely see our dust more miles away than we can see the trekking refugees. The pretense is we have an actual chance to score.

Peter Zingawa somehow still has enough raw skin left to chafe, "Just a couple of gun-ships and those filthy bastards would be finished." I am too weary to explain for the hundredth time we African Union forces are in Darfur only as peacemakers and cannot attack. The only weapon we can wield is shame, which the enemy is impervious to. We can only drive in our too-late circles, guessing at where either horse-devils or refugees will show up next. The need is to catch the murderers in the act and hope to be better men than others have in similar places.

"But think of all the poor, pretty horses," says Rollveg, apparently quite sincere. And even I consider the horror of torn up and screaming horseflesh, a harsh contrast to what is so familiar: the quiet dignity of perforated humans. Even children find a placid way to fall. One girl is reaching awkwardly for her jug, but her face seems almost serene. I pick up the jug and arrange her arms to cradle it. Leaving them as they are is better than laying them out in neat rows.

Yet Rollveg likes to tell the story of a starving boy who leapt onto a horse's leg, clinging with all his four limbs, biting chunks off until it threw the janjaweed rider and broke his neck. Others rode over and finished the boy with their lances, but the glorious part got done. None of us pretends to believe the story, but we all like to hear it now and then.

I said we arrived at a well, but the place is more than that. What now looks like a quaint art-park of stone circles was once a village, and the rings of rocks were charming conical houses surrounded by fruitful fields. No more.

Our whites can look at this most terrible slaughter and smugly think: We never did this. Our blacks look around more warily at what could have been but was prevented. So far.

I shout orders because the men need something to rally them. There is still time to crack a shin or bruise a shoulder and perhaps gain the hope to someday earn a cheer. Just once let us see one of those fiends with his eyes bulging in pain and terror. Or just a dead boy with a mouthful of horsehide.

This time we will try to set a trap. We will follow the horse tracks to raise some dust and then circle back the most heavily armored vehicles into the bush surrounding the village. Then I suppose we will have to shush and wink at the people who must surely arrive sooner than the riders. The poor souls who sent these children to the well.