Their shoulders slumped as they treaded their dark city. Eyes gazing, but not looking at anything specific. A disoriented look on their bewildered faces. Searching for something, but not finding it.
On streets, buildings caved in on them like grotesque monsters. Many boasted fancy facades, and illuminated signs hung over shops and restaurants. But the people just dragged on with heavier steps.
Vehicles, donkey-pulled carts, motorcycles, and tuk-tuks drove, slugged, whizzed, juddered, jerked, stuttered, honked indiscriminately, and stopped in the middle of the road. There was no regulated traffic except for a few police officers on some intersections who stood to give the city a civilized orderly appeal. They used hand signals, blew their whistles, turned their bodies around facing this or that lane— all rehearsed proficiently. The people wondered at the energy with which the traffic officers worked. While they moved with so much vigor, the people themselves could hardly muster a smile when needed.
The days dragged on, and the people of the city came and went. Schools were in two shifts; morning and afternoon. Kids sat in dark classes where the electricity was on every other day. They squinted their eyes at the dull green chalk board and tried to make sense of what the teacher was writing. The teacher on the other hand was too proud of her work. She held the chalk as if it were the ultimate tool of education, slanting and stroking as if making a masterpiece of art. Occasionally turning her head around shouting to quiet the students down. When one student dared to complain that he couldn’t see the writing on the board, she fumed and told him to copy from the boy next to him. She felt entitled to behave as she wanted. Afterall, the students didn’t understand the battles she was going through. She had to suck it all up inside. But why should she? She’d fear blowing up at once. So it was better to get it all out in little vents throughout her day.
On the far east of the city lies a separation fence that keeps the people caged in. Beyond the fence are vast expanses of green areas. The people of the besieged city stare hard willing the fence to break. Snipers are lined up on small sand hills across the fence that stretches alongside the east. They’re positioned there to shoot and kill. The people hear about other worlds, other peoples far and beyond. Some have made it outside and talk of boundless freedom and enchanting landscapes. They’ve left although their own country that lies beyond the fence has the most enthralling of all landscapes. Mountains, valleys, plains, fields all lush and bountiful. But all of it was stolen from them, and they’ve been packed like sardines into suffocating Bantustans, their movement restricted.
They thought that the age of apartheid, racial segregation, let alone colonialization were a thing of the past. Things that their children would only study in history books, not see and live first-hand.
The people hear others repeat the maxim, ‘The world has become like a small village,’ where for them it has only become a concentration camp.
The people who walk away see civilization out there only. Advancements in buildings, in structures, in technology, and everything material is only out there. They see people vacationing, hiking and laughing heartedly. Could there be people who are happy all the time? they wonder.
The people debate on whether it’s best to flee or stay.
‘It’s not about going or staying? They want us to all flee. To keep becoming refugees over and over.’
‘But I don’t want my children to grow in a big cage.’
‘This won’t last. Teach them to see with new eyes.’
‘You’re never leaving this hellhole?’
‘If I decide to leave, it’ll be on my terms. I won’t be driven out. I dictate when I want to come and go, not them.’