by Evan Elise Easton-Calabria
There is safety – or at least routine –
Buying bananas from women selling fruit on the
ground, eating dinner at the UN haunt uptown, washing hands every morning with dirty water from a plastic jug.
Congo is boring.
It starts with roads being unsafe to ride on – warnings of militia, stories of entire buses being shot. This isn’t just looting and these aren’t just rebels. But where you are it is safe, danger seems unreal.
Suddenly, there is war.
But you are not there, you are not there. Now, you are sitting on a train to Frankfurt from Berlin, staring out at church steeples and forests and fields. Then you say Africa and a girl says Congo. Her boyfriend’s mother was there, in the Kivus, just like you, and, unlike you – because you are not there – last week she had to leave.
Suddenly you are not here. Now, you, you are heading for Burkina Faso in a bus – did you just call it a train? And Congo is waving its arms behind you, and you are praying with knocking knees, sweat sliding down your face like tears, cassava root, old sour milk, beside you, and colored cloth and broken nails and the expectant smell of fear.
These are the lives that fly past you as you flee. Your lives, the ones already lived, already gone.
There you are, sitting at sunset on the S-Bahn in Berlin, you, biking through Poland in the fall. The lifetimes you have laid in a lover’s arms after sex, written a poem after dancing, cried with your sister in summer’s late sun.
You have become all of the women you were trying to save.
They flee with soft footsteps, with children too tired to cry, goodbye nothing but one foot after another, deeper into sand.
And your lives, there, then, here, now – they are the babies you have birthed and then abandoned.
They are the phantom children that surround you, whining now, wheedling, they are calling your name. You know not whether to rage or bring them in.
These lives were your ammunition, soft intuition, comfort in the dark.
There is no need, no space, no hope for them now.
Because, you, yes, you are fleeing. One rickety wheel over one pothole on the only road from Congo at a time. It is just your life, your life now, and you are the only one holding onto it as hard as you can. You sink deeper, harder, into who you are. You find yourself smaller but stronger – one pale face on a dark road, one small body careening against wind and dust, broken doors and war.
Really, though, it is not so different from all the ways you have left before.
You pass village after village, until the thatched roofs become rooftops, until the forests become fields. Slowly, fallen twigs on the ground become fall leaves, and the sun seems to become smaller in the sky. You press one hand on Germany’s windowpane, already knowing you will leave dust and fingerprints behind.