PART five: diin
Chapter 36: The Train
Two fortunately uneventful days later, the bus reached its final destination. The driver led DIIN and her group, all of whom had barely uttered a word since the incident with the masked OSZA, to a specific carriage on a specific train. DIIN’s father paid the one eyed OSZA blocking the carriage’s ladder without uttering a word.
“Welcome, to the BEAST,” the OSZA said, moving aside, motioning for the group to climb the carriage.
They sat on the carriage’s roof in silence, holding onto each other as tightly as they could. The train moved a few hours later, awaking DIIN from her slumber. The wind blew in DIIN’s face, but she, just like CREFY, was too tired, too frightened, and too sad to enjoy it. DIIN couldn’t figure out why her insides felt so melancholic. Her parents smiled at her, as warmly as they usually did, every time she looked at them with inquiring eyes. They seemed to be doing fine, and yet, something within her was not convinced, something within her held onto her joy and kept it subdued, and prevented her from feeling any of it.
The first few hours on the train were peaceful and quiet. It was only at night when they heard cries that unsettled them. Screams of male and female OSZA from different parts of the train, pleading with anybody who’d listen to stop this machine they sat on, crying about something falling off of it. DIIN held on to her SKIMMA as tightly as she could. She didn’t want it to fall off the train like their possessions.
“Who fell?” CREFY asked, as his father covered his ears. DIIN wondered if her friend had asked the right question. She had been under the impression that somebody’s things had fallen off the train. Could she have heard wrong? Could an actual OSZA have fallen off? If so, then what was stopping her from falling off the train? What about CREFY? What about her parents? Could any of them fall off at any point?
DIIN’s mother hugged her tightly before she could start crying. “It’s nothing, child. It’s nothing. Somebody dropped something and they are making a big fuss about it. Don’t worry. Don’t cry, child. Don’t cry. Hold on to your SKIMMA. That’s a good little child. Hold on to it. Don’t let it go. Don’t worry. Mommy’s here. Mommy will always be here. Mommy will always protect you,” she whispered. DIIN shut her eyes and forced herself to stop thinking. She wasn’t entirely convinced by what her mother had said, but she did not have the energy or desire to continue thinking about it. She used all her willpower to drown out the crying voices.
The next day passed by without incident. There were no cries that night. The train stopped at its first station and the group used the last of their money to buy whatever sustenance they could. Everything they bought was divided and rationed, so that it lasted for three meals instead of one. The train was stopped by uniformed OSZA, who promptly forced everybody to climb down, towards the end of the third day.
DIIN watched in horror as the OSZA in uniforms went from passenger to passenger, searching each of them, shaking them down until they had laid claim to every coin and currency note they possessed. She hid behind her father when she saw them beating every male who had nothing to offer, and began to shake when she realized that they were dragging away every female who had no valuables or currency to give them.
DIIN fought back the tears as she watched her father drop to his knees and beg the uniformed OSZA who approached them to show them some mercy. The OSZA ignored her father completely, and instead laughed loudly and diverted the attention of the rest of his group towards CREFY, who had wet himself. The OSZA then asked CREFY’s father, behind whom stood both the mothers, to step aside. CREFY’s father refused, and, just like DIIN’s father, begged the OSZA to leave them alone. The OSZA let out a long yawn, and immediately shoved the baton he carried into CREFY’s father’s torso. The uniformed OSZA watched with glee as CREFY’s father fell to the ground. He let out a big laugh when DIIN screamed as she watched both the mothers being dragged away.
“Everything will be fine, child. Be brave. Stay with your father,” her mother yelled. “Be still, my love. Please. For our daughter’s sake.”
“I love you, my little baby,” CREFY’s mother said, as loudly as she could. “Stay calm, husband. For the sake of your child.”
“Listen to your wives,” the OSZA said, as his baton came crashing down on DIIN’s father. “I’m waiting,” he said a few seconds later, smiling at the sight of the two fathers.
“Please, Sir… Accept my apologies,” CREFY’s father said.
“Yes… We are sorry, Sir. Please forgive us,” DIIN’s father muttered.
“You two have no idea how lucky you are that I have such a good and kind soul. Anybody else in my place would have killed you already,” the uniformed OSZA said, before walking away, seeming completely unaware of how contradictory his self-assessment was.
DIIN and CREFY held onto their fathers for the next few hours. Their mothers could barely walk when they returned. Their clothes were completely torn off, and this time, DIIN could clearly make out that the marks on their bodies were nasty bruises and scratches of all kinds. Nobody uttered a word. There were no cries. There were no screams. Just an eerie silence. The other passengers helped carry DIIN and CREFY’s mothers back onto the train carriage’s roof, after which a few of them took out whatever extra clothing they had in their bags and covered them up in it.
DIIN’s mother held onto her for the remainder of the night. She did her best to hold back her tears, but they burst out of her every few minutes despite her best efforts. DIIN’s father said nothing. He sat away from them, holding his head in his hands, refusing to so much as look at them, or let them look at him. DIIN did her best to keep her mother company, and console her for as long as she could, but the events of the day had tired her, and she passed out before she knew it.
“I’m sorry. This is all my fault. This was my idea,” CREFY’s father whispered the following morning. The adults thought the children were asleep, but they were only half right. DIIN had woken up, but she kept her eyes closed when she realized the adults were whispering. She wanted to hear what they were saying, hoping that it would explain all the madness she had seen and experienced so far.
“No. You cannot blame yourself, brother. None of us knew that this would happen,” DIIN’s mother said.
“Yes. The fault lies with me, not you. I couldn’t protect my family,” DIIN’s father said.
“Stop it, my love!” DIIN’s mother said, grabbing his hand. “What were you supposed to do? Be brave and let them shoot you? What use would you be to us after that?”
“She is right, big brother. Both of you should heed her words. There was nothing any of us could do,” CREFY’s mother said.
“No. This is my fault. I shouldn’t have said anything. I brought us on this journey. Everything that happened is my…” CREFY’s father began.
“No! We had no choice. What were we to do? Wait for the disease to get to us? Move to another town where the gangs could shoot us on a whim any given day?” DIIN’s mother said.
“What about our children? What about their future? What would their lives look like in another ten years? At best, CREFY and DIIN would be picking trash, struggling to eat every day, just like we do. But, most probably, the gangs would have gotten to them. What happened to us could just as easily have happened to DIIN had we stayed. Some of them had noticed her already. Already! At this young age! Do you think they would be blind to her once she was a little older? And you know how the gangs are when it comes to young males. They have to either join them or die. Is that what you wanted for our son?” CREFY’s mother said.
“See… There was no choice. There was no decision to be made. This was the only course left. And we are on it,” DIIN’s mother said, after the fathers remained silent for a few minutes.
“Whatever happened, happened. I do not want to think about it right now. I cannot think about it. Please. I need you to keep me from thinking about any of it. All I want to think about right now is our destination. And how bright our children’s future will be in a place like that,” CREFY’s mother said.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you,” CREFY’s father said.
“I’m sorry too, my love. I couldn’t keep you safe,” DIIN’s father added.
“Enough! We will not talk about any of this again. I cannot… I will not spend another second reliving the things that have happened. If this is the price we have to pay to ensure a better future for our children, then so be it. Now, please, for the love of God and all that is holy, put an end to all of this. Pretend if you must. But we need to be distracted. You want to protect us? You want to protect your family? Then make sure that we forget everything that happened. Make us believe that it was just a bad dream. Stop pitying yourselves and give us the strength and support we need,” DIIN’s mother said.
“As you wish, my love. As you wish,” DIIN’s father murmured, as both sets of parents hugged each other. DIIN smiled softly, as she secretly watched them with half open eyes. Much of what they had said to each other had been beyond her understanding. But the hugs she witnessed at the end were of great comfort. For a few seconds, she hoped that the journey would get less horrifying, and go back to like it was a few days ago, when they had their wheelbarrow.