PART five: diin
Chapter 37: The Slabs
The BEAST continued on its journey for the next two days, starting and stopping when it pleased, for as long as it wished to. DIIN and CREFY, on multiple occasions, saw various OSZA running as fast as they could towards the train just as it had started, making every possible attempt to jump on to it. A number of them succeeded, but a few always seemed to disappear under the train for some reason; an act that, for a reason that was unfathomable to both children, always resulted in shrieks of terror from the OSZA in the closest carriages.
“Where did they go, Daddy?” CREFY asked his father during one such occurrence.
“Nowhere, sweet child. Nowhere. They got on. You just can’t see them,” his father replied, as he covered the eyes of both children.
“But why are the OSZA screaming? Why do they always scream?” DIIN asked, as she tried to get away from his iron grip over her face.
“They are probably startled. These runners do jump onto their carriages suddenly after all,” he replied, refusing to let go.
By the time DIIN managed to get away from him, all she could make out on the tracks that lay far behind her were a variety of shapes of some kind, some that resembled an OSZA, and others that resembled, at the very least, a few parts of one.
DIIN thought about the shapes she had seen, and the OSZA who had disappeared, for the remainder of the day. Her curiosity eventually got the better of her, and it made her sneak to the end of the carriage her family had spent the last few days on. She handed CREFY the SKIMMA and peeked over the carriage’s edge slowly, afraid of what she might find.
“DIIN! What are you doing in God’s name, child?” her mother screamed, startling DIIN, who had by then pushed herself as far over the edge as she could without falling. The child panicked, and lost her balance.
“No! No! DIIN!” her father screamed, as he watched his daughter disappear.
“DIIN! DIIN! Where are you? Please, child. Please. Please. Please respond. Oh God! Why? Why this? After everything we’ve been through. After everything we’ve sacrificed,” DIIN’s mother wailed, as she made her way to the edge and frantically looked for her daughter.
“Do you see anything, brother?” CREFY’s father asked. “Help me down, brother. Let me go between the carriages and check,” he said a few seconds later, as he watched his friend’s bright red eyes lose whatever little hope was left in them.
DIIN’s father looked at him blankly. He had heard every word, and yet, not a single one had registered. He was long past the point of caring. Those last few seconds, the ones in which his precious child was taken away from him, kept repeating before his eyes. They froze his body and mind, and completely tuned out everything that was happening around him.
His brain registered distant screams sometime later. Whether a few seconds, a few minutes, or a few hours had passed, he could not tell. But the screams eventually snapped him out of this trance. He looked around him, and realized that his wife was shaking him, pleading with him to come back to his senses.
“Help him, my love! Help him!” she screamed, pointing at CREFY’s father, who had managed to find his footing between the two carriages by then. DIIN’s father absent mindedly leaned over the carriage’s edge. It took him a few seconds to register what he saw, but he screamed with joy when he did. There she was, the most precious thing in his life, holding onto his friend, completely safe and sound, except for a few minor cuts and bruises. He pulled her up immediately, teary eyed and shaking with joy, and held onto her for a long time, not knowing what to do with the various emotions he felt. He grabbed CREFY’s father, and pulled him up as he handed DIIN off to her mother.
“Thank you, brother! Thank you! This is a debt I can never repay. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to thank…” he wept and said, before CREFY’s father put an arm around him and stopped him.
“I did nothing you wouldn’t have done, brother. Give no more thought to it,” he said. “More importantly,” he whispered, “I found something down there. There is a large gap in the slabs.”
“What do you mean, brother?” DIIN’s father asked, still shaking, as the mothers leaned in.
“The open roofed carriage next to us. It is loaded with those large slabs. The bottom part has a large gap in it. The slabs at the base of the carriage jut out of it. That’s what saved DIIN when she fell. Further, they are slanted, so she ended up rolling into the carriage itself. There are no slabs above them for the next two feet or so. Whoever loaded the carriage did so to give the appearance that it was completely filled. But it isn’t,” CREFY’s father replied.
“How is that possible?” CREFY’s mother asked.
“All the slabs seem to be laid in the same direction, but the ones above the bottommost are cut up and laid in a perpendicular manner. They form a base for the topmost ones we see. And within that space of a few feet, there are multiple other slabs cut up and placed as pillars to support this base,” he replied.
“Is it stable? Will those pillars hold everything?” DIIN’s mother asked, as she continued to hold DIIN as close to her as she could.
“They have so far,” CREFY’s father replied. “Besides, we are not going to use it unless we have to. But we will sneak down there every time the train stops. Nobody can see in there. Nobody will even realize the gap exists unless they actively look for it. So it will keep us safe from any more raids or authority checks.”
“Daddy, can I go down there just like DIIN also?” CREFY asked suddenly.
“Not on your own,” CREFY’s mother told him, after which she grabbed both the children and gazed into their eyes. “If we catch either of you anywhere near the edge of the carriage, we will leave you on this train, and you will never see any of us again. Do you both understand?”
DIIN and CREFY nodded as vigorously as they could.
“Good. Now let’s get you both cleaned up,” she smiled and said.
The next day went by smoothly for the most part. DIIN noticed that both mothers were unable to sleep peacefully for long periods of time. They constantly woke up shocked, drenched in sweat, often shivering uncontrollably, no matter what time of the day it was. The fathers were what held them together during these moments. They whispered things to them softly, while they gently stroked their heads and held them close, continuing to do so for as long as it took. DIIN and CREFY didn’t understand any of it. Why were their mothers in pain? Nothing seemed to be wrong with them. There were no new wounds, no blood, no signs of any kind. They returned to normal very quickly too, usually as soon as DIIN and CREFY gave them a big hug. It made no sense, just like the whispered conversations they constantly overheard.
“Are you sure they will let us in, brother?” DIIN’s father asked one night.
“They will. Once we explain our situation to them,” CREFY’s father replied.
“But why would they do that? Who are we to them?” DIIN’s mother whispered.
“This utopia we are traveling to is the greatest country on UWA. Its government, its citizens, they’re not like ours. They care about the well-being of their fellow OSZA. They aren’t corrupt like everybody who runs things back home. And they have big hearts and kind souls. They help those who need help. They give everybody who is willing to work hard a chance at a better life. In utopia, everybody is equal. Where they come from, what religion they belong to, what they look like, none of it matters,” CREFY’s father replied.
“Yes, big sister. This country we go to is safe, and it will give us, and most importantly, our children, a chance at a better future. We do not have to constantly worry about fighting off diseases and gangs. We do not have worry about our bodies constantly being rap… used the way they were, at the mere whim of every male we come across. We can make better lives for ourselves if we work hard there. Give our children a chance to get an education and make something more of themselves. These OSZA have created the greatest land there ever was. They are not as small minded as those we have left behind. These OSZA from utopia… they care about life, they care about others, even those that aren’t from their country. They do not think like the OSZA back home. They do not think in terms of those from their country and those from somewhere else. They believe that all OSZA are a single race, something that our own lands would be wise to remember from time to time. In utopia, everybody who wants to work hard and make their lives better is welcome. To those who live in utopia, every OSZA deserves a chance at a better life. That is what makes them great. That is what makes their nation the utopia it is,” CREFY’s mother said, doing her best to keep her voice down.
“I’ve heard that OSZA from all around the world can be found in utopia,” CREFY’s father said, a few seconds later.
“Really? That must be…” DIIN’s father began, only to be interrupted by the sudden activation of the train’s brakes.
“Everybody stay calm,” CREFY’s father said immediately. “We will sneak into the space between the slabs when the others aren’t watching.”
And sneak into the slabs they did, and successfully too. Neither their co-passengers nor the masked OSZA who had stopped the train caught them in the act. No one realized that they were missing either. None of it made the whole ordeal any less frightening however. They huddled together in the slabs, barely breathing, with their hearts pounding, as they listened to the screams of their fellow passengers. CREFY wet himself again, but nobody held it against him. His father stroked his head, and told him that everything would be alright as long as he continued to be brave and stay silent. They heard the masked men leaving an eternity later. They stayed hidden in the slabs until most of their fellow passengers had gone to sleep, after which the fathers went back to the carriage’s roof.
“Can we go back up, Mommy?” DIIN asked.
“No, child. We stay here until our final destination,” her mother replied.
“Why?” DIIN asked.
“It’s a game we are playing, child. The bad OSZA, the ones in the masks and uniforms keep stopping the train. We are hiding from them in here,” her mother said, as DIIN sat in her lap.
“Why do they do that?” CREFY asked.
“Nobody knows, child. Nobody knows,” her mother muttered.
DIIN and CREFY’s fathers checked up on them every few hours. They stayed with them the three other times the train stopped. Each encounter with the bad OSZA was as terrifying as the ones that preceded it, if not more so. The second to last encounter, however, was the worst of the bunch. GOBA had, fortunately, always been asleep whenever the train stopped. That time, however, she was awake. The eyes of all four parents were fixated on her throughout the encounter. CREFY’s mother did everything she could to preemptively stop GOBA from crying. But after a while, nothing she did was enough. GOBA had been fed and changed, but something was making her uncomfortable. CREFY’s mother put a hand over GOBA’s mouth as soon as she was about to utter her first cry. But all it did was scare GOBA into crying even more loudly. The screams of the events that unfolded outside their hiding spot masked GOBA’s cries for a few seconds, but it wasn’t enough.
“Quiet! Don’t make me shoot you. Stop begging. Stop crying. Quiet!” a voice said.
“What is the problem, boss?” another voice asked.
“Don’t you hear that? There’s a baby crying somewhere,” the first voice said.
“I don’t hear anything, boss,” the second voice replied.
“No… I think I hear something too,” a third voice said.
“Oh no! What do we do? What do we do? They will find us,” CREFY’s mother whispered.
“Calm down. Calm down. Try consoling her,” CREFY’s father said.
“Nothing’s happening. They will find us at this rate. I can’t keep muffling the sound. She will suffocate. Oh God! Help us! Please! Please, my child! Please! For all our sakes! Quiet down. I beg you. Please. Please. Please…” CREFY’s mother pleaded, as tears streamed down her face.
CREFY, who had gone into the fetal position, lifted himself up all of a sudden and crawled to his mother. He took GOBA from her, put his index finger into the baby OSZA’s mouth, and let it remain there. GOBA stopped crying instantly, and began suckling CREFY’s finger instead.
“She likes it when I do this,” he whispered.
“Thank you. Thank you, my brave child,” his mother mouthed silently, as her tears continued to flow.
The entire group held their breath as they heard footsteps approach. They stopped close to their carriage and stayed there for a few minutes.
“Anything?” the first voice asked.
“Nothing here,” the second voice answered.
“Shall we continue checking the carriages?” the third voice asked.
“Forget it. Must have been the wind,” the first voice answered.
The footsteps grew distant, and the group heaved a collective sigh of relief. CREFY kept his finger in GOBA’s mouth till she fell asleep, after which he promptly handed her off to his mother, and resumed his fetal position on the hiding spot’s slabbed floor. The tension remained in the air until the train began moving again, at which point it quickly dissipated. The fathers waited until the other passengers had gone to sleep before they went back to the top of the train for a few hours.
“Here, my love. Eat up, and ration the food and water immediately. We will be traveling for another day or two at least,” DIIN’s father said, as he snuck into the hiding spot with two large bags which contained food and water.
“Where did you get this from, big brother?” CREFY’s mother asked. DIIN and CREFY had not realized that their food and water supplies had pretty much run out a few days ago. Whatever was left was being rationed and fed to the two of them alone. Their parents had barely had more than a few sips of water for the last few days.
“There was a group of female OSZA at the station the train just went past. They threw these onto the carriages,” DIIN’s father answered.
“Angels, the entire lot of them. May God bless them and their kindness!” CREFY’s father said happily, as he entered the hiding spot with two more bags.
“God bless them and their families! Oh thank you, dear sisters and mothers. Your kindness has helped us more than you will ever know or get credit for. Thank you for your kindness and generosity, whoever you are,” DIIN’s mother whispered as she prayed.
The mothers quickly rationed the food so that it lasted them for the next week, after which the entire group ate, with DIIN unable to figure out why there were tears in her parent’s eyes, despite the smiles the food brought on their faces.
“Guess what, children?” DIIN’s father teased, once the meal was over.
“I don’t know. Tell me Daddy,” DIIN said, as she hugged her SKIMMA.
“There are no more stops now. Which means that?” he teased again.
“I don’t know,” DIIN muttered, thinking as hard as she could.
“We can go back on top as soon as the others are asleep!” he said, giving her a big kiss on her forehead.