With this issue, True North Perspective opens an international platform for young writers throughout the world. There will be no restrictions on what you write, except that you should limit the number of words to 800 or less. Your work will be read in growing numbers on all continents. Please feel free to express your experiences and opinions in fact or in fiction. Looking forward. — Mike Heenan, Literary Editor, True North Perspective.
The following short story was written by Benoit Jolicoeur, age 16. Benoit is a grade 10 student at the French-language École secondaire publique De La Salle, Ottawa, Canada. The story was written as part of his Enriched English class.
By Benoit Jolicoeur
I am afraid. I am traumatized. Finally, I have done it. I did it. I am wet with sweat. I have been like this for many months. My mother died a while ago, my father left shortly after. The government took care of me and my brothers. I have grown. Now I am strong.
It's another early morning in the heart of Africa. I just finished my basic training. We all get up at the same time, at the sound of a tin can. I could barely sleep. The cot was unusually hard. I sit up. The sky is a bright orange. A fiery sphere slowly creeping up to its peak. The mood is tense. I put on my sepia pants. I tie my dirty brown belt in the butterfly style. Unfortunately we're out of metal rings. I slide on my myrtle tunic. Put on my off-white bandana. The stench is especially horrid. It enters your nose and settles. After a while you get used to it. But every morning it comes back, another reminder of our reality.
I get up; follow everybody to a shaded barrack where I get my ration for breakfast. I pick up my dry piece of bread and join my friends. We all have different ranks, all depending on our height, weight, muscle. I was never one of performance, for I am placed in one of the lowest ranks, one that is often disrespected or treated unequally. But I don't mind, the important thing is that I am serving my country.
'Listen up! Today is going to be a big one.'
'Try to kill as much as you can, this is your only tactic.'
'We have lost many good men in battle, we shall not lose more!'
'This is your chance to prove yourselves.'
Commandant General Kwabena seemed very panicked. I never saw him like this. I am afraid. Am I ready for war? Of course I am. It's for my country. One by one, we all embark in the cargo truck. The destination is unknown. The heat and humidity are dreadful. But at least the swift air can get through the canvas flaps. The terrain is bumpy, I take a look at my friends, and there is a common fear in their eyes. We are going to war. Finally we can use those skilful tactics that we learned in the training camp.
The truck slows to a halt. At his signal we unload dozens of crates and line up. On the first round we are all given a machine gun, on the second round we are given our cartridges. At the signal, we load our firearms. We separate in our squads, like we so carefully rehearsed in training. My knees are shaking, my head is throbbing, and my palms are sweating. I'm terrified. At the sound of Lieutenant Mbeyo's whistle, my head starts running automatically. I don't want to fight but my trained body orders me to. The squads disperse. We start running to our destination. The heat is deadly. I hear shouts. I hear gunshots. This time they weren't aimed at a target.
The ecru house is exactly how I imagined it. We break the door, enter. The machine gun is getting heavier at each step. Time stops. I'm supposed to kill, commandant general Kwabena said I was supposed to kill. I go mad. I'm furious. My squad spreads out in different rooms of the house. I'm afraid. I have to kill. I go to a room. Kick the door open. A man is cooking plantains and cassava above a stove. I stop. My body is pulsing. I am hot. Our eyes meet. He stares at me. He glances at my machine gun. I close my eyes, raise the gun with a gasp, and shoot.
He crumbles to the ground. A puddle of blood oozing under him. My head is ringing. My heart pulsing. My breathing is quick and shallow, I scrunch in the corner of a room. I am afraid. I am traumatized. Finally, I have done it. I did it. My name is Melisizwe N'Jawena, I am 11 years old and I am a child soldier in the Tora Boro militia in the Chad and I have just killed a man.
12 June 2009 — Return to cover.