Slavery

Keep your eyes down. Shoulders forward. The pavement is safer than the guns. Don’t stumble. Strong steps. Know what you’re doing. You aren’t anything special, they won’t see you.
Eyes down, deep breath. Don’t look up. The air shatters, tears prick the corners of your eyes, but you have trained yourself not to flinch at gunfire anymore.

Angry voice shouting commands. Listen very carefully. Must execute orders flawlessly. Stop walking, turn to the right. Back straight, head up, but don’t look at them. Look at the broken window above the soldier’s head instead.
Another command, a finger pointing. Is it at you?

No. Thank God above, send a prayer up.

The man to your left steps forward on gelatin legs. Now you cringe. No sir, don’t give them the satisfaction. Strong steps. Even if that strength is fake.
He falls to his knees. There are four others beside him to the right and two on the left. One more lay a few feet behind the group off to the right, a single stream of red spilling from his forehead. His eyes are open. He must have tried to run… which only means that he wanted to die. Didn’t want to stay trapped beneath their guns. You don’t blame him. Acting out was the easiest way to commit suicide. The kneeling men look to him like he is strange in his death. As if death is a foreign concept. You could laugh right now. It all felt absurd.
You force yourself to watch, preparing for the moment none of them can accept. All shoulders quiver except for yours.
Deep breath. Locked jaw. It doesn’t sting your ears anymore. In fact, it’s rather quiet now.
Simple, stark, and defined.
Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop.
They don’t shake anymore. You don’t cry.
Angry commands. Turn to the left, bow head, strong steps. Your legs are twigs disguised as granite. Your head aches and you remember to unclench your jaw.
You made it. You survived one more day.
Crawl into bed, let your crackling bones be your lullaby. Close your eyes and see their faces. Those who died. Those who were weak. They will be honored in your memory.
Send up another prayer. Bring them peace, my lord God above.
You still don’t cry.

 

Wake up, start again.
Eyes down, strong steps, deep breaths.
Going to work. Working hard. Coming back to your bunk. It’s easy now.
White lightning skitters from your knee up into your hip suddenly. You stumble, bite your lip too hard, find your footing again. Ignore it. Don’t limp. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Fire builds with each step, you feel tears in your eyes again. Don’t show weakness.
Ignore it. Ignore it!
Make it through the day, then you can find out the damage.
Pull in a long breath, let a tear slip down but only the one. You don’t have time for more. Steel yourself. Pull strength from thin air, tie it around your leg in a pretty bow.
You almost laugh at the thought. ‘Pretty’ is not exactly in abundance anymore.

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