The attack started as predicted,
across the river. The government soldiers were said to be
surrendering en masse. After an initial flurry of activity the City
seemed deserted. When the boy went to sell his cans he found the
yard closed. The traders had gone. Suddenly around midday there were
prolonged bursts of firing and a column of jubilant rebels entered
the City crowded on jeeps and old trucks - shooting victoriously
into the air.
The street people and garbage
children joined in the celebrations but few others did. Most people
stayed in their homes. There were no cars on the streets. Even the
monks did not leave the temple.
Next day the people’s fears were
realised as the rebels announced through loudspeakers that everyone
had to leave.
The entire population was ordered out
of the City and no one was allowed to take more than they could
“The City is corrupt,” declared the
rebels. “From now on there will be no city, no offices, no shops, no
banks, no money no temples, no schools, no television, no radio.
Everyone will work on the land. Everyone will grow food.”
Rebel soldiers moved into every
street and searched every house in turn, making sure that no one was
staying behind. As the people were herded out of the City they had
to pass checkpoints where they were inspected. Anyone with clean
soft hands joined a separate column. These included traders,
shopkeepers, teachers, monks, judges, politicians, policemen, and
All these men and their wives and
families were detained in the compound of the City high school that
was now ringed by barbed wire and guarded by soldiers. “They are
kept for interrogation,” ran the rumour darkly.
The boy and his companions joined the
other procession out of the City into the countryside.
Guilty or not?
For most families these were very
difficult days. The rains had not ceased and the roads, destroyed by
the war, turned into muddy quagmires. Children cried, mothers
quickly exhausted their supplies of food. The armed guards shot
anyone picking food.
The villages they entered could not
or would not help them. Each day the suffering grew worse.
The street children, who were used to
scavenging found it hard to scrape together enough to survive, but
for others unused to rough living it was far worse. Old and young
dropped by the roadside, collapsing from hunger or thirst, fever or
diarrhoea. The armed guards showed no sympathy. Anyone who could not
stay on their feet was clubbed to death or just left to die.
At another place they were inspected
again and the fitter ones taken aside.
“You will be a soldier,” they were
“And you must trust no one. There are
enemies of the revolution everywhere. Everyone who had anything to
do with the old corrupt regime is a spy. Naturally for their own
protection they will try to pretend they had nothing to do with it.
They will claim they had humble jobs, but you will be able to catch
them out, by the way they speak, the way they act.”
“If you suspect anyone - even your
close friend, your wife, your husband, your father, it is your duty
to report them. It is your duty to betray your neighbour. Not to do
this is to betray the cause and to betray yourself.”
You’re a soldier now
Instead of a sack of rubbish the boy
now carried a gun. He still wore the same ragged clothing; torn
T-shirt and shorts and broken flip-flops, but as a badge of his new
role he had a red scarf tied round his head.
The new recruits were given basic
training - which amounted to little more than learning how to clean
and fire their rifles, throw a hand grenade, place a landmine.
Whenever they wanted to rest they had
to listen to revolutionary propaganda about the evils of the City
and the corrupt people who lived there. But the City seemed far off
in his memory, and as for the Garden, it was like a dream, and he
began to doubt it had ever existed.
Lesson of war