Shrill screams and crashing come from the cottage across the fields and tall grasses.
Sarah's father adjusts his bow and puts a hand on her shoulder, darting his eyes between her and her mother, voice tense. "Stay inside. Lock the doors and close the windows." He looks at Sarah. "Don’t make a sound, sweet girl. I will be back soon. I promise.” With that, he leaves through the back door in the kitchen.
Sarah runs to the door, grabbing the handle. She tries peeking through the crack, but the door creaks. Her mother pushes it shut, just missing her nose, and locks it quick.
Her mother whispers, pulling at Sarah’s hand. “Come to the family room with me. Play with your dolls.” She rubs Sarah’s hand with her thumb.
Sarah shakes her head, pulling her hand away. Her mother sighs, staying right behind her. With the door locked, she tries looking through its window. Not tall enough, she pulls up on the window sill, standing on her tiptoes, and throws the light-yellow curtain over her head. Her heart races. The house, so far away, could be small enough for a mouse. Its windows, filled with candlelight, give it a lantern-like appearance. Shadows fleet past the windows. More shrill screams. Sarah jumps, heart seeming to skip a beat. Her father runs across the fields. He leaps over the spiked wire fence into the tall grasses. The grasses sway in the wind. Another crash fills the night’s silence. She loses his movements. Her racing heart speeds faster than ever. More shadows cut through the candlelight. Her father emerges from the grasses. Sarah’s heart pounds in her ears as three big figures run from the back of the cottage as her father bursts through the cottage’s front door. The wind tries to whistle through the door next to her. As she watches on, she tries to match it, only to fog up the window. When she wipes off the glass, she watches her father emerge from the back of the cottage, pulling three quick times on his bow. Her heart seems to skip a beat as the three figures fall one by one to the ground. They don’t move as her father reenters the cottage for just a moment before coming out the front door, holding a small lump in his arms.
As her father gets closer to their cottage, Sarah lets the curtain drop, stepping backward into her mother. Her mother sets her hands on Sarah’s shoulders before stepping up to the door and unlocking it. Sarah’s father walks through the kitchen door, bloody and holding a small boy. The boy, silent, clings to her father’s tunic. Sarah’s mother steps up to them with a rag and tries to clean the blood and dirt from the boy’s hands. The boy flinches at first but reaches for her after a moment. Sarah’s mother carries him back to the washroom. Sarah and her father stay in the kitchen in silence while she gives the boy a bath. Sarah’s father washes his hands as best he can at the counter.
Many moments later, they all sit down for a late and cold supper. The boy, still silent, stuffs his face with a chunk of bread.
Sarah’s father brings a fork full of roast to his mouth, stopping when he sees the boy overeating on bread, speaking clear and hearty. “Now, now, don’t choke yourself there, son.” His face drops as he realizes his word choice, and he lowers his fork, sitting a bit straighter.
The boy stops chewing and stares at Sarah’s father. Sarah’s father clears his throat and looks between the table and the boy. A heavy awkwardness hangs over the table. No one makes a sound for a few seconds.
Sarah’s mother shoots her head up at Sarah’s father, speaking in a thick Natsikapi accent with her words flowing into one another like graceful drops of syrup through bread. “Luke, I don’t think it’s best to call him son.” She sets her hand on Luke’s arm, patting it, and smiles.
Luke clears his throat, lowering and softening his tone. “Yes, well, don’t eat so much at once. We don’t want you choking.” He continues to eat his roast, not looking at the boy or saying another word.
Sarah sits there, silent, stealing glances at the boy. Short, wavy caramel hair surrounds a face riddled with freckles. His eyes dart toward her. Dark blue encircling bright crystal. They linger on her for a second before staring back at his plate. They all eat in the looming silence, save the clanking and scraping of forks on plates and the familiar squishing and soft smacking of chewing.
An hour later, they finish eating, and Sarah’s mother leads the boy to Sarah’s room. He follows in silence, clinging to her mother’s hand the whole way. Sarah watches until her closed bedroom door blocks her view. Not five minutes later, her mother emerges from the room and motions for Sarah to meet her at the beginning of the hallway.
Putting her honey-tanned hands on Sarah’s shoulders, she whispers to her. “Tabib’ah, he is going to share your room tonight. Make sure he’s comfortable.” Her thick black hair falls over her shoulders, hanging in front of her green eyes as they dart back and forth between Sarah’s.
Sarah nods, matching curls escaping her braid as they shake all over. “Yes, Umula, I’ll make him a spot on the floor.”
Sarah turns towards her room, but her mother grabs her by her right wrist, sliding down to her fingers. Sarah stops, looking over her shoulder. Her thick braid slings to her chest. She arches an eyebrow at her mother.
Sarah’s mother shakes her head, loose curls swinging about. “No, Sarah, he will share your bed until we can get him his own.” She raises her eyebrows, looking down at Sarah, and tilts her head to the right.
Sarah’s bright green eyes widen, tugging her hand away. “Umula, no!” She lowers her voice to forceful whispers. “I don’t even know his name. I don’t want to share a bed with him.” She looks back at her bedroom door, then back at her mother. “He could have head bugs, or worse, he could be a bed wetter!” She stomps her foot, huffing, and eyes the floor, shaking her head. “No! I won’t!”
Sarah’s mother’s grip tightens enough that Sarah returns eye contact. “Sarah, you will do as I say. Now go get ready for bed.” She points to Sarah’s room, the bangles on her wrist clanging, and taps her foot while staring at the bedroom door.
Sarah bows her head, muddling her words. “Yes, Umula.” With slumped shoulders, she walks to her room to wash up.
The boy is already in her bed. He lies there in one of Sarah’s nightgowns, and on her side no less. She huffs, walking over to the corner of the room to the water basin, and washes her face. She picks up her hog bristle toothbrush putting on some white paste from the small bowl next to the water pitcher, and proceeds to brush her teeth. Wiping off, she overhears her parents talking in the family room. She walks to her door, looking down the hallway as best she can through the crack, and listens.
Gloria stands near the fireplace, wringing her hands. Luke sits in the worn armchair across from her, running his fingers through his short blonde curls, and looks at the floor. “It was awful, Gloria. I haven’t seen such unnecessary bloodshed since I served. The house was a mess, and — and their bodies were just—” He chokes a bit, putting his hand to his mouth, and takes in a deep breath. “They were just left there on the floor, covered in blood.” Sighing, he closes his eyes and rests his shaking head in his hand. “I wasn’t there in time to save them. I ran as fast as I could.” He points towards Sarah’s room, not looking up. “I found him under the floor crying. He had to have heard and seen everything.” He sighs hard, leaning back in his chair, and looks up at Gloria. “When I brought him out, I tried to shield him, but he forced himself from me and looked at them.” He shakes his head, staring off at the void between him and the floor, and curls his fingernails into the rough upholstery, making it creak. “I told him to close his eyes, but he refused.” He sighs again as he leans forward and puts his head in his hands.
Gloria walks behind him, sliding her arms around his shoulders. “Zi’zaelah, it will be alright. You did what you were supposed to. You saved the boy. Not only that, but you stopped those men from coming over here.” She kisses the back of his head, talking into his hair. “That is all that matters now.” She lays her head on his shoulder, squeezing. “I just hope the i’bis will soon be yah’tawa’a with us.” She rubs his arms, squeezing them, and slides her hands up to his chest.
Luke peers over his shoulder at her. “I’m sure he will.” He pauses. “One day I know he will be content.” He puts a hand on Gloria’s, rubbing it, and gets up.
Sarah moves away from her door, hoping they didn’t see her. Her stomach knots up. A lump forms in her throat. It’s not fair that she’s whining over losing a bed and nightgown when he just lost his parents. What if she lost her parents? What would she do? Would there be people like her mother and father to take her in? Looking at the boy, she puts her towel down and slips into bed.
Rolling over towards him, she whispers. “My name is Sarah. I’m sorry about what happened to you. I hope we can be friends one day.” She rolls her back to his, closing her eyes, and drifts to sleep.
The next morning, Sarah sweeps the floor. She watches her father through the open kitchen door as he goes over to the boy’s house with a wheelbarrow. After about an hour’s worth of digging, he buries the boy’s parents in their backyard, putting an inner circle and outer circle at the tops of each grave.
Sarah stands next to the door, out of sight, and continues to watch. A tear rolls down her cheek. She sniffles, wiping it, and swallows back a small lump. Her father piles the men onto the wheelbarrow, pushing them towards the corner of their plot of land. Leaning the barrow forwards, the men slide into what can only be a deep hole. Sarah watches her father strike flint close to the edge of the hole. What is he doing? She squints, focusing on every strike. A light line of smoke rises from the dead grasses. Wet grass shouldn’t burn. She watches even closer. He digs in his pants pockets, pulling out a handful of dry, dead grass, and lays it over the smoke. The line thickens, and a flame flares. Oh, that makes more sense.
A noise catches Sarah’s attention, and she spies around the corner of the counter, but nothing’s there. Sighing, she turns around just as her father walks away from the flames, leaving the men to burn. It’s odd. No one else knows they’re there. Why would he need to burn them? She shrugs, watching her father make his way into the boy’s cottage with the wheelbarrow, and scans it over.
The cottage is small. Only one floor made of logs with a thatched roof. Just before the deep hole is a barn just big enough for one horse, a few pigs, some chickens, and three cows. It makes Sarah’s home seem lavish. Standing in the back of her family farm is a medium barn, allowing for four horses and ten pigs, six goats, twenty chickens, and fifteen cows. They have a floor and a half-cottage, with the upstairs being all storage and a basement for food pot storage. Her parents take pride in their small lot of vegetables between the cottage and barn. No one takes more pride in the appearance of their whole plot of land more than her father. Her father emerges from the cottage with a barrow full of items. She watches him go into the barn with it. Her mother walks into the kitchen, and Sarah starts sweeping again. Glancing over her shoulder, she watches her father lead some of the animals over to their barn with the barrow attached to the horse. Once he is finished moving everything, he begins his chores.
Sarah returns to her sweeping, giving it her full attention until Gloria leaves the kitchen. The boy sits in the corner, quiet. He looks at Sarah’s dolls. Sarah watches him, now acting as if she is still sweeping even though she finished minutes ago. He sets the dolls on the floor, face down in the corner. Sarah keeps watching. He just stares at them. He stays like this for several minutes.