World Food Program, flight JS887; above me, the thundering rotors of our MI-8 helicopter. It was July 2008 and we were flying into remote Sierra Leone.
“Not long Bwana,” said Emmanuel, my Tanzanian pilot.
“OK, Mani. D’you know the area?”
“Yes. It’s dangerous.”
Ten long years of civil war; Everywhere was dangerous.
We flew over parched plains, pockmarked by stunted trees.
“There, Bwana!” In the distance, a white-painted church reflected sunlight.
Emmanuel took us down, rotors deafening, and dust swirling.
Engines cut, we entered the small township in eerie silence, no one about. I looked in the church – empty, everything had been taken. Where is everyone?
“Bwana!” Emmanuel’s shout broke the silence.
I ran to find a boy lying in a hallway. His stomach was distended and huge eyes looked without seeing. I thought of my wife’s hypochondria. She hadn’t a clue. “Don’t worry,” I told the boy, “we’ll fetch medicine.” His mouth opened soundlessly. In the oppressive African heat, we went to the helicopter for supplies.
On our return, the boy was gone.
“Hello,” I shouted, my voice echoing in vain.
I shuddered. So war and starvation had brought them to this. Emmanuel held out a gnawed human fibula.
Featured in the book and audiobook, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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