The U.S. of After Chapter 37
It’s so strange how stressful stuff can make two people come together. Here I was in the semi-darkness, feeling like one of those helpless maidens in the stories my Dad used to read to me, laying in the bottom of this boat while Ralph and all the other men crouched near the edges with their guns all pointing outward. It made this old tour boat resemble some redneck battleship.
I just lay there on the floorboards, holding little five year old Anya’s tiny hand, whispering to her that her Mommy would see her again one day, and helping her not be afraid of the dark. I didn’t really know the family situation of any of these people, but it seemed like many of them had lost loved ones they knew back at the camp when the shooting started and hadn’t had time to process it all yet. What was I talking about? I hadn’t had time to process this whole year much less the past twenty four hours. My heart hurt so much for little Anya, though, and caring about that seemed to take my mind off of everything else. She shivered so badly even though it was Africa hot. I was pretty scared, too, so I was quaking right along with her.
Now and then I’d glance up at Ralph kneeling next to me with his rifle barrel glinting in the faint moonlight, his broad shoulders squared off, his dark skin glistening with sweat. He started to warm up to me on the boat when the people were all deciding what to do and because little Anya was so scared we tried to be happy around her to put her at ease. I actually got him to smile once, but got the four-one-one that there’s some really dark stuff going on in that head of his. He keeps the lid on really tight.
I think he had to kill someone once, and it’s got him all moody.
I wondered if Gideon and those other three rednecks he bugged out with had any chance of keeping the crazies at bay while we slipped by the camp. No telling. Gideon seemed pretty confident that he took out the leader. That Captain guy was freaky. What a funkdafied old guy he was, with that hillbilly outfit and that bull horn? Wow.
I hoped, hoped, hoped he was dead because if I saw him, I’d just lose it.
The puttering of the diesel motor at the back of this boat was a soft, even sound. I looked at Anya and she had here little dark eyes focused right on me. Why would anyone want to bring kids into this world of ours? So sad. I didn’t want to think about it.
Our plan was to slip by the camp in the dark. When we heard the engines shut off, then we knew we were close, and we were supposed to can it when that happened, and put our hands over the babies mouths. I hoped nobody would cut off their air. Ah, man. That’s scary.
Anya shifted next to me and put her little dirty thumb in her mouth and then squirmed over closer, her little arm wrapping around my waist. I could feel her warmth by me and thought that all kids kind of put off a lot of heat, probably more than adults. I brushed her sweaty hair out of her face and she groaned a little. So cute I almost forgot where I was.
I looked up at Ralph and just as he was about to return my gaze, the engine shut off and I knew we were near the village. Somehow I started thinking about that story I read in freshman comp, about the Scilla and the Charybdis or whatever. You know, that ancient Greek story where that guy I couldn’t remember had to go between a whirlpool on one side and a big giant monster on the other side that would swoop down and gobble up his men. They made a cheesy movie about it, so I watched the movie instead. Don’t judge. I was a pre-med major and didn’t care about writing papers at the time. Anyway, I felt like the men in that Greek guy’s boat but not all Greek and toga like.
Ugh. It’s just that my mind was trying to get away from what we were doing, that is all. If I didn’t think about it, maybe it would all work out right. I think I started praying right then. I just started asking God to help us. I didn’t know if he was listening or at that time if he even existed. I just didn’t want to see little Anya die. I suddenly didn’t care for myself, but I prayed for her, focused on her, just let out a long , heart felt prayer for her. I prayed that she would make it out alive, that she’d have a good life, that she’d get to play on a swing again, that she’d get a new Mommy, and that was when I started letting the tears flow and held her little head up close to my chest.
I missed Dad. I missed his smile when I did something obnoxious and the smell of his aftershave. I wanted to go back to the way things were. I even wanted my Mom back. I just gushed all over the place, silently, on the deck of that boat, praying to God that if he would just save little Anya I’d do more for him and I’d get real about it. I’d stop playing around like I did in the youth group so many years ago, and then college started and I waved goodbye.
“God help us,” I mouthed silently. “Please don’t let us die.”