A reason to fightThursday, October 4, 2007
Spreading its arms across the morning sky and kicking up a jig to celebrate the departure of so many overcast days, sunlight at last had banished the clouds. Aroused since crimson light flicked over the horizon, the gypsy cyclist pondered his vast and strange surroundings. He did not move quickly and each thing he accomplished, from rolling his sleeping bag to preparing a bowl of muesli, was done in time only with the changing colors of the morning sky as red shifted to purple, purple to blue, as all the stars faded, closing their eyes for a sleep of their own and were gathered up and calmed to stillness in the arms of the sun.
The gypsy cyclist's languor and calm was to be shortlived this morning, however. In the distance he became vaguely aware of the sound of shouting men. The voices grew louder as the group evidently approached his location amid the jungle trees just off the roadside. From the brusqueness of their tones, it was quickly apparent the group was military in nature. But their shouting was unclear and the gypsy cyclist could not understand what words were exchanged. He was uncertain if he should be afraid, but decided remaining in place was the most prudent course of action.
"Here, here!" he heard a man shout, as the group was running. "Turn into that clearing, there! Now!" Six soldiers thrashed through a trail from the road straight into the clearing where stood the gypsy cyclist with his bicycle held at his side.
"Well, what have we here?" said the first, the one who had shouted the directions to turn. The group stopped at the behest of their leader and examined the gypsy cyclist. Some chortled.
"What brings you here?" the leader asked.
"I have been travelling with my bicycle around the world," replied the gypsy cyclist. "I hope I am not intruding."
"Intruding?" replied the leader. "You are not intruding at all, but this is a military exercise, and we need this space. You are a civilian, and I have no authority to order you to leave as you are on public government property. But if you wish to stay, you will observe a lot of rapid movement among my troops, and if you get trampled on in the process then I would suggest that you have been warned. The choice is yours."
"Sir," piped up one of the men. "I've been radioed and C Company approaches easterly on the road we were just on. Radio control has asked for a response on our coordinates and plans."
"Private Ongodo," replied the leader, "inform radio control that we are distributing resources. One man stays here, and we spread out in a circle into the woods surrounding this clearing. The man remaining will draw C company into the clearing." The leader looked at the gypsy cyclist. "Would you like to be part of this?" he asked. "This is an exercise only, and you will not be hurt, but you can help us by drawing C company into this clearing. Private Oloono will stay with you. You are free to leave if you wish."
"Thank you," replied the gypsy cyclist, hesitant but somewhat excited by the prospect. He was reassured by the man's respectful demeanor, and he thought to trust him. "I'll, I'll stay," he said.
"Move out !" shouted the leader. "Spread in a semi-circle and take positions 200 metres into the bush. How long until they arrive?"
Ongodo replied, as he hustled toward the edge of the clearing. "If they find us quickly, I estimate it will take them less than ten minutes. If they pass by, and turn back, maybe thirty minutes."
As the others moved out, Oloono lay down on the ground beside the gypsy cyclist's bicycle. "You can stand," said Oloono. "They won't hurt you, but they will see you and come into the clearing. If you don't want to stand, you should lie down beside me. Leave your bicycle upright to attract them."
Still the gypsy cyclist sought to trust these men. For him the road to this clearing had been arduous and silent, and just for the opportunity to interact with people for a while, the risk of harm was strangely worthwhile.
Ten minutes passed, and there was no sign of the other group, and those who were hidden in the area surrounding the clearing were silent. Oloono became impatient. "I don't think they are coming," he said. "Seargent can be an idiot sometimes. But don't tell him I said that. The orders were that we were to leave traces of our presence, but not so obvious as to make it easy for C company to find us, so what does Seargent do? He puts me in here with you."
The gypsy cyclist laughed. "Well, maybe we have some time to waste then," he said. "Tell me something about yourself."
"Ok," said Oloono. "I will tell you that my mother just died."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," said the gypsy cyclist.
"I cannot get it out of my mind," said Oloono. "Four days ago, I held her slender hand. How limply she had laid her hand, given in resignation, to the hand I had offered. In her hand was no more strength or desire to clasp eagerly but tenderly, as she had just days before. There was only resignation and exhaustion. But so much love. She said to me 'I'm just going to close my eyes for a minute'. And she did while I held her beautiful slender hand."
Oloono looked deeply into the gypsy cyclist's eyes. He continued, "Three or four times, she opened them, my mother, and looked at me, until eventually she looked up one last time and said that she was going. In that moment, I knew she was ready to die, and it saddened me immensely, for it seemed that with all the love that was in her hand only a moment before, she could offer no more to me and was relieved to be leaving."
"You, strange man," Oloono continued, "are the first I have told this to. Yes, they all know my mother died, and that I was there. They are not unsympathetic, but I have not shared this with them. I have asked for bereavement leave, and was told I will have to wait until this exercise is finished tomorrow because I will have to fly to Uganda for the funeral. But you see, strange man, it isn't just her death that is haunting me, but the relief in her eyes; there seemed no remorse in finally leaving me."
"Oh, I am sure she was not relieved at leaving you," replied the gypsy cyclist. "The relief was from whatever suffering she endured in her last days."
"No, no," said Oloono. "Thank you, but you do not understand. I held her hand because I loved her, but in my twenty six years of life, even as a boy, I forever distanced myself, and yet she always welcomed me. Strange man, her fight was for me - how much love can a mother give her son and have it rejected over and over again? It was from that - from that was the relief I saw in her last glance to the sky, and that is the image that will haunt me until at last I too find relief."
Oloono looked at the gypsy cyclist sternly. "You and I have just met. You cannot know how immensely this haunts me, " he said. "For these exercises here today and for my mother's relief, I have volunteered to fight in Congo after the funeral. This is my reason for fighting. I do not hope to return."