As we turned to run in the opposite direction, I heard my father shouting desperately for my mother. In all the panic and the confusion, we had lost her. Now I was alone with my father, running, running. He was urging me to run faster, faster. But then I tripped and fell to the ground. I remember Uran jumping out of my arms. Then, as I struggled to get up, one of the Mujahedin grabbed me and started to drag me away.
My father jumped on the raider and wrestled him to the ground. I saw my father beating the man around the head, and the man went down and didn't get up again. My father grabbed me by my arms and started to drag me away from the fighting. My legs felt as if they were being torn to pieces by the sharp stones as he pulled me away. But I didn't care about the pain. And then he hauled me to my feet and again we were running, running, running.
"Run, Mende! Run! As fast as you can!" my father shouted at me. "If the Arabs try to take you, they'll have to kill me first!"
We sprinted back towards the other end of the village. But I was tired now, really tired. I was getting weaker by the minute. My lungs ached. Then, quite suddenly, a herd of cattle fleeing from the fire stampeded into us, and I went down a second time. I felt hooves pounding over me, as I lay curled into a ball on the ground. I thought that I was going to die.
From a distance, I heard my father's panicked voice crying out, "Mende agor! Mende agor!" - "Where are you, Mende! Where are you!" I tried to shout back and make him hear me, but my throat was choked with pain and dust. My voice came out as a rasping whisper. "Ba! Ba! Ba!" I croaked - "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!"
But my father couldn't hear me. As I lay there, petrified, with tears streaming down my face, trying to shout for my father, a man seized me from behind. He pinned me down, with his stubbly beard pricking the back of my neck. I could smell the ugly stench of his breath.
I knew that my father was somewhere nearby, searching desperately for me. I kept trying to shout for him. But the man clamped his grubby hand over my mouth. "Shut up," he hissed, in Arabic. "Shut up and lie still. If you keep shouting, the other men will find you and they will kill you."
He dragged me to my feet and started to march me through the village. By the light of the burning huts, I could see that he had a curved dagger and a pistol tucked into a belt at his waist.
As I was led away, I'm sure I heard my father still shouting for me, "Mende! Mende! Mende!" My father was the bravest man in the world. I knew that he would save me if only he could find me, even if he had to fight every Mujahedin in the village. I wanted to shout out "Ba! Ba! I'm here! I can hear you." But the raider kept his hand clamped over my mouth.
As we walked, I could see the village burning and I could hear screams all around me. I saw Nuba women on the ground with Mujahedin on top of them, pawing at their bodies. I could smell the stench of burning, of blood, and of terror.
I prayed to God then; "Oh Allah, Oh Allah, please save me, please save me." And I prayed to God to save my family, too. Over and over as I was taken away to the forest, I kept praying to God that we might all be saved.
We arrived at the edge of the forest. Beneath the trees there were about thirty other children huddled together. More Mujahedin kept arriving, bringing young Nuba boys and girls with them. The raiders' clothes and knives were covered in blood and they had the look of absolute evil about them. As they arrived, I heard them chanting at the tops of their voices; "Allahu Akhbar! Allahu Akhbar!" Allahu Akhbar!" - "God is Great! God is Great! God is Great!"
I had no idea if any of my family had escaped, or if they had all been killed in the raid. I had no idea what would happen to me now.
This is how my wonderful, happy childhood ended and how my life as a slave began.
Copyright 2003 by Mende Nazer and Damien Lewis. All rights reserved.
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