The term “quarters” was a bit too generous for where they were staying. Having been transferred from camp to camp, he could easily classify this compound as several notches below a refugee camp. He was feeling filthy and not as fit as he should at only 40. His hair was graying and kept short by the blade of his small knife, as was his face which he scraped each morning. The leanness of his body was not due to being physically fit, but rather a result of the substandard human conditions where he lived. As he sat down near the camp stove area, which was really a camp stove pit, his wife and daughter pleaded with him using only their emotionally drained eyes.
As usual, it was his headstrong daughter Jovana that protested their misery. “Father, we must voice our issues to the camp Commandant. Every time we are moved to a new facility, we are told that it is for better living conditions, but they only get worse! How many more friends or even strangers do we need to bury before we free ourselves from the compound system we are stuck in?”
His aging wife let tears fill her eyes before gathering the courage to comment. “Ignacio, the others look up to you with respect. Surely you can take some of the other elders with you and take our request to the commandant. They must have some compassion to make this place…”
Ignacio simply raised his hand to stop further badgering. Jovana didn’t take the hint.
“Father, why can’t we just leave like some of the others have done? My friend Rosario couldn’t stand it any longer, and she left last week. Even her brother and parents got out. So why not us?”
Ignacio roared, “Who do you think I was burying?!”
Everyone fell silent realizing that there was only the ultimate escape from their surroundings. They were trapped.
Ignacio felt guilty about just accepting their fate without a formal airing of grievances with the Commandant. Angered with their circumstances and struggling with the hopelessness of the situation, he slapped the ground hard and proclaimed, “Alright, I’ll take Alonso and Gustavo with me to plead our case to the Commandant. But understand, when we don’t come back, you will dig the next graves!”
His wife visibly blanched at the statement but it only served to inflame Jovana. Jovana, the reincarnate of her mother at 17. Long raven black hair cascading down her back, but beginning to show the signs of lifestyle hardship, along with the lines creeping into her sweet face. Her dark eyes flared with determined anger.
Jovana loudly blurted, “Better to try and die than slowly waste away in this compound! You have always taught us to struggle against tyranny and never give up on being free! I simply won’t accept the common belief, that this is all you get!
“If you want, I will go with you to state our demands! I would rather be killed than owned!”
While the fiery words helped to strengthen Ignacio’s resolve, it only served to breed more terror in his wife Lucina. Lucina looked twice the age of her nine and thirty. Her once lustrous hair of black was dull with lines of gray and broken ends, the result of malnutrition.
The fear of losing yet another family member drove her to her knees, begging, “Husband, no! Please don’t go into that den of the Commandant! No one ever comes back alive! We can make do on less, I promise! We won’t goad you to meet with the Commandant again! Stay here and live!”
Ignacio smirked and only shook his head in sad acceptance. “Which guilt do I want to accept?” Staring at Lucina he calmly accepted, “I guess I will live with the guilt from my wife.”
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