The bus groaned as it came to a halt. This was my stop - I hastily picked up my battered briefcase and followed an older lady out the door.
The evening sun had descended just minutes ago, so the sky had not yet decided to put on its cloak of darkness. As I began the short walk back to my apartment, the cars on the road kicked up small clouds of dust that swirled about my feet. Several others were bustling along this road - it led out onto a major road, and contained several useful shops along its sides.
This was a neighborhood that belonged to the 'natives' - the people who had lived here for many generations. I considered myself an immigrant in these parts, but my people thought otherwise - they had violently laid claim to these lands long ago, and then continued their dominion with bloodshed and oppression to this day. I had lived here for several years, and thus garnered many friends, but even now I could still sense the sour stares of a few natives who (rightfully) resented the 'invaders'.
I turned into the smaller road that led to a residential area. My apartment was among the buildings overlooking a sandy cul-de-sac at the end of the road. As I walked further down the road, the ambient sounds became quieter and the faces became more familiar.
Karim's convenience store closed late, and I never failed to stop there on these walks back home. He looked up when the bell attached to the door began its familiar jingling, and smiled as I trudged in. Karim was a native, and had treated me with far less regard the first time I walked in - years of regular visits and business had helped dispel that initial distrust.
"Good evening, Sahib. The usual?"
"Of course. Anything interesting in the papers?"
"There is - but not for you. Unless you've had a change of heart about football?"
"Still haven't, Karim."
Karim chuckled as he handed me my favorite brand of cigarettes and the evening papers. I paid him, rolled up the papers under my arm and walked out into the gradually fading light of the evening. At the edge of the cul-de-sac, I found an empty bench, placed my briefcase and papers on it, pulled out my lighter and settled in, the gentle tufts of smoke streaming into the evening sky.
The open area was sparsely populated - people were turning in as the day found down. The few street lights that worked had switched on, but the evening wasn't dark enough for their light to be prominent. My gaze was immediately drawn to a gaggle of young boys kicking a ball about. I could see school bags strategically placed to mark their playing space. I couldn't help but smile at their laughter and screams of excitement. Growing up under the iron fist of oppression is never easy, and rarely allows for moments of levity like this.
And then the van drove in.
As though my thoughts themselves had placed a curse on those little boys, the van came charging in, a deliverer of torment. It braked a few yards from the boys, who were only just registering the new presence - but they couldn't react fast enough. In the blink of an eye, the dirt-stricken doors of the van slid open, several men with menacing guns stormed out and started to kidnap the children. The screams of excitement turned to horror, and then were cut short with painful brevity.
Some of the nearby adults - probably the parents - started to advance on the armed men, shouting in anguish, but too scared to face the wrong end of their guns. I was too far away to be of any use - all I could do was watch, frozen to my seat by fear.
One of the kids had managed to struggle free of his captor. He began to sprint away from the van, his every step a desperate lunge for freedom. He didn't go far though - his captor cocked his rifle and pulled the trigger.
The bullets tore through the simmering ambiance of the evening like a pack of shrieking hounds, slicing into the thinly clothed body of the boy with little mercy. The parents dropped to the ground with their hands protecting their heads, the tears flowing free. The boy fell with a soft thump, his lifeless limbs askew as the dust swirled above him.
When all the other kids had been stuffed into the van, the men quickly went back in, slid shut the doors with resounding thuds and then drove out of the block; in their wake lay the dead boy among the droopy schoolbags, the football lying forlorn beside him.
Only a generation or two ago, in a land far away to the North, my father and my people were on the receiving end of such persecution. They were considered an inferior race, imprisoned behind walls of concrete and metal, watched by sniper scopes and mortar cannons operated with itchy trigger fingers. My father grew up learning how to climb in and out of ash-laden debris, scavenging for food and ever watchful for the enemy. Many of my people were herded like cattle, sent to slaughterhouses filled with chemical death.
And yet, having suffered the wrath of bloodthirsty oppressors ourselves, I cannot fathom the ease with which we dispel the same suffering to the natives here. Did the northern overlords deprive us of empathy, that we are able to forget our forefathers' pain so easily? Did we outlast the genocide orchestrated by those villains long ago, only to step into their foul shoes and redirect their blood lust onto a different audience? My people should know that some horrors should never be faced by anyone, ever again - and yet, we have chosen instead to take the lowest possible path, and inflict all our ancestors' suffering onto others just as undeserving of it as they were all those years ago.
Perhaps someday my people will realize that they have become the people they once hated; that they can stop this vicious circle, and be the bigger race. But I doubt it; those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it - even if it is as traumatic as ours.