I remember how it all started. It was six years ago. I was ten at the time. The school was closed one day, though I don’t know why. I stayed home and watched from the windows as hundreds, maybe thousands of people gathered in the streets. The people were angry. I remember one man – he had the face of a toad – stood behind a human shield of black-clad security officers. He spoke through a megaphone, and I could see he was smiling. He shouted about a “people’s revolution”. He called the government corrupt, the Union an abomination, an affront to our country and an attack on the people. He kept using the word “enemy” to describe others.
The crowds grew, and other crowds started to gather. Some were waving flags, others were holding bats and chains. When the toad-faced man left, one of the groups charged at him. The security forces began firing. It was chaos after that.
I saw people being beaten and shot. As horrified as I was, I couldn’t look away. I was paralysed in fear. The streets themselves were set alight. People would fall to the floor and be descended upon by a mob who would stamp, kick and bludgeon them with bats. I saw my best friend from school’s father pull a young girl into an alleyway. He came back a few minutes later covered in blood and smoking a cigarette.
The fighting continued for several hours until the military showed up. They used a water-cannon, and the crowds started to flee. Things seemed to settle for a few weeks. There was no more fighting outside. We went back to school, though I never did see my best friend again. I asked the teacher, but she didn’t know anything. I struggled for some time at school. The things I’d seen that day kept me awake at night and I couldn’t concentrate during the day. The school arranged for a nice man to speak to me about what I’d seen. It helped for a time.
A year later we had some elections. I was surprised when the toad-faced man won. I learned his name was Michael Pisner. There were more riots on the streets in the weeks following the election. They were never mentioned on television though. My mother and father changed after his election. They seemed colder, distant and quieter. We had visits from the Blackjackets every few weeks. My parents insisted I never speak to them. I didn’t know why. A lot of people I knew moved away. Two men were living next door. They’d always been very friendly to our family. One day, they were gone. Never told us where they were going, and they even left their dog behind.
I began to dislike school. The man I used to talk to was gone. The subjects I enjoyed, such as art and music, were no longer taught. We were only shown what they called “practical” subjects like maths, English and religion. Even a lot of science was dropped. Only mechanical and computer-related sciences continued. Some people were permitted to do “Advanced Science”, but they were selected for it. They didn’t pick me, and those who were chosen were moved to a different school.
It was about eighteen months later that everything got worse. The terrorism started. The first bomb detonated on a train. Second on a bus. Third in a shopping centre. It carried on for two years. There was a new bombing every couple of weeks. The bombs always targeted the poorer areas and always when most people were at school or work, which was fortunate, I suppose, as casualties were low. But Michael Pisner insisted they were part of a foreign-plot against our country. He declared a “National Emergency” and invoked a law that delayed the next elections.
Then there were the negotiations. The family gathered around the television to watch a special broadcast. The Seven Powers, as we called them, were holding negotiations. Mother had made a stew and father had brought home some wine. He’d used most of his tokens for it, and he even let me have a glass because it was a special day. It was the first time in years I had seen them smile. We were supposed to hear that negotiations had worked, that the leaders had settled their disputes and differences. That everything was going to be alright.
The negotiations didn’t work. I’ll never forget the image of the burning tower and the falling statue. The footage was repeated again and again. Pisner ordered every able-bodied man to sign up to the military. We were going to war. Father tried to comfort me. He told me that it would be OK. But I could hear the fighter planes in the sky. I could hear the marching of boots on the street. There was shouting, chanting, anger. It was so much like that day six years ago.
We’ve moved out of the city now. We tried to cross the border but were turned away, so we live in a campsite with other families. It’s not so bad, I guess. It’s cold at night though, and there’s not much food. I do hope I can go home soon when this is all over. Until then, I plan on keeping this journal. There’s not much to do out here, so at least it gives me something to occupy my mind.
– Marianne Buszinski