Saturday 20 June 2015

The Book of Remembrance by David Turnball

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons Author - Shubi

David Turnball's story 'The Book of Remembrance' won September 2014's Short Fiction Contest.

The Book of Remembrance by David Turnball

The population of my village was amongst the first selected for extermination. Our oppressor wanted to send out a strong and unequivocal message that left no one in any doubt about what they were capable of.

We were given no warning. The trucks came at dawn. In addition to their weapons the soldiers brought with them their dreaded Book of Remembrance. We had heard of this book. It was designed to consolidate the message. 

It was presented on a red cushion, as if it was something sacred. Each section of the book contained the name of a village. Each page following each section contained three columns – name, date of birth and date of execution.

Before they faced the trauma of the firing squad each villager was to be compelled to write down their name and date of birth. If couldn’t write there were military clerks to whom you could dictate your details. Their Central Command had predetermined the date of execution and therefore this column was already complete. 

By the time they came to our village two other sections had been filled. Two entire villages wiped from existence, the men, the women, the children, only remembered from names entered on the lists.

The oppressor wanted the victims of their genocide to be more than just cold statistics. They wanted these Books of Remembrance to be read by the surviving populace. To them a coldly calculated remembrance of lives so easily extinguished was in itself was an act of subjugation. 

They wanted us to be real because perceived reality increases the level of terror. They wanted the same dreadful thoughts to be ingrained in everyone’s mind. ‘The same thing could happen to me.’ They hoped to instil a level of fear that was sufficient to ensure an unfaltering subservience.

I heard each person before me forced to read out what they had written into the book, name and date of birth – date of execution punctuated by the shock of a single gunshot. I heard the wailing of the women and the children. A wilful calmness settled over me. When it came my turn I took the book and ran.

I was always the fastest runner in my village. I dodged their bullets. I ran deep into the forest. I ran high into the hills. A helicopter gunship came searching for me, sweeping low over the crags and gullies. But I knew the hills too well.

I watched my village burn. I watched the departure of the trucks in slow serpentine convey. I watched the smoke fill the red sky at sunset. Knowing that the empty cushion would be interpreted as a defiant act filled me with determination. I placed the tip of my pencil onto one of the empty pages.

And there began the Book of Resistance.

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