Subject 6.2: Ada
A single brief moment to wonder if this is what it’s like to be one of the heroes who can fly.
–hit the bottom, on her side. Ada Okoye lay there for a moment, the rain on her face, the night sky spinning as the mud soaked through to her scalp. Above her, the soldiers were laughing. Ada didn’t understand why. Some of them had lit cigarettes, were smoking as they hurt people, and from the bottom of the pit, the embers looked like pretty fireflies.
Ada rolled onto her back, then sat up and glanced about the pit. She saw nothing but huddled men and women, some of them her age, some of them as old as her grandparents. But all of them were afraid. She looked left and right, glancing through the crowds for her mother, her brother…
She wasn’t sure if she should look for her father, too. When the soldiers had tied her wrists up, she saw inside her house. Someone like her father was lying on the ground, his head in pieces. It was like the time she had dropped a watermelon but worse. And even though the dead man had looked like her father, he couldn’t be her father because her father was alive.
She didn’t know. She didn’t get another look. When she looked back again, the soldiers had set fire to her home and, jabbing her with their guns, told her to walk away from it all.
Ada wrapped her arms around her knees and looked around the pit once more. She didn’t see her mother or her father or her brother. She didn’t see anyone she recognized. Her wrists were hurting, and it stung when she tried to rub the pain out of them. They had bound her hands with rope for the long walk out of Arusha, but they had cut her free before kicking her into the pit.
They wanted to see if she could fly. But Ada couldn’t fly. She only had a special way of talking to machines, of hearing them talk back. That was her special, secret voice. Her family said she couldn’t ever show it to other people.
The soldiers had machines. They had some big digging machines, some bright lights shining on the pit. But they were too far away to hear her. Machines could only hear her when she whispered to them. It didn’t matter, anyway. Ada had the feeling that the soldiers would hurt her if she tried to do anything with her special voice.
It was all very confusing. Soldiers were supposed to help people.
Maybe there was another way out.
She looked to the walls.
Maybe she could climb out. Dayo had always said she was good at climbing. He had taught her ever since she was five years old (and that was a whole year ago) to climb on the acacia tree in their backyard, and she could climb almost as high as he could, and he was fifteen, so, it was so much easier for him to grab the high branches.
But there were no branches, nothing to hold on to. The walls were too high, too smooth, too wet. But she dug her hands in and kicked her feet in and climbed anyway because she was good at climbing and maybe this was some kind of test.
Laughter from above. One of the soldiers pointed to her, gestured with his rifle. The soldier beside him ducked down, picked something up, and threw it at her.
The rock smashed into her shoulder and knocked her from the wall. This time she landed on her front, and it was hard to breathe. Ada rolled over, gasping.
“You bastards!” Father Jackson shouted over the rain. “She’s only a child! God shall forsake you for everything you’ve done! You will burn! You will-”
A sharp crack filled the air. Father Jackson made a strange gurgling sound and stumbled back, fell. He lay there, mouth open, a hole in his head, eyes staring but not seeing anything.
Tears stung Ada’s eyes.
It wasn’t because of the rock. Her shoulder throbbed, and she couldn’t really move it, but that wasn’t the problem, either. It wasn’t that she had mud all over her hands and face. It wasn’t even because of the gunshot. It was that the mud had soaked through her favorite pink gazelle t-shirt. The soldiers, the pit, the scared people, dead Father Jackson with his bushy beard and friendly smile and his lessons about God and Jesus – that didn’t make sense. But that she had ruined her favorite shirt, and that made sense.
She didn’t want to cry. Only babies cried. But she did anyway.
She looked up, eyes wide. Dayo pushed his way through the huddled masses. He looked like a monster, with half of his face puffy and swollen. He gasped with every second step, held a hand to his leg, but then wrapped his arms around her as she huddled to his hips.
“Ada,” he asked, “Are you okay?”
She nodded against his side, clutching tight. She wanted to ask where her mother and father were, but the words didn’t make it past her throat.
“Just look at me,” he said. “Just look at me. Don’t look up. Don’t look at the soldiers. It’ll be okay; we’re together.”
But it wasn’t going to be okay. It’d never be okay. Ada set her eyes low and, under the mud, she saw shapes like hands and feet and arms and legs. A rumble began over the edge of the hole, one of the big digging machines. She didn’t want to look at the dead people, so she looked up at the soldiers even though Dayo had said not to – there were more now, and they all had their guns pointed into the hole.
She looked away from them, to the people who had gathered around Father Jackson’s body and had started a prayer.
“Ada,” Dayo said, running his fingers through her hair. “Do you remember the Lord’s Prayer? The one from school? Say it with me, okay?”
She nodded, but the words stopped somewhere between her head and her lips.
“Our father in heaven,” Dayo began, head bowed. He was holding Ada so tight that she could feel him shaking. “Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven–”
The world exploded, the rain turning to hail. Everyone was screaming. Dayo fell over her, and over the screaming, all she could hear was the thud-thud-thud of bullets hitting the mud and the corpses and the people over and over again. Something heavy fell on them both, crushed her into the mud, and Ada inhaled mud, blood, and worse things.
Then there was only silence.
Finally, Dayo groaned, pushed himself upward. A soldier rolled off him and lay there, not moving.
“Ada,” he croaked. “Ada. Are you alive? Am I alive?”
She couldn’t find her words. Ada settled for nodding, poking at his face.
Dayo laughed, but it sounded like it hurt. Like he couldn’t breathe. He was holding his side, gasping.
Shouting at the top of the hole but not in Swahili. In English. She had lessons in English; her parents said it was very important. But they weren’t saying ‘hello’ or any of the words she knew.
Dayo coughed, spitting up brown, and sat up, looking at the top of the hole.
One of the new soldiers dropped a ladder over the side of the hole and came climbing down. He wore a bright blue helmet. Ada took a moment to read the letters on the side as he walked around the pit, moving to each body, touching their necks and shouting up to the others at the top of the hole. You enn.
A woman shouted back, pointed to Ada and Dayo. The soldier stomped over, loomed over them both.
The soldier grabbed Dayo. Ada rose up, screaming, clawing at his pants, hitting him with her fists, biting and thrashing. No one would take her brother away. Not like they’d taken away everything else.
“Ada!” Dayo shouted. “Ada! No!” He pulled her away, lifted her up, hauled her around and set her down. “It’s okay, Ada. It’s okay. He’s not going to hurt us.”
Still, she glared at the soldier around Dayo’s side. On the far side of the hole, the woman from the top jumped down. There were people climbing out of the pit now, up the ladder, and the soldiers at the top were helping them get out.
These were different soldiers.
The woman from the top of the hole stepped closer. Ada stared her down too, even if Dayo said that these soldiers weren’t going to hurt them. Her thin eyes didn’t seem friendly, but they didn’t seem evil, either. Her voice was soft though, when she spoke English to Dayo, and she held out her hand. The soldier spoke to her, too. He kept saying this word: lootenent.
Ada stared at Lootenent, looked at the letters on her uniform. She read them to herself, silently. En gee em ay ee.
Words still wouldn’t come. Ada tugged at her brother’s hand and pointed at the woman.
“This is Lieutenant Lorna,” Dayo said. “And she’s going to take us home.”