22 Feb

He remembered when the mountains wore cloaks of trees, green and lush as they listened to rivers and creeks babbling and burbling with joy. Scarves of colourful flowers climbed their trunks, entwining them in a lover’s embrace. He remembered clear, clean air so often shrouded in mist like friendly ghosts lurking amongst the mountains called home for thousands of years. He remembered when the white men came.

Kuan could no longer walk up the mountain paths. The air was thick with dust and stunk in a way hard to describe and not easily forgotten. There were big factories with chimneys as long as 300 metres reaching up to the sky, releasing murky wafts of smoke. His body was as weak as a kitten and his arms were sticks now. He should never have trusted them, those white devils. The land was as broken as he was; its tears and cracks like the tears and cracks on his skin, like the tears and cracks in his heart – his broken heart. The white devils had hooked their lines with money and reeled him in.

He remembered fishing in the river. The water was as clear as sparkling diamonds and sapphire, ruby and gold fish flirted with him. “Come catch me,” they mocked. But he did, he did.

Kuan had been carrying a heavy weight from the moment he had made the deal with the blackmailers. That haunting memory, a ghostly visitor over the past twenty years, taunted him.

Twenty years ago, it was a peaceful evening; the sun peeked through the pink cluster of clouds as it was about to set on the horizon. A group of tall, white men arrived in front of his thatched, round house and knocked on the flimsy timber door. Kuan was confused but still invited them in. The white men were lanky giraffes and had to duck in order to enter. Stiles was in charge and he held out his hand to Kuan. “We are here to make you an offer you can’t refuse!” He smiled at him. “We will build schools and libraries for you and send your children to university so they can get good jobs with us.” It sounded so good for the tribe and as leader, Kuan agreed that they could build their mine. He had no idea what that meant and they never did what they promised. They poisoned the land, they raped the land, they stole the land.

Obi, his son, tapped him on the shoulder. “Get up, Daddy! Come play with us!” Kuan tried to speak, wheezing his words. “Son, I cannot get up. I am so sorry. I have no strength.” Obi hugged him. “I will help you, father,” he said tugging at his arm. Kuan tried. As he struggled to his feet, a searing pain speared through his chest. He knew, he knew, those white devils had killed him.

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