Mark Ruyley - Untitled It was hot that day. And not just ordinary hot, because it was always hot where we were from, but the kind of heat that caused waves of burnt air to float up from the cracks in the earth. Sweat ran down the back of my neck and tickled me like a hundred hungry ants. These were the sort of details I could still recall from my childhood. As few as they were, I remembered them vividly. The muddy taste of the brownish water from the well. Oh, and that filthy, fetid smell. The feeling – like snakes in my stomach – when the militia took me away to fight. I remember the pitiless kick of the 1947 model Kalashnikov rifle as it recoiled against my shoulder. These were the details I still recalled from my childhood. But this day, this murderously hot summer day, I remembered best. I was only fourteen. My soldiering days were over on account of the bullet I had taken in my now useless left arm. I returned home to see my family after I was discharged. My mother was not home that day. She was nowhere. I felt my chest rise up into my throat, and choke me. Though I was deeply hurt, I was not surprised. I knew she would not be coming back. I was a child born of rape. I always loved my mother very much, but she held little room in her heart for me. I went inside our one-roomed home and I found my brother asleep on a bed of old American newspapers. He was only eight years old, and he was very ill. Too ill to speak, and nearly too ill to stand. I sat down beside him. That night, we quietly left our little village. We spent the next two weeks at a Red Cross refugee camp about two days walk from there. Every day was as inhumanly, miserably hot as the first. My brother was still very sick. Everyone at the camp was sick. That’s what I remember the best – the coughing. All day and every night, the wet hacking coughs. And the faces, too. I looked around at the faces of the bereaved and hopeless, the down-trodden and deplored, the hungry and the despairing. It was surreal. Most of the people were either very old or very young; the war had swallowed up almost everyone in between. And the food? Oh, it was almost as bad as what I had to eat in the army. Not quite, but almost. The unspoken agreement was that the refugee camp was a place where one resigned themselves to wait out the rest of their wretched lives. “It’s better than starving,” they would say, justifying their defeat. No, I couldn’t surrender, leaving my brother to die like that. Not when he was the only person I had left. And so we waited. By the fourteenth day my brother had become deathly sick. He could hardly open his eyes and I winced as I saw his ribs poking through his sides. I waved away the flies that had begun to gather on his face – it was finally our turn to see the doctor. And so they came to us that afternoon. There were two, a man and a woman. I remember first being stricken by how pale they were, just like in the newspapers. Their hair was light and fair. The man was tall, broad and walked in that way that commanded attention; the women’s cheeks were a soft and red and she had two eyes like pale glass. They came to us, and took us to the tents. I remember the cool metal of the stethoscope as it touched my chest and the funny, ticklish feeling of the blood pressure meter as it released its grip on my arm. They spoke to each other in a language I didn’t understand – American. Years later I would learn that their names were Matt and Helen and they were from a smaller town in southern Minnesota. They were in their early thirties, back then. They had met one afternoon in medical school after Matt had stepped on Helen’s toe in line at the library, and they were married soon afterwards. When she was 23 Helen was in a car crash. The doctors told her she would never have children. They took a mission trip to central Africa after that. I will always remember the day we met them; their voices, their scent. The soft, deliberate way they embraced each other, like a breeze cutting the violent desert heat. We left the refugee camp that day and were sent away on a plane. Helen gently stroked my good hand while Matt and the other doctors worked feverishly to save my brother. I remember the needles and cords and tubes, the sound of urgent desperation in their voices. He would recover, soon enough, but they weren’t sure back then. No one was. “We’re going to St. Paul,” Helen said, with a smile “We’re going home.” That much I understood. Really, that was the one thing I was sure of - I would remember this day. The day we found our real parents.