Soldiers Daughters Don’t Cry

They smashed through the veranda door sending shards of glass across the freshly polished wooden floor. As their shouts echoed through the room the pieces scattered and slid under the table she had turned into a fort, stopping just short of her dusty bare feet. Picking her way carefully through the pieces, she crawled to the edge of the table and peeped round the side of the draped sheet. There were two of them, in black boots and camouflage. Soldiers, but not the soldiers she was used to seeing with her father. No, these ones were different. She took a deep breath and jumped behind the brown couch, pressing her forehead into the soft leather that stank of linseed oil and cat piss. Her heart pounded in her chest, so loudly she thought it might burst, through her favourite red and white striped dress and out onto the floor. She felt herself shaking and quickly snapped her eyes shut, hoping that in doing so she might escape. But the shouts continued and she curled up tighter, tighter again, until every inch of her six year old body was wrapped into a ball.

Their words were part Shona, part English, reminding her of the farm workers. She knew they were calling for him and with every fibre of her terrified being, so was she. She heard his voice, his footsteps coming across the floor. She carefully eased her head round the side of the couch and watched as he stopped in front of them. His voice was sharp and, angry, his fists clenched at his sides. One of the soldiers leant forwards and spat at him, a wet noisy spit. She flinched and ducked back behind the couch, pressing herself deeper into the leather. They barked at him, accusing him of things she didn’t understand but knew meant trouble. She wanted to leap out in front of him and scream, “Leave my Daddy alone!” But she couldn’t and they didn’t. She heard them say Zimbabwe, she heard them say freedom and then she heard the thud. His angry voice was silent after that and in its place she heard the heels of his boots scraping the floor and his muffled cries as they dragged him outside.

Too afraid to move she sat frozen to the spot until their voices disappeared. Then, ever so slowly she crept out from behind the couch. Certain they had gone she raced across to the window that looked out over the yard, and climbed up on the sill. Pressing her face against the cold glass she watched helplessly as they bundled him into the back of a green Landrover. She screamed at them to stop, her voice echoing round the room. Slamming the back door they leapt in to the front and started the engine. They revved the engine hard and as the vehicle moved forward its tyres spun in the gravel, flicking stones through the air onto the glass in front of her face. Startled she pulled her head back and the Landrover sped away.

Her hands slid slowly down the glass, emptiness engulfing her like a vacuum. Her eyes never left the road until the last of the dust had settled. Then, in the silence that was all left, all she could hear was the pounding of her heart. She slipped down off the windowsill and walked upstairs to her room. Climbing up on her bed she sat on the pillow, her small body rocking slowly backwards and forwards.

She didn’t hear her Mother come in, didn’t hear her try to comfort her and explain. She had slipped into another world where words meant nothing and feelings were unbearable.

Darkness came over her, an endless sea of black that she could not understand and could not escape. She had no way of expressing or explaining what she felt, he was gone, the only person she trusted and truly loved.

For two days she did not utter a word. Every morning she walked to the bottom of the garden, to the Bougainvillea bush where in the past she had hunted for egg shells. On her hands and knees she crawled under the thorny branches to the clearing underneath where it was cool, damp and smelt of rotting leaves. Here she felt safe and she began to draw in the earth with a short fat stick. Sometimes she drew lightly and the stick skimmed through the sand effortlessly. She drew happy faces, memories she treasured. Other times she jabbed the stick into the ground and dragged it viciously, ripping it through the soil. At those times she ground her teeth, and her tiny fists clenched so tightly her knuckles turned white and her nails left red marks on the soft flesh of her palms. The pain came as a relief, taking her mind away from the frightening images she felt driven to portray.

On the third day it rained. From her bedroom window she watched the heavy drops splatter the glass and roll down to the ground below. Her eyes followed the water as it formed a little stream that trickled along the side of the sandy path leading to the swimming pool. She looked up at the Bottle Brush trees that lined the path. Their fluffy red flowers bowed under the weight of the rain and their slender leaves stuck to their branches as if glued. He had loved those trees.

She turned away from the window and for the first time since he was taken wrapped her arms round Paddy, her spaniel. She buried her head in his soft fur and her body relaxed. For several minutes she stayed there, silently listening to the gentle beat of his heart and breathing in the comforting smell of dog biscuits and dust. Then she rose and walked over to her bedside table where a photo of her Father stood. She held it close to her for a moment before turning it over, face down. Driven by the belief she had been abandoned she walked through every room in the house and turned over all the pictures of him.

Her Mother found her afterwards sitting by the window through which she had watched him being taken away. “What on earth are you doing?” Her Mother asked

“He’s left me,” she said. “He’s never coming back”

She looked up at her Mother with her large green eyes, but she didn’t cry.

Five days after he was taken he did come back. He called out to her from the hall, and she walked softly down the stairs. Halfway down she stopped and peered through the banisters at him. She took in the sling supporting his left arm and the patch over his eye, her fingers wrapped round the wooden rails as she rested her forehead between the gaps. Her eyes were disbelieving, her mouth expressionless.

“Phillipa!” He called to her and reached out his right arm waiting to lift her up and pull her close.

The instant his voice reached her ears she turned and ran back up the stairs to her room, slamming the door behind her. Throwing herself on the bed she buried her face in the pillow. Where emptiness had been anger now simmered. Too young to understand the emotions she was experiencing she punched the pillow, lashing out as though she were being attacked. She did not utter a sound yet inside she screamed.

The bedroom door opened and he walked in and sat down on the edge of the bed. She knew he was there but she was too afraid to look. His rested his hand on her shoulder “There, there little one,” he said.

Her arms slowly stilled and sitting up she leant against him. Seeing what they had done to him frightened her to the core, yet she had no way of explaining. She pressed her head into his side and listened to the beating of his heart.

Her green eyes looked up at him and she said “You left me Daddy, but I didn’t cry.”