Bête noire

Reading Time: 12 minutes

Borrowing from French: bête noire ‎(literally “black beast”).

When I tread on the age-old cement running down the mountains; my mind brings up stern warnings left on the trembles of my mother’s lips. “Do not trust strangers,” looking for the affirmation in my gaze, nods done over and over — I understood, I understand, etcetera. “Do not follow anyone you don’t know,” like reading off an old book, proverbs told time after time from her mother, and then the mothers before her, “only trust your family.” Yet in those brokenly repeated words, I felt the fear clinging onto the teeth marks left on the edges of her lips. So was a mother’s bible, written to protect and nurture, from the very own birthplace she raised you in.

Let all hell break loose on the pale grasslands, let the rainstorms bring upon disgrace on the roofs of makeshift metal – bang on the terrain that you fell under, the sky is your almsgiver now.

Situated on the nook of my mother’s thin knees, she tells me to pray. As my fingers trace the charcoal carvings on breaking wooden desks, the books read aloud incite the terror of the past. With a look of desperation, of loss and sadness, pupils dilate as our instructor bows — words on the tip of her tongue that she risks to utter with conviction, she does not wish to lose her stand. History is history, but history has never been a lesson to the people of this nation. The telltale beat of her fingers clicking incessantly at the corner of the blackboard tells us that she so wishes to be a nurturer, to tell us the truth in the blackout of knowledge. We live in the wrong age; she admits. Our births are collectively a sin against our own selves, we are destined to live in callousness, placidity revels in our minds, the crayon wax on the walls is ripped apart; no longer can I look in the eyes of a stranger, to smile at them and greet them a good day. Looking back, am I aware of ‘good’?

A rapture. An outbreak, a disease and plague running its course over and over; a cycle unrepented and unforgiven. This is the dawning of a new age, a systematic ruling with one man situated at the throne. He warns, over and over — it’s going to be bloody. To not dare check his name off in the list, for he is going to come for each and every one of us. My own people cheered, his rallies like church and they his faithful believers; laughing at his words, disgrace upon the females, integrity never questioned. I tell you, I was never a fan of religion because it seemed so mindless – though my upbringings could not escape the toll of the bells and the clinking of the cups, the scent of incense was one of the most beautiful things that I had ever known; and of that beauty it was associated with the nausea and smoke enveloping my emotions in washed out crowds, the words that I refused to listen to and sing because my mind and heart rebelled; I was not a believer. I never knew how bad religion was until I was an unwanted visitor in a cathedral of fools.

My dear child, this is the reason why your streets are not of smoke and cigarette butts, this is the reason why we never draw the blinds past 6 in the afternoon, why your father disappeared one day and why your family is so far away, why I tell you not to send anything; to pretend that you don’t exist. We are victims labelled as committers of mutiny, martyrs waiting to be silenced eternally by the dawn of their pistols. This is why your streets are stained, why they reflect all the hues but red, why your heart beats so timidly and why the world seems so gray behind the books that you keep in the locket of your heart.

This is why a woman can no longer be a woman, why a man, hood up and eyes concealed just shoots at his own whim, why you are so used to the darkness, to lay low and pretend that you no longer exist. This is why when you knock on my door, my body trembles, convulsions erupting, magna cum laude of my allegiance and now Magdalene in hiding. The bullets left as shells are deposited in our bags, why they close the ports and leave no room for departure; sometimes the candlelight acts as our sun, we cannot forgive ourselves for opening the blinds to the outside world. Why your sisters are so afraid, they lock themselves in their rooms; they carve themselves out in front of self-designated funerary pyres, there is no liberty even in the doorsteps. One day they are shoved aside in the broad daylight, their hearts are left intact but forever swollen. No matter how many times they wash themselves they never feel clean; this is the stripping of innocence, why your books are mandated by the law and coated in red, why the pages are ripped out and why the stories you hear are all but a reflection of the truth.

Bête noire is a term for a person or thing that one particularly dislikes, but it does not suffice. Bête noire is what the textbooks of the lands beyond ours would describe the calamity; if it is rendered a calamity at all. Sometimes, I wonder if they remember our nation, sometimes I wonder if anyone will remember my faces or yours. It is a game, we are waiting to be used, we are pawns in this grand scheme, throes to a man who warned us not to be sworn under him. I swear, with all my heart; never did I swear, I fought to the very last bend. I fought, my mother fought, my grandmother did, and all the deceased and ancestors of ours could only look and pray in sway with the flicker of the wickets. In unison, we were a symphony; but an orchestra does not rival a military. The beauty in our intentions does not wash over the bullets and gunfire, the echoes and rage of the masses when they told us to denounce our beliefs.

For all I do, I wish a voice meant something. I wish that the hearts of the few spoke out to the many, but the world does not turn for us. The world does not wait for them. In a torrent, democracy — they cry; this is the aftermath that they have campaigned for. Their revolution is in bouts of truth, backed by extrajudicial killings, the whimsical flicks of triggers, lack of melancholy in the divergent gazes of the youth. He is truth, he is solidified, he is the pillar that will lead the uprising, the bullet fired out of his own trigger, the eye that had witnessed the prosperity of one town. You can die anytime. Your life means nothing, your stories, your family; all that is linked to you can be whisked away, your body left in carbon and coffin; your blood just a decoration for the streets. Maybe I wasn’t loud enough, maybe they were too ill in head to be convinced otherwise, this is a war in its very core, verbally they assault you and strip you of your beliefs, you are an innocent soul loss of purity due to their gunslinging. I am so sorry that we hadn’t done enough for you.

Promise me that you will forever remember the worth in a human life.

Your sisters are crying; tears are not a sign of weakness. Sometimes, the smallest things have to make you smile. Every now and then, the sun will shine bright enough amidst the smoking mountain of fire and fumes over north, and a thin line of light seeps in, perching on your bedsheet. It’s so yellow, so radiant; tell me that you adore the sight of a field, a thousand sunflowers, roots stretching downwards and leaves as green as the forestry back in the provinces. It’s okay to cry, you need to cry to feel human. Crying is human. You are one, remember that? My dress is fashioned out of rags of char, ash and dirt marking its corners. I will do all that I can to wipe them back, promise me you will smile afterwards.

I know we are all voiceless, there are days when we can only let out whimpers — other times the vehement knocking pounds on us, conditioning our automated souls to only know of silence. Open the door, play dead. But remember, you are a warrior – I told you that I could never speak loud enough, so speak for me. Read the books, stamped with red and etching with the desire to read, I know you’ve read them a million times and the newer ones delivered – you riddle them off as propaganda — but your eloquency, literacy and maturity in the state of the world around you will forever be a gift. Speak, and when they tell you to die, perhaps you have killed them off with your own words. Speak, until your chords give out and sound is forever distorted to you. Speak, even then — let the world hear the epiphany of all your thoughts mixed together.

You are more familiar with the names of guns than you are with the names of games — I can’t even call you a child anymore. The bruises and scars on your body are all the opposites that one would expect from a fairytale. In your own words, when you grew up you did not want to be a princess, an astronaut, nor an engineer. Uttering words that would never leave my mind, you told me that you wanted to be alive.

Death squads, extrajudicial killings, the silence of the opposition, god forsake the drug addicts and the depressed, the dealers and the women trying to make a livelihood out of themselves. The whorehouses and the young girls brought in from the stretches of poverty, we are all one and the same with them. Our bodies are crevices, so stick-thin they could hold us, the wealthy neighborhoods are closed down, equality and justice; though you earned it all righteously. We’re still good citizens, aren’t we? Believe in Mr. President, pay your dues, sell your body to him, do what is right, study and strive for a job in which you do not sell your name nor your body. Your coffins are lined up for you, they hold your healthcare only in the afterlife. Our borders are rocks encrusted with the dark of the sea, the waves are pitfalls and we are its victims; rock and cradle the nation of the damned, he stood on the island and told us that they’d have to shoot him.

Promise me that you will forever remember the worth in a human life, the beating in our hearts, the sorrows that we live through whenever we walk through the red roses onto school, our skirts are lengthened down and we hide knives that bleed our thighs. There is no price on a human life; there is no price on a human soul. Your ideas captivate the world, your body may captivate his — be proud of yourself, love yourself in every way they couldn’t. The world did not cater to your rising but your rising will wreck the streets of theirs. Place roses in their shotgun barrels until the fields burn out, you will not settle for a life where you are a victim. Play to their game; you are a woman of such cunning, their tactics are mysteries but you — you are just a number on their logbooks, how could they expect such animosity from a barcode.

Remember their names and their stories, they aren’t just bodies left to float down the river that runs on the eastside of your home. The water will wash down the streets, the tombstones will erode and I may not remember the face of your grandmother’s grandfather; but I do remember the heart that she left behind for all of us. A gun pointed at, her bleeding body spat at while she fought with every inch of her numbness leaving you nothing but an unrecognizable face. Plaster the mold of her being, her writing left as banned literature, pass it on like love letters in a world that cannot comprehend the meaning of love. We are all trying to escape from this cult, we are all trying to remember the ones that we ave lost, that they can’t be mistakes in shooting and there is a system in this world, preserve the world and all of human rights, preserve the beating of every heart and all that it has to say. We can’t all be puppets in unsynchronized dissonance, we are not time bombs unwinding from the moment of birth, ticking down to the moment of self-destruction. Premature, shivering, unfazed in a world that has done nothing to teach us of harmony; this is a requiem of all lost souls. Slowly, we will seep out of the cemetery that holds us prisoner before we are dead. Ring the bells, death is not the answer, humans are not a waste.

Promise me that you will fight, you and all your sisters, a family that you have long-forgotten — the ones who have yet to betray us. Remember the thin line of light that shines on your tear-filled bedsheet.

But above all, I do not blame the polluted system of education, chaining me to my desk; leaving me restless for wishing to advance further. No child left behind, unless you are ahead. I do not blame the teachers, victims themselves, who gave me more value in their hushed stories than in the curriculum-encased lessons, sitting stiff on desks and looking at us one-by-one, their figure illuminated by the projector and the shadow of their being left trailing against the wall. I gained so much knowledge in the fifteen-minute stories, so much more than the hours of class left with nothing but yearning. Some of you may have genuinely had the passion to spread knowledge, some of you may have not, but thank you for dawning upon me the realities of the world ahead; warnings sometimes hyperbolic, but well-intentioned at its core.

I do not blame the people around me, the ones I considered my peers; too young to have a voice, an opinion, silenced by the world around them for their appearance led to their discernment — a number apparently defines the hearsay, their vocal chords tightened and loosened only by the amount of times you can nod to their god without your neck snapping. The people labelled as family that I have never really known, only linked by blood and the same gleam in our eyes, in the twilight you would never be able to tell that my mind is just like his. Truth be told, I would pick on my skin until the blood mirroring theirs runs out dry; and with a grin would it trickle out of my veins. Again and again, I remember that family is such a facade, false smiles and greetings; furthered bounded by the customs of my own nationality, standards expect me to be blooming with enlightenment and smiles when their behavior makes it so frighteningly difficult; as if I was one impervious to colliding with their expectations there is nothing worse than being dragged down by people via birthright. The same people I, with once innocent, sparkling eyes; beamed at with innocence, of curiosity, of wander; desire to know everything and anything. Now there is nothing I loathe more than their beckoning for me to share their views, silently denouncing me for not putting their heart into the same candidate as they. Over and over again, I am let down by the people who I have once idolized, from questioning my integrity as a female, cursing and denouncing my gender; us as playthings — pornography, erotica, objects of pleasure — they treat their wives as toys and I wonder why they agree to such. Then when ugly, when against their views, they seethe — “I hope your children get raped, I hope you get raped!” My mind wanders back onto when they told me that I was such a bright young lady, how pretty I was; now I feared for their own words, was this tantamount to the rancid remarks they threw at her? Am I nothing but an object of viewing for them, a greeting card sent once a year, lost in a russian roulette through the post office; I am a wanderer in the lives of those who mark me as their family. Please let me run — if god exists, let me be more than a greeting card away.

I do not blame the hearts of those who are perpetually constant, solidified in their own notion, so blind to my own arguments; the words of others. They always told me to be kind, respectful, factual in debates — the heat of such would sometimes make me speak out of line, but reasoning with them made my blood boil. Never more had I wanted to give up on the collective average intellect of my people as in those moments where I was a sworn enemy through the keyboard. In an instant of my challenge to their god — they, like cultists, arose to their firm stance in the protection of the man who so promised them the future, the prosperity that this world so-lacked.

Die, the first person would so valiantly say. A hundred others, thousands witnesses to the wreckage of a critic, they say die. Over and over.
They wish for me to be raped, to shut my mouth, they question my worth as an individual, they take time out of their measly lives, paranoia-induced fury from the opposition encountered. My family should die, they were going to find me and kill me, behead me, take away the humanity in me. Torture me until I profess, until I repent and forever swear to their church, but most of all, die.

I blame the people who regret the world that they had molded.

Do not say you want out when from the very beginning, we have been warning you. Do not petition for history to unwind, the rewrite the textbooks that you have so valiantly fought to be censored; do not attempt to bring back the knowledge you burnt down, the lives you killed and the families you dismembered in the streets downtown. Rip away the blinds and unravel the notions that you had tried so hard to dissipate. You built a home for the future of your children so aptly wrapped in silk under the surface’s grass. Your footsteps will tread over the grass that had sprouted in place of her name and you will beg yourself to never forget her face; when the only one you can remember is the look of her eyes when she begged you to not let this happen. You dressed your children up in garbs that screamed of a man’s name they had not even known of. You promised them safety and a life free of the things you feared when they pranced around in blood.

In a democracy and religion; they dare to tell me that the Church and State are separate entities. One cannot exist without the other, but one can act without the other; a cycle of abuse, a torrent of peculiar rabid warfare soon to result in our untimely finales. Did our original church, stained with the glass of halos, bulletin boards marked with reminders and hollow insert name prayers – warn you not to? Denounce the faith in which you were drowned in to join the cult of your new god. His religion does not obey any rules, the highest connections to the gods are dispensable beings to the man with the bloody fists. Cut the ties of all that surround us; we are strong enough to stand up when all we do is believe in false lords. Kill for him, denounce the world for him, rid the children who are trying to speak up. They know nothing, but your bible in his words is anything but the penultimate truth.

Bask in your god, the god that has left you the sea of red beyond the very outskirts of your door. Freedom, corruption; two things that we had never expected to be gone. At this price, fear, love; delight in the world around. Anxiety and sadness are all that you feel before it molds itself into apathy. You can’t feel the salt lingering in your skin anymore, but you are no stranger to the scent of copper.
This is the world our democracy chose, this is the world our democracy will die in.

When you had told me to die, I prepared to die fighting. When you had sentenced our country to death, I do not blame the streets that still seep red.

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