F3: Memories of Place
Late, as usual, and just a very short piece. Hey, why not go read that awesome announcement again?
MEMORIES OF PLACE
They stand by the side of the road, two old men sharing a cigarette, looking down silently on patchy desert and scrub. Their gaze does not rove in search of quarry; their eyes are blank as though memories are what they see. Not far away, a little up a hill, there are a few dead and broken tree stumps, unevenly spaced. The men have studiously ignored these, as though they were too painful to look upon.
Dotted here and there up the road there are more people. Some are larger families, grandparents to grandchildren, and others are mixed groups. Sometimes there just grandparents and grandchildren. Sometimes there are just children and one adult. Most are standing and looking, like the old smoking men, but a few are walking about, testing the ground with their toes as though expecting to find something hiding just beneath the surface. One or two of the younger children play in the sand, but the mood has left their voices oddly muted.
The cigarette is burned right down to the filter. One of the old men drops the butt and grinds it into the sand. Then they turn away from the empty scene and begin to walk back towards the Red Cross bus just a short way back down the road. Already some of the other groups have begun to do so: a soft shout from the driver, sitting on the bonnet drinking tea from a canteen, draws the remainder. Within a few hours the curfew will be in place, and not one of them wants trouble at a roadblock.
As the bus turns, kicking up dirt and sand behind it from the cracked surface of the road, a gust of wind catches the smouldering cigarette butt, bouncing it a little way down and off the tarmac, before smothering it in sand.