My friends and I knew very well the secrets of Nyala market. We homeless boys and girls slept every night in front of an abandoned cinema. The wall outside was yellow. The cinema had a handrail door. When we stood in front of the handrail door, we could see big old pictures of Indian movies. I did not know the names of the actors. The cinema had not been operating for a long time. There were not many things inside – some broken iron chairs, some plastic bags, and dust.
We are unsafe at the cinema; we were too hungry to be warm. This day we did not find anything to eat. I couldn’t sleep.
In the middle of the night, I heard something – the moaning of a girl. I did not know from where came this voice. It became loud. I raised my head and saw a huge man, positioned above the girl. She was screaming.
Please don’t do this to me. I’m only 13 years old. I will die. O Kassel, O Hussein, Muhammad, and Ali, help Me. I will die.
I couldn’t do anything. The man did not care either.
One night it was our turn. I was dreaming in our sleep. I was brought to my mom’s farm, where they are lovely trees; and on top of these trees is sitting beautiful Dora birds singing. My mom made tea and food, and she smiled her cute smile. Everything was green.
I felt my shoulder being bashed; I opened my eyes and saw three man figures waving bamboo sticks in my face. They slashed every part of my body: my arms, my shoulders, back, my legs, they seem to enjoy beating us as we screamed. They laughed as we cried. There was no help in this complete darkness – the sun was out of reach. One of them said to me that nightfall would come again with or without you, whether you want it to or not.
I felt my tears come out from my eyes, a feeling of hopelessness, a brain ache, and a belly of fever. I was helpless as a small boy. This was not the only time.
The nightmare of Nyala market went on and on. I and my friends Bard al-din and Ahmad were sitting in front of a restaurant waiting for the rest of the food to eat lunch as we did every day.
Ahmad said that it was time to search for food and find bread residues near the restaurants; leftovers were the only possible meal for us every day to ensure the continuation of our lives.
Bard al-din said we must find meat today.
It is an impossible expectation, while us laughing at the same time. We loved joking around together sometimes to let our feeling of death.
We looked for something to eat so that we do not die. We did not know this day will be not good in our life. A Land Cruiser came to us, men are in a police uniform and they hit us with their legs. Land Cruiser start going and we don’t know where they take us.
One of the men wears police uniforms said we wanted money. We said we don’t have money so we were waiting for food from the restaurant. He said today you see something you haven’t seen before.
After two minutes we found ourselves in the police station near the market. We feel we knew this police station very well already, although we have never been there. The men they are police who came to us every night where we slept in the market take from us our money. Inside the police station, a person he is a police officer sitting there as a boss man.
Where is the money? If you don’t pay today, you will sleep here the night.
Ahmed shot back a reply. Why would we pay you money, pay it to you without a reason?
It was the most difficult night in my life; we were tormented, beaten, sprayed with cold water, and treated cruelly in other ways. Early in the morning, a police officer came to us and told us that we must clean the entire police station. They beat us while we were cleaning. After a few days, they took us to the police officers’ homes to clean them too. They tormented us for about a month or a month and a half; I lost the days, because of the torture that happened to us.
The day arrives when the police officers have no more use for us, so one came and told us to get out. Provided you to tell me your tribes and where you are living then you can go out. If you tell anybody what happened here I will kill all of you. We tell him everything. He said now you can go out.
When we went out we go back to the market, the most place we know. We were so afraid. One person in the market asked people to call him a teacher. All the people call by this name. I used to clean his shoes.
He said boys where have you been? I have not seen you for a long time.
We tell him what happened to us, he said, did you tell them what your tribes are? If you say to them they will kill you. Do you know one boy who dies here? They did that.
We said yes we told them.
Hey guys you should leave this place. He said I will help you to leave this place.
He came after two days and said we will leave tomorrow night.
The journey started from here. Nyala market was dark again. The sky has long since darkened from bleak gray to familiar black by night time. It looked like it would rain. The ground never turned darker than before, and with it came haunts and spooks that gather at night pleading to be let in.
This night I did not sleep. I needed to stay awake for something important. As I was looking at the main road, I remember my days in the refugee camp. In the camp, I love when morning comes. As the sun rose, the light takes over darkness. I can see the masterpiece on the easel of the Creator. I could stay with the views, and wait for all of it to fade to black. The nightfall was the curtains closing in and I was waiting again when the sunray falls on the camp and asks me how my night was. Every day at the camp, I see Bodhi birds, canary with beautiful tweets. They carry bright colors and sing on the baobab trees. I could see them from inside of the little tent. Through little holes of the tent, I saw the birds dance and sing while others sleep. Sometimes, the birds seem to say come sing with us, don’t be sad. The tent is my home. My task is to remain awake and witness my friends come to sing songs to me every day.
Now no birds sing. I was waiting for something different. I can feel the darkness will go away soon. Maybe it was the last time I saw this scary place. I will say goodbye to the scariest place in my life. My heart rapidly beat and I feel hot air in my lungs. We were waiting for the man to come but after hours he was nowhere to see.
I asked my friend, would he come?
Is he going to help us?
When he will come?
With whom he will come?
I’m so scariest. There was a voice from far coming.
I ask one of my friends, have you heard a voice coming from far away?
Very soon a man waved to tell us to get in. My friends and I jumped onto a truck full of animals. When the truck started moving, we – I, other humans and animals – together had no idea where we were going.
When the truck is moving to a place we don’t know no one was speaking. I tried to speak to my friend, but I was still so scared. We were many people squeezed inside a truck with cattle and sheep.
Inside the truck, there was an old woman she wears althawb. The dress of the old woman was blue, a bit torn and dirty. This woman was neither tall nor short. Her body was weak. Maybe she had not eaten for a long time. Her skin was light black. She has big eyes that are not in the right position. Everyone can see the fear in her eyes.
I asked myself, why is she alone? When our eyes met, I smiled to her. She smiled too. There was not any light in her eyes when she smiled. Her eyes were staring dazedly to a distance. Behind this smile, there seemed to be much pain. I saw her tears fall on her cheeks, but she didn’t say anything. She was trying to act normal. Her quick hot tears told the truth. All life and light had left her face.
There the all-time crying and I start to cry and I don’t know why she let me suffer cause she was women like my mother. I like women so much cause when I was born I don’t know men in my life a lot. I spend all my life with my mother. I tried not to look in the direction of old woman so I don’t want to remember my mom. I look into another side there was sheep.
When I looked into the eyes of the sheep, I felt they needed to say something. But they could not speak. They have longhorns, and some without horns, and wool and external ears. I kept wondering what they would say to me. I heard their noises the whole night. Their smell was very bad. It was the smell of faeces and urine.
As we leave this home, I also became a thing. I was being transported on an animal truck to somewhere I don’t know. All I know is Nyala is moving behind my back.
Abu Maha is the winner of the archipelago‘s inaugural Writing Competition for “Secrets of Nyala Market.” He wins publication, 3,000,000 IDR and ongoing mentorship in the archipelago writers collective to support his writing development.
Abu Maha is a writer from Darfur, Sudan. He is the winner of the archipelago's 2021 Writing Competition. Abu studies creative writing, English and Bahasa Indonesia. He has lived at a child refugee shelter in Jakarta for four years since he came to Indonesia. His writing focuses on his life story.