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This story does not appear in the published version of Out of War

I was five years old when the helicopters came and dropped bombs on my village. For weeks before, we had seen the copters flying high in the sky, and we used to laugh at them because they seemed so tiny and made that strange whirring noise. But no one was laughing when they came with the bombs.

Just before the attack began I was having an argument with my brother. He was listening to some music on the radio and I didn't like it. I told him I was going to change the channel.

"I want to listen to the news," I told him, but I didn't really want to. I said it to annoy him.

My mother had been listening to the news a lot lately because someone had said there was going to be trouble in our area. My brother and I were fighting over the radio when the bombs began to fall. The whole house was shaking and the noise was so loud I thought my ears would burst. My mum was at work, but my aunt was there and I think she and my brother ran away to hide under the bed. I don't know why I didn't go with them, but I do remember standing alone in the middle of the room with the world all around sounding like it was breaking in two.

I wanted the bombs to stop, and knew that if you waved a white flag then that meant peace. I wasn't sure if a white flag would be enough, not for all that noise and all those bombs. I thought the helicopters would be too high in the sky to see a flag. So I went to the closet and found the white dress that my mother had bought for me to wear to church. I put on the white dress and found a piece of whitish cloth from the kitchen. I opened the door and stepped outside, into the war.

The air was full of dirt and dust and the noise of explosions, some across the valley, some much closer. I could see men lying on the ground, firing machine guns at the helicopters. I ran across the yard in my white dress, waving the cloth, screaming at the men on the ground and up at the helicopters, "Stop! Stop!"

I showed them my dress, I waved the cloth. I don't know if they saw me or not, but not long afterwards the bombs stopped falling and the helicopters flew away.

My aunt came and found me. I cannot remember if she was angry with me or not. Everyone in our village was talking about what I had done. The next day my aunt and I went on the radio and told what had happened.

Not long afterwards my teacher was killed. Some men wearing masks came into the classroom and shot him, right in the middle of our lessons. They didn't give him a chance to say anything. One of the masked men lifted our teacher's dead body by the back of his shirt and spoke to us. "This man had to die because he was teaching you bad ideas. We can kill all of you as well so don't get any bad ideas if you want to stay alive."

We were all crying. He pointed his gun at us. "If you don't want to die, you better get out of here," he said.

The armed men were blocking the way to the door but one kid who was near the window jumped out, and all of us rushed to follow. Everyone was screaming and pushing. I got through the window and ran home.

After that there was no teacher and so the school closed down. My brother and I went to live up in the mountains with my granny. It must have been really high up there because the water was so cold. I tried to plant some bean seeds but they died, probably because of the cold. There was nothing to do up there, but there was no fighting either.

Finally my mum came and took us from my granny's and brought us to a community high in the hills on the edge of a huge city. We left my dad behind because he had started another family. My mother thought he should not have stayed. She said that some people around our place really wanted to put an end to our whole family. She was right because a month after we left, some men killed my grandfather, and 18 months after that they murdered my father. He was on his way home in his truck, but they pulled him over and executed him.

The people in the place where we live now are poor like us, and most have run away from the war, but there is still a lot of violence here. There are fights between the gangs and the militias. When they start shooting in the streets we hide in the house, under the bed, because a bullet could come through the wall and get you. The war makes me angry, especially when they hurt and kidnap children. Children have nothing to do with the war. They should leave us out of it.


Ines, 10 years, The white dress