Heita carefully maneuvered his head in order to look through the bush without his head popping up. The leader of the group, in green military wear and an AK-47 strapped to his chest, was investigating the bottle of water Heita has forgotten. Two men joined him, and a third behind them. It was his father! He was in handcuffs and even with his vision obstructed by the thick branches of the bush, Heita could tell he had taken punches to the face.
The leader took further steps in their direction and the rest followed.
Taimi noticed and winced. She was on the verge of tears, a spasm of fear flashed across her face. Heita had to cover her mouth with his hand to keep her from making noise that would give them away. They were still moving towards them, but just a mere meter from them, they stopped.
The leader looked a scary man. Big, sunken blue eyes searched like a hawk inside sockets that seemed a tad too big. “They can’t be far. We’ll find them soon enough.”
“But we don’t have jurisdiction here. If we go too far in the country and get caught, it’s going to create problems we don’t need,” his lieutenant said to him.
“We won’t need to get far. They’re somewhere not far,” said the leader. The three men’s eyes searched the landscape, hoping to catch sight of the children; a blur in the distance. But a pair of eyes lingered down and spotted them.
Heita gulped, as he exchanged a long stare with his father. Mr Akuta looked away then sighed. “I will take you to them,” he said quietly.
“Will you?” the leader asked. “And what would make you do that?”
“I want to live,” said Mr. Akuta. “I know things will go easier for me if you are happy. I will give you the children if you take us back to Namibia.”
The leader studied him for a while, and deciding to trust him, gave Mr Akuta a wry smile and said, “if you lie to me, you will die today, you hear?”
“This way,” Mr. Akuta nodded his head in the opposite direction of where the children were crouched. The officers pushed him back towards the car. The leader remained. He took another glance at the around the area, then threw the bottle over the thickets and followed his officers back to the car. Heita waited again. Until the sound of the car was complete beyond his hearing range, and when he was sure of that, he waited a few minutes more. Sure they were alone, he shot up, grabbed his sister and began to run towards the west, the opposite of where his father led the soldiers.
Taimi freed herself of his grasp. She picked up the bottle then started to run again. He smiled and followed her. They were not running for four minutes when—BANG! Heita stopped dead in his tracks. He knew exactly what that sound meant. Knew exactly who was on the receiving end of that gun shot, and even more that he could not afford to stand here, mourning his father.
Taimi knew as well. He could tell it in her eyes. But she did not cry. In fact, she began to run again before he did. He followed her, grabbed her hand and ran for their lives towards the orange, setting sun.
Crickets chirped, wolves howled in the night, and Heita finally came to a stop. Night had swallowed the day, but the pain of yesterday remained a lingering memory. His father was gone. What would he do? How would he survive? Their mother had already died in a bomb blast back at home. A wolf’s howl seemed to be even closer than the previous ones and he knew, once again, mourning would have to wait. He picked Taimi up and stood. He looked, and finally decided on a direction that seemed the least ominous.
Hours later, they were walking on a gravel path with the stars as their ceiling when they came upon firelight. It was toddling than walking, but they pressed on. There were huts and tents all around, and it only registered now that they had probably stepped into the camp they were looking for. Women with blankets rushed to their aid, and finally everything that happened that day weighed upon Heita. His father was gone. He was an orphan. But as a warm blanket wrapped around his sister as she clung onto the empty bottle—the last memory of their father they now had, he thought, perhaps not all hope was lost.