I killed her on a Tuesday night. It was quiet and the air stank of rising damp and mangrove roots.
She could not understand why I had to take her.
As the knife glided across her throat, blood spilled onto the rocks by the edge of the river. By the time midnight had come, the river was running red.
She wanted to know so many things, which at the time, I could tell her. Peeling away the layers of my black heart, there are no sharp answers; only a fog of what seemed right at the time. M had been snitching, putting our family in jeopardy. She had retreated to a house by the river, interstate. She knew she wasn’t free, but maybe she realised that sometimes the best place to live, is the best place to die.
Nikko had been given a brief to rape her, but when she begged for her life and screamed for her mother, my spine turned to mush. I could see the little girl she had once been, and Nikko stared through me with his dead eyes, just as I had looked at him with mine. We both knew he wouldn’t do it; that he couldn’t do it.
She cried for so many things. She cried out for her mother and her baby daughter. She cried out for her best friend, but I could not answer. If I had an answer, it is one I cannot remember. Perhaps it will come to me while I tell you my story.
It all seemed so simple. I loved her, but it was not enough.
All I remember is the code. It had been burned into my head – into all of our heads and it had been branded onto my chest with ink and hot irons where my arms and face told a story of how I had risen through the ranks. I do not remember if I was conscripted or whether I enlisted. Small details like that escape me and are not easily remembered, but they bubble and surface when you’re thinking about something entirely different. Like flowers, owls, or books.
One of my brothers spread out his tool kit, snapping her teeth with pliers one by one until she could no longer speak. The noises coming from her mouth, with the sprays of blood, came from a place I never thought I would see. Not a groan. More like a primal scream.
It was flaunted as being a gang but in the end, it was my family. I had brothers, sisters, and a father. I was given tasks, orders, instructions and I followed the code. I still felt the sting from where three tears had been tattooed on my cheek. I didn’t feel the sting when the needles hit my face, but I was a different person then. Pain was my friend; an odd ally. Heroin and speed would numb me, but when the high waned, I was alone again with my thoughts, certain that what I was doing was right.
I was told I had a good face for killing. My eyes were kind. ‘People will trust you’, my father would say. When I was first recruited, my face didn’t have any of the sharpness it now had. My cheeks were soft and plump, ideal for cushioning the black ink of homeland markings, but within the course of three years, my lips had shrivelled and my nose was cracked from beatings and the sun.
It took a long time for my brain to stand to reason; to realise what I was doing was wrong.
I had been beaten, stabbed, shot and tortured, but it had never been clear to me that what I was doing – and what I had been ordered to do – was not right. I wonder now, if you live it, do you become it? My brothers and sisters would grab fistfuls of leaves; clutching at them like money, as heavy as the earth.
I knew I was home when I could no longer smell the river.