They came for him at daybreak. All the big men with the rifles strung over their shoulders and their eyes hard and lifeless. They pushed past you, useless barrier, knocking you to the floor with a quick slap.
You heard the shouts in the bedroom and you covered your ears.
They dragged him out screaming and spraying blood.
Everyone had always known. The grocer at the shop always greeted him with lowered eyes. The ladies often dropped silent when he walked by with you, and the whispers erupted when he was out of earshot. Sometimes, if you were alone, the oldest ladies offered you sweets and kind eyes and patted your head.
The school nurse called you to her office every other week. You took your clothes off and sat on the cold metal slab, and you wondered why. In class you sat side by side with children that never touched you, as if warned off by older siblings that you possessed some kind of exotic disease.
You kept his house clean although he never had visitors and you had no friends.
You wiped the blood off the floorboards after they carried him away. You spent the day sitting with bleach and a scrubbing brush, numb. You thought of nothing, except the stained wood and concrete.
As the sun rose over the crest of the mountains in the village, they disposed of his clothing and his dignity. They struck his chest and stomach with a policeman’s baton, the butts of their rifles, and the cripple’s willingly-volunteered cane. They hailed blows on him with their fists and the soles of their feet.
When they got tired, they stopped.
The younger men climbed the two big trees by the river and fastened the fishermen’s rope to the thickest branches. The older ones below tied the dangling ends around each of his wrists.
They strung him up like a Christ figure between the two trees, and no one acknowledged the irony.
In this third-world lawless courtroom, there was no evidence. Every prosecutor was a father, a husband, a lover, a brother, a friend. There was no defence. There was no one to investigate the scene. No one took shoe imprints from the mud or fingerprints from his body. There was no autopsy. There was no crime.
Eventually the sheriff would return, like he always did, with a clean shirt and a stony expression. He would mumble something about an anonymous phone call. He would order the two young deputies, whose fingers still throbbed from tree brambles and rope-burn, to remove your father’s body.
Eventually, but not today.
He died officially sometime that night, while the girls writhed in their beds, saturated in nightmarish sweat, while the mothers turned away from the drying mud and blood on their husbands’ shirts and pants and boots all draped over porches as sordid symbols of pride. He died a long while after the little boys passed by after school and spat on his living corpse, after the bigger boys pelted stones, using him for target practice. From ten feet away, twenty points for above the waist, fifty points for below the waist, a hundred if you hit the mangled bloody bull’s-eye. The prize was the other boys’ admiration and a kiss from the prettiest girl.
You were ten years old and you thought you understood.
He was buried on a rainy Saturday. You attended a massive funeral. You sat beside a kind old lady who squeezed your hand and kept repeating not to worry, that you were safe now. The priest gave a lengthy spiel about the brevity of life. There was no eulogy. Every impassive face in town belonged to bodies clad in their Sunday best.
He was the only flesh and blood you had left. You were the only one that cried at his grave.