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A Small Good

June 13th, 2004

“The ladies papers are in order.”

The well-educated British voice brought me out of my daze. A hand extended from behind me with a fist full of money. Before me a soldier, wearing fatigues too large for him and holding an assault rifle, looked down at the money.

A moment before that soldier had tossed my papers to another man sitting at a table next to him and said in a thickly accented English, “your papers are not in order. Step over there.” He pointed the muzzle of his AK-47 to a small whitish building a few meters away. Three more men in fatigue’s stood or squatted, smoking, with rifles in hand. The three smiled and laughed when they saw their companion point.

“Take my hand.” The British accent came again. The wad of pounds pushed into the soldier’s hand. Not waiting for a reply he began to walk.

So I walked hand-in-hand across the border with the British man. Fleeing the days old bloody civil war.

I looked back to see the five soldier’s standing together yelling. The long line of refugees waiting to cross the border looking on. “Don’t look back,” my savior said squeezing my hand. I looked forward again, across the few meters of dead zone to another border check point. The guards there looked on. What a strange pair we must have made, a young blond American woman in cut-offs and a tee-shirt carrying an old duffel bag, and a British business man in a black suit with his briefcase, holding hands.

“Are you going to the airport,” he asked, nodding to this new country’s soldier’s as we passed through the checkpoint.

“Yes, uh…” was all I could manage

Never releasing my hand, my British savior guided me among the rows of buses and cars waiting to pick up refugees and ex-patriots fleeing the violence. “My company sent a driver,” he explained.

A few moments later we stood next to a green Land Rover. The driver tossed his cigarette into the dust and squeezed his eyebrows together as he opened the back door. The driver looked questioningly from me to the businessman as my savior took my duffel bag and handed it to him. “We’re going to the airport first,” the businessman said climbing into the back seat next to me, “then to the offices.”

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