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Trouble Tomorrow

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Trouble Tomorrow

  First published by Allen & Unwin in 2017

  Copyright © Sarafino Enadio and Terry Whitebeach, 2017

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian Copyright Act 1968 (the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or ten per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to the Copyright Agency (Australia) under the Act.

  Allen & Unwin

  83 Alexander Street

  Crows Nest NSW 2065


  Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100

  Email: [email protected]

  Web: www.allenandunwin.com

  A Cataloguing-in-Publication entry is available from the National Library of Australia


  ISBN 9781760291464

  eISBN 9781952535666

  Teachers’ notes available from www.allenandunwin.com

  Cover and text design by Debra Billson

  Cover photos: portrait of boy © Baymler/Getty Images, tank © John Wollwerth/Shutterstock, barbed wire © ewastudio/123RF, road © Triff/Shutterstock

  Internal photos: tank and village © John Wollwerth/Shutterstock, sunrise © Peter Schwarz/Shutterstock, barbed wire © ewastudio/123RF

  Map by Guy Holt

  Set by Midland Typesetters, Australia

  Trouble Tomorrow was redrafted as part of a Creative Time Residential Fellowship provided by the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust.

  For all our relations

































  OBULEJO DREAMS he is with his friend Riti, hauling in spangled tilapia fish, his dusty feet cooled by the tumbling waters of the Kinyeti River. The sun presses on their heads and shoulders, and in the distance the peaks of Imatong stand tall and serene. A little further along the riverbank, groups of boys are dashing in and out of the water, splashing and calling to each other.

  Tat-tat-tat-tat! Brrrmm! Rrrrr! Ul-lu-lu-lu-lah!

  Obulejo slams awake, heart racing, and scrambles up off his mat.

  Gunshots and screams jab the air. Flashes of light pierce the darkness.

  The Rebels!

  Other boys in the dormitory are jumping up, calling or whispering urgently in the dark. Snatching up his shirt and sandals, Obulejo ducks between them to reach the door. He dashes across the schoolyard, clearing the perimeter fence in one startled-gazelle leap and landing on the soft red soil of the road by the school compound – where he finds himself swept along in a noisy stampede of townsfolk running for their lives.

  Darting lights flash through the laneways and compounds, and the noise is terrific – the crack and boom and din of weapons, cries of panic and fear. Shells whizz through the chilled air, streak red the blackness. Bullets thud into walls. Obulejo stumbles over fallen bodies as he runs, collides with the walls of buildings, is snatched, jostled, pushed and shoved by the mob. Mothers screech their children’s names; people yell for family members to come now, right now!

  His nostrils burn with the stink of cordite and his feet hardly touch the ground as the terrified crowd surges through the town centre, veering past the barracks and the banners of the town stadium, the Midran Huria, making for the outskirts of town.

  He is sobbing for breath, tripping, stumbling, bleeding, but he dare not pause; he must outrun this nightmare that has ripped his quiet sleep to shreds.

  Run for the shelter of the hills.

  Run for his life.


  THE FIRST TIME the Rebels come, a messenger brings the news.

  ‘Run! They’re on their way!’

  It is early evening. Obulejo’s mothers and sisters are busily clearing up after the meal, the men drinking sweet tea while the younger boys kick a ball around the compound.

  Obulejo’s father Moini springs into action. He hustles his two wives and all the children out of the compound and into the banana plantation, beyond the compound fence.

  ‘We will be safe here,’ Moini tells them. ‘The soldiers will not search the gardens. It is houses and stores they’ll be wanting to plunder.’

  He signals them to hunker down in the darkness under fallen fronds, out of the bright moonlight. As they wait, they hear the thud of marching boots and the crack of gunfire.

  The stamping and shouting get closer.

  ‘Stay low,’ Moini whispers. ‘Don’t make a sound.’

  Obulejo puts his arms round his little sister Izia and pulls her close. If only the older brothers Lino and Jaikondo were not so far away in Egypt. But Baba is strong and clever. He won’t let the soldiers harm them.

  They stay in the plantation all night, crouched in the dark listening to the shouting, the gunfire and the thud and slam of buildings being attacked and granaries broken open.

  Obulejo barely registers the harsh prickliness of the palm fronds through the cloth of his shirt, the cloying darkness of the night, the cramp in his calves as he huddles with his family; he is too busy straining to detect how close the soldiers are. As the din of their boots gets louder a sweaty panic engulfs him. If the Rebels discover his hiding place, they will haul him off to war. He’s fifteen – old enough to fight. Boys as young as seven have been taken as soldiers.

  This time they are lucky. The Rebels are just passing through.

  At dawn, Obulejo and his family creep back home. Their huts are undamaged but the granary door is hanging askew and most of the maize and sorghum are gone.

  ‘How is it with you?’ Moini calls out to their neighbours. ‘Is anybody hurt?’

  ‘No, but my goat is missing!’ one calls back.

  ‘Our cooking pots are gone!’ says another.

  A cry goes up. ‘They have taken all our warm blankets.’

  ‘May God forgive them!’


  But at least nobody has been badly injured or killed.

  Moini goes to work as usual that morning, warning his wives to take care and stay alert.

  To the children he says, ‘You must not be afraid. Did I not protect you when the soldiers came? I am your father and I will take care of you.’

  Obulejo wants to believe his father’s promise, and during the day, as he recites his lessons, and later helps collect wood for the fire, he can mostly forget the night’s fear, but when darkness falls and he settles to sleep with his brothers and sisters, he finds himself jerking awake at the slightest noise.

  At the squeak and scamper of rats in the thatch, the plop of frogs in the water barrel or the call of a night bird, he finds himself suddenly awake, wide-eyed, staring into the dark, his mind churning over and over the events of the night before.

  The elders sit nearly all night by the fire, talking in low voices. Obulejo strains to catch scraps of their conver
sation in the rise and fall of the accented Arabic that all the tribesmen hold in common.

  ‘Our ancestors came to me in a dream, to warn me,’ one uncle says, ‘my father’s father and his – just as they did before Anyanya – the Poison War.’

  ‘Ai-ee-ah!’ Obulejo’s senior mother wails. ‘I lost my father then and now I will lose my husband!’

  ‘Hush, my wife,’ Moini cautions her. ‘Do not wake the children with your woman’s wailing. The Rebels are far away by now.’

  ‘But what if they return?’ Uncle Eriga asks. ‘We must gather the family and flee south before this pestilence swallows our village whole.’

  The rumbling voice of an Acholi elder joins in. ‘Why run like frightened women and leave our houses and crops for the Lotuko tribesmen here?’

  The discussion next turns to weaponry – armoured vehicles, machine guns, assault rifles: MG 3s, AK-47s.

  ‘They say the soldiers are ordered to fire into the air, to avoid civilians,’ Uncle Ochola says, ‘but always townsfolk and villagers are caught in the crossfire.’

  The voices descend to a murmur and Obulejo drifts back to sleep.

  Suddenly a rooster starts crowing. Obulejo’s eyes snap open. His heart thuds. Unbidden, there comes an image of his little sister Izia lying blood-spattered in the village street.

  No matter how hard he tries, he cannot get that picture out of his mind.

  Obulejo tries to keep his fears to himself but he can’t help noticing that a hut prepared for his favourite uncle has lain empty for months and when Uncle Sylvio still does not arrive and Obulejo asks his father why, Moini brushes the question aside.

  Mama Natalina tells him not to speak of it to anyone.

  Soon after, there is wailing somewhere in the village. Then Obulejo overhears something that fills him with dread.

  ‘Tortured,’ he hears one man whisper to another. ‘Then bound and gagged and carried high up over the desert in an army plane and pushed out to his death.’

  The other man waggles his head in grim affirmation. ‘And no one knows where the body lies.’

  Obulejo imagines telling Uncle Sylvio this silly scary story and Uncle laughing and saying, ‘It was not me those men were talking about. See. Here I am. You worried for nothing.’

  But his uncle does not come. And the next time Obulejo mentions him, Moini says, ‘Do not speak of your uncle again.’ His face is grim.

  Every day after school Obulejo goes with the other boys on the long walk to the family garden plots, to guard the godo plants from hungry birds and marauding creatures. They light fires, flick dried mud-balls through the papery leaves of the sorghum and sing and shout to scare the birds. These boys are his friends but he dare not mention his uncle, even to them.

  Then in the seri times, when the maize is ripening, the children’s job is to chase off the baboons, the lore, that come to raid the grain. As a child, Obulejo was afraid of those grimacing creatures and even now he is older he still feels a tremor of fear when he sees their gangling arms, their scowling faces and their sharp pointed teeth that can tear a child apart. Now he fans the flames, shouts and hulloos and waves his stick with his friends, till the baboons, snarling horribly, are forced to slink away into the shelter of the trees.

  When he was young, Obulejo’s older brothers teased him for his fear of the lore. ‘Never will you have the courage of a warrior if you fear the lore so much!’ they laughed. But the rumours he and his schoolfriends now swap with each other as they walk home from the gardens at dusk are more terrifying than a thousand baboons.

  Every one of the children has overheard veiled conversations in the market, on the road, in their family compounds, in fireside discussions late at night or before school in the early morning. An old man in Juba dragged away and shot, and his wife killed the next day; a father kidnapped; child soldiers raping girls and women and shooting their own clansmen or being forced to slaughter family members; men tortured with burning tyres around their necks; a man bludgeoned with rifle butts; women and babies chopped with pangas; dead bodies lying bloated on riverbanks.

  As a child, Obulejo listened to stories of ghosts and monsters and spirit ancestors, told by the aunties and uncles, but what he is hearing now, he thinks, is real killing, not just made-up stories.

  Sometimes his terror turns to rage. ‘The Dinkas are the cause of all our troubles,’ he says to his friend Riti. ‘That Colonel Garang and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, if they had not started up the war again, everything would be all right.’

  ‘No it wouldn’t,’ Riti retorts. ‘Then the Arabs would rule us and we would all be under sharia law, having our hands chopped off and not being allowed to walk about freely.’

  ‘What about the Rebels?’ Obulejo shouts. ‘The Dinkas are Sudanese but they’re killing other Sudanese people. If I had a gun I’d shoot them all, right now!’

  ‘And killing the Dinkas would bring peace?’ Riti says.

  ‘Well, are we to just sit and wait and allow ourselves to be killed, then?’

  Riti sighs. ‘Forget about the Dinkas. It all started long before we were born, and anyway, there’s nothing we can do to change things. Come on, let’s go fishing.’


  NOT LONG AFTER seri harvest-time, word comes that the Rebels are heading towards the village again.

  ‘Keep the children close,’ Moini tells his wives. ‘Do not let the little ones stray from your side unless the older children are with them.’

  That night, no one leaves the compound. They cluster around the fire, backs to the darkness.

  Next day, village life continues much as usual. Fathers work in the timber mill, dig garden beds and mend roof-thatches. Mothers tend the gardens, grind maize, attend to household chores. Obulejo and his schoolfriends continue with their lessons, fetch water and watch over their younger brothers and sisters.

  ‘Even if the soldiers come back,’ Moini reassures his family, ‘it will just mean a day or two in hiding. Then everything will return to normal.’

  He is wrong.

  The next time is different.

  One morning Moini leaves for work as usual, but not long afterwards he re-enters the compound, shouting for his children and his wives.

  ‘Hurry,’ he tells them when they come running. ‘Pack food and clothing and blankets. We have no time to lose. The company has organised a bus to take us down to Torit. This village is no longer safe.’

  The women gasp and cover their faces. Obulejo’s head spins: this morning began as just another ordinary day and now they are about to leave the mountains – perhaps forever. These may not be his people’s lands but he has lived in this Lotuko village, far from the Ma’di lands, nearly all his life, since his father took the job at the mill. Is anywhere safe?

  Obulejo races back inside the hut and stuffs his notebooks and pencils and maths textbook into his school satchel. He grabs a blanket and a pair of shorts and then runs to help his sisters and mothers. The older sisters, Foni and Anzoa, are not coming with them; they are going to hide in the mountains with Foni’s husband’s family. Obulejo hears people in nearby compounds shouting and running. Goats bleat and chickens squawk as they scuttle out from under flying feet.

  The families quickly assemble outside the mill manager’s office and scramble onto the waiting buses. Anzoa and Foni hug their weeping mothers goodbye.

  The buses take off, rumbling over the rough road out of the village. Looking out the window, Obulejo sees Lotuko tribesmen beginning to leave. They are going the other way – up into the mountains. This, after all, is their land and has always been so. They will not leave it, Rebels or no Rebels. They will take refuge in caves and mountain strongholds and wait out the danger as they did during the Poison War, before Obulejo was born.

  The cavalcade of cars and buses carrying Obulejo’s family and others winds through steep mountain passes and round hair-raising bends down to the plains. The road is a mess of ruts and flooded surfaces and on one tight bend Obulejo’s
bus threatens to topple into the deep ditch. At each stream, as they approach a makeshift bridge, Obulejo’s mothers close their eyes and begin to intone, ‘Hail Mary Mother of God . . .’ until the bus bumps and rattles safely across.

  The journey seems endless to Obulejo, but even more so to his little brother Amoli, who begins to fret. Obulejo puts his arm around Amoli and starts a long story about tricky Mr Hare.

  ‘Once upon a time,’ Obulejo begins, ‘Mr Hare and his son Abunibeebee went hunting in the forest. It started to rain heavily and they did not have a fire to warm themselves. Mr Hare saw a fire burning in a log far away and he said to his son, “Go and fetch it.” “All right,” Abunibeebee replied, and went to fetch the fire. But it wasn’t a fire. It was the red teeth of the Lion!’

  Amoli is soon drawn into the story. Obulejo holds him close. With Izia balanced awkwardly on his knee, her sleepy head banging against his shoulder, his other arm soon begins to ache, but he dare not disturb her lest she wake and begin to cry.

  At long last they reach the plains and finally trundle onto the main street of the district capital, Torit. People stream out to meet them, calling out questions, anxious to learn the fate of their relatives in the mountain village.

  ‘It is deserted,’ Moini tells them. ‘Everyone has fled.’

  ‘The Lotuko are hiding in the bush,’ Uncle Eriga adds. ‘They are at the mercy of the Rebels. May God protect them.’

  People begin to discuss fleeing south to Uganda or east to Kenya. Obulejo has heard his father talk of the family’s hurried move from their Ma’di lands during the Poison War. And now it seems they have to run away all over again.

  Family members are not even all together. His brother Juma is in high school in an area now in the hands of the Rebels, the two older brothers are in Egypt, at Cairo University, and most of the grandparents are in the capital city, Juba, or have crossed the border into Uganda, with other members of their clan. Where can Obulejo, his parents and the younger children go next? If the Rebels catch up with them, his father and uncle will be pressed into service as soldiers; and he will be, as well. Who will look after his mothers and the younger children?

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