The enemy had invaded. It was the one they had always been taught to fear and hate. “It is because they fear and hate us,” the older generations had always said. “It is because they are powerful and they take what they want and they control our rulers so that we cannot grow as a nation.”
And now, the enemy had finally gotten tired of them fighting back. “They are coming,” was the whisper. It was everywhere, like the buzzing of planes drowning out the birdsong. They were dropping bombs.
“Don’t worry,” says one, “They’re only aiming for military targets.” Maybe they often miss, or maybe they’ve started to realize every one of these people is a threat because every one of these people hates them.
“I just want to be safe,” says the child, and the mother doesn’t know how to answer.
The child grows into a boy and the boy to a young man.
“We need to fight back,” they tell him. “We are a proud nation and we are under attack. The enemy? They don’t share our values.”
“Remember who you are,” the young man’s mother tells him, “Remember what I taught you, how I raised you.” But everything is so different now, here.
“Your mother was not a true patriot,” the other young men tell him, and the older men, the men who are in control, who have been fighting this war the longest, the most effectively. “She never truly knew our ways—she has been corrupted by the enemy. The things she has taught you will not keep us safe. They will not even make you safe.” They beat the corruption out of him.
There are many people in this nation who have been made weak by the enemy’s corruption, or so the young man finds. But isn’t there something wrong?
“We must stamp out the enemy’s corruption!” say his companions, so in the name of fighting the enemy, what do they do? They do worse to themselves.
Finally, the young man finds his way to the enemy. “I just want my family to be safe,” he tells them.
“They will be,” the enemy promises.
The road is long and the road is hard, but step by step, the young man and the people he cares for are brought out of their country and taken to a new one on the far side of the world. They find a home, find a job, try to put the past behind them.
“Papa,” says the young son, “why do the people here behave so differently? Why do they think differently? Why do they have different language?”
“People are just different,” says the father, “in different parts of the world. They don’t think like us.” But there are things the man does not say at that time.
“Daddy,” the son asks when he’s older, “are we bad people?” He has been told at school by the other children that he is the enemy (and even once, it seems, by a teacher).
“Of course not,” says the father, remembering the poeple he left behind, the things that they did, but also the bombs of the enemy. And he reminds himself he has not seen the kind of rampant outrage here that made him abandon his homeland.
Most days are good here. Most days, nothing actually happens. People are nice, respectful. They are different, which reminds him of how different he must seem to them, but most days, they do not attack him. Most days. However, now and then, often enough to keep him desperate, there are looks and there are words. They do not come to blows (yet) but they remind him why these people, where he grew up, were known as the enemy.
“Why do you hate us so much?” he asks a stranger one day. The stranger looks taken aback at first, but once the ice is broken, she says “A lot of terrible things have happened and I guess you just remind us of that. You make us feel unsafe.”
“So you make us feel unsafe, then,” he replies. “Because you feel unsafe? Wouldn’t it be better to help us feel safe again? Wouldn’t that make you feel safer?”
“I guess?” says the stranger, “But we don’t want you to feel unsafe or uncomfortable. We just want you to be, you know…” She wants to say “normal”. She doesn’t, but he can hear it from her heart.
“You want us to be like you,” he says, “because you don’t want to be yourselves corrupted by the enemy.”