She wasn’t normally squeamish but she wrinkled up her nose with disgust. Since fleeing their home a few hours ago her husband had taken them not with the other straggling band of inhabitants from their village on the main road south but across country to the east. He had chosen to escape from the mercenaries this way as they would not be so obvious. A ramshackle crowd of people moving slowly in front of an advancing army was in his mind foolish to the extreme.
He had taken them to the sewage pits on the far side of town. All was still and quiet there as they sat down to rest and looked across the pools of water where hundreds of birds had gathered looking for food. As they sheltered in the bushes the nervous creatures got back to their fossicking. Egrets, a few swans, and ducks by the dozen. Around them as she pulled open her clothes to offer her breast to their little girl, other smaller birds, confident that they meant no harm came out too while swallows swooped low over the water flicking their heads as the picked up insects in flight.
She became accustomed to the smell and felt less squeamish now that he had chosen this route to escape. She watched him as he held their boy and pointed the birds all around them. He had told her they would cross the hills to seek their freedom. She looked sadly at him talking with the little boy. Freedom was a foreign word it meant nothing as they had never experienced it. Being of a religious minority meant they were welcome nowhere. They all worshiped the same god but it was the way you did that stood you apart. Governments were invisible to them they were merely represented by the military who were godless anyway. So they had to flee or face eradication.
He husband turned and pointed to the hills. They were on the move again. Both she and her husband picked fresh leaves and berries from the bushes and ate them as they walked along. There should be water there he had said for it rained more on high land. So slowly they approached the high country. He kept saying “Eat, eat!” to her.
“Why” she asked.
“Because you may have to feed the boy too”.
She lowered her eyes and understood. Their son was only three, already weaned but they had to stay alive somehow and he was desperate that they all got to safety. She had never really thought whether he loved her or not, as their marriage had been arranged but now seeing that certain look in his eyes. She finally knew what love was.
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