Jona smiled the moment that his uncle held his hand. His uncle could be grumpy but he was always kind to Jona. The boy felt a joy as he sat on the back of his uncles push bike, at eight he was still small enough to ride behind his uncle. Jona had always wanted to have his own bicycle but his family were not wealthy enough. His uncle told him that one day, should he be a good boy, then he could have his push bike. Jona liked that arrangement, so he would clean and tend to his uncles bicycle when ever he could. Jona was a good boy regardless of such a reward.
The pair passed through the grey concrete buildings that had no windows. The buildings were broken in parts. Jona had only ever known a home that was wrecked and always changing. His stomach was often empty and his mother would cry a lot. Jona could not remember his father, or his older brother. Only his mother and uncle looked after. Today Jona had to help his uncle go to a medical clinic. It was Jona’s job to help his uncle get home safe, in case the treatment made him unwell.
Crushed cars and piles of stones cluttered the street as Jona and his uncle rode past the walking crowds of people, where they were it was too narrow for a car or truck to go. But some did try and when they did the driver would beep their horn and gesture to the mobs of people. Jona looked up and saw the helicopters as they hovered, men with guns sat inside of them. Higher still in the sky every so often Jona could see the reflection of the flying robots, his uncle called them “drones”. Joa only knew that on occasion the helicopters and the drones blew things up.
Jona had been told why the world that he knew was as it is, but as much as he tried to understand things. He could make sense why it was as it was. Why he and his family were always treated as though they were bad people. They had done no wrong. The people that flew the helicopters and owned the flying robots hated Jona and his family, but for what reason the boy often pondered.
“Remember do not say a thing” his uncle patted Jona on the shoulder. The boy had been through checkpoints before, to know not to say or do anything other than to obey. The men that flew in the helicopters and owned the drones ran the check points. They were never nice. They would go through peoples possessions, feel their bodies, say mean words and occasionally they would beat people and take them away. Jona felt his heart thump, the familiar sickness twisted his stomach.
He and his uncle were in the line up, they were now standing alongside their bike. Men wearing black helmets, dark glasses and face masks watched over them and asked for papers and cards of identification. The men in masks had guns, they were menacing. Even Jona had his own plastic card with a photo on it. He was five when he was made to get one for himself. Jona clung near his uncle as the men in masks pointed their guns in his direction.
Jona held his card up like a shield. His uncle’s hands trembled as he held up the paperworkd and his own ID.
“I am going to the clinic. Here is my medical pass”
For long minutes two armed men looked at the paperwork and considered Jona and his uncles situation. They eventually allowed them through a large gate. Surrounded by machine guns, barbed wire and lots of concrete fortifications, Jona felt scared and small. Cameras watched them as they passed slowly into another section of the city.
A woman in a soldiers uniform came to Jona as his uncle was taken to a small cove in the large concrete wall. The woman grabbed Jona and felt his body, ripping at his clothes and then pulling on his hair. The boy had been molested in such a manner before, he knew to say nothing and to stand still.
The woman soldier pushed Jona in the direction of his uncle as they both walked with their bike through the gate. Jona had learned the word “Check Point” long before he knew what “Ice cream” was. He had never tasted ice cream, only seen pictures of it. Past the first check point the city was cleaner, though it was full of armed soldiers, security guards and police. Jona and his uncle belonged to a people that were not welcome in some parts so they could only walk along specific roads and go into some businesses.
His uncle reminding him not to make eye contact with anyone and to only move very slowly, The pair stopped about twenty minutes into their journey when they reached another checkpoint, this time it was with soldiers and police who had soft hats on and their faces exposed. Though none of them smiled. His uncle spoke to a police officer who looked at his card and paperwork and then showed it to another officer. They placed a camera up to his uncles face and took a photo of him. Another police officer walked to Jona.
“You are getting a flat tire” the young faced police officer said.
Jona looked slowly at the back tire of the bike, it was soggy and low. The boy did not know what to do, “I am sorry sir, I will try and get it fixed”
“Just be carefully when you ride it” the police officer said and patted Jona on his head.
His uncle returned and led the boy away from the checkpoint, “We are nearly there.”
Jona thought about the police man that had warned him about the tire. He had been nice, he even smiled. Jona had never seen a smile from those with the guns and uniforms. He felt confusion mix in with his fear. He could not understand why some one that would hate him would also smile and pat him on the head. Jona thought about it as him and his uncle reached the clinic. It was a large white painted building. More armed people stood outside, and cameras watched their every move.
“I must go inside and get my medicine. Wait outside and do not talk to anyone. Stay with the bike and do not move.”
Jona nodded to his uncle who patted him on the head much the same way that they police officer had. Jona sat on a bench that was across from the clinic. He watched as people went in and left, occasionally a truck or van would stop and unload someone or items. The boy was curious to see the world outside of his own little part of the city. He was used to busy but this was a different sort of activity. Jona’s family had no access to electricity, so no computer or television. The living world was his entertainment.
Two security guards approached Jona. He was in his own little world singing a song that his mother often sung when she was cooking. The moment that he noticed the guards, the boy stiffened and placed his hands at his side.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m waiting for my uncle, he is in the clinic. I was told to wait for him.”
Jona presented his card, the two security men looked at it and then threw it on the ground. Jona leaned in to pick it up, as he did so one of the security men took the bike.
“That’s my uncle’s bike”
“I am confiscating it. This bike is contraband and you are loitering.”
One security guard pushed the bike away as the other pushed Jona onto the ground. The boy stood up, he was upset. He had done nothing wrong.
“Why would you take my bike?”
“I thought that you said it was your uncles?”
“It is. But he said when I am older that I can have it”
The security man with the bike lifted it up in the air and smashed it to the ground, he then stomped onto it repeatedly.
“Now no one can ride it”
The security men walked away across the street and into the distance. Jona picked up the bike, it was in a tangled mess. He dragged it from the road and onto the curb, near where he had been sitting. He felt the tears begin, he tried not to cry. He sobbed on his own, his lips trembling and his breathing shaking.
An hour passed before his uncle appeared.
“What happened to our bike?”
“The men broke it”
“Ok, I will fix it when we are home. Now we must go.”
The pair made it to the first check point. His uncle was sweating and had a very red face. Jona did his best to drag the bike on his own, pushing it when he could. As they neared the first check point a police officer approached them and went over their cards and the paperwork.
“What happened to your bike?” the young police officer from earlier asked Jona.
The boy’s lips began to tremble, “some men broke it.”
The police officer rubbed his shoulder and gently hugged the boy, “maybe you will be able to repair it.”
“I will” Jona’s uncle said as he helped his nephew carry the bike free from the check point. In silence they walked down the street and passed onlookers who gazed at them with disdain. Soldiers watched as their fingers lingered on trigers but all Jona could think about was his sick uncle and the broken bike.
The men in masks and armed with the large guns approached Jona and his uncle. They separated the pair and pushed Jona against the wall. He raised his hands and felt the tugging and pulling, the soldier made Jona stand for a long time with his hands above his head. His uncle spoke to the others while Jona watched and felt his arms grow sore and tired.
“I was at the clinic, here is the paperwork”
“We can not allow you to return” a soldier said to his uncle.
“What about my nephew?”
“He will be allowed to return but you must stay in a holding cell for further questioning”
“But I have done nothing wrong”
“Then you have nothing to be concerned about”
The masked men took his uncle away, Jona lowered his arms and tried to follow but a soldier pushed him back and through the gate.
“Uncle!” Jona yelled.
“Jona, go home and be with your mother!”
Jona was pushed through the gate and into the part of the city that was near his home. The grime and wafting smoke was familiar to him. He waited with the tangled bike for his uncle. A masked soldier kicked him onto the ground and pointed for him to move along. Jona climbed to his feet and dragged the bike back home.
When he returned his mother began to cry the moment that he told her that the soldiers had taken his uncle away. She then hugged him.
“Stay here. Do not go outside any more.”
“I need to fix the bike”
“No, stay inside with me. It is too dangerous now.” It felt like his mother would never stop embracing him.
A week passed when Jona and his mother heard news about his uncle. He had died due to complications from his treatment. Soon Jona had to take his mother through the checkpoints and to the clinic. Jona felt sick each time he thought about it.
When that day came. Jona returned home alone.
The end, 2021