Ishmael BeahSierra LeoneWriting2011

Excerpt from A Time of Bleeding Stars, a short story


Suddenly, the breeze stopped. The stars dimmed and the sky began inviting dark clouds that quickly covered the moon. Hesitancy could be heard in the drummers’ drumming and adults began murmuring amongst themselves. A few minutes later, the stars brightened again. The moon was about to resume shining from behind the clouds when gunshots erupted. The drums ceased and the sky became full of red bullets that headed towards the stars and the moon. Father took me down from his shoulders and carried me in his arms as he ran back home. People were screaming and shouting the names of their children who had gotten lost in the crowd. The stars quickly hid themselves and it seemed the sky had moved farther away from the land. It became eerily dark. Mothers parted the darkness waving lit firewood as they continued searching for their children. The gunshots and wailing of mothers intensified as we left one year and entered another.


At home, grandmother was sitting on the verandah and she was crying as she begged the ancestors and spirits to return to their worlds. The piercing pain in her lament told me that it was the first time this night had been celebrated by gunshots and red bullets that continued to violently fly towards the sky. The choruses of guns clung to our heartbeats and made us jump in our chairs. I sat next to grandmother who had stopped crying and now stared deep into the night, rocking herself.


“I fear the years to come. Shooting at a coming year and its stars is worse than cursing the land and its people.” Grandmother buried her face in her palms.


That night, I lay on the cold cement floor under my bed for hours listening to the sound of bullets that landed on tin roofs all over town. My family was quiet, except father who continuously sighed until sleep came to me.


I dreamt that I was standing in the square of an abandoned town. It was night and the moon and stars were shining brightly. A harsh wind, that caused my eyes to water, sailed through the town. Then, red bullets began flying towards the sky and plucking the stars. As the stars came tumbling down to earth, they lost their lights. And each time a star died, the sky grew darker. Afterwards, hundreds of shooting stars flew across the sky only to collide with bullets. The moon began to sail away from the town followed by a horde of bullets that pierced its surface and slowed its sailing. More bullets continued to hit the moon until it finally stopped moving. The sky grumbled with a slight sound of thunder and then the moon began to fall from the sky. It landed in the forest surrounding the town. It lit the sky and earth one last time before going out. During its last brightness, I saw the holes in the sky where the stars and the moon had once hung. Blood was pouring out of the holes and the sky was pushing itself away from the land, heaving with pain. My legs were shaking and I wanted to run away but I couldn’t move my feet. A wail echoed in the forest. Suddenly, it began to rain blood and the sky broke. It was heading towards earth. I screamed and felt a hand on my forehead.


Mother was sitting in my bed and didn’t ask why I had screamed in my sleep. She just started weeping. I was sweating and still shaking as I slowly freed myself from the dream world.