As everyone celebrated on the streets and in their homes, Veronica wandered through the rubble trying to feel as happy as most people around her were. But it wasn’t possible or at least it was very hard to do so. Even smiling felt like a chore, like something you would do only to please people but not because you really felt it inside. There was a feeling of incompletion around, as if all the sacrifices of the war had not been enough to end every single type of hostility that many people harbored against one another.
As she walked the streets, some lit and others not so much, she realized that the world after the war would be in chaos. Yes, everyone was cheering and celebrating right now, probably drinking stolen articles and launching fireworks that had been banned for so long. But after all of that happiness, a moment of truth and reflection would have to come and the atrocities of war would have to be addressed. For example, not everyone was on the same side, the winning side. Some people were not celebrating.
Well, some of them were but just because they had to survive and keep on living. It was widely assumed that trials, of sorts, would emerge from the victorious side, condemning the losing side to many years in jail, banishment from the country or even death. Even if the maximum penalty had ever been enforced legally in the country, many of the victors would want the vanquished to be treated just as them treated others during the war. There were lots of executions, on the streets even.
Veronica was actually just passing a street she knew very well, not only because it used to be a prime shopping spot before the war, but because many people were forced to stand in front of the former storefronts in order to be killed with guns. It was horrible to think about those moments, the images that would never going to leave anyone’s mind. That could never be overlooked, the fact that a large amount of the people now alive had killed at least one person over the last seven years.
Everyone’s hands were tainted with blood; there wasn’t a single innocent, not even the children. They were used so many times to lure the kindness out of people, that all of their innocence had vanished. Many children were now celebrating the end of the war, just like adults. And the ones that were too small were orphans or just dead. Every single person had done something horrible during the war and now they chose not to remember that because it was a clear image of how disgusting and vile a human could get. So many atrocities in such a relatively short period of time.
Veronica reached the gates of the Compound just as the night was darkest. She had to use a pocket lantern she had found days earlier, in order to go inside and check out the place for herself. The prison or camp or however you may call it, had been liberated only a few months before the end of the war but it looked as if it had happened many years ago. The place was covered in ash and debris, and the gates, doors and windows had been torn apart or had simply disappeared from sight.
She walked from the entrance to a large yard area were she knew people had been selected. You see, not everyone was imprisoned in the same place. They had categories and each category had their own building in the premises of the Compound. The differences between each building were in the treatment given by the jailers. For example, former members of state entities and such would receive a better treatment there than homosexuals or blacks. Just the same as it had happened so many years ago, elsewhere.
The Compound had surprisingly not been built by the losing side, as one would think. It had been built by the so-called winners, by the so-called heroes of the war. In some parts of the country, people were already designing statues for them to be put in every single park, in every single town. They had been the ones fighting for justice and freedom but they clearly didn’t respect their enemies’ rights at all. They were just as vile and vengeful as all the other people. They were not different.
Veronica walked through the large yard in order to get to the only building that had been kind of spared by the last bombs the “enemy” had dropped from the sky. That was how the prison got its freedom. It hadn’t been an act of kindness. It was just the result of the last desperate attack from the would-be losers of the war. They had sent the few planes they still had and just bombarded the jail were their family members and friends had been imprisoned. They believed it was better to be dead that a prisoner.
So pride made them act on that last move. And they succeed in destroying the prison and liberating some of their people from it. But only days later they would realize their days were counted and that their fate had already been sealed, well before the attack on the Compound. Veronica saw on the floor of the building some bone fragments, as well as fabric that used to be made into uniforms for the prisoners. There were also several metal plates and bowls, and a large assortment of cutlery. Maybe the prisoners had staged a mutiny as the bombs lit everything on fire.
After a short time, she decided to leave the Compound through “the back door”, which was actually a large gap in the tall wall of the complex. She didn’t want to stay there too long in case the “winners” were patrolling the premises looking for someone to practice shooting with. She adjusted her backpack and walked on, towards very dark park covered with grand beautiful trees. The place was covered in shadows but even that way it felt like somewhere one would feel at ease.
The park was one of the largest in the city and it was used to process many of the prisoners of the Compound. But apparently cold heads prevailed and no one ever really destroyed it on purpose or tore the trees down. Some of them had received damage from the bombs that were dropped in the nearby prison, but the building between the two sites had prevented the fire to really destroy the last green place in the city. It had been a miracle that most people were ignoring in that precise moment.
Veronica walked along the central path of the park, hearing her steps on the stone and the wind blowing through the tree leaves. Everything felt so peaceful, and she was very glad to be there but even then she felt all of that could not be forever. She knew things were going to be bad for a while and she was alone and no one could just come and be with her. Her family had died during the war and those were not times of real friendship, just of convenient relationships that no one knew how long they would last.
The best thing to do, maybe, was to leave the country altogether. It was a difficult choice to make and also a hard thing to achieve, but Veronica had nothing else to loose. She was carrying everything she owned on the backpack: some pieces of clothing and a couple of objects she had rescued from her former house. She had also stolen some food from a ruined supermarket, but that was it. She could easily walk her way towards the border and attempt to cross it. Or maybe get into a boat and sail away.
Whatever she did, she had to do it quietly and carefully, as she had no intent of driving attention onto herself. No one was looking for her specifically, but everything around there was going to become very unstable and she knew that’s when unlikely things tend to happen the most.
She decided to leave the city that night, taking advantage of most people celebrating the end of the war. As they raised glasses, told jokes, remembered family and friends, Veronica would banish into the night and attempt to forever disappear from that other night, one that would never end.