Excerpted from "Thirty Girls" by Susan Minot. Copyright © 2014 by Susan Minot. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

THIRTY GIRLS by Susan Minot Chapter 3 / Esther I sit among the girls in the shade of a tree not so far

above my head. It is peaceful with their voices in the air, talking quietly. It might be birdsong for all I understand or care. I think, I will never be close to anyone again. We are just now supposed to be drawing pictures of things we would like to forget. You can see why this is strange. We must think, in order to draw them, about those terrible things we would rather remove from our minds. We are told that drawing such things will help us remove them. Instead I am drawing the tree past the work shed toward the field. It has a curved trunk and resembles a woman twisting to look over her shoulder. Today I woke with a pressure on my eyes, pulling my forehead. I thought, Perhaps I am getting a cold. Maybe I am. My mind is uneasy. Since being away, I am used to my thoughts being disrupted. They have cracks in them. I remember in a soft way, as in the distance, how it was to be whole. Nothing. It was like nothing. You just had wholeness, you did not feel it. I would not have known it was there if I had not become as I am now. It has offered me a perspective. It is interesting how one can understand a way that one was only after one is another way. Beside me the girls’ heads are bent close to the paper. They use ballpoint pens and pencils which are better if you want to erase. Red pencils are often used for the blood and the bullets. At night the bullets were red. Holly is beside me. She leans on a cardboard cracker box. She has drawn a house with a thatched roof and doorway, her house. Soon she will add men with pangas, a chair on fire, and her lute broken on the ground. She was practicing music when she was taken. Holly’s from the country near Ongoko, not from the town like me. I am from Lira town, which is not far, just a day’s walk. Past the picnic bench near the shop the boys are together there drawing. I see that one, Simon, with them. His back is to me with his bad leg straight out. When he was shot the bullet was near the bone so his knee is not so good. He swings his foot around when he walks instead of stepping straight. The scar looks like a crack in a window with jagged lines coming out from a shiny pink center against his dark skin. The scars on us are not straight. Simon is good at drawing so his drawings are tacked up in bicycle repair. One of a car on fire with flames smaller than the smoke, one of a boy with his arm cut off and drips of blood making a puddle. He’s skillful at details, doing three shades of camouflage with one lead pencil. His AK-47s shoot clouds and the soldiers have bouffant hairdos and side- burns as in cartoons. Everyone draws them that way, even though they do not so much look like that. They look like anyone. A high chain fence follows two sides of the property here and there’s a wooden fence with pieces fallen out of it along the driveway. The playing field has no fence, but one side goes beside a marsh. We are not fenced in. Here is not a prison and still we are not permitted to leave. I am not so good at drawing. I would rather look at a thing made in nature. I don’t finish drawing that tree.
Our camp is called Kiryandongo Rehabilitation Center and we are, during the dry season, a dusty circle cleared in the middle of tangled bush a little ways off the Gulu Road. There are some huts and the office of two sheds connected where Charles our head counselor has an office. The kitchen has a small roof and all sides open to the fire pit and brick oven

and there you see Francis cooking. Chickens peck around. We had chickens and when I was small I liked to hold them as pets. They were nervous, but if you keep patient they will calm down and stay in your lap even if their eyes are startled. We have a parking area for cars. One belongs to Charles and the truck fetches food and supplies. The van is to transport children, but it is broken at this time and has not been used since I have been here. In the work shed is a shop for making instruments and building chairs and repairing bicycles. Behind in the trees is a large white tent that came from Norway where the boys sleep. The ventilation is not so good and, having sixty boys inside, the air is unmoving and hot. The girls sleep in dormitories with bunk beds so close you can reach over and touch the girl next to you. Holly is in the upper bunk beside me. She has decorated her area. From the ceiling strings dangle empty boxes of Close-Up toothpaste or fortified protein, an eye-drop bottle, a box of Band-Aids. I have no decoration. Underneath Holly is May, who is very pregnant, due in a month. Her parents do not accept the child coming and have not visited May. At Kiryandongo we are all united by a thing that also divides us from others. We look at each other and know what we’ve been through. We also look away for the same reason. Since my return I meet new challenges of the mind. I have decided to forget everything that happened to me there and so look forward to the remainder of my life. I am not so old, nearly sixteen. My life could still be long. Before, my life was nothing to speak of. You would not have heard of it. Now, they tell us it is important to tell our story. They have us draw to tell it, but I am not so good at drawing. We studied the Greeks in school and they had people called rhapsodes who memorized long stories and recited them the way you would a song. The long poems were epics. At banquets or by pools people would sit eating grapes and drinking from goblets and listen to the rhapsodes sing. It was not a song with music, but the rhapsodes still sang. They sang of heroes and of journeys. When they ask us to speak, I cannot find the words. What I have inside is for me to look at alone. Who else can know it? Not anyone. I cannot say it out loud. How can one tell a story so full of shame? I listen to the others talk and understand how they struggle. We knew the same things. I stay apart to make peace with it inside myself, if I am able. With the rebels I learned that inside is where it most matters in any case. I am one of the abducted children. Did I tell you my name? I am Esther Akello.

Excerpted from Thirty Girls by Susan Minot. Copyright © 2014 by Susan Minot. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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