For two days they had been waiting for the rest of the children. The soldiers were adamant. The children would depart in groups of seven—no more, no less. Her son had been the second to arrive. A matched pair had been deposited at the guard’s feet late that evening, a brother and sister whose guardian hadn’t waited to see them off. The woman watched the man until the horizon swallowed his shrinking form, he never once looked back at the twins.
For two days the soldier’s words had haunted her. Hunched over the flickering fire, heating their small breakfast she heard the gravelly voice, he doesn’t have to go. Her boy reached for his portion of the grisly gray meat, and hunched close to the flames as he chewed with slow deliberate bites. He was such a good boy. She caught his gray gaze and knew his stomach was far from full. The gnaw of hunger always had a seat at their dinner table. Even when he had suckled at her breast, her son was merciful, never making her say, “We have no more.” He ate what they had without complaint, and when there was nothing, it was without complaint as well.
Across the clearing the twins shouted, pointing toward the mountains. Holding her hand to shield her eyes, the woman looked, hoping it was a small band of travelers, and not another soul to deposit at the foot of the ramp. As the forms came closer her heart fell, two children and their escorts. He doesn’t have to go.
Now there were six. One more and he would be gone. She turned to the ramp so her son would not see the tears in her eyes. He doesn’t have to go.