We played together, the village children and I. Pretending that we were like the cowboys shown on western films. Bang! Bang! Goes our toy guns followed by squeals of laughter. Cowboys and outlaws was my favourite game. “Shoot the outlaws’’, said my big brother, “or they will steal your sheep.” We followed the orders of the big ones. They had played this game for so long, they knew every tactic and method to win. They gave us every reason to why we should kill the outlaws. We listened to them intently. We adored them. Pointing my gun at the outlaws, bullet after bullet I shot to take them down. My gun, light and skillful in my hand was my ultimate weapon. I watch the outlaws drop dead playfully on the soft brown earth. The last ones’ standing is the cowboys. I feel happy. I feel victorious. I stopped the bad guys from stealing my sheep, I thought proudly to myself. It is twilight. The sky is dark and rumbling. It is time to go home. I watch the outlaws I shot down being resurrected from the dead. We trudge through the rain together, outlaw and cowboy, back to the village hand in hand. On the way home my brother laughs at me when he sees me still pretending.” That’s enough now,” he says “there’s no more outlaws. You’re gun probably has no more bullets.” I smile at him and put my gun into my pocket. “We are not real cowboys, he continues, “We are just like your gun.” I look at him confused. “We are toy soldiers are we not? Cowboys are somewhat like soldiers are they not?” my brother asks. All I can do is keep smiling. I want to play again tomorrow with my toy gun. I want to protect my sheep.
“It’s just like cowboys and outlaws,’’ the big ones say. I used to play this game with the village children. We used to pretend with our toy guns. I was very good with my gun. But now the gun is cold and heavy. I don’t like it. The big ones here order us around. They yell and throw punches at me, laughing when tears are streaming down my face. “We are training you to be a man,’’ they say “we are teaching you to fight so that no one can steal anything from you.” The big ones teach us everything. They teach us what to do, how to hide and when to attack. They tell us that if we listen to them we will win. I am afraid of them so I listen. I don’t know who the cowboy is; I don’t know who the outlaw is. We all look alike; afraid and alone. There is a family kneeling before me, crying and pleading. “Shoot these bastards down,’ the big one commands “they are the ones that pillage your lands, kill your family and steal your future.” The little boy is whimpering. He didn’t kill my family, he didn’t pillage my land and he didn’t steal my future I think to myself. Still I take aim and bullet after bullet I shoot. I shoot because I am afraid of that they will do to me if I disobey. The sound of gunfire rings in my ears. That never happened with my toy gun. I hear someone wailing in a distance. They hit the ground with a loud thud. I don’t feel happy. I don’t feel victorious. I put the gun down. I receive a pat on my back. Did I stop the bad guys then? I ask myself. They are lying there lifeless. They are not being resurrected; I have watered the soil with their blood. The blood is draining from their bodies and is making little streams as it colors the earth. It is getting dark and thunder growls like a mad dog above us. I shuffle slowly with the big ones towards the forest. I am not proud of what I have just done. I miss my toy gun. I don’t want to be a soldier, toy or real. I don’t want to come back tomorrow. I don’t want to kill these bastards.