Photo: Sharon McCutcheon via Unsplash
“They’re collateral damage,” he said, and gestured toward the flash of news images across the screen. “It’s not anything personal against them.”
He shrugged as if his words explained all of what happened. Of what continues to take place.
“They never should’ve put themselves in this situation,” he added, perhaps because he’d perceived my incredulous stare as an invitation to explain further, or perhaps because someplace, somehow, he felt ashamed. That is, if he was capable of shame, which as the evening dragged on I found myself increasingly doubtful of.
I glanced at Brenda, whose dinner plate seems to have become her world. Her absconding only made me angrier, but the boulder in my throat allowed no sound. I shook my head.
“Well, they could’ve stayed where they were,” he retrieved a comb out of his pocket and proceeded to slick back his salt-and-pepper hair, and the outrageously incongruous act against the reality of utter misery, somehow released my breath.
“They are children!” I choked on the word, but the rest tumbled out behind it as if afraid to become lodged again. “They could not make the decision to stay. They had no choice where to be born. Or who they were born to, or whether or not to put themselves in any situations.”
He continued to groom himself with the comb and I fought the urge to grab his arms and toss away the thing, one of the many things, the children were denied.
“Their parents should’ve taken better care of them,” he added blandly.
I took in a deep breath. “Even if that was true, which it is not in the vast majority of the cases, how does that make it acceptable for others to deliberately traumatize these children further?”
He raised an eyebrow in disdain to signal that my upset was the overreaction. “If their parents stayed in their own countries,” he stated sedately, “instead of coming here, the children wouldn’t get locked up. It’s simple, really. If a person doesn’t want their kids to suffer, they should not do certain things.”
“So now we’re talking like the mafia? Threatening people with harm to their kids?”
“Calm down,” he drawled. “Now that people know their kids wouldn’t have it easy here, perhaps they’d think before they decide to make their kids into collateral damage. If they did as they were told and stayed wherever it was they belonged, none of this would have to happen.”
I inhaled and glared at his wife, the colleague whose silence at the face of cruelty made her increasingly less of a friend. Her eyes scanned the wall someplace not quite behind my head.
“So you approve of terrorizing children,” I stated, my fingers groping for my purse. Her birthday dinner or not. I was done. “This is exactly what mafia does.”
He actually cackled. “They’re the mafioso. It’s their fault if their kids are cold and wet and getting hurt. What did they expect, crumpets and tea?”
For Linda Hill’s SoCS writing challenge: co-