They Were Here, Once



The keeper of history is asked what happened to them, and he says I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no proof they ever existed, none, what you are seeking is fiction. This is an age-old accusation without basis. The people of whom you speak were never here.


But they were here. Not by the hundreds but by the millions.


Once they flourished and built churches, businesses, schools, places of worship. They had their own ways of doing things – culture – and envisioned a future HERE, for the children of their children.


But was it their skin? Was it their gods? Was it the sins of their fathers? Was it their possessions?


There is a poison that spreads into the hearts of men, a slow-moving poison, slow, slow, over decades until the heart devolves into that of a genocider. A genocider who believes he is doing good, truly, he thinks he’s doing the right thing.


This is how it happens:


First the sins of all the earth were placed upon their heads – it was them, and the masses are convinced, yes, it was them, those people with those ways of doing things, repeat, it was them, and they repeat as they search for clubs, chains, kitchen knives, anything to inflict death. When the sun goes down and the world goes dark the mob takes to the streets in search of the culprits, the culprits barricaded behind the locked doors of churches, schools, hospitals. Night after night the streets become a hunting ground. Look closely and you will see the killers are shopkeepers, dentists, preachers, receptionists, the man who runs the movie theater. Poison. Deep inside of them, so deep that they believe they are doing good. They believe they are saving the world.


In the days between the nights the mob is fueled by propagandists who encourage them to keep on going, don’t relent, haven’t you seen what they’ve done to us? In the days between the nights, the hunted bang upon the doors of the government to help, and smiling men come to say there is no evidence of what you speak, this doesn’t exist, you’re imagining things, go back home and you will be fine. Some escape the country, some, who foresaw the trajectory that has already unfolded many times before, left long ago. But most are still here. Most will be found and erased.


In time the bloodshed fades, it’s over soon enough, fifty thousand, maybe a hundred thousand, perhaps a million, no one is tasked with counting and no one wants to. A good rainy season and all the blood is washed clean, and the good smiling men in government buildings keep on smiling, and the shopkeeper opens up shop, and the movie man plays the next film, and the doctor heals his patients. They feel no guilt. They do not remember either.


Because when the hunting is over the hard work begins to erase them from history.


Them. The nameless. What can they even be called but they and them and the ones and that group. It was a small thing. No one recalls much.


The church walls are scraped clean, the icons burned, the priests and monks thrown off the cliff, and there is no memory of the people who once came here to worship.


The school caught fire on accident and the fire department couldn’t put it out.


The statues and works of public art they created – long ago torn down – are replaced.


The stones upon which they stood are replaced. The inscription is replaced too. The photographs of the statues are sought out and burned, too. The museum has no record of what you’re talking about. Anyone who remembers the statue is replaced, too.


Any registers of the population cannot be found. They don’t exist any longer. They were not lost. They never existed, comrade. How can something be lost that was never here to begin with?


The ancient cemeteries where the fathers of their fathers once lay have not been desecrated, that would draw attention, they just don’t exist anymore. A building stands here now. A building where the people don’t remember what you’re talking about. Dig all you want; there are no bones.


The keeper of history is asked once more, what happened to them? And he genuinely doesn’t know. He’s telling the truth. If you ask, you’re the madman. You’re the conspiracist. There is no proof they ever existed, says the keeper of history, I don’t even know who we are talking about.