Translated from the Burmese by Eindra Ko Ko
Undated (The First Days of the Protest)
The knocking is always faint at first. Most people probably wouldn’t be able to hear it, but she knows it’s coming and her heart is ready. It beats in time with the hand behind the door, filling her ears with blood that pounds like an orchestra in her head. The louder the knocking, the louder the musicians. The door always opens after the key is turned to unlock it. There are four, then there are five standing at the step to the door. They look hungry, as if they could eat her. They shake their shiny handcuffs at her. She remembers what is coming next. Her arms are pulled behind her and she can feel the handcuffs locking onto her wrists. As usual, she tries to scream but nothing comes. Nobody comes to help her. Two of them say, “You really wanted to be a part of the civil disobedience movement this much?” And then…
Noe Noe’s barking wakes her. She looks around the flat and sees the dog sitting at a window. Something outside has caught Noe Noe’s attention and everyone knows dogs will bark at any shadow that crosses them. Still, she looks down and checks her wrists for handcuffs.
Since she came to this apartment a week ago, the police have come to arrest her every night. It’s not always the same. Often she is beaten, sometimes her hair is pulled out, sometimes she is shot. She came to hide, but it’s not easy being a woman on your own in Yangon. It attracts attention. And so does Noe Noe. But she can’t send the dog away to her village; Noe Noe’s only a puppy. She’s also grown too fond of the dog. No one knows where she is, except for Noe Noe. Now, the dog is her closest friend. When she is happy, Noe Noe is happy. When she is sad, so too is Noe Noe, who licks her hand to comfort her.
During the day, she has to take Noe Noe to a friend’s place. A protest is no place for a dog. On those days, Noe Noe refuses to eat until she returns. She knows it could look like she has abandoned Noe Noe but she would never do that. So she promises that no matter what happens on that particular day, she will always come back.
22.2.2021 (The five-2s Revolution Day of Protest)
The whole country was out in the streets. Every city and town. People chanted and sang and saluted each other with three fingers. In Yangon, an ocean of rage swelled and surged from Hledan Centre to the University. But there was no violence that day. No deaths. And she returns to Noe Noe, who scampers to her and around and around her. She will tell Noe Noe all about that day when they are safe in the flat at night.
Tonight, Noe Noe doesn’t stop barking. No matter what she does or how much food she gives, Noe Noe keeps on howling. Noe Noe doesn’t realize that her owner is a government worker and now the government she used to work for is looking for her. Noe Noe doesn’t know that silence keeps them both safe.
“Woof. Woof. Woof.”
Then she does something she had never done before. She smacks Noe Noe four times, then five times. The dog stops and looks at her. She can see the surprise in Noe Noe’s face and starts to cry. When she is happy, Noe Noe is happy. When she is sad, Noe Noe is sad and whimpers and then licks her hand.
28.2.2021 (The Milk Tea Alliance Day of Protest)
On this day there is violence. Security forces hunt down those they are supposed to protect. They beat and tie up and drag civilians into the back of trucks. People are shot. Rubber bullets and live rounds. Soldiers aim at the head. The dead are from many places. But people are more afraid to live.
She is somewhere in the middle. The younger ones are before her. They have done this before. They know what is coming. They wield planks of wood to bat away the tear-gas canisters. If they miss, others are ready to smother the pluming canisters with wet cloths. Coke bottles appear, because everyone now knows water is useless to wash away the gas. Beside her, a couple crouch, both holding hands and wearing identical T-shirts emblazoned with “Spring Revolution.” Somewhere ahead is the frontline. The youth cover their brothers and sisters with thin, homemade metal shields that cannot stop what comes.
She runs as she hears it. Keeps running and running. She can’t see anyone else beside her and she runs anyway. Doors are opened for her and yet she keeps running. She’s not sure where she is now but she runs because she promised.
She runs back for Noe Noe.
In the time it has taken to write this story, at least seventy innocent people have been killed and more than a hundred injured just in Yangon by security forces who are supposed to protect civilians. These murders are happening in cities, towns, and villages across the country.