Just a story I wrote while commuting. Completely unedited so don’t be surprised if you see a lot of spelling/grammar errors and sentences that don’t make sense…
Backing onto the ancient cemetery lies the start of a thoroughfare frequently in use by the student body of the university where many noble and ignoble are buried. Standing at the edge of the cemetery, on the official start of the university campus stands a man with enough something to be immortalised in bronze.
When the statue was erected nearly a century ago, by veterans of a war who’s key details are lost in the public mind, it stood gloriously on its spot covered in a white sheet in advance of its dedication ceremony.
The good and great of the university and community were in attendance as well some more suspicious and concerned citizens who knew they were unwanted but still had to see the dedication with their own eyes. They were survivors of the war and their children. Those who knew what the man being immortalised truly represented. That bloody war was supposed to rid them of that man and the ideas he espoused. This statue flew in the face of that idea as did the actions of the community. It was almost unbelievable, so they had to see it with their own eyes.
The head of the university looked uncomfortable as he introduced the dedication and the man who helped fund the construction. A man whose father was an officer in the war a generation ago. This man spoke of the communities way of life. How noble people like the man in the statue and his father were. They had fought for a way of life, he said, and for that they were quashed by the central government. It was not right, he contended, and do this man was to be immortalised as a symbol of that ideal.
The onlookers trembled at the words. Devoid of the truth. Absent of repentance. Arrogant in delivery. The struggle they thought was nearly over had only begun.
Legacy shrouds the past he was part of and defended, turning shameful acts into forgotten ones and minor successes into grand victories. There are those that know his past, those who know his legacy and those who have no idea. The last is the greatest number and yet the monument still stands as a reminder. Not to his glory but to his ideas.
To those who it doesn’t effect, it will never bear meaning. The reminder weighs heavy on those it does effect. Standing both as a monument to past wrongs but also to the indifference of those around them to their inherited pain.
Do monuments stand forever? Those that are not torn down are still dug up by the future. The fact they were created in the first place is a testament to the power behind them. Tearing monuments down does not obliterate their meaning. It is only a start.
Maria sat beside her father on a bench which was technically within the ancient cemetery though it was very much claimed as part of the university by all those who worked, studied and visited the grounds. It was such a nice part of the campus that people frequently lunched there on sunny days. On her holiday from school, with her parents still both at work, Maria found herself eating lunch from brown paper bags casually with her father on his lunch break. She was tagging along with him today as there was no where else for her to go.
She found herself staring at the statue that dominated the landscape in front of her. Though she had walked by this square many times with her father and mother, she hadn’t noticed the statue in quite the same way as she did. The man depicted in bronze looked heroic, smart and old. “Who was he?” She asked her father, her interest in talking of homework and the lack of travelling somewhere for this holiday fully exhausted.
Her father looked up from his phone and sandwich and simply shrugged.
What’s the point of the statue of dad knows nothing about it? She thought to herself. It can’t be right that he knows nothing, so she pushed her father to answer properly, “you work at the university, you must know something about a statue on its grounds. It’s not like there are many.”
He nodded, agreeing that her logic was not completely flawed. The statue had been there as long as he had been at the university. There must be something that he knew about it.
After putting his phone in his pocket he remembered something, “it’s called the Liu statue. I think he was some military or political leader from a war that happened more than a century ago.”
At this Maria stood up and held out her hand, the sign that it was time to walk, and took her father the the plaque at the base of the statue. It had worn somewhat with the years and weather. The inscription noted it was a statue of Marshal Liu and that it had been dedicated by the Veterans of the War association 20 years after the end of hostilities.
“It doesn’t give up much, does it,” her father said.
“Look it up, dad, if there’s a statue there must be something online about him.”
Absentmindedly he whipped out his phone, entering the name in the browser
and clicking on the first hit that wasn’t an ad. He skimmed the introduction and jumped to the synopsis on his war time efforts.
“What does it say?”
“I haven’t read it all, but this says he was one of the main leaders of the side in the war that lost. He was idolised by his soldiers and it sounds like they kept on believing in the cause well after the war ended and Liu died. That’s why the veterans – the veterans of the losing side – erected this statue.”
Maria contemplated this seriously and then looked up at her father and asked, “what’s a cause?”
“Ah, well, it’s sort of a reason to do something. Remember how you tried to help get free milk at school lunch?”
She nodded vigorously.
“Well that was a cause. You wanted free milk for the students who didn’t get it at home, so you talked to the principal, parents and raised money to make it a reality.”
“What was their cause?”
“I don’t really know actually. This article says they fought for independence and their rights, but I have a recollection it was about more than that. We can read more about it later,” he said, looking at his watch, “now my lunch break is up so we have to get moving.”
“Why are we visiting these graves?” Afua asked her father, Ekene, as they strolled through the old cemetery stopping at graves she didn’t recognise with names of people not related to them.
“It’s important to remember.”
Afua didn’t understand why the response was so short and didn’t really address her question. Her father always took time to explain things to her, no matter how complex. If he didn’t know, he would just say so. For this though, he knew the answer. It was hiding in his mind or he was shielding her from it. She couldn’t understand why and tried her hardest not to ask another direct question about the point.
“Where are we going?”
Ekene did not immediately respond as he was looking at a particular gravestone carefully. It was a valid question, it being her school holidays. It didn’t make sense really to be wandering a cemetery on holiday.
“Father,” she prompted.
“I’m sorry my love, I was lost in deep thought. What did you ask?”
She saw an opportunity to get out what she really wanted and so asked again,
“What are we doing here?”
His guard firmly down, Ekene decided it was time for a history lesson. “We’re here to remember. These people died before their time. After a
devastating war that was supposed to end their suffering.”
He paused for a moment and looked around the cemetery before spotting
what he sought and pointed while continuing to e plain to Afua, “let’s walk in this direction and I’ll tell you more.”
“These people, the ones lying here forever as part of earth are our ancestors, though not our direct relatives. They represent only a small number who could actually pay to be buried here and had families left to do so. There are many, many more whose bodies and souls are part of this same earth, but with no memorial to who they were.“
Nodding, Afua pressed first more, “why did they die?”
He smiled at his daughter’s question as his eyes sowed the raw pain of remembrance, “they died because they were different, my love.”
She deliberated this sentence as they strolled together on that warm, spring day heading towards the university and then stated, “Like we are different from most people in this town.”
With sadness and pride in his voice he nodded to his daughter.
Marshal Liu now loomed large in front of them, the greenish hue of aged bronze making it clear he was from another era, his pose making sure all knew he had been no man to trifle with.
“This man,” Ekene began pointing up at Liu, “can you guess what he did, who he was?”
“He looks like a hero, like from my stories, someone who protects people and ideas.”
He lowered his head and then nodded, “I can see why you would say that. It’s exactly what the people who erected the statue would want you to think. Marshal Liu was, however, not a good man.”
“Murder and destruction were his biggest accomplishments and all to preserve his way of life and the riches of his people – he considered people like us and our ancestors as things rather than equals. The war you hear about was started by him because he didn’t like the idea that we could be treated as equals like him. His followers who survived the war erected statues like this all around the country in order to rewrite history. They turned Marshal Liu into a man of principle and erased our kind and our struggling from their version of history.”
Before she could ask a question he stopped her and said, “I think that’s enough for today. We need to get home and help your mother with dinner.”
Afua and Maria begged their parents to be excused after everyone had finished their dinner. Sure, there was still dessert, but the girls knew from past experiences that there would be multiple rounds of conversation amongst the adults before that would happen. It was better to get a break in the living room and talk about what they wanted to talk about. Their priorities.
“Go along girls,” Afua’s mother, Martha, said with a wink and a smile to the other parents.
The two families gathered regularly for dinner, alternating between houses and occasionally out somewhere. It was always a comfortable and merry affair.
As the girls chattered away in the next room, the parents joked about their daily travails or having to fit childcare around work. Each had escorted their girls around at one point or another during the day though no one noted anything particularly irregular.
Then there was quiet. An odd sound with young children around. Usually the sign of something wrong rather than right. Before they had a chance to investigate the girls came bursting into the room.
“She lies!” Screamed Afua. Maria stood defiant, “I’m not lying. My daddy told me it earlier today. It is true.”
Hans scratched the back of his neck and shrugged his shoulders at the other adults who looked at him awkwardly now.
“What’s this about my love?” Hand asked Maria.
It was Afua who responded first though, “She said that Marshal Liu was fighting for a cause. She doesn’t know anything!”
“That’s what daddy said!”
All of the voices ceased, leaving the eerie silence looming over the dinner table like a destructive battlefield after the guns have fallen silent. The children demanded satisfaction that the parents knew not how to provide. They were shaken by a topic they thought was an issue in the wider world. Not at their dinner table though. Not with their friends.
It was Hans who calmed and broke the silence which lasted shorter than all silences seem to.
Looking at his daughter he said, “my love, remember that I didn’t really know much about Marshal Liu. You can’t say things so definitively when you have so little information.”
Ekene continued with the conciliatory tone, “yes, what Hans says is correct, but also my dear Afua, we must take our time to talk to our friends and not descend so swiftly to attacks.”
Priti, Maria’s mother made a suggestion to bring everyone back to the table, “it sounds like we may need a history lesson over dessert. Perhaps Ekene will oblige us on both fronts.”
Ekene smiles and raced to the kitchen to whip up dessert. He then recounted his walk with Afua to everyone at the table.
“I do not judge you, my dear friends, for not knowing this history of Marshal Liu. It is sad that it means those revisionists have won.”
“Indeed,” Martha noted, “I heard nothing about this growing up and If good people like yourselves don’t know the truth i shudder at what the wider world thinks and how they act.”
Each of the girls sat and listened to their parents. They understood most of what was said but they struggled with the idea of wider implications.
“Why does the statue still stand?”
It was Priti’s turn for a level headed answer, “I don’t think any of us know. Sadly, sometimes humans go for the easiest, least costly route. Maybe if there was a movement to tear it down, it would happen, but it will be hit by those who don’t want to see change. People will come up with any number of reasons.
First they’ll say that our version of history is untrue. We’ll present evidence and then they’ll say that we can’t rewrite history. Why not tear down statues and monuments of Caesar, Napoleon, and so on. They will fail to see the difference. That this statue of Liu was raised precisely to distort the history and shift the narrative about this hateful man.”
The girls both understood and didn’t. They were done with their dessert and asked to be released, reserving the right to pose further questions later.
When they were in the other room Hans said, “I’m sorry that I never knew.”
“And sorry that we never talk about this,” Priti continued, “you know there are different prejudices against me, but they’re different. Sometimes we need to talk about the painful stuff.”
“I know we can never truly understand – at least I can’t – but truly I want to listen and try.”
Martha was silent, waiting for Ekene. She thought he might equally burst into a furious tirade or stay silent.
“It is painful and you’re right, you cannot and never will truly understand. You are my friend, though, and I do not want to lash out at your blindness.”
They silently swirled through parallel thoughts trying to make sense of where they were and whether their friendship as they knew it was irreparably changed.
Clarity was what everyone sought but there wouldn’t be any. Though everything was not as lost as they thought.
“I actually heard some students talking about a statue the other day,” Martha said, “but I hadn’t connected what exactly they were talking about.”
“What did they have to say?” Priti asked.
“There’s a petition you tear it down that’s gathering pace.”
“There are a lot of stubborn people at the university who will resist,” he
looked around at his wife and good friends, “so perhaps there is something we can do together that convinced them that they’re wrong?”
“You’re right. We need to show them that it’s an apology for blindness that we want and action to fix the issues this blindness has so unjustly caused. Descendants can’t receive forgiveness for the acts of their ancestors even if they do ask for it. They can for their own acts or inaction.”