Part II

When the officials opened the coffin, a new, overpowering stench permeated through the air.  The girl’s face was tear-stained and distorted, as if she had been crying.  She had not originally been buried that way.  They all suddenly realized what had happened.  The girl had not died in the infirmary, but had been mistakenly declared dead.  After her body had been buried, she must have woken up inside the coffin and panicked, realizing that she had been buried.  She must have spent the night screaming and pleading for help before she suffocated to death.

The camp guard explained all of this to Maggie.  I never asked Maggie how he had told her all of this.  Was he apologetic?  Guilt-ridden?  Indifferent?

Regardless of how he felt, the camp guard went unpunished for his negligence.  Other camp internees heard and attested to the horror story of the little girl that had been buried alive, but no one seems to remember her name or who her family was or what happened to her aggrieved father.

Maggie ended her story with quietly telling me, “You don’t want to remember…life was so miserable.  We thought we would die there.”  For some, it is easier and less painful to just forget what had happened.  For others, it is a daily goal to forget—yet memory is a plague.

When I finally asked Maggie if she believed that a formal apology from the Indian government would mean anything to her, she thoughtfully answered, “The scar will always be there no matter what.  The Indian government put us through emotional, financial stress.  But, yes, it would be nice to at least have the Indian government recognize what happened.”

The story of the girl who had been buried alive continues to haunt me—but then I realize how much more it must have haunted Maggie and the other children in the camp.  Part of me wants to just believe that it was a rumor or mere camp gossip.  But a larger part of me knows that Maggie faced something truly traumatic as a child and had to live with such an ugly truth all her life.

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