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    (February 11, 2006)


Octavia writes a terrifying account of being the victim of riots over 20 years ago. 

The Longest Night of My Life
by Octavia

It happened more than twenty years ago (it seems like yesterday) but from time to time it flashes in my memory and fills all my senses.

That night, when I was just about to go to bed, I heard excited yelling outside. Young, curious, and especially foolish, I said to my parents, “Why don’t we unlock and unbar the door and have a peek at what’s going on outside?”

My mom answered, “I don’t think it is a good idea.”

“But Mom, we don’t know what’s going on,” I insisted. Then we unlocked and unbarred our living room’s door (we lived like prisoners) and went to the garage to peer through the hole just to satisfy my curiosity. Each one of us took turns to have a good look outside. The screaming was so deafening—they were shouting and arguing—that it sent a chill up my spine. We could hardly make out the words that they were arguing about, but I recognized one of the voices was my neighbour’s.

Before I could learn what the conversation was about, the mobs were breaking our gate and easily opening the door because we practically helped them by previously unlocking the door. Simultaneously, we were face-to-face with them.

They were just kids of twelve to fourteen years old with a couple of adults as their leaders.

Each of them held a bat-like stick as their weapons and were smashing and breaking all of our belongings: the TV set, the tape recorder including the cabinet, all the bottles in the kitchen, and all the things they could reach. Meanwhile, we were all pushed into my parents’ bedroom, huddled together in a squatting position holding our shaking knees, waiting for our fate. They screamed in our faces, “Chinese! Get out of our country! What did you do to our brother?” they demanded. I didn’t have a clue what they were saying.

“We don’t know anything,” my father tried to reason. Then the leader grabbed a chair and hit my father with it. Crying, I begged him not to hurt my father.

“Please, remember God!” I spoke my prayer out loud. “Remember God!” Instinctively I repeated the words over and over.

“You can take all our belongings but don’t hurt us,” my mom pleaded. Suddenly, from a distance, we could hear a police siren, so the mob ran out and helped themselves to small things they could grab on their way out.

We rushed to hug each other. When I went into the living room, a sudden realization hit me, as if I had just woken up from a nightmare. The room was very messy, like a wrecked ship, covered by broken glasses and greasy dark liquid. The smell of soy sauce and vinegar touched my nostrils. I looked at it in despair, but my saint-like father tried to comfort us, saying “Let us go to sleep, it is very late now. We have enough already so let us deal with the rest tomorrow.” As if what happened was just a regular event; we would just sleep it off and “boom” it would disappear without a trace.

But things turned out differently.

Not long after, I heard footsteps coming toward us. Without any barrier because of the broken gate and door, I felt alarmed. “Anybody there,” a voice demanded and a body came into shape. It was a police officer and his colleagues. I sighed with relief. “Is any one hurt?” Without waiting for an answer, “Good,” he said. “Now, pack your precious things and come with us to the police station, because they might come back. You are not alone. There are a few families now,” he explained.

At the police station, there were other Chinese families with the same or even worse fate than us. We looked like refugees in a small police station sitting or lying down on the ground and some still wore their pyjamas. From them, I learned that a lot of young Chinese girls were raped and then killed, the men were killed, the stores in which Chinese people do business were robbed and/or burned, and the most shocking news was that my best friend, my classmate since we were in primary school all through high school, was killed including all her siblings, parents, and granny—they were killed and then burned in their own house.

Consequently, after hearing that news, I could not sleep even though I felt exhausted. I questioned God for what had happened to us. Why God? Why did you let all these terrible things happen? People said that in every unfortunate event, there is a hidden meaning. And I tried and tried to figure it out. It was the longest night in my life.

Maybe I should thank God that my family and I were still in one piece and whatever material things we lost were nothing compared to the other victims who had lost their family members or the entire family such as my best friend’s.

Finally, all I got from it is a trauma and a bad memory. Nevertheless, I thank God for the test he put me through and from then on I have become a stronger person.


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