The true heroes of war

He took the long road home. From the bus stop in front of the little kadey, over the stream and through paddy fields. He took the long way home because a few minutes more spent away wouldn’t hurt anyone. He needed to see it all before he was forced to relive his past, remembering for others. The grounds carpeted with blood and bodies unrecognizable. Dogs, cats, men, women all lay together dead. He shut his eyes at the memory and tripped over a half hidden root. He remembered this place. As a kid too he had tripped over that very root so many times. He smiled as he sat by it, on the still damp clay soil. A bird who had been happily singing from a high branch shat without warning. The liquid shit landed with a plop a few inches away from his feet. “So this is the respect we get. By the birds and by the fucking people.”
He stood up and spat at the root. He had a lot of crude habits to do away with. The swearing and spitting were only a few the habits he knew would shock his mother. Ah! Amma. He wondered how she was. When he left, their relationship had been stressed. Years apart had in a way brought them together. He loved her, but she had always been too interfering, thus making him rarely come home for holidays. When they had parted ways during the past not knowing if they would see each other again, a lot of unsaid things had been understood. When he would worship her, touching her toes in respect, it had taken all he had to not cry.
In a few minutes though he would be seeing her. She had been plump when he had left nearly a decade ago. Her cloth and jacket had smelled of spices and smoke, having spent hours cooking in the dark yet spacious kitchen. Her hair was dark, parted in the middle and tied into a bun at the back. It was long and thick, well oiled. He knew she had changed, but how much of a change this was he was soon to know.
He picked up his bag, heavy with clothes and a few treasured items. Letters and trinkets. The small treasures his life allowed him. He felt his trouser pockets, looking for the carton of cigarettes he had bought during the journey back. Lighting a match, he looked through the flame for a second or two before lighting the cigarette. He took a long pull and exhaled. The familiar smell, and feeling. Ah! He already felt calm. He stood smoking, already missing his buddies. Late in the night, as the cold would make them shiver, the young men would sit on the ground smoking.
At first the stale smell of tobacco had made him nauseous. So much that he had avoided talking to his friends who smoked. Then one night, when things had been too painful to bear, he had put a cigarette between his lips. Since then, it had been a thing of comfort. Somehow chasing the nightmares away.
He threw away the cigarette butt and started to walk towards home. He couldn’t call it that though. The camp was his home now. How easily had his home become just another house? He sighed.
“Amma!” he called out. The house looked deserted. Not a sound came from the inside and the garden was utterly neglected. Weeds had taken over and the plants were over grown. Leaves, dried to a crisp, scattered the ground. Much like a carpet. Somehow the dry brown of the leaves reminded him of that church his unit had come across. Abandoned, the pews resembled shattered glass. A large cross had fallen over, taking down an angel statue with it. Bullet holes had pierced through the walls and parts of the roof were missing. Beams of sunlight fell on torn bibles and prayer books. The polished floor was carpeted with a thick rust color. Blood and body parts were scattered everywhere. It was the site of the great massacre.
The memory made his legs weak, and a coldness spread through his body. He leaned on a wall in the veranda and closed his eyes. “So many bloody years ago and the sight still haunts me,” he mumbled. His eyes shut, he took slow and deep breaths. He felt a warm hand on his arm.
“My son,” a quiet and trembling voice said. He wasn’t ready to let the light in yet, and so kept his eyes shut.
“Why are you sweating? Your entire body is cold. My son, are you okay? Ranju?”
His mother guided him to an old and unpolished chair. A few minutes later he felt the comforting coolness of water on his forehead.
“Now there. Must be this heat. You look tired, Puthey.”
He finally opened his eyes, and looked at his mother.

11 thoughts on “The true heroes of war”

  1. Your story has a lot of heart in it, and the imagery is simply beautiful as we penetrate the soldier's mind deeply in the first paragraph, his remembrance of his struggles and the cruelty that he had to go through. So to him, or a person like him, coming home should by rights be like freedom again, but it is not. I like the strong language he uses, that the "birds and the fucking people" show utter disrespect at the men who lay down their lives for the whole war on terror.Furthermore, I like how impersonal this seems at first and how close the character becomes to us. Impersonal since he is nameless, but as we walk back to his home with images of blood and horror in his mind, we see him as a man. His bad habits are also forgiven here, and seem trifle almost. This is a representation of an "everyman" version of a soldier. Beautiful.

  2. Thanks a lot for the comments. And yes, I wanted to capture the story of just another soldier. Hopefully, I'll be able to bring this out more later on in the store. I was going to make it a one post thing, then realized a soldier's story deserves more than a few paragraphs

  3. Hi Shailee! I'm glad to see that you have converted a sensitive issue(that of including a tribute to war heroes in a blog about reconciliation) into a beautiful story. It gives a brilliant view into the mind of a soldier who is human just like any of us; he has memories that haunt him, treasures that bring him joy….

  4. I think that piece about tripping over the same root he tripped over when he was a kid is a powerful symbol. As Vasika also mentioned, his crude habits seem like trifles when you consider his mental agony. Ranju has a lot in common with Sivapalan too! 😀 Loved the way you ended-the affectionate address by the mother indicates he's forgiven.

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