The continuation of the story ‘the true heroes of war’ which will be given a title someday.
Her lips were cracked and skin wrinkled. Her face caved in, eyes sunken. Her hair was gray and there was very little of it left. She somehow looked smaller, as if the years had nibbled at her. He looked at her, into her eyes and saw an emptiness inside. He felt the tears burning his eyes and a lump in his throat. He swallowed, and it hurt. He had done this to her. By being selfish and going away. She had cried the night before he left for the examination. Medical tests and paper work. But it had confirmed his departure. It had made his decision more real. He had heard her cries run well into the otherwise silent night.
That night he had cried too. At first biting into his clenched fist had helped. Then the hot tears had burned his eyes and face. They had soaked his pillow and he shuddered in the darkness, trying to silence his sobs. As the tears made his face itch, he had felt too tired to cry. The next day, he felt sore. His entire body ached. But he had stopped caring.
His mother had made his favorite milk rice with fish curry for breakfast. As he ate, she had sat next to him, watching her son. He had always been one to eat quickly, taking big bites and filling his mouth with food.
“Puthey, you may not be looking for this, but you have my blessings. This war isn’t yours. Nor is it mine. But someone has to fight it. So go Puthey. I’m proud of you.” She had taken him to the temple that evening and had asked a monk to tie a Pirith Nool around his wrist. As he had stood at the bus stop, waiting a bus to take him to the Base, he had snapped each white thread.
“What’s the use of this, what will it protect me from? I’ll be the demon soon enough, a gun in my hands. I will kill people and I will be bathed in blood. This won’t protect me, Amma. You’ve always been a fool to believe in these things. It can’t protect me. It can’t,” he had said while tying it around a Guava tree nearby.
That Pirith Nool wouldn’t have protected him. And the one around his mother’s wrist hadn’t protected her either.
He had walked with her to the temple that day not because he had faith in religion. He hadn’t wanted to hurt her anymore than he already had. A sense of guilt had settled in his heart, the pain he had caused her eating at him. And so he had allowed the threat to be died around his wrist, and had offered a few white flowers to the Buddha. That had been the last time he had walked to a temple without a gun.
The soldiers were at first reluctant to enter the temple, or spill blood on the sacred ground. Then the words of their head had cut through the sound of their heavy breathing. “We are not going to hell for this. We will search the place and if the claims are true, we will do everything possible to not shoot a single bullet in there. But if a single person, in golden robes or not, doesn’t comply, don’t wait for my order to kill that person.”
Even as his heart ached and his hands shook, he had walked in to the temple. The white buildings made their camouflage outfits useless. At the sound of feet sweeping across the sandy ground, an old monk had walked out of the shrine house. He had inquired what they wanted.
“Are you hiding anyone here? We have reports and if you dare lie to us, this temple will be brought down.”
The monk had taken a few steps towards them, and in a calm and soothing voice, had said, “We are not hiding anyone. This temple isn’t a place to hide or run away to. All those here have no fear of being found. They may have come here looking for answers, comfort or understanding, yes. But not a place to hide.”
A few minutes later a bullet pierced the monk’s head. The sound of guns firing had made his forget where he was. They hadn’t started the attack which meant the enemy was in fact hiding in the temple. The monk’s final words still haunted him though, and even now when he walked past a temple, the dead monk’s words echoed in his mind.