Saturday, April 7, 2018

Unsaid words, Unexpressed Feelings.

Sarvam Sree Krishnaarpanam Astu


Unsaid words, Unexpressed Feelings

The very first moment when our glances met, a million thoughts found its origin in my heart.
As pleasant one would expect them to be, about nine hundred thousand were doubts;
Doubts if the twinkle and the excitement I saw in your eyes were that of love for me,
Or the mad adrenaline rush one would experience when they sense great discomfort.
The remaining hundred thousand wonderful words I possess within myself;
I hope to shower you with one day or the other.
Most mornings begin with my mind taking a resolution,
That this is going to be the day I tell you how I feel about you.
Every noon though, when I actually see you, my mind turns to the consolation,
That it will be tomorrow and not today...Always tomorrow, never today.
Thus, they grow, the unsaid words and unexpressed feelings;
Burgeoning and weighing me down, threatening each passing day,
Of finding a permanent dungeon in my insecure mind,
Never having the opportunity to see the light of the day.
Unsaid words and unexpressed feelings…Always tomorrow, never today.
-A. Prashanth Narasimhan (Sri Vishnu Dasan)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Prologue to a Space Odyssey

Sarvam Sree Krishnaarpanam Astu
Prologue: Word Count: 3381
“It’s happening…My word, it’s happening for real…”
A low distant rumble brought Vasudevan out of his stupor, even as he skimmed through the myriad of equations and calculations on the screen of his giant computer.
“It’s happening much faster than I had anticipated…”
The distant low rumble gradually amplified, threatening to reach deafening levels in a matter of minutes.
“I need more time…a lot more time…Darn, Larry…What have we done!”
The lanky thirty eight year old man with a long nose, thick, scruffy, hair and brown lenses fiddled with his computer trying to reach his fellow scientist Larry Dougman. The video call application on the screen displayed a message saying that the contact was unreachable at the present moment.
“Where in the world are you, Larry!” Vasudevan grumbled with his teeth tightly clenched.
“Vasu, what’s happening outside?” A voice from behind him suddenly brought immense concern within the man. There were plenty of fears, worries, concerns, and an unbearable guilt already, but the voice of his wife made his heart race even more. The giggle of a baby followed making Vasudevan even more uncomfortable. Vasudevan stared at the worried countenance of his twenty nine year old wife and the innocent smile of his one year old baby, wrapped in a blanket in her arms.
He turned his gaze upward and saw the sky, through the skylight in his laboratory, emanating an orange glow.
‘I need to get them to safety…Right away!’
“Yasha, to the Launchpad now!” yelled Vasu, carrying with him a portable system that seemed to be too heavy to be easily portable.
“Why? Where are we going?” asked Yasha, knowing that something was very wrong, and very keen to help her husband right the wrong.
“Don’t ask me questions! To the ship, now!” Vasu scuttled between the various contraptions and screens in his advanced, yet greatly cluttered lab, tripping twice on the gigantic cables and pipes all along the floor.
Yasha understood that she wasn’t going to get too many answers from her husband then and she did as she was bid, carrying the baby in her arms and using the elevator nearby to reach the terrace. The moment the doors of the elevator spread open, Yasha got the full view of the evening sky, the colour of which was switching between a pale orange, to a fiery red and to an ominous green. She could not believe the light show happening above her and it seemed to be from some glitched out video game.
“What do you know Vasu? Why aren’t you telling me anything…” she murmured holding her baby close to her breasts. She noticed the doors to the elevator shutting behind her and she knew her husband should be coming up any time then. She saw the large launch pad at the far end of the terrace of the humungous pot shaped building, the Science Cauldron. Vasu’s lab and residential quarters was just a tiny portion of the thirty five acre complex.
Various dishes, towers, and solar panels adorned the entire length and breadth of the terrace. Two large space ships with humungous boosters, twelve smaller cylinders with circular pods within them occupied a major portion of the Launchpad, which by itself spread over 14 acres. The Space Cauldron, built in the year 2650 was at that point the largest building in the world. Three other larger structures had been built ever since, the world’s large shopping mall, the world’s largest catholic church and the world’s largest sports stadium, with commerce, leisure and religion once again trumping Science.
The Space Cauldron was still a very special place for it was from here the first ship carrying tourists to the human colony in Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, was launched. The first human colony outside earth was established in the year 2433 in the moon, with the colony in Mars being set up in the year 2600.  Yasha remembered having read various articles on these buildings and events as architecture and history were two of her favourite subjects, along with science and literature. She had a lot of fears at that moment, but she tried to distract herself with mundane thoughts.
‘Mankind is capable of so many great things in life. I’m sure whatever mess we are in right now, we can definitely overcome it, as we have for centuries!’ she tried to comfort herself. She turned back toward the elevator door hoping her husband would come out any moment to paint a clearer picture for her. She saw her own reflection on the glass panel on the door to the elevator and she could see a thin girl, with black greasy hair, thin dry lips, eyes reddened by lack of sleep, staring back at her. Having a baby had its toll and she could see her naturally slim body having recently gained a few extra pounds.
The glass panel also revealed lightning in the distance in the open sky above her. She turned her gaze upward and noticed purple lightning all around, with thunderous noises rapidly increasing in frequency. The door to the elevator opened again and outstepped Vasudevan carrying his large portable computer and wearing some heavy goggles, a tiny light projector attached to the side of which projected out a plethora of numbers and equations above his head. Yasha could see a tiny projection also revealing the photo of her husband’s colleague and childhood friend Larry Douglas, with his long puffy brown hair, large nose, thick eyebrows and wide lips, staring at her. A text above him reading “Contact unavailable” kept pulsating every few milliseconds.
“The purple lightning…Geez, it’s happening too fast!” muttered Vasudevan as he saw the sky.
“What’s happening, Vasu? Please tell me” begged Yasha, frustrated to be not given any information.
“Please don’t ask me anything, Yasha. This is too complicated and we don’t have time. I want you to get into the space ship D025…” said Vasudevan, hurrying toward the cart nearby, which was to be used to travel to the far end of the terrace, where the space ship remained.
Yasha followed Vasu and sat in the back portion of the kart, having her hands over the eyes of the baby, trying to protect him from the lightning. The little one kept staring skyward, fascinated by the light show and smiling brightly.
The kart drifted slowly toward the portion of the humongous terrace where the space ships remained. Yasha kept staring at her husband hoping for him to tell her something, but he seemed to be fiddling with his portable computer and the text “Contact unavailable” kept pulsating over his head.
“If my calculations are correct, we have about twenty five minutes before the “Big energy wrap” reaches our part of the planet and thirty minutes before it completely covers earth…” Vasu seemed to be talking to his own self, for Yasha was unfamiliar of the “Big energy wrap” he was murmuring about.
Vasudevan was watching the screen of his portable computer, more than the path over which he was driving the kart, not that there were too many people around or too many other vehicles moving about. But Yasha was hoping he would at least use the time driving to focus on her and enlighten her on the present situation.
“Come on, Larry! Pick up! Pick up! Pick up!” he kept mumbling as the hologram above his goggles kept blaring the text “Calling Larry…Contact unavailable.”
The kart came to a stop not long after and Vasudevan dragged his portable computer toward the little booth a few hundred meters ahead of the Launchpad. Yasha followed carrying the baby. Vasudevan connected his computer with a bigger console inside the booth and a large screen came to life displaying more numbers, graphs, a countdown timer and several paragraphs of codes, none of which were familiar to Yasha.
“Well what are you staring at? Get inside the spaceship!” commanded Vasudevan.
“You kidding me? I am not going anywhere without you telling me where I’m expected to go. And no, “inside the spaceship” isn’t a sufficient explanation!” yelled Yasha, no longer having the patience to put up with Vasudevan’s commands.
Vasudevan covered his eyes with his hands and sighed. “I’m sorry, Yasha…I know I’ve not been forthcoming…A lot of things have happened. I want you and Krish to go to our colony in Titan. What you need to know will be relayed to you during your journey to Titan. For now, you just need to trust me and get yourself into that ship.”
“Just us? What about you? Why would you not join us?” asked Yasha, her voice cracking.
“I can’t right now…How I wish I could…but I just can’t…Not when I’m partly responsible for what is happening on earth…” said Vasudevan, his gaze once again moving toward the sky.
“What did you do? Whatever it is, we can fix it…You and me…Like all other problems we’ve sorted in our life…Together…” said Yasha moving closer to Vasudevan.
“This is one problem that I prefer to face alone…If anything you’ve got to be as far away from me as possible…Only then will I have the peace of mind to work…Knowing that you and Krish are safe and well, will give me great strength and clarity” said Vasudevan, pointing toward the space ship D025 outside the booth.
“What kind of wife leaves her husband when he is in trouble?” asked Yasha, determined not to allow her husband to convince her to leave his side.
“The kind who cares for her child…Krish is our utmost priority…” Vasudevan was interrupted by a loud boom emanating from the horizon. Both Vasudevan and Yasha were terribly startled. The baby’s smile was gone and a loud wail followed.
“Go now Yasha! I will be ok…You head to Titan and I will communicate to you as soon as I could…I believe I could sort this all out…I will eventually…I think…” said Vasudevan, trying to sound confident, but appearing very unsure.
The loud explosion from the sky had disoriented her immensely and she knew she had to do as commanded by her husband for the sake of their child.
‘If not for Krish, I would have definitely stayed back with Vasu and ensured he got through this all…’ she reiterated to herself. As she left the booth, she noticed Vasu working on his large portable computer, even as the countdown timer on the giant screen in the booth kept coming down rapidly. He lifted his gaze away from the screen and on toward his wife. Their eyes met one final time that day…An uncontrollable smile appeared on his lips, his mind forgetting about all the problems occurring in his life then. That feeling of elation her face brought in him was so overwhelming. The first time the two of them had met flashed before both their eyes. It was four years ago in a science exposition where he had come to display his latest batch of nanobots designed to destroy cancer cells in a timeframe much shorter than the previous editions and for a fraction of the cost. Yasha had come there as a science writer trying to gauge the most exciting new innovations and advancements and write about them in the tech magazine she was working for.
She had gauged many a tech in the expo and their creators and designers, but not the man who was displaying the cancer healing nanobots. Nanobots to cure cancer had been there for centuries, and so it wasn’t something completely new or ground-breaking. She had definitely not moved toward Vasudevan’s exhibit fascinated by his creation. It was the combination of his quirkiness, his absentmindedness, his carelessness with regard to his own physical presentation, his fumbling and mumbling during the presentation of his tech, and her own feeling of pity that no one would bother to encourage or appreciate his work, that prompted her to spend some time observing the man. She knew much later that Vasudevan was a genius who fascinated many great scientists and CEOs of tech companies. She had come across his name many a time, but had seldom seen his photo in any of the magazines or news reports.
The more she saw him, the more she had felt wonder. How could such great things come from the mind of such a comical looking man had been the question in her head. Something had forced her to make a conversation with him. In her presence, Vasu had fumbled and mumbled more than his usual self, for in him had born a strange, new feeling of ecstasy as well. But Yasha could sense great sincerity and genuineness in the man and for those her respect for him grew. Several meetings, dates, romantic nights spent together discussing everything science, later, the two of them had gotten engaged and eventually married. Four years since that first meeting, so much had they explored together and in each other that the bond within them was stronger than any bond they had been able to form with any other human in their life. Now that bond prevented them from going in different directions, even though the predicament they found themselves in forced them to part ways.
“We will meet again…I promise…” assured Vasudevan and pointed his fingers toward the ship.
As Yasha reluctantly stepped in, the large doors of the simple looking ship shut down. The ship had no one inside but Yasha and her baby. Despite the ship appearing large from the outside, the room for the passenger within was modest. There were a lot of screens, buttons, navigation systems and tools, none of which Yasha knew how to operate.
“Yasha, have you settled down?” came Vasudevan’s voice from beyond a speaker on the deck of the ship.
“Vasu? You are in here?” asked Yasha hoping her husband had a change of mind.
“No, I’m still in the booth. You don’t have to worry about the launch. The ship is programmed to launch, and reach Titan on its own. You have to do nothing but stay comfortable on the seat inside. You have plenty of oxygen, food and pure water in the ship for the entire trip. There is a pod inside for Krish if you want to rest your hands.”
Yasha looked around and saw the pod mentioned by her husband. Krish had become fascinated by the inside of the ship as well and he was no longer crying. It was colder on the inside of the ship than outside.
“You can find a whole cluster of seat belts on the inside. Fasten yourself and use the pod for Krish at least till the ship leaves our atmosphere.” instructed Vasu through the speaker.
Yasha did as bid and settled down in the seat allotted for her, after leaving Krish in the pod, that closed around him, the moment he was placed.
“I would not be able to communicate with you for long. Radio silence should commence any moment…”
“But how will I know you are safe?” asked Yasha, getting panic-stricken knowing she would lose contact with Vasu any moment then.
“I will communicate with you once you reach Titan…hopefully. Till then you are on your own. I know I haven’t told you much. But all you need to know will be relayed to you as the ship leaves our atmosphere. I’ve already remotely sent all information to the ship’s database. I’m sorry we had to part this way…but all should be well…” Yasha could hear Vasu’s voice cracking.
“The ship will launch in T-minus 10 seconds…” came a robotic voice from the console of the ship.
“Vasu…are you there? Vasu!” Yasha kept yelling, but all she could hear in return was the countdown by the robotic voice.
“Yasha…Yasha…” Vasu’s voice came with static noise interspersed every now and then.
“Vasu! Vasu!” Yasha screamed at the top of her voice, trying hard to make herself heard to her husband. “I Love you! Come to us, soon!” she yelled.
Yasha could feel severe vibrations all around her as the ship began to launch. She rested her head back and closed her eyes. For a whole seven minutes, Yasha could hear absolutely nothing, but the roar of the boosters of her ship and vibration all over her body. The nerves on her head began to tighten. She felt a terrible ache in the head and she felt like she wanted to puke. The baby seemed to be in a better condition for the pod prevented Krish from experiencing any of the physical discomforts that were experienced by Yasha.
When the vibrations reduced in intensity, Yasha slowly began to hear everything around her.
“Take…good…care…of…Krish…” were the last words uttered by Vasu over the speaker before the line completely got cut. A small display on the console in front of her showed Yasha, the ship leaving earth’s atmosphere. She could see hundreds of ships and pods from different parts of the world escaping out of earth. She could see several larger military ships flying severely damaged. She could see debris of ships, satellites all floating around. And then she saw it…A large alien ship, roughly a quarter the size of earth, hovering on one side of earth, even as a dense green light emanating from it, slowly engulfed earth.
“The big wrap…that’s what he meant?” murmured Yasha, in horror.
“Voice message, initiated…” came the robotic voice, which again startled Yasha.
“Hello Yasha…My apologies for all the secrecy…” came Vasudevan’s voice from over the speaker.
“Vasu? The communication’s back?” smiled Yasha hopefully, before realisation hit her that it was just a programmed voice message being initiated by the ship. Hearing his voice made her feel great sorrow in her guts.
“I’ve not hidden a lot of things from you in life. Whatever I experience in my life, I wish to share it with you. For if it is a good news, the proud smile on your face lights up my life greatly. If it is a bad news, your consoling tone, soothes me and inspires me that I can overcome anything. But the events of the past few days have been so terrible that I haven’t had the strength nor the time to share with you. I…I and Larry…we’ve done something awful…Something we hoped would advance mankind by millions of years, but has really doomed us all…This is all that has happened…” the voice message went on to narrate the events of the past few days in great detail.
Yasha heard the words narrated by Vasudevan with great concentration and she couldn’t believe what she was hearing…
“Earth is indeed doomed…Quite possibly, all of humanity…” she whispered, as tears poured from her eyes.
“I will do everything I can to fix this mess we’ve gotten into. If we…I and Larry…fail….Then forgive me…Please don’t stop loving me…” the voice message ended. Yasha cried out despondently. She knew there wasn’t much hope. As she cried in her seat, the baby within the pod smiled, waving his hands and legs, completely oblivious to the fate and the long journey awaiting him.
As the ship moved from the vicinity of earth, Yasha felt a sudden tremor all over her. It was as if some large beast had grabbed hold of the entire ship.
“Warning…D025’s course to Titan interrupted…Warning, external interference…warning…” the robotic voice kept looping.
Yasha couldn’t deduce what was happening around her. She heard loud thumps outside the cabin, as if someone or something large was trying to break down the door. She turned her gaze toward the little display on the console hoping she could see what was outside, but that panel seemed to have turned dark. The thumping on the door grew louder and she knew the ship wouldn’t remain intact for long. She quickly unfastened her belts and moved toward the pod, her instinct telling her to protect her baby at all cost. She removed Krish from the pod and hugged him tightly. A loud explosion followed, knocking her to the ground. The last visual she saw before she collapsed, were that of four large, scaly, highly armoured, bipeds entering the ship carrying large cannons. Krish’s cries were the last sound she heard. Then everything turned dark…
-A. Prashanth Narasimhan
(Sri Vishnudasan)

Sunday, March 4, 2018

A March amidst Desolation

Sarvam Sree Krishnaarpanam Astu

A March amidst desolation (Word Count: 15,596)
December 25th…or was it 26th already? I can’t really tell. 1941…That I was sure of… We had been marching for days now. How many days, I couldn’t deduce…Might be 18…might be 20… We had slept at random spots…at random times of the day… for not more than 2 hours straight at any given spot. We had slept within trenches, amidst big piles of sand bags. We had slept under a dilapidated bridge, with the few remaining pillars precariously leaning, constantly threatening to bury us alive any moment. We had taken shelter in abandoned air fields, with the wreckage of crashed or malfunctioned Bristol Beaufighters and Westland Whirlwinds acting as our roof. We had dozed off amidst the ruins of old barnyards, with every moo of the injured and soon to die cattle being our lullaby. We had slept beside dead bodies…stinking human corpses covered in blood, puss and other bodily fluids that no longer bothered to remain inside…We had slept beside those unlucky bastards who had managed to survive the onslaught of the Nazi shells and who can never again have a peaceful sleep. We had seen it all…we’ll never be able to “unsee” any of them.
I started off from Dover in a company of ninety…not one of those remaining eighty nine march beside me presently. We had been through many towns and many villages. Most of them in utter ruins, engulfed in the stench of the dead and the wailings of the survivors. We had come across many battalions…mostly our own…a few belonging to the enemies. We had managed to evade the bullets of many enemy troops and we had managed to endure the shelling of many enemy war planes. Battalions had changed, parts of our company had stayed behind in many allied towns to help out with the rescue missions. Units had been lost…brave men who were determined to add Nazi heads to their personal kill count, died without a single bullet escaping the barrels of their rifles.
I had been passed around from one company to another, wherever men were required, whatever job was to be done…from erecting barricades along villages and towns that were expected to face the brunt of the enemy panzers, to burying piles of dead bodies amidst the sandy banks of the Thames and the Wye. I had moved around a lot… from the south to the north, to the east and then to the west…I didn’t know where I was going anymore nor where I was presently…I had done a lot…I had cleaned the injured; buried the dead; distributed food to the survivors; built walls and bridges to protect the soon to be attacked regions; painted road signs black to confuse the enemies, if they managed to invade our land; dug trenches to aide our troops; and carried artillery equipment from one base to another, from one war machine to another, none of which I could remember enough to name. I remembered the enemy juggernauts better than I remembered our own. The names of those behemoths that brought death got etched in my memory better than those that were fighting alongside me.
I had done a lot…No matter how many times I said it, I always felt like I hadn’t done enough. Considering the amount of work done by people all around me… from all ages, genders and walks of life… I would never feel like I had done enough… But I would keep saying it…I had done a lot…I had seen a lot…I had experienced a lot…I would have to do a lot more…would have to endure more…even though I want it all to end right now…
I hadn’t killed or hurt anyone yet…Not a single bullet had left my weapon. I carried with me a standard Lee Enfield No.1 Mk.III provided to me at my base. I also managed to salvage a colt revolver from one of deceased soldiers that I got to bury. I didn’t even know if I was allowed to do such a deed. I had taken many things from the dead…Pray their souls forgive me. I had taken these size ten boots from an old man in a small village near Brighton. I had taken this high quality leather belt from a soldier in Worthing. Many things that were given to me at the base had been misplaced or damaged along my journey. The only thing I remembered carrying from the first day of my active duty, was this silver bracelet I wore with my name engraved on it. “Rodney Inwood” read the engraving. It was given to me by my mum on my twenty first birthday, just a few days before I left home for my service in the armed forces. She thought it would help the army identify me and send my body home, if I got killed in the war. Bless the good lady…
How many such memorable items had been given to other men fighting in this war by their loved ones? How many of those had I taken? How many bodies hadn’t returned home, but had been buried in some unknown mound in some remote corner of the country? Bless their souls…
I had met a lot of people…made friends…err…got acquainted to a lot…not many were in the frame of mind to forge friendships considering all the destruction happening around us. Most people were in mourning and were distressed. Almost every one of us were scared…Where all of this was leading to, nobody knew…If there would be a better tomorrow…nobody knew. If at all there would be a tomorrow for us…nobody knew…What were the peaceful days before the war like? Nobody seemed to know anymore…I remembered though…only faintly…It’s all that’s kept me within the borders of sanity.
              I remembered as an eight year old, having gone with my two brothers and my old man to the fields to collect potatoes during the harvest season. I remembered having fed the cows in uncle Ferdinand’s farm, with my brothers. I remembered having stolen a muffin from Aunt Betsy’s bakery in the market and having hidden it in my pop’s old portmanteau. We later discovered that our neighbour’s St. Bernard, lured by the muffin’s aroma, had eaten not just the muffin, but the old portmanteau within which it remained hidden. The things we mischievous brothers had done together!
They were elder to me, my brothers…Paul, the one older to me by six years died fighting for the Royal Air Force. His plane crashed off the coast of Calais while bombing a German Cruiser. He flew a spitfire or that was what I had been told by my old man. He was not as well versed with the names of military vehicles and equipment as my uncle Ferdinand. Graham, the other brother, who was older to me by three years was studying to be a doctor. He was the smartest one in the family. When I last left home, I heard he was among the trainee doctors and nurses selected to be part of the medical crew that was to travel in HMHS Newfoundland. It’s a British Royal Mail ship recently requisitioned as a hospital ship. My mum was most proud of him. She often used to say while the rest of us carried guns to kill men, Graham was the one to save mankind with his bottles of medicines and bandages. She saw him along the lines of Christ himself. My old man used to remind her that guns were raised by the rest of us to protect our people as well. “Certain tumours have to be violently removed” were his exact words. A wise man he was…Bless him.
              My old man was a brave soul too. He lost his left leg in 1916 during the first world war. He got thrown off the ground by an enemy grenade somewhere in Belgium. His leg was later found almost twenty feet away from where the rest of him remained. “Had I been conscious, I would have had to crawl twenty feet to find my one foot” he used to cackle. Had gotten himself a nice wooden peck. Polished it every Thursday. He used to do all sorts of work despite his lack of a leg. He was a carpenter by profession, but also took up uncle Ferdinand’s farming work just to prove that he was no lesser a man without his leg. His bushy stache bristled with pride whenever he accomplished any task without another person’s aide. He got furious when the rest of us stepped in to help. We let him do as he pleased as long as he didn’t get hurt. He didn’t care about getting hurt. It was his pride that wasn’t to be hurt.
              The only person to not be fazed by his fury was my mum of course. She was a much braver woman than any of us gave her credit for. She loved her family more than she ever loved anything in this world. And she was the first one to encourage us to do something useful to help the people suffering as a result of the war. This wasn’t the first time she was experiencing the cruelties of war. She had, in the past, lost a cousin, a beloved uncle and even the first love of her life during the first world war. She had to witness the tall, handsome, muscular and fearless husband of hers go to battle just a few years after their marriage and return home a shrunken, sullen, traumatised being with a leg missing. She nursed him for four years and brought him out of his desolate and morally bereft state of mind, all the while raising three kids and ensuring that the family’s source of income hadn’t come to a halt.
              My father used to wake up in the middle of the night crying out the names of his comrades who had died to enemy gunfire and shelling in different parts of Europe. He often had tremors and would stare blankly into the distance, mumbling out various military commandments which none of us at that time could decipher. It’s much more haunting to hear his mumbles in the middle of the night. My mother had the will and the courage to not just experience his erratic behaviour up close, but also the maturity and patience to calm him down…to comfort him… and to make him feel that he was no longer in a war zone. It was a tough task to convince him that he was at his peaceful house in the company of loved ones. It took a lot more courage to deal with the survivors of war than to deal with the dead.
              It took persistent effort on my mum’s part to slowly bring him back from the trauma and his moments of emotional outbreaks. Even now, at times, my pop claimed he had terrible nightmares about battlefield situations. But he was better equipped to deal with those nightmares and visions in the past few months, thanks to my mum’s aide. Despite enduring all that with my father, she was determined to send her children to help their countrymen in any way they can. I’m sure it broke her heart on the inside and a million anxious thoughts probably flooded her head, but she weathered it all and insisted upon our participation in the conflict.
              But even such a brave soul would have her own moments of weakness and that happened when the body of my brother Paul returned home in a coffin. She was absolutely devastated, as expected. She was in a state of shock for almost four hours not saying a word to anyone nor going anywhere near the coffin inside which lay Paul. We got the news about his passing almost three days before, and she had wept for the entirety of those three days. My grandma had said that we must allow her to cry her heart out and it will make her better deal with the moment when the body arrived home. But all those crying didn’t make her any better and she had to endure the shock of seeing Pauly lying cold and pale. She kept sitting in one spot, staring hard at the boy for hours, before a hug from her other two sons, finally broke her down. She wept like a little child with no inhibitions about letting other people see her vulnerable side. Our hugs reminded her how warm Pauly used to feel and how cold and motionless he lay then. Only she can wrap her hands around him and Pauly couldn’t reciprocate her embrace. This amplified her sorrow and opened the flood gates. She hugged his body for hours, not allowing anyone else to come anywhere near it.
It was at this moment that my old man had to act as the more mature being. And he acknowledged his call of duty. He, along with our grandmother, did their best to help my mother cope with her grief and guilt, by being with her throughout, counselling her and assuring her that Paul would be rewarded amply for his sacrifice, both by the government on earth and the heavenly Kingdom above. Such things can’t be forgotten or overcome ever I guess. They will fester within our heart for years, eventually and insidiously penetrating our soul to be carried over for another lifetime if at all there was a rebirth or resurrection.  There was, she often used to say, a loud voice inside her head, a voice belonging to Paul, accusing her of having sent him to war to die. But we tried to convince her that Paul wasn’t the type to question his mum’s love for him and probably died proudly having fought for his country against vile forces who threatened to change the face of the entire world order.
              I can also imagine the kind of fear and sorrow that must have threatened to overpower my pop, when we encountered my brother’s body. The voices of all the comrades he had witnessed dying in the battlefield and their horrific death cries must have resonated a million times over inside his head at that very moment. All of them must have admonished him and accused him of not learning from their terrifying end and letting his son face a similar fate. He knew they all had a noble death and would be much proud of the way they went than to live for a hundred and die in their bed, alone and useless.
              These people in my life were the ones I looked up to in my moments of despair and sorrow. If they could endure all that and live to hope for a better day, I should be able to as well. Or that was what I said to myself to keep moving forward. We had all been moving forward…forward was all we knew… drowned in our own thoughts, we crawled by, one step after another. We honestly didn’t know where our life was heading towards or what we hoped to achieve. It’s just sadness, a tightness in our chest, an uneasy feeling down in the gut and a heaviness all over our body. This was all that kept us company all day long, every single moment.
              Like so many times before…or so few a times in life, I suddenly came back from my scrambled and racing thoughts and noticed the environment around me. I was standing outside a small town, with the signboard nearby painted black. We had been doing this in many parts of the country to prevent the enemies from knowing where they were, in case they took over our territories. More often than not, it confused our own men.
              The sky above was dark and dreary. It was a less impactful winter thus far, with just a few days of snowing and the sun being visible for most days of the month. We even had clear blue skies once in a while…not this day though…Winds from the distance hills cut through the terrain, as long, dry grasses moved this way and that. It was if they were rocking their whole bodies to get their feet, unstuck from the wet mud below them. But they’ll never be able to escape out…or even if they did, they would lose the luxury of standing as they did now and would probably be at the mercy of the wind that was likely to sweep them across over to unknown lands, forever and forever, as they withered down to be disintegrated into a million pieces. Or they may be lucky and be blown over by one intense breeze to nothingness. For a moment I saw myself as a blade of grass, the wet mud as my homeland, and the wind being the enemies from across the North Sea.
              The chillness of the wind made my skin dry and I could feel a sting in several parts of my lips. I can sense the metallic taste of my own blood. The skin on my hands began to peel and there were several white spots all over my fingers. White spots weren’t the only things colouring my hands. I could see some grease, dirt, dried blood stains and filth of all sorts. I remembered a special someone admiring those very hands not so long ago and claiming they were the most beautiful aspects of my entire body. I didn’t know at that time if I should take that as a compliment or if I was being mocked. But her eyes…My God those eyes…There was genuine admiration in them.
              “No…don’t think about her…Nope…It just breaks you…no, no, No, NO, NOOOOO!”
              “What’s up with you, lad?” came the voice of my comrade, marching beside me. I realized that I had yelled out loud without my own knowledge.
              “You think he is finally breaking down? Poor child…”came the voice of another comrade, with a sympathetic click.
              The former had a tinge of Irish accent, while the latter had a more exotic south-east Asian accent. Eoghan O’ Farrell and Baljit Singh were two of my comrades who were so dissimilar to one another yet complimented one another so well. I did not respond to them, and I could feel Eoghan giving me a hard pat to my back, that almost made me drop down to my knees. A moment later, I could feel Baljit’s gentle caress across my shoulder, as he moved ahead of me.
              That’s just their own individual way of trying to comfort me, I figured. Everyone needed comforting right then, but none were comfortable enough to comfort another being. The strange situations of war times. So I had to doubly appreciate their efforts.
              Eoghan O’Farrell was thirty-five and was from Wexford, even though his parents were from some place further west. He claimed he couldn’t really remember where their own origins lay. He was a large man, with a condescending face, and a droopy moustache that would make my father cringe. My father judged a man by how he maintained his stache. I didn’t understand his logic, but that just was my father. I remembered that men from my own camp were forced by our sergeant to shave off all our facial hair. I didn’t know if Eoghan had been ordered similarly by his own superiors and that he defied them or this entire procedure changed from camp to camp. Or maybe he grew it all when he was moving from place to place, although it seemed too dense to have all grown in the past few weeks.
              Eoghan had broad shoulders, a sour puss kind of face and a countenance that always displayed his disdain for everything earthly and elsewhere. But he really meant well. He found it insulting to be attached with any positive adjectives. He preferred that his acts of kindness, if any, remained unappreciated. Strange man…but I guess the Irish were a strange lot…
              He had a wife and three kids, all living in Wexford currently. He has not had any communication with them in the past three months, he told me. He didn’t claim to miss them, but I could see his eyes glistening at any mention of them. He was most vulnerable when he was a bit sleepy or a lot drunk, as that’s when he really opened up and accidently spilled out about how proud he was of his “two wee lads and his princess.” He called his daughter a princess and his wife a queen…That’s very strange, considering how much he hated the monarchy. He had an unusual respect for the “big ol’ Churchill.” One might assume that he hated his wife and daughter so much that he associated them with the monarchy, something that he already hated so much. But he said he valued his wife and daughter so much as how a normal citizen would value their royals. His hatred for the monarchy was his own. Of course he said all this when he was drunk and sleepy, having sneaked a bottle of rum from a broken down inn in Brentwood. Most times I didn’t really understand how his mind worked. All I can tell having marched with him in the past eight days was that he was a gentle natured man who pretended to be tough to make the world respect him. He was of the assumption that his gentle nature would make people use him and look down upon him. I respected him more knowing that he had a gentler side hidden inside him.
              Baljit Singh was too different though. He was tall, lean, had more hair than seen in a bobtail pup, had brown skin and wore a humongous turban. When I first came upon him nine days ago, I thought the army had managed to bring troops from our subcontinental colonies. That gave me hope that we would have our numbers increased exponentially to deal with the Nazi threat from the east. But I was disappointed to know that Baljit had already been here for more than ten years and was not part of any contingent to be brought from Asia. He had come here in his late teens to work in a mill. Cheap labour being imported by some rich baron. I didn’t even know if it was legal. The things the rich bastards did and got away with…
              Baljit claimed he had no loved ones but his ninety-year old grandmother. He said he never had fallen in love in his life barring with this one “white madam” who was older to him by twenty years. Told me she was French and hardly spoke any English. Of course the poor bastard didn’t develop his conversations with the lady, but developed his feelings for her instead. She eventually moved back to France, leaving him heartbroken working back in the mill. So he claimed to know what it felt like to love somebody and not get to be with them for long. He said this often just to see if that would make me open up about my own love life to him. He claimed he could see some great romantic sadness in my eyes. It was like he revelled in hearing sad tales all the time. He practically spent ninety percent of his time making every simple event seem like a melancholic epic tale that deserved to be celebrated by romantics of all ages. He was however very strong and very bold. Much bolder than Eoghan, I suspected. He claimed to be sensitive and felt like people would appreciate him more if he expressed his sensitive nature to everyone. He felt like people saw him as an outsider who wouldn’t understand their way of life. He tried a bit too much at times to show himself to be just like everyone around him. How contrasting can two men really be.
              “You don’t have to hold it all by yourself and suffer, my boy…You know I’m here to listen to everything you have to share” he repeated this day, just like a million times before, since we met nine days ago. I’ve got to say he sure had a compassionate aura about him. But I was still not ready to have the conversation he expected out of me. I will never be ready or strong enough to share about my failed love life with another human. I didn’t dare to even reminisce about them even though a memory or two intruded my mind now and again.
              “I have nothing worthy to share…” I repeated as I had many a time before. He opened his mouth to say something but was halted by Eoghan who motioned us to keep moving forward, even as the other men who marched with us kept moving ahead, leaving us a bit behind. Baljit shook his head and continued on his walk.
              I was glad that the conversation ended swiftly. I took in a moment to enjoy the temporary silence. There was an unusual calmness in the air around us. I was never really comfortable with this calmness. It was always a bad omen. The world wasn’t mean to be this silent…Was I being paranoid? Was it all in my head? A distant rumble suddenly startled me. I looked around panic-stricken and I saw familiar expressions of horror in the faces of the men moving about in front me. I could feel the ground beneath me vibrating. I could feel a loud thud under the soles of my feet.
              Then I heard a low grumble somewhere in the distant sky…like a hungry lion about to start its hunt. Eoghan was the first one to spot it near the horizon.
              “Is that a RAF plane?” he asked, pointing upwards.
              I didn’t even have to look up to know that it wasn’t…
“Everyone! Get down!” I yelled and was quick to lay myself across the terrain, with my hands over my head. Eoghan and Baljit followed my lead, so did several other men ahead of us. The sound grew louder and the little stones in front of me, on the ground began to vibrate. I could see a couple of brown hares bouncing over some dusty meadows a few metres ahead of us and pounce into nearby holes. I wish we all had little holes to jump into when encountering Luftwaffe aircrafts. It was a Junker Ju 88 aircraft…the twin engines giving out an odd, low thrum… something synonymous with the Schnellbombers made by the famed Flugzeug-und Motorenwerke. There were about sixty soldiers lying on the ground in front of me and a lone man stood eyeing the sky, fascinated by the sound emanating from the heavens, not knowing it was a demon and not an angel. The man was a local farmer probably from the town which we were about to enter. He dragged along a wheel barrow which contained a couple of bread packets, some folded blankets and some bottles of milk. I could see the contents of the wheel barrow clearly, for the man had let it go and had his hands towards his head.
One hand of his was holding on to his cap he was wearing and another was shielding his eyes, as he stared into the sunlight above. The sun had momentarily revealed itself amidst a gap in the thick dark clouds hanging below it. It was as if the sun was being controlled by the Nazis to give them a better aim toward us.
“Get down, Sir! That is a German bomber!” I yelled.
“Aye! Get down you fool!” “Now, down!” yelled the other soldiers lying nearby.
The old man got panicked hearing our yells and he trotted back and forth in one spot, before falling to the ground with his hands to his head. The growl of the winged death-bringer grew louder as the aircraft neared our spot. We expected bombs to be dropped over us any moment then. There was nothing we could do considering the speed of the plane and there being no visible shelter nearby. We just had to hope that the bombs missed the spot we were lying on. We were literally sitting ducks and this was the aspect of war that I hated the most…not that I liked and enjoyed other aspects of the war. It’s just the inability to fight back at an enemy who was so keen to see you dead. This helplessness…I just couldn’t stand it! I even thought of using my rifle to shoot the aircraft, but that almost always failed. The plane was probably too far away and I would be deprived of a proper aim with the sun to my face, while the enemy bomber can decimate entire patches of land without even staring towards us.
I was sick of facing the ground and not knowing what was happening above, behind me. The bombs never came down and the engine sound just kept growing without ever attacking us. The anxiety it created was unbearable and to be expected to lay still without fighting back or fleeing was excruciating. My patience ran out and I turned around instantly, deciding to face my enemy. I laid on the ground and faced the sky. I could see the pleasant and calm blueness beyond some dark clouds that passed lower below.  
My mind drifted to another moment in time. I was a nineteen year old boy and next to me laid her, a twenty year old lass. Her soft hands within my own, that were roughened by hard field work. I could hear the chirps of swallows in the distance, the smell of wet grass, the warmth of the sunlight and the pleasant view of the blue sky. Puffy white clouds were drifting ahead of me.
“Doesn’t that cloud seem like an albatross!” her familiar voice ringed in my ears.
I laid still not seeing anything in particular but enjoying the moment in all its glory.
“With its wings spread wide…So majestic! Don’t you see it Rodney!”
Suddenly the puffy white clouds turned black and the albatross shaped cloud turned out to be a dark metallic structure with Luftwaffe crosses on its wings. Darn my intrusive thoughts!
“Don’t you see it Rodney! Get your head to the ground, lad!” yelled Eoghan. I realized I had not only turned toward the sky, but had also gotten myself up without my own knowledge. I got back to the ground more overwhelmed by Eoghan’s booming voice, than the roaring engine of the Junker Ju 88. But I still can’t keep my eyes away from the sky. I remained on the ground, but kept facing the sky. I could see the outline of the plane as it eclipsed the sun for a swift moment. The shadow of the aircraft moved rapidly over the ground where we remained. But there were no missiles being dropped from them. The plane moved away from where we were in a matter of seconds. There was a collective sigh as one by one, we got ourselves up from the ground.
But our relief was momentary… as ever. As the noise from the roaring twin engine began to subside with the Luftwaffe bomber moving away from us, we were startled by the sudden blaring of a siren from the nearby town. There was something about the siren…I knew it was meant to make people uneasy, warn them of impending danger and force them to find shelter from whatever danger that was approaching them. But a blaring siren often induced in me more fear than any danger that might follow. Siren noises, these days, were very common and we had many a day interrupted by blaring sirens, warning us of some advancing enemy forces. But I spent so many nights going to sleep fearing the sirens more than what they warned. This siren was even more nerve wracking as it was closely followed by thunderous explosions that knocked us off our feet.
The entire world around us shook and I could feel the ground vibrating almost a million times more than the vibration felt as a result of the bomber that was flying above us a few moments ago. The siren continued its haunting scream and I could feel structures coming down rapidly, not so far away from us. The shaking of the terrain increased in intensity as more structures seemed to be coming down. From where we were at that moment, we couldn’t see any buildings, but we could tell some massive structures were being decimated like they were a pack of cards. We could see some elm trees a few hundred meters from where we were and almost all of them were shaking as if some monstrous storm was making them euphoric.  Two of those elm trees came crashing down a moment later causing more chaos among the men trying to take cover nearby. Almost every one of them was a soldier, barring that one farmer who still hadn’t gotten off the ground, ever since we yelled at him.
The shaking eventually stopped and once again we got back to our feet. The farmer was the first to pounce up and he looked around anxiously. His eyes finally settled in the direction where the town remained beyond the trees.
“Joaaan!!!” he cried and began running toward his town, leaving the wheel barrow unattended. The contents of the wheel barrow were on the ground toppled by the man-made quake. Milk from the bottles within were spilling all over the crumpled layers of blankets and bread packets, which were now on the ground. Something about the imagery disturbed me, though I couldn’t say what. The uneasiness was multi-fold when thick plumes of dark smoke and dust emerged from behind the thick canopy of elm trees in front of us. 
Most of us were startled by the events of the past few seconds, but we were quick to set ourselves going in the direction taken by the old man. We ran and ran, for almost ten minutes, before a few man-made structures began to pop up within our vicinity. The density of the smoke and dust only kept growing and our breathlessness from all the running didn’t help our cause either.  What we saw next broke our heart into even finer pieces than they had already been shattered before during the course of the war.
An entire town was in ruins, with several dozen buildings completely decimated, about two dozen structures standing severely dilapidated and threatening to come crashing down any moment by even the slightest of winds…and debris…oh God, dust, broken railings, brick walls, trunks and stems of smaller trees, pieces of wood, tiles and cement everywhere. As in most of the towns and villages pounded down by Nazi bombers, that we had come across in recent days, this too was engulfed in the screams and cries of surviving humans…for the dead found peace amidst the ruins, while the survivors ran around trying to piece together the reality that they’ve been pushed into…Trauma, thy origin, I’ve witnessed!
The sight of the destroyed town distracted us so much that I lost track of the old farmer who had been running just a few meters ahead of me. The men who had been travelling with me were all shook no doubt, but they had witnessed many similar situations that they knew they had to act and they had to act fast. They were already moving about pulling people from under all the debris, checking for pulses and distinguishing people who could be saved and who had no hope. I wanted to help, but my body simply refused to budge. Despite all that I had seen in the past few days moving from one destroyed village and town to another, seeing the dead and the wounded everywhere, I never got used to it. Two of my comrades pulled out a young man from under a collapsed roof nearby. For a moment, I was sure that he could be saved, for from where I was standing, there weren’t any wounds visible. But then they turned the body of the young man a bit and I could see a long rod piercing the side of his neck. The movement of the soldiers who were carrying the body of the young man caused his head to turn toward my direction. I could see his eyes staring toward me. Despite the lifelessness in them, they seemed to question me as to why I hadn’t done enough to help him. One of the two soldiers who were carrying the body, slipped on a brick nearby and lost his balance for a moment. The neck of the young man snapped even more and the head rolled at an awkward angle, remaining barely attached to his body. His eyes were still staring at me…
I looked around to avoid his gaze and I could feel emotions swelling up inside me. I saw very similar scenes all around as more bodies and severely wounded individuals were being helped out. I just stood there and took it all in.  
At that moment, I didn’t know what really happened. I felt a sudden surge of emotions, feelings and memories, a surge too powerful that it didn’t have a single cause. I saw a lot of things, most of them not coming to my memory when I tried to re-think it, but the feelings and emotions they invoked… that I felt too well. So many past worries, fears, sadness, grief, repressed memories, they were all simultaneously brought out by the things I saw, despite the things that invoked these feelings were no longer in my memory. It was very strange, but that was how it was. This bringing out of all those repressed feelings and memories at the same time overwhelmed me immensely that I fainted then and there. The sight of the young man with his gaze fixed at me, even as his head turned awkwardly was just the tipping point for me. It was as if my mind realized that it didn’t have the power to process all these memories and sights, and the best way to avoid damage was by shutting down. The last thing I saw was a hand sticking out from between a collapsed church, holding a rosary with a cross and everything around me turned dark.
The moment I regained my consciousness I was facing a wall of sand bags placed all around me. I slowly got up and felt a tremendous thronging pain in my forehead and at the back of my neck. I winced in pain and I heard a friendly voice greet me from behind.
“You alright there, young man?”
I turned around and saw an old lady smiling pleasantly toward me. Her hair was a mess and she had dust stains all over her robes. There was a tiny cut on her cheek from which was oozing out, small quantities of yellow puss. Her eyes appeared brown, even though grey rings were forming around her iris indicating the presence of cataract. Much of her teeth were yellow, many were missing and a couple were abnormally white. On closer observation, I realized that there was something eerie about her.
“How do you feel now?” she asked again with a kind voice.
I realized that it was her voice that I was most comforted by and definitely not her appearance. But something about her eyes…The way they stared blankly at me…I couldn’t explain why they were making me uneasy.
The more I lifted my head from the ground, the more heavy they seemed to be. I noticed a grey bag in front of the old lady, who upon staring at me, turned back toward the bag. Her smile seemed to be fixed to her face for she continued smiling, even after turning her gaze away from me. There were unusually large quantities of flies hovering above the grey bag, which seemed to be covered with some yellowish substance. The grey bag was even more dusty and stained…by what I couldn’t really tell. I noticed that I was within some temporary shelter made with sand bags, random blankets and damaged tarpaulin. There was a solitary lantern hanging at the center of the small shelter within which I remained. There seemed to be a lot of shadow moving outside the tent. Inside the tent however there were metal pipes, more sand bags, a couple barrels of water, a few crates of medicinal bottles and a table with match sticks, scissors, bandages, a large tray and more vials of colored liquids. On one corner were placed piles of grey bags…grey blankets actually, the likes of which I had seen before…grey blankets used to cover the bodies of the dead…before their burial…Then it slowly dawned upon me.
I was still not on my feet completely and I crawled my way along the floor closer to the grey mound, which I had assumed to be a bag, near the old lady. The old lady had her eyes fixed on the mound before her and continued smiling. The flies hovering above the mound made bigger circles as I waved my hand to disperse them. Then I saw it…a small, white face peeking out from within the mound.  It was neither a bag nor a mound, but a human body covered with a grey blanket. It belonged to a young girl, probably ten or eleven years old. She was like an artwork…the thin curvy eyebrows, little pointed nose, puffy cheeks, thick lips and smooth long hair covering her forehead. The skin however was pale, with no tinge of rosiness on her cheeks to depict the presence of life within. There was a thin trail of blood emerging from between her lips, toward the right. It was dried and more flies were hovering over it.
“Ssshhh, boy…my little Beth is taking a nap…Please don’t make a noise to wake her up…” the old lady said, chuckling…Her large grey eyes still staring at me…
  I didn’t know what to say or how to respond. I was as immovable as the dead girl before me. The old lady didn’t wait for a response from me and turned to the girl once again, placing a hand over the girl’s forehead.
“Hush, darling…woke you up, did he? Bad boy he is…I’ll take care of him. You go back to your dream land…Bye, baby Bunting, Father's gone a-hunting, Mother's gone a-milking, Sister's gone a-silking, Brother's gone to buy a skin, To wrap the baby Bunting in…” she sang…her voice breaking toward the end…
I had to rush out…I noticed my rifle, my bags, my helmet and my shoes lying nearby. I took them all and rushed out of the tent, hoping to meet Eoghan and Baljit. The brightness outside from the evening sun blinded me. The darks clouds had disappeared giving us a temporary reprieve and the coldness had reduced as well. It took me a few moments to get accustomed to it. Accustomed just to the light outside…not the sight outside…More scenes of destruction and death greeted me.
There were soldiers running about pulling out more dead bodies from underneath debris; men tying bandages over survivors, some of whom were bleeding profusely; people wailing, begging to be helped in some manner…children being grouped together by some soldiers and nurses, to be checked for injuries. More debris, bricks, fallen trees, broken wagons and burning houses surrounded me. If there was truly a place called hell, this seemed to be it.
I could hear whistles being blown all around, lanterns moving up and down in the regions where the evening shadows had already crept on and wrapped its long, elongated arms, men yelling commandments, people crying in pain.
“Soldier! Get over here! Give us a hand!”
I heard a voice from nearby. A large man with a thick moustache waved toward me, even as three other men were trying to break down a large piece of debris nearby using various tools. I put my gear on and rushed in to help. By the time I neared them, the debris was already moved aside and a person underneath was being pulled out slowly. I ran in, grabbed hold of the man’s arm, and gradually pulled him out. Fortunately, this man wasn’t dead. There was blood gushing out of his forehead and his right arm seemed to have a lot of scratches on it. The real concern was his right leg, the bones of which seemed to be crushed beyond repair.
“You are going to be fine, sir! We’ll fix you up in no time!” said the man with the big moustache, with a big smile, to the man who was pulled out. The former seemed to be a doctor for I could see a white armband on him with a red cross on it.
I could tell that the doctor was just trying to instill some hope, as there was no way anybody was going to be able to fix that shattered left leg.
“Lillian! My sister…she was with me! Help her!” moaned the man with the injured leg.
We soldiers looked at each other and then toward the doctor. I could see a look of grief on the doctor’s face, which he tried to correct with a fake smile.
“Your sister is all well and being treated in a nearby hospital. We first need to patch you up, sir!” He motioned for us to carry the man to another tent nearby, a temporary hospital.
There were three large tents next to each other and we didn’t know into which the doctor had wanted us to go, but we chose the one on the right, as that seemed to be the least crowded. We couldn’t confirm with the doctor if that was the tent he wanted us to go, for he had already moved far from us to treat another person being rescued from a broken down inn. The tents had large white banners over them, with a red cross. We carried the man with the broken leg into the tent, placing him in blanket stretched on the ground inside. Two nurses and another younger doctor got to work on him right away, bringing out their rolls of cotton and medical equipment. The soldiers having placed the man inside moved out of the tent giving space for the medical professionals to work in peace. I tried to follow them, but the injured man, grabbed hold of my hand.
“My sister…Lillian!” He moaned, facing me, even as the nurses were cleaning his forehead and the doctor was using a large syringe with some colorless liquid on him.
“You heard the doctor…She is in some larger hospital, all well and being taken care of, I guess” I tried to comfort him. I knew I was needed more outside and I once again got myself up to leave, but the man’s grip on me tightened.
The doctor who had just injected him, now worked on his leg, even as the nurses were tying large bandages over several parts of the injured man’s body. The man now seemed more agitated and disturbed, writhing his hands and his one other leg, making it difficult for the nurses to help him with the bandages.
“We could use you here for a little while, soldier” said the doctor, finding it hard to contain the man. I tried to hold the injured man down, putting my weight over his chest, even as the doctor injected him with another colorless liquid. “This should put him to sleep for a while…” he murmured.
As I held the man down, I looked around at the inside of the tent. This was very similar to the tent where I recovered with regard to the large table and the various medical tools and bottles on them. But this place seemed like much more effort was taken to keep it clean, despite the presence of blood stained cottons and bandages lying about and the smell of medicines in the air. I saw some more water barrels, a large tray with some scissors, syringes and tiny vials. A golden locket with a photo of a woman and a girl with facial features similar to the injured gentleman, remained on the table as well. I saw three other blankets on the floor, with people lying on them. Two of them seemed to have bandages all over them and sleeping soundly. I would have thought them to be dead, if not for one of them to swat a mosquito flying over him even as he slept, while another snored loudly. The third blanket however had someone lying motionless and with a larger grey blanket over them. I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman.
I felt a sharp pain on my forearm and I noticed the injured man’s finger nail leaving a sharp cut on my hand. Small drops of blood began dripping out even as the man’s grip on me loosened and his fingers drooped down. Whatever medicine the doctor had injected him with, began to do its wonder.
“Lily…Lillian…my sister…” he moaned as his eyes closed and he dozed off.
“You can relax now, soldier…Good job” said the doctor even as he moved over to a tray nearby to wash his hands. I gradually moved away from the injured man and began to leave the tent. One of the nurses noticed my bleeding arm and held me back.
“Just a minute there, soldier…” she commanded. She began cleaning my arm with a piece of cotton, before applying some medicine over it and covering it with a plaster. I could feel a sting as the medicine seeped into the cut on my hand. She noticed me wincing in pain and patted me on my shoulder.
“I’m sure you could endure much more pain, brave man!” she winked at me naughtily and walked away. I smiled back uneasily and gathered my rifle and my belongings to leave the tent again. At this moment, I noticed the large doctor with the big moustache once again coming back in.
“Is he asleep yet?” asked the senior doctor with the moustache to his junior doctor who had injected the injured man.
“Yes sir…all good…was a bit aggressive, but the soldier here helped me to calm him down” said the junior doctor. “He kept mumbling the name Lillian, till he passed out…”
The senior doctor noticed the big grey motionless mound beside the passed out man. There seemed to be sudden panic and anger on his face.
“Why hasn’t she been cleared yet?” asked the senior doctor pointing at the grey mound.
“I…I don’t know…We’ve just been overwhelmed with patients to treat…we’ve not had the time to clear her” said the junior doctor apologetically. I knew things were getting awkward and I didn’t want to be around as the junior doctor was being admonished by the senior. I slowly crept out of the tent carrying my belongings. I couldn’t avoid hearing the words being said by the senior doctor, as I went out though.
“And you’ve kept this injured fella next to him! Don’t you know who she is?” he mumbled angrily, taking care as to not disturb the patients within. “That’s his sister, Lillian…the one he’s been moaning about! And she is dead!”
I wish I had walked out a few moments earlier. I closed my eyes and said a quick prayer for the brother who would eventually have to face a reality without his beloved sister. I usually cleared a depressing thought with some reminiscing of a pleasant memory from the past, some kind of sexual fantasy, some internal conversation of a mundane subject, like Eoghan’s facial hair for example, a quick prayer, or some immediate action. I already prayed and it didn’t seem to ease the heaviness in my heart. I decided to get into some immediate action as that seemed to be much more helpful to the people around me than a prayer.
I saw the old farmer whom I had seen running toward the town, when we were marching, before the Luftwaffe came by dropping the bombs. He was crouching in a corner, hugging the charred corpse of a woman and crying…Joan, I presumed, as that was the name the old man had been yelling while running toward the town. I thought of moving closer to comfort him, but I saw three other townsmen, two of them heavily bandaged, surrounding the farmer and attempting to comfort him with some kind words. Some distant relative of his, I presumed them to be.
I chose to walk elsewhere where my presence would be of more help. I saw a nurse and a lone soldier trying to calm down a bunch of crying children. There were six of them, the children. About five of them were crying, understandably. The sixth one remained calm and looked around eagerly. This obviously prompted the soldier and the nurse to focus their attention on the ones crying, ignoring the calm one. An elderly nun joined in a few moments later and she appeared to be the one in control.
“So have you checked them thoroughly, nurse Stella?” asked the elderly nun, wiping the tears of one of the crying children.
“Yes, Sister Francine. Just some minor scratches that I’ve already treated. This girl seems to be in shock and is running a fever. I have provided her a tablet to bring her fever down,” reported the nurse, putting down some unused plasters and pill boxes into a bag.
“Lucky bunch of kids they are…Got away without much harm…” said the soldier, smoking on his pipe. He seemed to be closer to his retirement and not bothered by tragedy of any sort anymore. In fact he had a look suggesting he was actually bored of death and destruction.
“They’ve just lost their home, their entire families and siblings. I wouldn’t call them lucky, soldier…” admonished the nun, feeling the temperature of one of the crying girls.
“Well, they still have their limbs intact and are alive…I’d call them lucky indeed,” the soldier spat on the ground nearby and walked away.
“Where do you think you are going? Who is going to help us get to the orphanage in Manchester?” asked the nun surprised at the old soldier just walking away.
“Your wagon has already been called for and should arrive any moment. I don’t think you need my services any more, sister!” The old soldier waved his hand indifferently and walked away.
The nun looked around perplexed, with the kids beside her.
“Don’t worry, children. The wagon should be here soon…” said the nun trying to comfort the children.
“Sister Francine, we can’t be here alone! We need a soldier to protect us!” shrieked one of the younger girls who was standing beside the nun.
“Yes, sister Francine! What if those Nazis drop more bombs! Who will save us then?” asked another boy.
The other children around the nun expressed similar concerns and the nun found it hard to comfort them.
“Who protected you lot when the German aircraft dropped bombs earlier? And what can a soldier do when a Lufftwaffe aircraft attacks us from the sky?” I murmured to myself. Anger and annoyance were burgeoning inside me. It was due to my own inability to do anything to save these young children who placed so much faith in us.
“We are all going to die, aren’t we?” asked one of the children.
“Nobody is here to protect us, as they all know we are not worthy enough to be protected!” cried another girl.
“There, there! Where do you get such ideas? You are all worthy in God’s eyes and He shall do everything to protect you!” said the nun, trying to give them hope.
“Then why didn’t He think of saving our parents?” asked a boy of perhaps seven years of age. He didn’t mean it in a rebellious tone, but with genuine puzzlement. “Were they not worthy enough?”
“I…I don’t…I can’t really…Well He…God works in mysterious ways! He does everything in our best interest…” The nun was struggling to answer the questions raised by the children.
I knew I had to step in…not for the nun’s sake or for God’s sake for that matter…It was all for the children.
“Excuse me, ma’am! Is there something I could do to help?” I asked, trying to put on a brave and comforting face.
“Well look who God has sent to protect us!” The nurse beamed and mouthed a “thank you” toward me, keeping her face away from the children. “Your mere presence is sufficient, till our wagon arrives to pick us up!”
“I’ll settle myself right here, beside the children.” I sat myself on a toppled barrel, beside which the children were standing.
“I shall go and have a word with the fellow who had arranged for the wagon to pick us up. I should be back in a moment” the nun excused herself and walked a few blocks away from where we were. The children’s attention now turned toward me.
“You are here to protect us, are you?” asked a girl, with tears pouring from her eyes.
“Of course I am…None shall harm you, while I’m here!” I spoke in a deep voice, displaying my rifle to them. One of the children, a boy, tried to touch it and I moved it aside. “Na-uh! You want one? Then join the army once you are eighteen!” I smiled, tussling the hair of the inquisitive boy.
“So God sent you here?” asked the boy, who had troubled the nun earlier with his questioning.
“How does He look like? What is He doing to stop the Nazis?” asked another girl.
“Are my parents already there with Him? Did you meet them?” asked a third girl.
I had no clue how to deal with their questions and I sat there absolutely silent, staring from one child to another. Almost every one of those children had tears in their eyes and expressed a myriad of emotions…anger, grief, frustration and fear, they were all there in their eyes. In all except one child. A little girl remained calm and relaxed in the backroom.
“Tell us, sir!”
“When will He take us to meet our parents?” the other children asked. I was starting to sweat and even when I tried to speak, my tongue seemed to be twisted in a knot. My arrival saved the nun from these hard questions but whose arrival was to save me? I wondered. And arrived it did…A sweet feminine voice.
“Somewhere over the rainbow…” she sang. Everyone’s attention turned toward the source of the angelic voice.
It was a lady in her early fifties, seated before a large piano on the side of the street. A partially standing building was seen behind her with a board on the ground in front of it reading “Shirley’s Music Lessons.” The piano was covered with dust and parts of its exterior had a lot of scratches and several wooden pieces poking out of it. There were pieces of tiles and cement on top of the piano. The lady seated behind the piano had a thick plaster over her forehead and a large bandage around her knees. She was covered in dust and grime like the rest of the people who had escaped out of the debris caused by the falling structures. A thin stream of blood was seen appearing from under the plaster on her forehead. The moment her voice spread across the town, the people nearby started gathering around her. The soldiers, the doctors, the nurses and the men working to remove the debris halted just for a moment, surprised by someone singing at such an awful day, but then they continued on with their work knowing that they couldn’t afford to enjoy music then, as many more individuals might still be trapped alive under all those debris.
The rest of the people though, the ones who had been pulled out and had been treated by the doctors like the singer herself, the ones who were distributing and receiving emergency rations, the surviving members of the town who were mourning the dead, those lot of people slowly gathered around the singing lady. The children who were questioning me, were also distracted by the music, and moved away from me to see the singer with the angelic voice. The one calm child who had remained in the background moved closer to me.
“It’s a song from the movie “The Wizard of Oz” which was sung by Judy Garland, written by Yip Harburg and composed by Harold Arlen,” said the calm child. I was surprised that the little girl knew and threw such a random information straight toward me out of nowhere. I felt like asking her how she knew it, but the song once again mesmerized me and caught my attention.
Somewhere over the rainbow way up high there's a land; that I have heard of once in a lullaby…” the singer continued.
Yes, a land of peace, where we didn’t have to live every moment fearing for the lives of our loved ones, I thought.
“Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true…”
Dreams of a life where we could spend time working in the fields, going to a carnival, spend time with our family and friends, have a quiet drink in a bar and reminisce about the wonderful times from our childhood. 

“Someday i'll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me”

Clouds of war far, far behind us…
where troubles melt like lemon drops way above the chimney tops that's where you'll find me…”
              Like in the embrace of a loved one…
“Somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly birds fly over the rainbow why then oh why can't i?”

My mind can escape into such a land when I often day-dream, but why can’t I? The entirety of me live in such an utopian land?

              Once the lady was done singing, the entire crowd gathered around, applauded in unison. I was so mesmerized by the song and was drifting in my own thoughts that when the applause began I raised my rifle thinking that we were being shot at. Luckily, not a lot of people noticed me and I swiftly pulled my rifle down. I felt a bit guilty enjoying the music when I should have been helping with the rescue mission, but then again I was given the task of looking after the children while the nun was away.
              The singer continued on playing some classical music on the piano inspired by the applause she received and the children continued enjoying her music. The one calm child turned toward me and said the name of the original composer of the song being played by the lady now.
              “How do you know these things?” I asked her, surprised.
              The girl stared at me and smiled, saying nothing. Something about her made me very curious. She wasn’t crying like the rest of the children or looked shook as the nurse suspected her to be. In fact she seemed to be in the best of spirits. I got closer to her and held her by her shoulder.
“What’s your name, again?”
“Meryl…Judy…Anything you like…” replied the girl with a sheepish smile.
              “What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked her.
“Well I don’t really have a permanent name. I just choose a different name as and when I feel like changing it…” she replied.
“Huh…What do your…I mean what did your parents call you?”
“I don’t know…” she looked around hesitantly…suddenly looking troubled.
“What do you mean by that?” I asked, clearly confused.
The girl looked around once again and at the other children enjoying the music a few feet away from us. She then waved for me to get closer to her. I did as she bid and she whispered in my ears.
“I don’t know…meaning I haven’t yet seen my parents…”
I looked at her surprised not really understanding why she was saying so.
“Well you see…while the other fellas had lost their parents just a few hours ago in the bombing…I lost mine way before I even understood what the world was all about…I’ve never seen my parents…I’m an orphan from the beginning” she said with an innocent smile.
It took me a moment to comprehend what she was really saying and she continued to reveal about her past on her own.
“I prowled the streets begging, sweeping the floors, cleaning chimneys, distributing eggs and milk for the local dairy man, wiping windows, distributing snacks in the nearby theatre…well what was supposed to be a theatre till yesterday…”
I realized how she was so familiar with the names of singers, movie stars, composers and writers.
“I was without a direction and without a family to call my own till a few hours ago. Then the bombing happened…kids with families became orphans…these nuns appeared from nearby towns to rehabilitate them…found me and thought of me to have lost my parents in the bombing as well…and now I’m likely to have a family of my own…a family made entirely of orphans just like me” she winked, raising her shoulders and smiling.
“So that’s why you weren’t as grief stricken as the rest of them?” I asked.
“Of course, I’m sad that they lost their loved ones…but now I have an opportunity to be their loved one…So I’m happy as well…” she whispered.
I couldn’t say anything to that. I just stared at her with a heavy heart.
“Please don’t tell Sister Francine or the rest of them that I was a street mongrel to begin with…” she pleaded.
I nodded and gave her tiny head a gentle pat.
“Children, our transportation has arrived!” cried Sister Francine, even as she came by seated on a wagon. The children rushed toward her upon seeing her. I helped them get onto the wagon one by one. The nun thanked me and the wagon began moving. The children with tears in their eyes, stared at the decimated town all around them, even as the wagon slowly moved away from us. They knew that they had no connection with the town now that their loved ones were gone with the town. They really did have to see one another as family. The little girl peeked from a gap on the backside of the wagon and waved toward me, sending me a kiss. I waved back and wished with all my heart that they had a wonderful and peaceful life. I promised myself I would do anything I can to make the world a safer place for the likes of her. I stood there a few moments unable to contain my sorrow.
“Rodney! There you are!” came a voice with an Irish accent from behind me.
“What are you doing here? We thought we left you back in the tent!” came another voice with an Indian accent.
“Eoghan! Baljit!” I howled, pleased to meet my comrades. We gave each other warm hugs.
“You fainted as soon as you saw the destroyed town and we tried to wake you up with whatever we had” explained Eoghan.
“But we couldn’t revive you on our own. The town was in ruins and it took a while for people from nearby towns and villages to rush in to help. The medical camps were set up a few hours from then and the rescue work began in full swing,” explained Baljit.
“We tried to get you going, but nothing worked. You slept through it all for hours. Luckily, a doctor was nearby and he confirmed to us that you should be up on your own in a matter of hours from then and there was no danger to your life. So we moved you to a medical tent nearby and got on to help with the rescue effort” said Eoghan.
“By the time we returned back to the tent, you were missing. Where had you gone to?” asked Baljit concerned.
“Well…It’s a long story…not the right time now…Let’s get on with the tasks at hand! Our work here might just be starting…” said I.
“You sure, you can handle it?” asked Eoghan doubting my abilities to withstand a depressing atmosphere.
“When you can’t get out of a situation, you might as well work through it…” said I.
We then moved about from one part of the town to another doing various tasks. Food distribution was already in full swing with people from nearby towns and villages bringing in supplies. A military base about thirty kilometers from here deployed extra troops to help with the rescue effort. They brought in their own rations and medical supplies. Various organizations had stepped in to provide medical assistance, yet there always seemed to be more patients than the doctors could handle. The most disconcerting problem was water. We helped facilitate the transportation of water through trucks from a lake eighteen kilometers from here. The roads leading to it had several buildings and trees collapsed. We spent a few hours removing them to clear the roadways for vehicles from outside to bring in much needed aide.
There were also problems concerning the identification of the bodies and making the surviving friends and family know about them. Then of course the risk of the spread of diseases considering there were so many rotting corpses and wounded individuals. Work was happening all around. As night approached, hope began to dwindle with regard to finding more survivors among the rubble. Fewer men were working in getting rid of the debris.
Lanterns and torches were lighted all around the town. There were a few scavengers trying to benefit from the horrid situation. Some men sold supplies like blankets, bread and water jugs for higher prices for some of the richer and more desperate survivors. There always seemed to be money circulating even at times of disasters. We couldn’t do much to stop them as those valuable supplies were needed in any form they came. We couldn’t just over power those sellers and take those supplies for free, even if we intended to distribute them to the needy.  There were then those few miscreants who tried to steal from the dead and the wounded. This was a tough job for me personally as I had stolen a few things from the dead in the recent past. Eoghan, Baljit and I managed to catch at least three individuals who were in the process of stealing valuables and we managed to hand them over to the local police department…or what remained of them. Nothing much could be done against them as holding them in meant the police had the responsibility of feeding more mouths. The local police department had insufficient forces, and didn’t even have money for food, let alone a roof to house their own men. It was chaos all around.
Then we came across an old cathedral…supposedly over eight hundred years old. The small yet ancient cathedral had gravel walls that remained unaffected by the Nazi bombing, but the roof, which was renovated about twenty years ago, had collapsed. A mass was reportedly in progress when the bombing had occurred. So about three dozen men were assumed to have been buried under the roof. There were already about two dozen men working for hours to get people out of the collapsed cathedral. They managed to get about nine people alive, though severely wounded, but about seventeen people dead. Work was in progress to find the fate of the remaining ten. The three of us joined the men working there and after about an hour of digging through the debris, we managed to pull out two people alive, though in a very critical state and six other bodies, two of whom were nuns and one, a priest. The only portion of the roof left to be disposed off was the part with the ten feet cross which weighed about three hundred kilograms.
Six other soldiers from a nearby base joined our cause and they brought along a heavy military truck which we hoped to use to pull the cross away once we managed to remove the portion of the roof which had collapsed over it. It took us a further twenty minutes to remove the pieces of the roof covering the cross and what we found inside devastated us. It were the bodies of a lady in early twenties, and that of a six month old baby. Baljit, as soon as he saw the sight that awaited us, quickly held on to me. He expected me to be overwhelmed with grief and faint once again. I wish I had fainted. But I didn’t. I felt miserable beyond explanation. And it hurt me even more when we heard the lady moaning beneath the cross.
The mother was down further below a smaller portion of the roof, with the baby over her and the cross above them. The lower portion of the cross had gotten stuck in another piece of fallen debris which had prevented the entire weight of the cross to fall over the lady. Another piece of fallen debris and the body of her baby had taken in all the weight of the cross, with the mother wedged down below, narrowly escaping from death. A gap was created underneath the debris and the cross and the lady had been found stuck within that crevice. The baby however was confirmed to be dead and he had died saving his mother. Had it not been for his body and that of the smaller piece of debris, the gap underneath wouldn’t have been created and the mother would have been crushed against the floor by the heavy cross.
The imagery of the heavy metallic cross, the baby with its arms stretched underneath it and the debris to its side, with the mother underneath it was one that I would never forget. What sin had that little baby done to carry the cross at such a young age? If anything, he had only saved his mother. But the mother, who was now unconscious, would have only preferred to die if she were given the choice to save her son in her stead.
We carefully tied a rope to the metallic cross, while tying the other end of the rope to the military truck. We then carefully placed more pieces of debris underneath the cross to ensure that it didn’t fall over the lady underneath while the truck pulled it away. We placed cylindrical logs underneath the cross and had the truck move away, dragging the cross over the cylindrical logs and eventually moving away from the lady and the baby underneath. The removal of the smaller debris underneath was relatively easy, but lifting the corpse of the baby felt the heaviest, as it tugged on every fiber of our heart.
When we lifted the mother from underneath the debris, she moaned without even opening her eyes.
“My baby…my little pip…Is he…alright?” she mumbled.
None of us had the strength to answer and we carefully moved her to a medical camp nearby, where the doctor and the nurses began treating her injuries. The three of us left the place as soon as possible not daring to stay there long enough to see the woman wake up and being given her baby’s body.
As if the universe hadn’t pounded us enough through the entire day with horrifying and heart-wrenching events, we stumbled upon one more, this time, one involving a being unable to speak out its miseries.
The three of us kept walking trying to get ourselves as far away from collapsed buildings, dead bodies and sights that brought about sorrow and grief. It was practically impossible considering the events throughout the day, but we just wanted a quiet corner for us to relax our minds for a few minutes before we jumped back into work. We thought we found such a rare spot in an alley about a few hundred meters from where we were then. It was one of those few portions of the town that the bombs had missed and people too in these regions were not in great numbers. We kept moving toward the alley, when we heard a low moan toward our right.
“We’ve been seeing so many sights of death and grief, that I keep hearing moans and cries even when I’m walking in a quiet part of the town” lamented Eoghan.
“I don’t think it was a figment of your imagination. I did hear it too” added Baljit.
“So did I!” I confirmed.
It was a low moan interrupted by severe panting and occasional low howling. It took us a couple minutes to trace the source of the noise and we found it to be coming from near a collapsed statue not so far from us. The three of us hurried near the statue and none of us could figure out to whom it belonged as it was shattered beyond recognition. All we could judge from the collapsed structure was a waist coat with extravagant looking buttons on it. We swiftly moved aside the broken pieces of the statue and noticed a puffy fur underneath. It was a puppy, a grey street mongrel with black spots in some parts of its body. We removed the pieces of stone over it and noticed that the puppy had only a part of its body left, with the other half severely crushed under the weight of the broken statue. There was blood all around and certain internal organs of the puppy were spilling out. The front of the puppy remained relatively intact, but we knew the pup was beyond saving now. It was even a miracle it had survived this long and I didn’t know why God, if at all such a being existed, would choose to torment this innocent pup in such a manner.
Its face remained unaffected, but one of its floppy ears was bleeding. It stared at us pitifully, even as it kept moaning.
“Dear Lord! How did he even survive thus far?” gasped Baljit.
“I’m afraid we would not be able to save them” Eoghan confirmed my suspicion. “But I have a feeling it’s going to be a long slow death…”
He gently caressed the puppy’s head and it licked his fingers gently. I could see little drops of tears emerging from Eoghan’s eyes, but he refused to let us see it for long. He swiftly wiped his eyes and took a stone from nearby.
“This place is so dusty that my eyes are watering…Anyway I think it would be better if we ended the pup’s suffering in a swift manner…” He raised the stone over the dog’s head, intending to lower it with great force, crushing the dog’s head and ending its life.
Baljit and I were flabbergasted with Eoghan’s move, but we knew it was a better end for the puppy. We waited holding our breath, even as Eoghan lowered his hand, ready to land a heavy blow over the puppy’s head. But when the pup lifted its head gently and put its tongue out in a friendly manner, Eoghan abruptly stopped his hand movement.
“No…I’m sorry…I couldn’t do it…” he for once began to cry openly. He dropped the stone nearby and knelt beside the dog, covering his face. “So many deaths…so many unnecessary losses…None of them deserved it…the little kid, the old lady, the baby, and now this pup…and us…none of us deserve the life we are enduring…” he wailed like a little baby, no longer worried about his image.
It was a strange sight to see the manliest of men crying so openly, displaying his sensitive side. I sat beside him and placed a hand over his shoulder, trying to comfort him. I had no words to say to make him feel better. I expected Baljit to say something as he was the one more skilled in counselling and consoling people. But he simply stared at Eoghan for a minute or two. Then he knelt beside the pup, picked a stone from nearby, placed his hand over the puppy’s head and swiftly crushed its head, ending its life in one swift movement. All we heard then was a gentle whine from the puppy and a loud cry of agony from Eoghan.
“It had to be done…for the pup, as well as for him…” Baljit casually threw the stone away and patted on our backs, motioning for us to move away from there. I helped Eoghan up and the three of us walked away from the statue and toward the alley.
Eoghan, Baljit and I were absolutely exhausted and we felt like we wouldn’t be able to contribute anymore for the day. There was only so much our bodies and mind could take and we had already worked well beyond our threshold. We settled on a collapsed alleyway and decided to have a smoke each. Eoghan had apparently managed to get three cigars from one of the soldiers who had joined the rescue effort from a nearby camp. We lit our cigars and sat down for some quiet time to forget all that we went through thus far. But the longer we spent in silence, the more we were reminded of the events of the day. We spent about twenty minutes without saying anything to each other. Eoghan was slowly regaining his composure. I was feeling much better physically, but emotionally I was just as disturbed as Eoghan, if not more.
“How long do you think this war will continue?” asked Baljit, trying to break the ice.
“We do not yet have a clear picture as to what is really happening on the outside world. Are we winning? Or are we being defeated in such a great manner that we would never again be able to muster a force decent enough to even defend our capital, let alone fight on behalf of our colonies” said Eoghan.
“Information is very hard to come by. Different people say different things, but none know what is truly happening” I added. Over the past few days we had stumbled upon travelers from different cities and towns. The reports we heard from there were conflicting with some claiming that the Nazis were being surrounded on all front by the Allied forces, while many others claiming that more countries from the Alliance were surrendering to the German forces. It was always more bad news than good. As we were discussing this, we heard the static noise from a radio nearby. We looked around and saw a little shack in a quiet corner which were among the few structures in the town to not have been affected by the bombings. A fat, bald man was seated within fiddling with an old Jackson Bell radio. The three of us moved toward the shack and tried to hear some news in the radio.
“What have you heard thus far, sir?” asked Baljit toward the man within the shack.
“Nothing much…I’ve been getting a lot of disturbances in the past few hours…I was hoping to hear some news about our town in the national radio. Turns out nobody cares about our existence…” grumbled the man with the double-chin, as he kept pounding on the sides of the radio.
“I wouldn’t say, they don’t care for us. There is just so much happening around the country, I guess, that they are unable to focus on every part being attacked” added I. I didn’t know if I was intending to make the rotund man feel important or make him desolate knowing that defeat was just around the corner for the lot of us.
“My cousin Willie said to me that Winston Churchill was making a speech…or had already made a speech that is to be broadcasted now for us common lot. I was hoping to hear it, but this darn radio is proving to be a headache” said the pudgy middle-aged man, pounding on the radio even more.
“Big Ol’Church’s speech? Why didn’t you say that earlier” said Eoghan eagerly and joined in the pounding on the old radio. The pounding continued on for minutes from the two of them, before we heard Churchill’s voice blaring out of the radio, for a mere minute or two.
Some people may be startled or momentarily depressed when, like your President, I speak of a long and a hard war. Our peoples would rather know the truth, somber though it be. And after all, when we are doing the noblest work in the world, not only defending our hearths and homes but the cause of freedom in every land, the question of whether deliverance comes in 1942 or 1943 or 1944 falls into its proper place in the grand proportions of human history.
Sure I am that this day -- now we are the masters of our fate; that the task which has been set us is not above our strength; that its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance. As long as we have faith in our cause and an unconquerable will-power, salvation will not be denied us. In the words of the Psalmist, "He shall not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord."3
Not all the tidings will be evil.”
That was all we heard before the radio emitted static noises again.
“Fookin’ radio you have there chief! What the…” Eoghan began swearing left, right and centre, pounding hard at the radio.
“Don’t blame me you fuckin, ginger cunt! Blame my brother Georgie who fookin’gifted me this radio!” replied the man, just as grumpy as Eoghan for not being able to hear Churchil speak.
“Well fook your fookin’ brother…Fook your fookin’ family…the entire lot of you…Curse the generations to come!” Yelled Eoghan.
It didn’t take long for the two men to end up rolling on the floor and it took great effort from Baljit and I to remove the two men aside, even as the radio in all its glory started playing the static noise in an even louder tone.
              Eoghan spent the next fifteen minutes exposing us to the rich vocabulary of the Irish countryside when it came to cursing and swearing. We literally had to drag him away from the shack and I thought it would be wise to take him some place far away where he can relax and cool himself down.
              We stumbled upon a tower in the midst of a collapsed factory. The only structure within the compound that remained standing. The walls around were down, so were the other towers and buildings within. Nobody seemed bothered enough to stop us from entering the factory premises or what used to be a proper compound. Baljit and I dragged Eoghan up the tower and made him sit at the top most portion of it, seating ourselves on either side of him. Eoghan in his skirmish with the man from the shack had lost his cigar and he pulled the one I was having in my mouth and started dragging on it. I was even willing to give him my limb if he agreed to remain quiet and so I wasn’t bothered about losing a cigar. The three of us sat at the top of the tower and looked around. Turned out it was the tallest structure at that point of time to remain standing in the entire town. So we were able to see much of the town and the region surrounding it. About eighty percent of the town was in ruins and there were torches and lanterns spread across different parts of the town, even as the night was well spread out now. Temporary shelters and tents were popping up all around and we could see several hundred men working even this late in the night.
              Even in that darkness we could see thick dark smoke billowing in the distant horizon in almost all directions. We could see fire raging in many distant towns and villages as well. We noticed some aircrafts flying in the distance. Thankfully they were RAF planes and we didn’t have to be worried about them.
               “It’s all over the country…this level of death and destruction…Nowhere seems to be safe anymore…” lamented Baljit.
              “Nowhere is safe…nobody is safe…be it soldiers, doctors, babies, animals, Godmen or even statues…Anyone can fall any moment” said I, recollecting all that I had seen in the duration of the day and in the day preceding it.
              “What’s the point of all of it…What are we going to achieve anyway…” sighed Baljit.
              None of us answered those questions and we remained in silence observing the view in front of us. We could hear the howling of the wind even as distant cries of people still part of the rescue effort drifted in the air. Once in a while, we were interrupted by the sound of air planes flying by the region and we looked up trying to find out if they were Luftwaffe planes and heaved a sigh every time we figured they weren’t.
“The point is, if you really want to know…is to ensure our kids don’t end up being raised under the Nazi banner…” said Eoghan, dragging on his already shrinking cigar.
“But would we rather see our children die?” asked Baljit.
              “We don’t want our children dead…those fookin’ Nazis want them to be…” replied Eoghan.
              I felt like none of us were as attached to a cause as we had been when we had joined the forces. Banners and flags didn’t matter as much when we could see that the blood and the organs inside every human being were the same…and we had seen enough of both in the past several days. What’s the point of being British, American, German, French, if we ran the risk of losing our humanity…
“Well, you heard the Big Ol’Church! We are so deep in Shiite that we got no chance but to see through this war…” said Eoghan.
“Is it all worth it though? So much death and destruction. The ones who have survived are probably scarred for life” added Baljit.
“I don’t think history has ever witnessed a war as gruesome as this…” speculated I.
“We don’t know about the wars of the past…We’ve just read about them…Never experienced them…and this one war seems bad enough to make us all think that there shouldn’t be another ever again…” said Baljit.
“Maybe that’s the point of it all…Maybe God…I’m sorry I do believe in Him…Maybe God is making us go through so gruesome a war that he wants humanity to know how terrible it can be and wants us to once and for all give up all our differences and live as one…” said Eoghan, with a sudden shine in his eyes.
“So you think we are all sacrificial goats?” asked Baljit with a snicker.
“Martyrs…One war to end them all!” said Eoghan, with a look of pleasure on his face, of having finally found a noble purpose behind all of this, clearly evident. “God never works against humanity!”
“To begin with, God didn’t create this war…humans did…” added Baljit. “But maybe He is thinking that the best way to prevent humans from warring ever again is to make one last war as terrible and scarring as possible that humans shudder at the prospect of war and never dare to participate in one, ever again…”
“Aye! I think the same…” chuckled Eoghan. “None of this is a waste…Our generation is suffering for eternal peace! There! We should be proud to be part of this! Yes!”
Eoghan and Baljit pretended to knock their cigars together as if they were having big mugs of beer. They then raised their cigars toward me, even though I didn’t have one anymore with Eoghan taking what was mine.
Naivety? Stupidity? True Wisdom? More like their already troubled mind trying to find a purpose and reason for the hellish life they had been pushed into. I wasn’t wise enough to know the purpose of life nor smart enough to make suppositions. I wasn’t brave enough to question God’s actions nor entertain the thought that there wasn’t a God, and all that was happening around us were due to human greed and pride that was going to lead us nowhere. I just wanted it all to end as soon as possible. I wanted to return home and be in the midst of my family…I just wanted to hold her hands one more time and experience the taste of her lips…But I knew most of it might never happen…The latter was sure to never happen…Somebody else had the privilege of those lips now…I did want peace…Peace and quietness…That’s all my own purpose of existence…
“Don’t leave us hanging there, lad!” said Eoghan, his cigar still raised toward me.
I just hoped they were right and our suffering wasn’t meaningless. I sincerely hoped that our sacrifices would be appreciated and would caution the world never to enter a war ever again. A war to end all wars! I hoped for eternal peace and with that hope I bumped my empty fist against the cigars raised by my comrades.
Something inside me however screamed that we might be dead wrong…
-          A. Prashanth Narasimhan (Sri Vishnu Dasan)



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