Blurred shapes appeared before me as I opened my eyes. Gunshots and mortar shells resonated in the background. Groaning, I picked myself up and propped up against a tree. The sergeant I’d had breakfast with that morning lay dead next to me. That grenade had killed everyone in my platoon. The thought of all the lifeless bodies didn’t even matter anymore. This war had killed thousands and would kill thousands more. The absolute horror of the situation poked at the back of my mind, but all I cared about was getting some water in me. Alcohol would take care of that screaming in my head later. My indifference to the dead would portray me a monster to anyone not involved in the war, but those who were, they would understand.
Hobbling from tree to tree I made my way east. Our mission had failed, and needed to be reported as soon as possible to the General. Country and mission always came first, they said. They had drilled that into me from the first day of training. They’d done it so well that it now came automatically to me. The army had been the obvious choice, once my house had been destroyed and my mother and little sister had been killed in the London bombings. Where else could I vent out my anger at the ones who destroyed my life. But even that motivation had become obsolete. All feeling eventually dies once you see the real war. I’d left them behind a long time ago. Now they were nothing but a faint, painful memory.
Pain shot up my left leg suddenly, and I fell down. There was a finger-sized piece of shrapnel embedded in my calf. It would get infected if I didn’t take care of it soon. I tore off the leather strap off my gun and shoved it in my mouth. Breaking the neck of the iodine bottle from my pack, I poured all the liquid over the wound, simultaneously pulling out the piece of metal. I screamed into my gag. Then, breathing heavily I tied a strip of cloth over it to stop it bleeding. This much would have to do before I could get a medical officer to check me out. I pressed on ahead. Spending the night in these infernal forests was not an appealing thought.
Minutes turned into hours as I walked. The pain had all but caused my leg to go numb. I had stopped thinking. Finding camp was the only thing occupying my mind. It had finally started turning dark. Then, I thought I saw a light up ahead and made my way towards it. I entered a clearing with a house in its midst. There was a short plump woman drawing water from the well towards the back. She saw me staggering towards her and immediately ran to come support me. I gestured to her for a drink of water. Nodding her head as if she understood, she sat me down on a log next to the edge of the clearing and went to draw some water for me.
She handed me the bucket and helped me drink as I gulped down as much as I could take in at once. I hadn’t realised with the pain in my leg that my throat burned like someone was pouring hot lead down it. When I’d reached my limit, I let the rest of the water wash over myself. It felt heavenly. In that clearing, surrounded by a din of absolute silence, one could actually forget the war raging just a few miles away. I closed my eyes and lay against that log, just taking it all in.
A twig snapped in the bushes behind me. My instincts took control as I swung around with my rifle ready and shot thrice straight into the source of the sound. The lady behind me shrieked and came running towards me. I held her arm to keep her back just in case the enemy wasn’t dead just yet. She was struggling with all her strength and when she finally got loose and ran towards the bush. She was mad! Just then I realised she was crying. It made no sense. Suddenly, a shock went through me. I walked to her, looking like a ghost that had just emerged from hell. My rifle fell from my hands. I came around the bush and saw a dead child cradled in his mother’s arms.