I can hear them chirping, the crickets. They have their own melody, even amidst that cacophony. Mother used to say they interpreted God’s messages.
Why did I have to join the army? Well, I guess this isn’t the right question. Or maybe it is. Maybe I should have been born in a different place, different state. What option did I have when there were no jobs? Actually, I did have options. I could have started coaching classes. Might not have earned much, but at least I’d have lived to do something.
But what would I have done? I’d have read that bestselling mythology series first. And I would have visited my grandmother. How cruel it was of me not to go to her place after that incident? What was the point of keeping lifelong grudges?
I guess that’s the point. We all have some guilt stored inside us. Guilt that makes us human. Saints can be sinners too, no?
I should turn to the right a bit more. This pain, awww. How did they know we were coming? We climbed up this range through the night. Maybe the plan was leaked. Or someone had taken a dump at the wrong place and saw us. But how does that matter now? We are done, at least the ones among us who have fallen. That opening medley of gunfire and bombs, would I ever be free of those sounds, even in my grave?
The chirps were louder a few hours ago. Now they’re mild and mixed with the occasional screams of the soldiers, as if reminding us of the primacy of the jungle. This jungle, it has an aura of its own. I thought it looked good in the light. Now it is imposing, daring us to see through it, pass through the darkness and find light, if there is any. Asking us if we can spot the difference between the screams of men and the howls of nature.
The loneliness here, it is so very final, as if there’s nothing after this. At least I have the support of the soil beneath me, contoured to the shape of my body. That is far more than what I could say of my superiors. Why could the general not tell us whose war we’re fighting? Thousands of kids like me dead and it doesn’t even seem to be stopping. I don’t know how many survived from our division, and how much longer can they hold out. I wish I could have joined them in cutting down those pigs across the border. But I guess this is it for me, lying down in the dirt and bleeding to an unhurried death.
Would my parents be able to make peace with the truth? I hope they don’t feel ashamed in front of others that their kid died before he could make a substantial contribution to a battle. I know dead soldiers are celebrated as martyrs in our country irrespective of the circumstances of their demise. But I don’t want to be a cause of shame for my family, even in my death. If only I could live! I’d have embellished my story and added all those fancy elements of war to it. My story would have been recounted for generations. As it is now, no one will mourn me after a few years. The parents would have departed for their celestial abode, and without a dependent who carries my name, it’d be lost to time, not even a footnote in history.
My nose is blocked, though only partially as yet. Must be the soot from the grenades. I can’t feel the sweet, fresh smell of the grass anymore. If anything, it’s the gunpowder, it has even seeped in my clothes. It was so beautiful earlier in the day, so long as the sun was up. Now I can’t even see my own hand. And this tangy taste on my tongue, God, I hate it!
Let’s check the wound, then. Unh, the cotton bandage is drenched in blood. Thank God, it is a clean wound! Otherwise I might have been gone by now. Or maybe not. But I’d surely have passed out had that fellow not bandaged me. Who was it? Eh? Why can’t I remember his name? Lord! I don’t even remember how many hours it’s been now. 10? 12? More?
I wish I had been more considerate of the sacrifices my parents have made all their life. Why couldn’t I see that they always loved me, irrespective of the situation? And I don’t even have a proper girlfriend yet. Heh. I’m looking death in the eye, and even here I can’t stop thinking of a woman. Credit to you, God. Credit to you.
The gunfire has died down. They’d be recovering from their losses. We gave them proper hell. The instructor had told us that we must kill 10 of them to every one of our soldiers killed. I cut down 15 myself. I’d pass the extra five to anyone who needs them in his credit book. Ha ha. Ouch!
The painkiller is wearing off. I should pop another. Better than writhing around. Would I see the sun again? Possibly no. Would I meet my mother again? Nope. But, but, do I know? Heck, no. How could I know? If I did, I’d not have been lying here. In fact, I wouldn’t have arrived here in the first place. Ha ha!
Unh, ummm, no no, don’t laugh, stupid. Stay still.
People told me death is scary. Right now, all I can feel is tired eyes and legs, and a strong desire to sleep. Should I give in? After all, I am going to die here, at this remote outpost covered with trees all around. What could go wrong if I loosened my limbs and rested my eyes? The muscles are already in a state of spasm. If this remained so, I’d be dead meat soon.
Even clicking lips is producing no sound now. Where’s the water? Yes, take out the water pot. I need to gulp it. I might drift off permanently in a few moments if I don’t do something. The instructor said we should control our breathing in these types of cases, to control the panic. But I’m not panicking, am I? No, no, no, no. This is natural, the way I am dealing with the pain and the injury. I’m not even worrying about the stale, salty smell of sweat that is emanating from my body and clothes. If there’s a problem, it is that I’m too blank now. I can’t even think straight. I’m seeing doves, flying down to me. Where would doves come from in this darkness, that too in this thick foliage?
Doves? No, these are angels. Very well, then, if my time is up. Maybe I’d have another chance at this thing called life. I hope I’d do better then. I’ve always been a slow starter, after all.
Take his feet. Yeah, get him in the tray.
Okay, time to send him home.
You’re going home now, kid. You’re gonna be okay. You’re a hero, you know.
Eh, a hero? What was that about?
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