A Breath of Fresh Air

Written for an assignment.

The call for a new batch of troops had come yesterday. Nobody had bothered to stop by our house and inform us- none of us in the family were deemed fit for war- but I’d found out from the baker, whose wife was inconsolable and was refusing to let her precious son get out of her sight.

I knew then, the proximity of war. And I was prepared.

The drums were beating so loudly that no one heard me sneak out of the house. It wasn’t all that difficult a task anyway, considering it was mid afternoon and everyone was fast asleep. I slid out the door, jumped up the gate and ran till I was on the main street, never once turning back.

Last week I had gone to the headquarters and registered myself. The officer on duty had regarded me and my lean figure suspiciously. “Where you from?” he barked. “Don’t ever seen a skinny lad like you ‘round these parts”. I’d ignored him and continued filling in the form in the distracted way I had perfected after a week of practise. It wouldn’t do to have the officials even a little suspicious. I had to look the part of someone unfamiliar with the town. Thankfully, being an outsider was no longer a point of interest in my tiny town. Ever since the troops had set up their headquarters here, people willing to risk their lives for the Cause had been pouring in from all sides.

I got myself fitted for the uniform, my health checked up and disappeared from the office before anyone realized I looked a little too familiar and decided to investigate.

Out on the main street, blending wasn’t a tough task. Clad in my standard issue scarlet uniform and black cap that refused to sit on my head, I was just like the hundreds of other soldiers milling about the high street, chatting, laughing, smoking. I had to report to my camp by night, but I didn’t want to risk being spotted, so I walked through the crowds in as inconspicuous a manner as possible. Unlike the others who were in no hurry to get to the base camp, I couldn’t wait. I knew in my heart, that once I reached there, I would be where I rightfully belonged- just as I had intended it to be.

I reached camp, signed the roster and went straight to my bunk bed where I rolled up under my blanket and lay, shivering. There was a terror in my heart- not of the horrors that I was going to face tomorrow- but of being discovered. I knew I could not be at peace, could not be totally free till I reached the battlefield, where my face was just one of the grim, determined, young faces, fighting till the end. I knew that even at this stage, someone could pull me out of my bed, expose my secret and condemn me to a life of exclusion. For my parents would never accept my choice, would never be able to forgive me. So I lay, listening to the hustle bustle of the camp, jerking to alertness every time someone entered the room. Slowly, excruciatingly passed my last night in the town I would never call home again.

The next morning is a blur. We must’ve been kitted, briefed and handed our ammunition, for the moment my life returned to sharp focus, I was in my platoon formation, heading out to the war zone.

Whatever you have heard of war cannot possibly describe how devastating it is. There is something terribly frightening about watching the quickest moments of life take hours to pass by. Each bullet, each sound seemed magnified in intensity, in lethality. Maybe it was hours, days or weeks that I was shouting, running, trying to unsee the dead bodies- I don’t know, I had lost track of time. I was lost in a tangle of emotions, sights and sounds that would flash in front of my eyes, then dissipate and be replaced by darkness and silence.

I was running, deep under the cover of a forest- could you fight in a forest? I didn’t know- when I saw him. That soldier in blue, the enemy. I had just about opened my mouth when he looked up and our eyes met.

They say that in the face of intense fear, all the breath is knocked out of your body. To me, in that moment, it seemed as though I hadn’t been breathing at all, and it was only now that my lungs were filling with air- only now, that I was alive again.

The next second we had both flung our guns to the ground and were running towards each other. The black cap fell from my head, exposing my long, waist-length hair, but I didn’t care as I ran into the arms of my love, gasping for air, breathing for the first time.