Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The way the Dust Smells

This is a piece I wrote for my final identity assignment, it's about a soldier in war and his experience, followed by how him and his family cope with life after war. I loved writing this piece on identity. 

The way the Dust Smells

“Medic! Urgent!” I scream whilst on my knees, in the dried well-trodden soil of the battlefield.
  “There’s no time! Move on soldier!”  A life changing decision stands before me; be a soldier and follow my orders but live a life of hollow numbness, or try and save this soldier, who will probably die later, in a disease-infested makeshift hospital.
   Am I a hero or a coward?
  The screams of a soldier’s pain outweigh my commanding officer’s demands. Decision made. The soldier lies in a pool of his own blood, his left leg torn from his body. The wind blows dirt in to his open wound; releasing a scream which could shatter glass faster than any sniper bullet.
  “He’s losing blood too fast!” I shout. But I’m alone now, my squadron moved on with the orders of the commanding officer.
  This, right here, is the price of freedom. 
  The sounds of explosions draw closer and closer as the seconds pass me by.
  “Leave” he barely mutters, “one of us has to survive.” He half smiles, knowing time isn’t on our side and his eyes start to close.
  “Stay with me! Stay with me!” I scream hitting his face to keep him conscious. “Come on stay with me!” I take off my shirt, the heat burns my back, yet I feel nothing of the blisters. I tie my shirt around his leg tightly, attempting to stop the blood flow. I hear him moan, I can’t begin to image how he feels. I am just recalling my few weeks of training that led me here, to fight for King and Country.
  “Tell my wife” he starts, struggling for breath “that I love her.”
  “Stay with me!” I cry, but there is nothing more I can do. I promise to fulfil his final wish and grab hold of his hand. I watch as the life of a soldier becomes merely a family’s heart ache, a bouquet of flowers with a simple card. In front of my eyes his life becomes merely the words ‘we’ll always remember you’, soon he’s just a single name upon a stone. This man, now just a single prayer alive in the heavens. But, I couldn’t live having never tried. At least I can tell his wife that she was his final thought, and that I tried to keep him with me. I was just too late. I wait crouched beside him for a moment, with this all too familiar feeling. Knowing all they’ll see back home are the medals, as all I’ll see is his lifeless body.
  “God bless.” I hang my head for a second. In memory of a man; who partook in this endless journey to peace; who fought just to wake every day, to simply breathe one more breath, as I’ll now continue to do.
  These moments, though, are not those which you think about when you can’t sleep at night. Those are the little things people don’t know about, that don’t seem important: how unbearable the heat is; how the wind sounds; how important it is to see the sunrise every morning; the way your shoes feels against the dirt when you march; how terrifying it feels to hide from the enemy; the way the dust smells.
  “GO! GO! GO!” I am suddenly aware of the next squadron filling the silence around me; then it happens, the explosion that sweeps me from my feet. It seemed slow, like cine film that was set to slow motion. I choke on the surrounding smoke and lights flash in front of my eyes. I notice everything’s green and brown. Everything here, everything is just green and brown. I hear myself breathe as I concentrate on battling through. But another soon follows. The ringing of silence deafens me. Silence.
  I awake in my living room chair. I’m not sure what’s happened. But my living room seems unfamiliar; somehow, I’m sure the wallpaper has changed since I was last here.  I guess I have been away for a while, on my first tour of duty; I’ll have been away from my wife for six months or so. Half a year seems like a life time when you’re only 23. I think I’m on leave right now; well I’m home so I must be waiting to be called again.  My eyes scan down, making sure all my limbs are still intact; the blast didn’t take anything. I must be one of the lucky ones.
   I feel tired today, as if my strength has been drained. But I know I’m usually strong. I’m in the army. Maybe the last six months have been hard for me. I look around the living room; there is a picture of an old man on our fireplace, he is in uniform. Similar to the uniform I put on, that I lived in day after day during my first tour.  I remember how the coarse material felt against my skin, the cold metal of the buttons that had to be shined without fail, yet I don’t recognise the photograph. I won’t ask my wife who he was, I guess it was her grandfather; the question may be too hurtful.
  
 I continue to look round and notice a girl is sat on the sofa across the room; she must be about 18. I wonder if she is my wife’s friend. This lady has the same long dark hair and deep brown eyes that my wife has, upon observing this, I realise she bears quite a resemblance. Strange! I know my wife has no siblings. I don’t even remember her arriving; I don’t remember her at all. Who are you?My mind asks, but my mouth protests. She catches my gaze and smiles at me, holding a scared expression in her eyes. I wonder what she is so scared of.
  “Would you like a cup of tea, Grandad?” she asked rising from her seat. I nod in agreement, to seem polite. Grandad? I wonder what she means; maybe it’s a joke between us?
  A few moments pass. I sit and listen to the rhythmic ticking that fills the empty room.  Each ring ricochets between the walls, its presence suffusing the desolate space. My heart begins to race and my breath becomes sharper, falling into time with the ticking that fills the room. It’s so quiet; yet deafening.
  “It’s time to take your medicine” a voice says, filling the silence. An old woman walks towards my chair, I don’t recognise her, but I feel like I know her voice from somewhere.
  “I don’t know who you are!” I hear my voice croak. I don’t want to take medicine from a stranger. She smiles a reassuring smile, but I’m not reassured. She lifts my hand in to hers and squeezes it gently, my hand looks less smooth than I remember, old; almost. I look down at the map of lines that would normally etch a life story of an elder member of society, not a young soldier on his first tour of duty.
  “You need to take your medicine” she repeats. She talks as if she knows me.Medic! Urgent! There’s no time, the words echo around my brain.
  “Where’s my wife? I want my wife!” I shout at her.
  “I know dear”
  “When do I go back on duty?”
  “You don’t darling” She places tablets on the table beside my chair.
  “But why? Who even are you?”
  “Your wife” she lies. My wife is 60 years younger than her. My voice starts to tremble, I worry these strangers have taken her or hurt her, whilst they smile at me, as if everything is okay.
   “What did you do with my wife?” I miss her. Where is she?  She ignored my question, this strange familiar woman, I don’t recognise her. Where is my wife? She is all I have. “Don’t worry Budgie.” I pause for a moment, upon recognising my wife’s nickname for me. Even she looks worried after saying it, she knows I’m fearful. She knows I am on to her. “Let’s see what’s on today. This should calm you and help you take your medicine. It will help you feel better” she smiles. Now I understand; they are drugging me! And they smile as they do so. No wonder I feel confused.  I won’t let it happen. I watch her, as she moves slowly, with a wearied expression as if she’s lived the same routine for many years. She bends over gingerly, as if her back will snap if she moves any quicker.  She switches on one of those boxes where the pictures move, the ones not many people can afford. What are they called? Wait. It’s in colour? I must be seeing things, they don’t come in colour. What are they called?
  The old woman walks towards me. She looks at me with her deep dark eyes, holding a look of sympathetic love in her gaze. She speaks more in her eyes that she can out loud. I know her. I think. She hands me a picture from the fireplace. It’s of an old man, he is in uniform. He has medals pinned to his shirt; he must have been in service too. I expect her to tell me who he is or explain why she gave this to me, but she doesn’t. I don’t recognise him.
“Did I ever tell her?” I ask.
“Tell who what, dear?” the old woman replies.
“Did I tell her that he loved her?” The woman looks down, and a sudden distressed look comes over her. She avoids eye contact with me, and remains silent.
   A young girl walks in; she has long dark hair and deep brown eyes, and is carrying a tray of tea and biscuits.
  “Here is your tea” she smiles at me.
  “I don’t want tea!” Why would she think I wanted tea? Who even is she?
  “Isn’t it nice that Emma has come to visit?” the old woman smiles. I assume she means the young girl with the tea. I wouldn’t call it nice having strangers in my house, I miss my wife. 
  I let a few moments pass by. Am I dreaming? Maybe that’s why the living room seems so unfamiliar to me.
  “Did someone change the wallpaper in here?” I ask. No response. I recall there being more flowers before, more bright colours. It almost seems dull now.
  The young girl walks towards me with a tray.
  “I’ll leave the tea on your table” 
  “I don’t want tea!” I raise my voice.
  “Just leave him Emma, he’s having a bad day” the old woman whispers sharply.
  “I don’t know who you are!” I scream flipping the tray off the table and watching the pottery smash on the floor. A sound; like bullets in the wind before breaking through a pane of glass. Tears flood my eyes. Who are these people! They are going to hurt me.
  “Let me clean this up” the young girl says, looking frightened.
  “I can do it myself” I shout with as much anger as I can find deep in me, she backs away. I see that I have them scared. I won’t let them hurt me, and l willfind my wife.
 I can’t believe these prison guards are holding me, drugging me, plotting against me. They think I am weak, they think I will just do as I am told, the same thought my commanding officer had. No, I am a trained soldier and I won’t be treated like this.  I attempt to stand up from my chair, my hands are shaking. Pain shoots up my legs and I scream out in anger. What have they done to me?They both look at me, sympathetically. Why can’t I move? Why can’t I stand straight? Where was I going again?
All I can remember; is the way the dust smelt.