The headlines read : “world peace at stake again”.
We had no idea what it meant, except for the fact that we had to wear the uniform a little bit longer. Duty had been replaced by necessity, and war had become some sort of strange routine. I for one lost count of all the people that had fallen. There was blood on my hand, almost too much to contemplate. But they never said anything but congratulations, you did what was required, what we expected of you. You’re a good fellow, captain citizen, general respectful, mister everything’s-in-order. We all laughed about it for a long time, but deep down we knew we had been screwed. Life screws you once, and then they get to you. Endless screwing, nights spent screaming in pain and agony. Excuse the drama, but sometimes it feels necessary.
We patrolled in town that day while they decided what to do. Rumors had it they were going to drop off bombs on our head, anihilate any possiblity of us getting back out there. These were just rumors, nothing of the sort happened until twenty three days later. At noon, Sanchez said he was hungry and called for a break. Patrolling in the street reminded me of my time in the militia – nothing to do, nothing to see. But at least you took a break from hurting anyone. That felt like a relief. I had grown tired of putting people down – not that it ever amused me before. But you get desensitized somehow. When something remains too vague, abstract, you don’t get it. You cannot touch it, you cannot grasp it. That’s where the limits of your mind are.
In the back of a narrow alley, a sign still held on. Open.
We came in and immediately got hit. Smells and scents from past lives came around us and gutted me like a pig – I felt I was going to throw up. I felt like I was time travelling, and I didn’t like it very much. Inside, three or four people, aged between fifty and seventy five, the ones who had escaped our fate, seemed to be waiting to drown in filthy glasses. We said nothing, walked towards a table and pulled the chairs to sit down. No one moved inside so we waited for a while until an old woman came out of a room I had failed to see. She briskly made her way to our table, stopped and looked at us in silence. We said nothing.
Natura morta – I seemed to recall an old voice and an old flame for a moment.
Sanchez finally decided to break the ice and say something. We felt grateful that people like him still existed in some parts of the world.
“Four bourbons and something to eat, darling.”
There was no reaction. Sanchez repeated his sentence, adding a please at the end to make sure she got the message. There was no reaction. I wondered if of all the people left for me to meet, there were one or two that I could still bond with. The world depressed me like a kid who lost the apple of his eye on Christmas Eve.
“Aren’t you boys supposed to patrol?” she eventually said.
We were all taken aback, confused.
“Yes ma’am,” I said.
“Then why the hell are you here?”
“We have to eat sometimes too, you know,” Stuart said.
There was no reaction.
Checkmate. The situation felt like an endless mental maze.
We weren’t on a clock or anything. The lieutenant had put us on a round the clock patrolling duty, but there was a sense of urgency in the air that I couldn’t quite explain. We had to get out of there quick, and clean. But like many things we should have done, we didn’t. Sanchez said something vague and I nodded, and she finally turned around and made her way to fix us our drinks and food. We kept our heads bowed and didn’t talk to one another until she returned. We downed our drinks in a singular and synchronized motion, took a bite to eat, and left. As we made our way out, I overheard two men talking.
“he’s out there right now you know? There’s nothing left in that shithole, and they still put him there. I don’t get it.”
“That’s the way it’s gotta be Sam. They just take decisions and they don’t know the fuck they’re doing. Don’t you worry, your boy’s one of the smart ones.”
“Yeah well maybe. ‘t least I’m glad Nolt’s gone. He was getting batshit crazy!”
They laughed loudly. For a split second, I thought I had seen the woman smile.
“Aye, I guess some woman eventually made him lose it. Long time coming if you ask me.”
They laughed again, and I closed the door.
It was cold and dark and stormy.
What was left of the world made me think I had lost it all. I wondered if someone somewhere still found something to dream about, to live for. All I knew was that we fucked it up so bad, that it felt like falling down an endless abyss. Some ominous rumbling came from the sky; karma, I thought. But we looked up and a plane coming from some foreign land zoomed in and we knew it was already too late.