5.12.10

The Soldier.

He sits on the floor, at the feet of his father, looking up at the feared, beloved face. The fire flickers gently, bathing both faces - one lined by time and conviction, and the other, full of naked longing - in a dance between flame and shadow.

His father speaks, and his voice is deep and slow and measured. The things he speaks of are familiar, he has spoken of them before and he will speak of them again, but the boy listens, entranced, as if hearing them for the first and last time. 

It is an education that grounds itself into his mind at school, in the park, but most of all, here, at home, with his head only a few inches from his father's all knowing knee. The words wash over him, and a few float lazily in through his ear, rooting themselves firmly in the darkness he sees when he closes his eyes.

And so, when the boy grows up to be a bigger boy, he discards his black sweater and blue jeans and puts on a uniform of khaki instead. He cuts his hair short, watching with no regret as soft, dark curls fall to his feet. He puts his arm stiffly around his crying mother and shakes his father's hand, seeing only the pride in his eyes. Not the fear, not the doubt.

He leaves his home, along with boys who look just like him and think just like him, to go to a different country that is both hotter and colder than the one he left.

Some of the other soldiers cry at night - he can hear them, as he sits on his hard cot, alone, watching the smoke from his dying cigarette curl its way lazily to the ash cloud that hovers above him. His mouth curls in contempt: he never cries. How can he? He is anchored, he is secure. He knows, he has always known. His father - his fathers - have taught him well.

It really isn't difficult to shoot the enemy. He handles a gun with grace and his fellow soldiers, torn and shattered, envy him his calmness and strength. They don't notice that he never looks into the eyes of the people he kills.

Certainty is a safe umbrella, especially when it comes under words like honour and patriotism and courage, but human eyes...human eyes are something else.