The steady thump of hail battering on the windows resounded through the small stone house. Wind howled outside and everything else was quiet except a fire crackling in the corner of the room. An old man’s silhouette was visible against its meager glow. He was cradling something in his arms; a photo worn old and brown with age. As the man caressed it with his fingers, a single teardrop rolled down on his cheek and landed on the yellowing page.
General Takeshi opened his eyes to find himself sprawled on the ground. As memory returned to his throbbing mind, he remembered seeing the troops construct their camps as he issued commands from above a high mound; they were to settle there for the night before moving onward to Hiroshima. And just at that moment, the very air had exploded.
Now, as he struggled to sit up, Takeshi tried to discern his surroundings through a thick cloud of dust. He must have been unconscious for long, but it was finally clearing up.
“What in the world….?” He gasped, his eyes widening at the scene of complete devastation. Broken glass and pieces of debris were scattered about him, dotted with pools of scarlet blood and pieces of human corpses. The entire camp had been obliterated. Blood dripped from his forehead as he shakily stood up, his feet breaking the eerily calm silence that surrounded this ruin. He slowly dragged himself across the plain, leaving scarlet prints in his wake. Takeshi was probably fatally injured at the moment, but he ceaselessly struggled on, his eyes impatiently searching for someone. Walking amongst corpses was not something unusual for a soldier; but Takeshi could not help but feel utterly isolated and alone.
Normally, a second round of fire would have followed the ambush and enemy soldiers would have come rushing in, then he would have hidden himself and reported the proceedings to his superior until backup troops arrived, or he would have been told to escape. And in this, there would always have been someone by his side…
The general limped towards the edge of the plain where someone lay buried under the debris of an overturned jeep. Gasping his friend’s name, Takeshi landed on his knees beside the feeble body. The face he knew so well was now encrusted with blood and dust. His dark eyes were wide open, but were now dim and lifeless. Takeshi’s heart clenched with despair and he gritted his teeth, clenched his fists and slammed them on the ground.
Three days later, Nagasaki faced a similar attack and Japan surrendered, marking an end to the second greatest war in world history. This humiliation, along with the intense despair that overcame him, Takeshi retired to a small stone cottage in a rural village; choosing to labor as a local woodcutter.
Twenty years had passed. Often, on stormy nights like these, where loneliness enveloped his dreams and he was unable to sleep, Takeshi would come and sit beside the fireplace and gaze at the only picture he had salvaged of his friend. It was of him and Lee, fresh graduates and ready to pursue their dreams. Lee would have made a great engineer, he thought. If only war had not commenced and they had not been required to be recruited.
The old man choked and turned the photograph over. Scribbled in black ink was a small motto they had had.
A smile cracked on his withered lips.
Written by: Syeda Arham Zahra