As if the sights weren’t enough, the sounds had already begun to roar in his ears.
The thundering roar of explosions, not just in front of him, but surrounding him in every direction. The patter of gunfire, bullets whizzing dangerously near his ears, causing him to reflexively, perpetually duck down as he ran forward, weapon snug to his shoulder. His breath was heavy and ragged, blood pounding through his ears, though not quite loud enough to drown out the screams, sweat trickling down his back and neck, forehead and cheeks, saturating his uniform, wetting the dust and dirt that clung to every surface it touched.
He opened his eyes, not realizing he’d closed them. Nothing had changed: just a field of rusted-out tanks, piled together in one massive graveyard of their own, receiving more of a proper burial than many of the men who fought on the same sands.
His buddy, a few paces behind him, shouted over the crescendo of battle, “Clear!” He darted forward to the shelter of the next building, anticipating a bullet to tear through his uniform, into his flesh, but he somehow survived. Clearing the corners of the building, he hunkered down behind half a wall and prepared to cover his buddy. He turned to call his name, but the call fell silent on his lips. The second he made eye contact with his buddy, a bullet snapped his friend’s head backward, throwing his whole body to the ground. “No!” he screamed.
“No,” he whispered, staring up into the brilliant clear blue sky, so bright that it made him squint against the midmorning sun. Somewhere in this place, this graveyard, there had once been a village. And in this village, he had lost a friend.
He swallowed hard, slamming shut the gates of emotion that threatened to overwhelm him. Not today, he told himself. He had no way to get to his buddy: he was pinned down, on the opposite side of the street. It hit him, just then. The realization that he was utterly alone. He had no idea where in this mess of a village his platoon had ended up. Another bomb exploded, this one much closer than the last. He felt the heat from it, the air waver from its blast. He had to move. He had to move right now.
He took a step forward, reaaching out to the red-orange rusted side of the tank. He placed his hand against it, then turned his back against it, standing close to its frame. A gentle breath tumbled from his lips. He didn’t know how long he’d been holding it. War had ruined him. Even in peace, in the middle of the morning, he felt no safety, especially amidst the ruins of war.
A familiar voice- a familiar language- wound its way through gunshots and collapsing buildings to find its way to his ears. It couldn’t be more than four or five structures over. If he could reach them, he could get out. He ducked down again behind the wall as the bricks behind him shattered into pieces. How could he get through? At that moment, he saw a soldier, across the way, several buildings down, cutting up towards him. The soldier shouted to him, signaling his intention. They were coming for him.
He turned and walked away. Away from the memories, away from the destruction, away from the graveyard of metal death. A single tear, for all the memories, slid down his cheek, and he let it fall. He held his head up high, stood tall, walked forward. His friend was gone, but had not been forgotten. He, on the other hand, had survived the war, by no merit of his own. He had been given life, and he felt the obligation to make good use of it.
Source: This blog series is inspired by the book “Earth from Above: 365 Days” by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Click here to read more about my Creation365 series.
The top picture is from “Kuwait. Iraqi tank graveyard in the desert near Jahra.”
Arthus-Bertrand, Yann, Isabelle Delannoy, and Christian Balmes. 2005. The Earth from above: 365 days. New York: Harry N. Abrams.