Contemporary Fiction Drama


Had it really been only fifty minutes since she got here ? It seemed to be so much longer . She glanced up at the wall clock again . Had it stopped ? She would gladly have come at dawn - in any case she had been unable to sleep a wink - but for security reasons. She would not have been allowed to enter. She was unable to stand in one place. She began pacing restlessly up and down the crowded platform . She felt about as calm as a cat on a hot tin roof. She did not even attempt to make a conversation with the other people there although everyone was chatting animatedly.  

The whole place was decorated  - it wore a festive look . Spic and span , the floor shone like glass. Welcome banners and garlands of flowers had transformed the place .Young girls , barely out of their teens - probably sweet hearts and young wives ; older people - probably brothers , sisters, fathers , mothers like herself ; even young children with their  teddies clutched to them - jostled for space ,  brushing against each other . There were tall military men resplendent in their starched uniforms , the Guard of Honour , the Welcoming Committee , and even a band . The whole place looked like an army cantonment . After all they were welcoming the war heroes home ! The Military Police tried to manage the crowd but it was an uphill task . There was so much excitement , anticipation and joy in the air. It was actually palpable. She herself was on pins and needles. 

She had not seen Jeremy for over a year . In fact from the time he had left ' to fight a righteous war '. So tall , so handsome in his splendid new uniform  - how proud she was of him ! The one bright spot in her otherwise dull, uneventful life !

The desire for fame and respect had been like a drug in her bloodstream - destroying every rational thought . A single mother with no great qualifications or job, her neighbours thought her about as relevant as a fur coat in the Sahara desert. It was through her son that her obsession for fame could be realized . She would be treated with respect and admiration. When he had enlisted she had seen the change in the neighbours ' attitude. The craving for respect and fame permeated every facet of her being , spreading like a deadly poison in her veins ...

He , always caring, protective and loving had worried about leaving her alone . She had hugged him - as usual dwarfed by his size .

" Now Jem , don't you worry about anything ," she had said . "l'll look after Rover and take him for walks . l'll take care of myself . I'll care of the house. You just follow orders and bring home a lot of medals. "

She had got a new display shelf made right on the mantelpiece of the living room . Just right for his medals. She pictured him putting them on display ( she was not tall enough to reach that high) and the resulting euphoria was once again like a drug- wonderful, uplifting, heady ... She pictured the faces of the neighbours - especially the much decorated and much respected Colonel Cruthers ...the feeling beat any drug in existence. 

Jem had written every week . How she had bragged to the neighbours !Suddenly they had started listening to her. They had actually begun giving her the attention and respect she craved . What would happen when Jeremy would be a decorated officer with his name in the papers ? What would happen when they saw Jem tall and handsome beside her , standing and smiling with his medals ? She shivered with anticipation . She was already on a ' high'. 

Suddenly the letters had stopped coming . Without him or his letters her life was about as exciting as a pandemic lockdown . Silence for six months . Must be some emergency , or maybe one emergency after another , she had consoled herself . After all he was on the war front . Who could tell what the brave young men were facing ? That's what she also said to the solicitous inquires of the neighbours .

Then came the telegram from the Army Headquarters - her son would be on this train bringing the war heroes home , today . She had been overwhelmed with relief and happiness. She had shown the telegram to all her neighbours and slept with it under her pillow - getting up many times in the night to read and re-read it.

She had been in a fever of anticipation - unable to eat or sleep - since then . Maria , her best friend , had wanted to come to the railway station with her - she had known Jem since he was a toddler- but she had not wanted to share the return of her hero . She had even bought herself a new dress. Maria had said, " Wow ! You look terrific ! Smart enough to be a war hero 's mom !"

 Of course she couldn't have brought Rover - dogs were not allowed . She knew the neighbours were busy arranging a grand welcome party. The entire building was being decorated . After all it was a matter of pride for the whole community - a war hero from their own neighborhood ! Even that snooty Norma who had usually looked through her behaved as if they had been childhood friends. 

Finally she heard the whistle - the crowd cheered , the band began playing . Then suddenly everything exploded in a kaleidoscope of sound , colour and chaos ! The train , festooned with garlands , had arrived ! 

What a tremendous homecoming - shouts of delight , laughter , tears , hugs , kisses ...

She desperately looked around for Jem . He would surely be among the tallest . She ran her eyes over the rapidly thinning crowd . Everyone in a hurry to get home with their hero . Where was Jem ? She longed to hear his booming voice , longed to see her tall handsome son , longed to be enveloped in his bear hug ...

Now only some young men on crutches and wheelchairs were left . Their loved ones , with the Military Police in attendance , were helping them as they slowly and carefully traversed the rapidly emptying platform . Her handsome Jem would have towered over the crowd. Had Jem not boarded this train ? She wondered whom to ask. Should she ask the officers on the Welcoming Committee , the ones with the lists ? Or the officers at the counter ' May l help you ?' Or the Military Police ? She was in a quandary . She was still clutching the telegram like a talisman in her hand . She wished she had brought Maria with her . She was turning away in disappointment , her eyes clouding , when someone touched her arm . She turned . It was a man in a wheelchair - half his face was swathed in bandages , his legs were covered with a blanket .

A hoarse , rasping voice , a voice she did not recognize - said , " It's me , Mom . I have brought home the medals. "

July 25, 2023 04:15

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