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Fiction Drama Contemporary

At the end of the war, we sat on the floor and breathed dust. Not far from us stood a burnt tank with two APCs behind it, also burnt. There was the sound of warplanes still in the air, but we knew no bombs were going to fall anymore, at least not in this round.

 

We felt lucky. The walls near us were punctured with bullets, mostly broken and falling apart. There was no way to see the distant walls because the air was yellow and murky but we could imagine what our city looked like by now. At four-thirty in the morning of Valentine's day, the ceasefire went into effect following the final battle.

 

Since we didn't sleep the night before, and the one before that, we started talking nonsense. Somebody said you must be crazy to fight so early in the morning. I think it was Siso. But Simone, our sergeant, said that every hour is a good hour to fight and that the enemy is just as tired. 

 

However, we never thought of giving up. The last night of the war was quiet. In the morning, they teased us again, but we backpedaled. There were three rounds of accurate artillery, probably with a personal dedication on each bombshell, as well as a burning inferno of rifles and machine guns.

 

Our improvised home base was a confectionary store in an alley, just a hundred yards or so from the city square. We found it to be an excellent hiding spot since it was set between tall buildings. It was looted when we got there, and there was not a single lollipop on the shelves.

 

Somewhere at the back of the store, Olson found a secret door, but the back part of the store was also looted. We were hungry by this point.

 

I will always remember how Olson took a moment to show me his poem notebook. He read one of the poems he wrote. It was titled: White flowers from me to you.

 

I also remember how Olson put his poem notebook back into his bag after Simone came to sit next to us. Simone said that each one of us can change the future and that we should be ready to fight hard. 

 

Several hours later, we tried to leave the store and reach a nearby enemy post. As we walked through the alley, a civilian car with gunmen inside opened fire on us like maniacs. Amish, Sharik, Olson, and Levy were all killed. Except for Levy, whose body was blown up by the explosives he carried, we brought back all the bodies to the store. 

 

I still have that image of Sharik's right shoelace tied around his wrist, in the front of the store. Amish lay nearby, and Olson and Levy were with us at the back of the store, dead. We took Olson and Levy to the back of the store, because they had still been alive for at least ten or twenty minutes after the shots and we tried to save them with the few medical supplies we kept there. 

 

Simone said we arrived cold and that they were waiting for us. There were twenty-four men in our platoon, and we remained so, minus four. We were eight in the candy store, eight in the bookstore cellar and another eight somewhere in between. The rest seemed to be alright, according to the two-way radio. They probably felt fortunate as well. 

 

A truck was on its way to pick us up and bring us together with the other soldiers. It would arrive soon, they assured us. So we relaxed. We were no longer in danger.

 

While we waited for the truck, Simone said he mostly thought of Levy because Levy was like a brother to him. Both became sergeants, and Simone credited Levy with inspiring him. Especially his commitment to fitness. 

 

My thoughts, on the other hand. turned to Olson. He could have been a great writer. I heard him talking constantly about his new girlfriend. They got him up from bed and out into battle when the touch of her hair was still in his fingers. Damn fate. 

 

"Levy died for this country," Simone whispered behind me. "So we can continue to live here."

 

I saw Mehmet nodding. The youngest of us, he wanted so badly to become a sergeant like Simone or Levy. 

 

"He died for his homeland," Siso said. 

 

Even though I had never considered him (or myself) a great patriot, after the fighting, after the long nights and crazy mornings of the incessant shots and the smell of sand and stone and burned flash, the words ‘he died for the homeland’ took on a different, more logical meaning.

 

Having felt the urge to mention Levy, I said: "He died so that we wouldn't have any more wars." 

 

Simone stared at me with wide eyes. Peace or prosperity were not his thing, but since I agreed with him, he chose to remain silent. 

 

"What about Amish and Sharik?" Mehmet asked.

 

Simone looked at Mehmet and the young soldier interpreted this as an invitation to come up with his own idea.

 

Without hesitation, Mehmet said, "Amish and Sharik sacrificed their lives for our honor. They gave their life for the honor of the class, of the platoon, and of the entire army."

 

A semi-truck stopped outside and three soldiers got out. One man sat on the metal steps of the large vehicle and two others stood nearby, all waiting for the crane that should have already been there to lift the tank and the APCs from behind. We were on their side, but dared not leave the store. All we could do was watch. 

 

"What is taking so long with our truck?" Siso asked. 

 

"They will be here soon," Simone said.

 

“Sure,” Mehmet replied with a cough from behind.

 

Simone suggested everyone drink some water as he tilted a canteen aimlessly over his mouth. “I'm out of water,” he said.

 

"Mine is empty too," I said looking at Simone and then added: "Take Olson's, it's in the empty hand-grenade box. I put it there while he was dying. I helped him drink.”

 

Simone looked at me and contemplated. Clearly, he was thirsty. Our throats were all filled with sand. He finished Olson's canteen and right after, I heard him yell: “What does he have here?” 

 

I got up and went closer. Simone pointed inside a bag next to Olson's body. “His books’” I said. “He wanted to be a writer one day. Maybe a poet. Possibly both.”

 

“Really?” said Simone. His hand reached into Olson's bag and pulled out a box of chocolates in the shape of a heart. “What kind of books did he want to write, romance?”

 

"I think that was a gift," I replied, pointing at the pink box of chocolates. "From his new girlfriend." 

 

Siso and Mehmet approached us quickly next to Olson. Siso smelled like burnt flash, but he was fine. He just had a big wound along his arm. 

 

“He had a new girlfriend?” Siso asked, and Mehmet said right after, that such good-looking people always have new girlfriends. I remember how he added: “What a pity.”

 

Simone opened the heart shaped box and showed it to us as though it were a pearl in a case. It was as though it were for his new love. There were 12 chocolates inside the box and two missing. Then he counted them out loud, as if he desired to prove something.

 

"So he's already eaten two," Mehmet said and smiled at Simone for no particular reason. 

 

“Well, he won’t anymore.” Simone shrugged.

 

Siso kept quiet, but then said that if he weren't hungry, he might have left the hearts inside.

 

“I think we should just leave it and bring it back to Ola,” I said. 

 

It struck them that I knew Olson’s sweetheart’s name. Simone gave me a look. He didn't like the fact that I knew something about one of his soldiers that he didn't. “Ola,” He repeated. ”And what else did he tell you? They'll ask me about him when we leave. When he died, what his last words were.”

 

Then I told them how Olson put his big arm around my shoulder after we entered the empty candy store and told me that war makes everyone a bit worse and will make us too. “He told me, just accept it.” 

 

Mehmet repeated my words. Olson’s words: “Just accept it.” He was still wearing that stupid smile on his face. 

 

“Ola gave it to him as a gift”, Simone said, pointing at Olson’ body. “Normally, we do not bring gifts back. That’s not what they’re for, right?”

 

Mehmet nodded while Siso looked at me in an odd manner without saying anything. He didn't like me at first, and I felt he became more intolerant every hour that passed. "You don't have to eat his chocolate hearts if you don't want to," He said and stood close to Simone. “But we are going to eat them all.”

 

All of us were so hungry we could eat the dust or the empty wood shelves. It was Mehmet who pulled the first three hearts from the box and gave them to me. “He’s a smart guy. He can make his own decisions,” He said.

 

The first to eat one of Olson's chocolate hearts was Simone. His eyes lit up immediately. I had not seen him smile like this since we walked into the store. or much before. Mehmet let Siso take his turn, and I hoped he also had some second thoughts. However, he ate his just after Siso shoved them all in.

 

I saw Siso's eyes again. The sugar didn't make him more kind as I expected, and I felt even more that he wanted to kill me or get rid of me. Without waiting any longer, I put the first heart into my mouth and let it melt. 

 

There was a taste of Olson in it. There was also a taste of Ola. And I was in between. There was also a slight dusty salty taste that the ingredients might have contributed to, but not necessarily. Such a strange experience, so hard to describe but so easy to feel. 

 

I held the other two chocolate hearts in my hand and wished no one would notice them. I sweated and I was afraid the other two hearts would melt this way. It would have been easier for me if I had put them aside on the shelf that sat so close to me, but Siso kept looking at me and said again, in an even uglier voice, that if I didn't eat those hearts, He would.

 

I put the second one in my mouth and it turned magic again. A sweetness that goes beyond the ten or twelve ingredients listed on the heart-shaped package. I still had one chocolate heart left, and no matter what Siso did to me, I had to keep it.

 

Then he aimed his rifle at me. Simone told him to take it off, but he kept aiming towards me. He told me that he saw me shove the last one in my jacket pocket and he was ready to shoot me if I didn't take it out.

 

I thought about how much I needed Olson at that moment. The 6'2" guy could make anyone like Siso quiet. However, he was on his stomach, with one arm broken and an immense blood stain on his back. I knew that if Siso made me eat that last heart, I would feel bad, but there was no way for me to get away with it. After Siso loaded his rifle, I just put it in my mouth and that was it. 

 

As the truck arrived and everyone shook off their clothes and picked up their bags with everything inside, Simone put a hand on me in a similar way to Olson's, but also in a much different way, and we walked to the truck. There were no words exchanged.

 

The thought came to me. It felt like a literary thought. Maybe even poetic. Levy died for the country, and perhaps for the sake of no more wars. Amish might have perished for the honor of the soldiers in the platoon. So what did Olson die for? Why did he snatch that bullet? Was it for art's sake?

 

I could taste burnt sand on the tip of my tongue, inside my mouth, and around my lips. The taste was bitter. Having thought of Olson for so long, I was afraid that it would not go away. Maybe I even wanted it to stay that way. As I told Simone, the thing I liked most about Olson was that, while he had everything a true man needs, he didn't think to show off what he had.

 

On the way out, it became easier for Simone to be human. After he asked me what the next war would be like without Olson, I told him not to think that way. That we should pray that this was our last war. He remained silent. His thoughts were otherwise. It was the last time we saw each other. 

 

After the war ended, I was walking in our city square with the notebook I had taken from the hand-grenade box. They were Olson's poems. Siso appeared out of nowhere and shot some words at me, so I shot back and we began to fight. There was this big guy that separated us just in time, and for a moment I thought it might be Olson or one of his family members. As he said, war brings out the worst in us, and I really felt Olson’s words that particular day, and some days before. War took all the fun from me. Life seemed so pointless.

 

I entered the same bookstore where some of our platoon members hid in its cellar during the battle. There wasn't much need for renovations at that book store except perhaps for changing the front window like many other shops and apartments around the city center. 

 

When I sat down for a coffee and a chocolate cake, stuff that can make you forget things, I noticed someone who looked familiar. I had never seen her before, but still she looked familiar. I got up from my table and walked over to hers. “I'm sorry, have we ever met,” I said, and she replied that probably not. I told her my name, and she replied with hers, Ola. 

 

We sat there for over an hour before we ventured out onto the street. People forgot so quickly about all that happened, and I was afraid that something similar would occur to me. Having fought with Olson next to me, I knew I would have to tell her about it, but I wasn't sure when and where to tell her. The time and location had to be special. 

 

We walked together all the way to the beach and when we got there, she asked me what I thought about the war and the way it ended. There was a taste of sand in my mouth once again. It was bitter, Yes. I could tell her that the war brings out the worst in us, but instead I read her a poem by Olson. The same one he read to me. 

 

With the sunset behind her, it had a beautiful feel, and she had the cutest face when she asked, “Did you write that?”

 

My head nodded. Mehmet probably taught me that when the war was still raging. 

February 14, 2022 17:47

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