Sometimes, the faces of heroes are better left to the imagination.
|The hero walked alone through the pre-dawn hours, breathing in the cool air in gulps, like a fish that had been out of water for too long. Tonight, as he walked slowly along the quiet sidewalk, the light rain felt good on his face. A face no man should ever have to bare in the light of day.
Once, he had been a handsome young man, but war had changed all that. The IED that had killed most of his patrol hadn't been as kind to him. He lived, and that, for him, was the worst thing about it. The disfigurement had been radical. The extensive plastic surgery hadn't changed anything. The nurses always tried their best to be kind and spoke words of encouragement. But the way they avoided looking directly at him made their discomfort painfully obvious.
He had served his country proudly. He had accepted his medals for his valor graciously, dreading the public exposure. The uncomfortable looks on the faces of the men that had pinned them to his chest were something he would never forget. The press took notes and mentioned his heroism in their stories, but they took no pictures. For that, at least he was grateful.
Now, despite their proclamations, his countrymen shunned him when he walked among them.
The day the group of school children started screaming when they saw his face while walking through the park was the final straw. He stopped going out in the sunlight altogether.
He only dared to share his presence under the veil of the night. He lived for the darkness. He never went out during the day. The sun was like a cruel spotlight that made him visible to everyone around him. He could be seen from miles away by people who weren't even looking for him. He hated the sun's warmth. It only made the cold revulsion in peoples glances more apparent.
At night he controlled who saw him and when. He lurked in the shadows, watching people who were never aware he was there. Standing in the dark of an alley, or in the bushes of the dimly lit parks, he would make his way through the city. Staying as close to the people as possible while keeping his presence hidden
He felt better at night, even if he didn't look any better. From the right angle, people seemed to miss the horror hidden beneath his hooded slouch. He could almost feel like he was a part of the crowds on the sidewalks. He used the darkness to hide his face.
He watched the young lovers and wished he could have the love they shared. He knew inside, no woman would ever love him again. The scars that covered his body ran deep into his heart. Even the hookers he hired wouldn't let him touch them or give him a smile. How could they pretend to like him, when he hated himself?
Even his family seemed to recoil in horror when he came home from the war. Their love felt more like pity. They welcomed him home, but they never embraced him. His niece cried uncontrollably when they met for the first time. Gradually, he left them behind as well.
He stood on the deserted beach alone in the darkest hours before dawn. He breathed the cool air deep and gazed up at the face of the night's moon. The only face he could look at that didn't turn away.
As the light grew brighter in the east, the decorated war hero made his way home to wait again, alone, for the cover of the night.