Ongoing story about the struggles of a generation born into war.
In the outskirts of the town, there was a lime-orange plant, a small one, just growing still and in the stages of adolescence.
If you believe I’m going anywhere with this story, then you’re wrong.
At the base of the tree, amongst the swinging dance grasses of the wild, a boy buried a fish, a dead one that he has placed in the freezer for years and years, tucked at the corner between the leftover bags of frozen fries and ice cube trays, all shriveled up from the years left untouched.
The fish was once his pet, maker of memories.
The plant of lime-orange didn’t say a thing.
At the end of the burial, the boy laid besides the little mound that used to be his prize, his best friend, whatever it was that made him smile. And right besides it, without staring eyes and accusing stares, he spoke from his heart of his sins, a confession, something to make his heart go at ease.
Who believed in God anyway.
At the end of the night, the boy fell asleep, the memories of the day lingering in his mind, the stars carrying all the sorrows away.
That boy woke up in a blaze, as the other side attacked, both participants in the war, both participants in the hate.
Something happened that day too, but we’ll just leave that for later.
The announcement in the news shocked them all, the children, the parents, the merchants on the street. Emergency sirens blared on and people scattered as gossips hushed across the roads, ear to ear, words traveling across the air.
“Did you hear about the United changing their sides?”
“Did you hear about the United announcing their attack on us?”
The waitress at the restaurant stared at me as the announcement came on TV.
People started to get up to leave towards their homes.
The fighter jets were flying low enough to leave an impression with their sonic booms, the engine noises resounding in the echoes of the streets, alleys, and the emptiness inside their hearts.
“Aren’t you afraid?” The question peeked from the waitress, besides me, collecting plates and scraps of leftovers that used to be treasured. Or at least, they were, in my insane state of mind.
“The war, the announcement.”
A shrug summarized everything in my mind.
The owner came out and shouted something in Japanese, so quick that I could barely decipher it.
The waitress just nodded and turned around. “We’re closing now due to the emergency,” She said in a high pitched voice.
Simple nod from my part.
She kept staring at my dog tag, the only thing that signaled my involvement in this war, the only thing that separated me from her normal customers.
Was I really that different?
Was I really that different from being a human?
She stared at me over and over again, an anxious look in her eyes.
I wondered if she was afraid of me.
I wondered if I was afraid of myself.
When I was a child, there was this foreign student named Chita, transferred over from the United. Her father was a minister, here to spread the words of their God over the silly superstitions that our temples and monks held. She said she didn't believe in any of that, she said that she didn't care.
The wooden cross she keeps as a necklace seems like a contradiction to her words.
She was weird, not as much as being different from us, but more as a mystical person with questions and secrets hidden inside, dark, away from us all. She would usually stare off into the distance, as if seeing beyond the strings of time and space, melting a chocolate kiss inside her mouth, slowly mixing it with her tongue.
She never said much herself.
Until that time, when her gun barrel was resting between my eyes, on my forehead, that bridge on top of my nose.
She was saying words without a breath.
She was whispering things that I couldn't figure out.
She was talking about information and gathering and doing it all for the country she loved, she respected, she would die for. A true patriot, I guess that would be the right word. She was sniffing out words related to war and armies and the greed that filled out mankind.
She was crying as the gun shaked in her hand, the barrel rubbing on my head, my face, whatever the target was gonna be next.
She talked about not wanting to do this.
She talked about not wanting to kill me.
She said that I shouldn't have seen her, that I shouldn't have come in tonight, that I shouldn't have believed her so easily.
We are all pawns in a game of war played by God.
The gun was still shaking in her hands.
The cold air cracked my lips, splitting a wound here and there on the surface, the sky so clear that I could touch the beyond bland blue. The small boat carrying us through the water surface of the sea rocked up and down with every inch we make, bobbing our heads, wobbling our brains.
Forgetting the reason of this entire war.
Staring off at the horizon, I could see the lime-orange plant, staring at me on top of the hill of the town, like a hawk, a gargoyle, a watcher set in stone.
The town looked too clear without the sea fog clouding it away in this cold winter day.
“Are you religious?” Someone sitting besides me asked, the boat crowded and packed full of soldiers being transported to the next headquarters, the next base from where they’ll send you out into the field, the war, the guns and barrels and deaths.
I looked back, my breath misty in the cold, small thin clouds evaporating seconds after they were born.
She was a young girl a few years younger than me, probably one of the teens forced to combat by the mandatory draft, our government’s lottery, the only drawing in where no one wants to win. Her uniform and gun too big to fit her body, flapping in the salty winds like a sail being dragged around by the scheduled sea drafts, to the pathways it creates and leads.
I just shook my head in response to her question. “Why?” I asked.
“I just saw the wooden cross and assumed.” She replied, pointing to the old dirty cross that’s still hanging around my neck.
“Oh, no, this has nothing to do with religion at all.” I looked down and touched the wooden cross, as if to assure myself once again that it was still there.
“Then what is it for?”
“It’s a sign for all the things I don’t believe. It’s a symbol representing my disbelief and hate for all the things that I do.” Looking back at the town, I sighed with blank eyes. “It’s a reminder that I’m not what I think I am.”
She looked confused, unsure.
Chocolate kiss in a melting pot.
Don't give away the end. That's all that I ask of this story, this life, this moment that is my memory, my breath, my air.
I didn't want to anyway, there is no reason for at all.
Staring up at the cloudy sky, gray lines blurring slowly in waves of white and black, floating back and forth between the conflicts of our lives.
A breath takes forever, hurts the lungs, rib cage, and blood.
Nothing makes sense anymore, the red rain trickling down my chin, my chest, my everywhere.
Another explosion. This is the town I once knew. Another shell shattering the bones and meat of another soldier. Another scream to fill out this place where I grew up.
Your mud covering my face. Your ground slowly swallowing me up. Burying me. Returning me to Mother Earth.
Nothing makes sense anymore.
I didn't want to give away my ending.
I didn't want to give away this truth.
And the last thing that was in my mind was her. Her hand reached down towards me. Her face blurry by the space and fog between us both.
"Can I love you?"
She had asked.
I didn't know.
So I didn't reply.
Time and space between us both, it all begins.
As my own ends.
I went with Chita this one time, along with some other people from our class, to this shamble of a house by the east side of the town. The place had once been a marvelous mansion, covered with marble and windows that were larger than anything I'll ever live in.
Of course, once a bomb drops onto the building, everything beautiful is reduced to just pieces, jigsaw puzzles that drop here and there, leftovers of what was once a masterpiece.
There was a rumor that went around, talking about ghosts and haunted mansions, of spirits refusing to give up, of hate reborn out of hate, destruction, and death. It was not a place anybody wanted to be near by when it was dark. It was not a place anybody wanted to be near by when it was light.
So one afternoon, with nothing better to do, someone suggested the exploring of the haunted mansion, and see if we could find any ghosts and all.
We were all just stupid like that.
The place was dark, dusty, and everything smelled like old socks, drilling into your nose and filling your brain with them. The smell was good enough to scare some people from this game, giving up before even a step into the leftover pieces of the mansion.
Chita went ahead, leading the group into the dark.
I followed second, just because I didn't want a girl to be braver than me, to show herself to be stronger than I was.
You could barely see anything, the little slits of light wasn't enough to brighten my fears.
Her footsteps were the only thing clear the whole time.
Clump, clump, clump.
I've heard that when you're trapped in an isolation chamber, closed off from every sound, vision, sensation of the world, your eyes and brain will desperately search for any kind of light, so much, that you’ll start catching the small sparks that particles in the air emit when they crash with each other, and start seeing those little sights that your eyes would usually not catch, would usually ignore, and view more of what you have lost in the first place.
That’s what it felt like at the time, amongst the darkness, amongst the fear that kept creeping up the back of my neck, slowly and slowly, in wait for any kind of ghost, any kind of scare, something that would throw me off my normal self.
Yet her footsteps kept me sane, somehow braver, stronger. It was those little footsteps that I followed in the end, hoping that it would lead me to somewhere safe, somewhere better, where I could stay sane, normal, human.
Clump, clump, clump. She kept moving on.
Clump, clump, clump. She didn’t hesitate at all.
The smell of dust filled it all. The atmosphere smoky and dense.
She kept moving on.
By the time I finally caught on, at the basement that was ignored for months and years, I was desperate to see anybody at all. Although her footsteps reassured me that I was no alone in this crazy trip, my mind would still be paranoid enough to make up little tales, woven from ghost stories that I’ve heard years and years ago.
“What if the sound was just a trick of the ghosts to lure me into their cave?” My mind would frequently question it all. “What if they plan to get you there so that they could tear your flesh off piece by piece?”
I must have looked horrible when I got there.
I must have looked ridiculous.
The look on her face said it all.
“Are you alright?” She sounded concerned.
“Yes, I’m fine.” I tried to sound as tough as I could, not to crack my voice and whine like the scared little boy that I was.
The cracks of light showered us both, the dust now even more visible, swimming in the space of air.
She smiled and signaled me to follow her.
I didn’t know if I wanted to, but I did anyway. Her footsteps were the only things that were keeping my mind alive, my mind sane. They were the little sparks that the particles made in the air, the little dust that were only visible in showers of light.
She was my only safe post in this house, where I’m swallowed by my imagination, and everything else that my mind could summon up to drive me insane.
Yet she kept leading me down, and down, and down. Down into the mouth of madness, the darkness that swallowed her whole.
And as a desperate dog, following a scent trail of food, I followed her sound of footsteps. Down and down, away from it all.