“I’ve had enough,” he spoke so quietly I barely heard him. “I’ve had enough, we all have had enough.” I turned to ask ‘enough of what?’ but it was too late. He had laid his rifle in the dust and was gone – moving quickly through the jagged door an artillery shell had made for him. He moved confidently, deliberately and was in the street before I could stop him.
I didn’t want to watch him die. I had witnessed a thousand times too much death. But still I pressed my face against the rough wall, staring through a tiny crack, waiting for the back of his thin jacket to erupt in bloody volcanoes as those bastards found an easy and unexpected target.
Another wasted life, war’s truly painful price. And, after paying one appalling bill, how quickly comes another. I watched my friend walk calmly across a broken street, eager to pay his tab as the rest of us hid behind a crumbling wall trying to avoid the darkness we think is death.
I waited for the bullets to tear through him, and the look in his eyes as he died, young and questioning. I waited for those animals to rip his spirit from his body, leaving another cold carcass deaf to mother’s mourning. I waited for the smacking of lead chipping brick as those cowards tried to kill that dying old building too.
He walked toward the smoking skeleton that was once a school and I wondered where the students were. Did the darkness behind the shattered windows hide them? Had their innocence been blown away by bombs, leaving hatred as that school’s last lesson? Were children about to trigger the terrible muzzle flashes from those black holes, as if only launching fireworks into a summer night’s sky?
As I wondered ‘why’ I suddenly recalled I had never seen him fire his rifle. He had been at my side for a week, a constant target, but never firing back. Instead, he had stopped our bleeding, even though he was not a medic. He was not a priest, but he had quieted the crying in our souls. In just a week he had become a life-long friend and confidant, our source for solace. His calmness calmed us. Not one of us had died.
I could see only his back but knew he would be smiling. He wore serenity as a second skin. He was never angry, he didn’t hate as we had come to. He never shook his fist or cursed through clenched teeth when we stumbled over the grisly remains of their atrocities.
But now, he was leaving us, he had had enough. He was the last one I would have picked to snap. I had seen suicide, I hated watching his. But I couldn’t move, could not raise my rifle to give him covering fire. None of us did. We could only watch his private death march, even as we felt their rifle sights pick out the buttons on his chest.
And then, a sudden silence. War’s cruel voice fell quiet. No rifle’s snapping, automatic weapon’s rattling, nor artillery’s thundering, deadly roll call. Silence, save for our hoarse breathing. Desperate breathing, as we listened to his steady footsteps breaking already shattered glass in the street as he went to them.
He reached one of broken windows in that battered building and stepped into their darkness. We waited for his anguished cry as they realized an enemy in their midst and pounced and stabbed. It never came. We waited for his limp body to be tossed like trash into the street. It didn’t happen.
Then quickly, cat like, a figure moved at a ground floor window and was in the open – exposed. It was one of them, unarmed, and walking toward us. Simply walking, as though meeting a friend for lunch at the corner café. For an instant I wanted to bring my gun to bear and send a bullet ripping through his heart. Revenge fuels war’s engine in the trenches. It’s your buddie’s death that drives you – not a tattered flag that whips you forward. But I could not move.
I wanted to scream at him to stop, but the thought stayed silent thought. None of us spoke or raised a rifle. We could only breath, and watch a man in a ragged uniform walk our way. A warrior who yesterday we thought a monster, but now saw as only man. He stepped inside, blinked the dust and darkness from his eyes, then held an empty hand out to me.
My throat was tight and my vision blurred. Not from dust or darkness but from tears. I dropped my rifle in the rubble and clenched his hand in mine. We all had had enough.