A Fragment of Life

© Huma M. Hussain (Zaarah)

"The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events." – Sir Winston Churchill

The trees swayed in the unfeeling wintry weather as leaves glided mournfully through the sky saddened by the loss of great men. The smell of their blood and smoke was thick in the air. One could hear the crackling of rifle fire and the reverberations of bullets ricocheting through the skies. Bombs blasted and shells hit the ground. The smell of sludge and armaments bunged every pore of the land. It was a scene of terror; hell had unleashed itself on the natives of Leipzig that day. Tanks rolled, cannons fired, more bodies fell, and lives drifted away with every passing second.

Günter Kneisel could hear men as they panted and screamed with rage, while braving the weather, fighting for the people and for those who had lost their lives to the cruel war. Every blow from the enemy only increased their willpower and strengthened their bodies. They clutched their wounds and fought on valiantly, not stopping even for a moment.

Crimson drops of blood fell from their bodies and onto the earth where the bodies of their brothers' lay, caked in blood and mud. Some of these bodies were injured, some complete while the others were disfigured. Their artillery lay close to them: they had been fighting for their people and their city until their last breath.

Günter stood at the edge of the field, and watched his comrades run in strategic lines with different kinds of weaponry in their hands. His tattered uniform clung to his body as it was soaked in blood from the crossfire which had ensued earlier. A rifle hung lazily over his shoulder; he would use it when needed. Günter's eyes fell to his left and lay on a broken, twisted cadaver with its hand outstretched; a precursor of its last cries for help. The body belonged to his confidante and his only friend Benedikt.

He had known Benedikt all his life, and it was he who had taught him how to appreciate life. To watch him die before his eyes was horrifying and Günter knew he would be haunted by this scene for the rest of his life…

…Several weeks had passed since Benedikt's death in that battlefield. Günter had been lying in numerous trenches and holes since that unfortunate day had chanced, trying to seek refuge from the war, only so he could return home in one piece and not bring any kind of misery to his family who had been urgently awaiting his return. He quavered with fear each night as he tried to keep an eye open for the enemy or any sign of an impending attack; he knew it in his heart that his end was near.

Günter could perceive the sounds of shrapnel screeching overhead, and the sounds of gunshots shooting through the air late at night. He lay there next to broken bodies, crying sometimes, praying to God it would end. An unbearable pain shot up and down his injured body.

He clenched his teeth and shut his eyes tight, trying to block out the paralyzing pain. From that trench he could see bodies aflame in the fields and smoke circling the air. His ears would ring from the deafening sound of the gunshots.

That trench had become his second home, he had stayed there for a long time, crouching, trying to guard himself from the bullets, dull and weak, with hardly any food. Sometimes he would retort, frustrated with the soulless people who had attacked his beautiful city, but when the pain kicked in, he would lie on his back again.

Günter remained awake, conscious, yet not so, walking running and crawling through a haze of smog, hiding from his enemies, trying to make it to the end. He was reminded often of the brothers he had lost to the conflict, of Benedikt, and he wished he could have saved them and not been such a coward.

As all of these thoughts raced through his mind, he felt a sense of awakening in him. He did not feel the pain anymore; he was filled with great determination. His body pulsated with a new kind of energy, he wanted vengeance.

Without any further contemplation, he strapped on his bandolier, still shaking from nervousness. He could hear piercing howls in the sky and a thud as more men fell to the ground. He stood up, but his legs gave away and he fell into the mud again. His body had given up, but his mind was persistent. He had to avenge Benedikt's death and also the death of those thousands of soldiers who had lost their lives. He wanted to kill every traitor who had stepped onto his land, destroying it and murdering its residents.

Günter's fear gave way to fury as he stood tall, rifle in hand. He shook off every bit of nervousness in him. His eyes reflected a burning rage and strength of mind. He yelled his war cry for each being to hear and take note of. It sliced through the cold night air, long and strident.

He battled relentlessly, tears stinging his eyes as he reminisced the times he spent on this same field with his family and friends. His resolve only strengthened as he saw his allies fall to the ground, as they breathed their last gulp of air.

Günter stepped forward, still focused, grenade in hand. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion, his vision was fogged up but his aim still remained clear. He swung his arm to block a hit coming at him from the left and shot back at his attacker, killing him almost instantaneously. He moved closer towards his foes, took out a hand grenade, pulled the pin and threw it inside the tank.

It took him every ounce of his energy to do it. His aim was perfect and in almost a flash the soldiers and tank were engulfed in a vicious fire. More smoke and ash rose into the air. He shot the remainder of his bullets at the soldiers advancing towards him, intensity in his eyes before his legs gave away again and he fell to the ground with a thud.

An eerie silence crept over the battlefield and Günter lay on the ground, exhausted. He did not care anymore about his survival. He was satisfied that he would die knowing he was not a coward. The explosion had gone, and the smoke was beginning to clear.

He could hear cheering and celebration and he got up to saw that the war had come to an end: there was a white flag perched over a hill in the distance. The enemy had surrendered. He threw his arm in the air, his fist strong against the sky, shocked and ecstatic about his victory. He was proud of himself for having braved the war. He wanted to rejoice; peace had finally been restored to his city and he had avenged his men's death. He was a hero.

While he was lost in his excitement, it struck him that in actuality the city had been destroyed and had lost out on thousands of capable men. The damage had already been done and it was irreparable. There was no way to undo the war. The enemy had achieved what they always intended to do: they had taken the lives of many, and spread alarm among the people.

He realized then that there is no victory in combat.

With the recollections of his friends and his days as a soldier he walked towards the city, as tears welled up in his eyes. His memories of his friends would now keep him alive and help him survive any terror in the future. He had resolved at that moment that he would go back home and never return to that battlefield again.