First War – Chapter 3
It had been three hours since Nitin started walking. The sky, being overcast, did not help him for directions. The ponderosa pines on the far side of the river grew in a perfect mesh that was too orderly to be natural. To his right was a twenty meter fall down a slope before the river started. He had been controlling thirst for a while now as he knew the walk down to the river was one way. He tried to remember what mother had taught him for situations like these.
“One: do not allow any helpless thoughts to seep in,
two: never rest more than five minutes and
three: be careful of the water”
It was his last night before leaving home for Army schooling. The Prime Minster of Balmore had ordered that one child from every family, be it girl or a boy to join the Army. Constant threats from neighboring countries and his fear mongering aides made sure the economy was built around war. The textile industry flourished from supplying army clothing, the mining flourished supplying raw materials for the army’s uniforms, the communications industry gained from making tactical weaponry. The only industry left out was the transport, as the situation was not so positive for leisurely travel. Also as the young sons and daughters of many a home left them for good, the culture took a turn towards joint family and colonized living.
“Gloria can you please stop scaring the young boy and let him have fun for one more night?” Dad always wanted Nitin to learn the life himself.
“I am trying to give some pointers here, help me if you can or shut up and go ahead with your soccer betting”, mum was tensed, it was the first time her youngest child won’t sleep in the same home as her. The hologram went on showing current season statistics of every football club.
“Mum, why didn’t you send Dev and Ani to army? Why me?” the bright round big blue eyes asked with a soft ignorance that melted her.
“They are not lucky my dear, you have the chance to serve for the country, you will have a happy life after this is finished. A job, a car, a free travel pass, a subsidized expenditure, you won’t have to toil in the mines like your daddy, the best thing is you will never have to smell like him”, and they both laughed giving way to disdain from upstairs.
Dev and Anita were not the softer types as like Nitin was. The eldest son always had the knack of picking up fights with the neighbors, and Anita would do nothing but lock her lips with Sunny. The good for nothing street Italian was her only priority. It had been more than a month since she had eloped with him. They had come home late one night, and Sunny being the brash guy he was, offered full on foul mouthing to Marek’s questions. With the gardening shovel in his hand, he attempted to break his head.
Gloria spent every night curling inside her quilt crying until her brain would tire away to sleep. She almost decided to leave Marek with her youngest son one night, when coincidentally they got a call from James, the assistant general of internal police and their neighbor during their newly married life. Marek had pestered James every day and night till then, and Gloria started to believe that he cared about the family. How could she have known before as he worked at least a hundred hours a week in the mines?
Dev, on the other hand had hit an elder boy with his cricket bat so hard that he went into a coma. Dev was arrested and let off after six months for good behavior and great psych evaluations. He spent those lonely days reading. Each of them was about the old nation of India and it’s history and about world politics. His idol was old nation’s freedom fighter Chandra Bose while he profoundly respected Martin Luther King and Gandhi for their perseverance in achieving what war could not. He continued believing in violence, “why should we beg for freedom for our own land?” he would ask. He supported conservativeness and liked what he read about the right wingers. He believed self pride alone can make a country achieve anything. He wanted to rule Balmore one day.
Although Gloria tried to talk to him about Gandhi and about why his path to freedom was correct, he would retaliate with the idea that passive aggressive nature of the freedom fight had made Indians feel weak about themselves. According to him, it had weakened their self respect to a level so low that their society started making fun of itself. The glamor and glitz of foreign life started to peep in, making everything original, a history. He showed her how almost the entire nation morphed into something unrecognizable within seventy years after it’s freedom.
One night during a dinner debate his father had become so furious as to his foul mouth against the old Indian lifestyle that he almost threw the plate at him. That was the last time Dev ate with his family.
The Army school was everything Nitin had assumed it would be, and more. Nitin’s baby-face became the comedy of his class. His self confidence took a down turn every passing minute with the class the first day.
“How do you like this place?” Kirthi asked just when he tucked himself to bed. She was taller for her age, being fifteen should could measure at least six feet, he thought.
“I hate it”, his frown showed the intensity of the thought.
She turned to his side, the slender face with hair all over it became visible.
“Yes, you will, almost everyone made fun when you introduced yourself, that round boy who resembled a pit-bull included”
“Yeah”, his eyes started to become watery.
“Let me tell you one thing, whatever you do never in front of the class. No commander who reads your history then will include you. What would happen if you don’t fight in a war? You will never return home.”
“Well yeah, I know that, but I am not a child you know? I’ve even fought with an elder boy and hit him so hard he was hospitalized for over a week”.
She stared at him intensely.
“Well.. no he wasn’t, he was just a seven years old little guy, and he kicked me in the stomach hard”. She had a hard time controlling her laughter.
“Here, make sure you read at least a chapter every night” she gave him three books.
“What are these?”
“This is Illiad, an epic about a country called Greece, nearly three thousand years old, this is Mahabharata -the famed Indian epic, and this is Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler’s autobiography”
“Hitler? The genocidal maniac? Isn’t this book banned?”
“Yes it is, but don’t worry sweetheart, it isn’t all about killing. The thoughts and personality that made a monster would sure give you ideas that could be modified for a…. better you” she giggled.
He stared expressionless.
“Ok, sorry that I called you sweetheart.”
He smiled and started to read Illiad. It was the start of a new life, a life that started searching for a meaning, that started forming ideals and resolutions which mattered.
For the next one month, Kirthi became his only contact for speech. She liked his innocence, and he liked… her. They would study in the evenings together and debate about world leaders, about how any country could have enough greed to invade others, about how a world could have enough anger to have civil wars, how a world could be sectional to have religious wars.
They ate, studied and worked out together. During basket ball sessions, Kirthi went to the extent of changing from being a forward and became a defender to help him score baskets. They went on trekking expeditions by themselves in the hills nearby. Her personality fueled his morphing into an adult. She became more than a friend, she was his guardian angel, he thought.
Just a week before the first year ended Nitin was woken up rudely. It was the hostel warden. The first attack from Beltronix had taken out his entire birth city. The port city of Piraeus was in ruins.
He fell into his bed allowing the news to sink in when Kirthi asked the warden if she could accompany him. She would miss the final tests and would delay her graduation by six months, but it did not stand a chance against helping Nitin at that dark hour.
A special hovercraft waited to take him back to Piraeus. Six hours later they were in the King’s road. The streets were crowded with police and National security guards. Firefighters tried to put out buildings ablaze in the city textile market. West end was totally destroyed. The red police ribbons prevented anyone from entering the destroyed buildings. Streets were all that was left for the surviving members of the local families. Kirthi pulled him towards her and hugged him tight, it was the first time he felt her cry. They walked north.
Nitin’s house was not exempted from disaster. The second floor was totally missing while he could see the bright orange curtains of his parents bedroom on the first floor flying in the wind. He felt numb, belief was not something his mind wanted to agree with. He tried to tell himself that it was just a terrible dream, one which he would get up in the morning from and finish his final tests and go home for the holidays. Real emotions started to take over when he saw snoopy run towards him. He picked the white Labrador up as it started licking all over his face. He immediately fell on his knees and started to cry. The overwhelming reality was unbearable to the soft heart.
Kirthi wanted to search to see if anyone were alive, caught up in the rubble inside. Instantly she bent under the ribbon and ran towards the house. Someone inside a radioactive suit tried to come in her path only to be met with her curled right fist. After a couple of hours, she came out dark and dirty and held something in her right hand. It was a picture of his family.
She became it’s only living member.
Nitin continued walking as darkness slowly enveloped the day.