The Spoils of War

I was shouting at the top of my lungs. But in all the clamour and din of the battle, in all the noise of the machine guns fire and the pounding of the mortar shells, in all the cries of pain and horror and death; my voice must not even have registered.
And yet I screamed, again and again, and again. Because at that moment there was only one thing that mattered to me in the world. My comrade, my fellow soldier was bleeding to death in my arms and I could not do a single damn thing about it. We were a part of the 10th Grenadiers regiment fighting in a botched up operation on the losing side of the battle, all of which was a part of a fucked up war for some piece of shit land none of us had ever seen.
Our opponent had more guns, advanced artillery, battle-hardened veterans and better ground position with sporadic air support on their side. We had a fresh new batch of brainwashed, overconfident, arrogant young kids who had been sent on the front lines with only one purpose in mind. To get butchered by the enemy, halting its progress and providing valuable time to the HQ to plan its strategies.
Someone came by my side and started taking out the first aid from his kit. A white and red armband confirmed that he was a medic. He got on his job without saying a single word, not even a simple glance in my direction. I suppose the sheer number of deaths he had seen today must have made him disgusted by the living. I started to help in the only way possible, by comforting Ted while the expert did his trade. Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulders and looked up to see the medic staring at me. “Get me a….”
The sentence never got completed because the very next instance his head blew off right in front of my face.
For what felt like an eternity, I sat in the midst of a hailstorm of bullets, shrapnel and body parts. A dying man was lying in my arms, whose name I did not know. A dead man was lying in my lap, whose face I had never seen. And now that it was gone, I would never know who he was. In reality, it must have been mere seconds before the sniper took up his aim once again. This time the target was my head. But this time the bullet missed it’s target by mere millimeters, leaving a lifelong scar on my cheeks, however long that life may be. The most basic instinct we humans have is self-preservation. That bullet triggered the very same instinct in my brain. I threw away the medic’s lifeless body, hoisted up the dying guy on my shoulders and ran for my life, as fast as my legs would take me.

There was a village situated about 5 km north-west from where our attack had taken place. I ran in that general direction, praying not to encounter any stray or deliberate bullet fired in my general direction. The battle had already been lost, everyone knew that. A “strategic redeployment” had already been ordered to consolidate whatever was left of the 10th Grenadiers and get them behind the security lines. This redeployment had already been completed. We were the unlucky ones, the ones left behind, the ones for whom terms like ‘a small sacrifice for the greater good’ is so magnanimously thrown around. The bastards sitting on top never have the courage to accept that they committed a mistake. Every move is a strategy, everything is planned. Its fuckers like us who die when all hell breaks loose. Today, all nine gates had opened up.
Being an atheist, it was strange for me to hear a prayer escaping my lips when we reached the village unharmed. But again, when you have survived the carnage which I had seen, religious opinions don’t make much sense. One god or many gods or no god, all that matters is staying alive.
I had escaped the clutches of Inferno just to find myself standing in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The village; a better word would be the ‘former village’; had been torched, incinerated, eradicated from existence. There was not a single living soul, not a single standing structure left in the entire hamlet. They were suffering the repercussions of a conflict in which they had no part to play. Death and destruction do not discriminate between the innocent and the guilty, between the participant and the nonaligned. Everyone bleeds, everything breaks.
I had planned to go into the community hall and get any kind of first aid available there. But the ground reality forced me to look out for any surviving structure in that desolate, barren place. I spotted a house at the other end of the village and dashed for it like a drowning man reaches out for the smallest shred of straw in the vicinity. But in my eagerness I never noticed that a pair of rifles holstered above the shoulders bearing our enemy’s coat of arms was heading in my direction, a pair of wolves stalking the helpless jackrabbit.
The first shot, which struck my shoulder, engulfed me into a world of white, hot pain. The tired legs which had carried me this distance by sheer adrenaline gave way and I lost my balance. The fall hurt my already injured shoulder, so much so that I was almost blinded by the agony. They were already hurling bullets at me, and I instinctively ran for cover in the lateral direction. Luckily for me, the remaining pieces of a smashed wall gave me some respite. My assailants correctly guessed that either I was unarmed or my physical status has made me unable to use them. They started advancing towards my hiding place, spraying bullets all around my cover, blocking any attempt for escape. I looked around helplessly for any sort of tool or weapon. There was a piece of pipe lying in the vicinity. I picked it up and decided to wait. Wait for them to come as close to me as they would, and then pounce upon them. That was the plan anyway. The truth was that I was in a ‘no win situation’. If I attacked now, I would be riddled with bullets before taking the first step. If I waited, they could divide and attack from two sides or keep shooting until the fragile wall gave way or simply throw a grenade. They had so many options while I had none. Death was certain but I was going down fighting, like the soldier I was.
I felt as if one of the rifles had stopped firing. He was either reloading his gun or taking out the pin. I charged in the direction from where the bullets had stopped. He was indeed reloading his gun and my blood-curdling scream, equal parts the result of fear, pain and rage, startled him into inaction. A cleanly struck blow on the side of his head pushed him away like a sack of grains. Paying no further attention to him I rushed on to the second attacker. This one had slow reflexes and had only started shooting at me after his partner was already hit. I struck his skull with all my strength. Searing pain in my abdomen blinded me again as I heard the sound of his skull cracking. I fell on top of his limp body, striking repeated blows on his face till it was a mush of tissues, skin and blood. It was only then that I remembered about the other guy. As I turned, he was already on his feet and regaining his senses. I jumped on him and hit repeatedly with my now bent pipe. But he was faster and a little shift on his part meant my blows only struck his body. In return, he swung hard and connected. My nose broke and my vision went blood red. The pipe fell from my hands. But I didn’t. I turned to him and gripped his throat with both of my hands, so hard that I felt I could see his eyes pop out from the sockets. He fell down and so did I, keeping my grip tight till I was certain that all life had drained from his body.
And then I looked up. I was sitting over a dead body whose throat was still in my grip. I had beaten the ‘Kobayashi Maru’. I felt like James fucking T. Kirk. But the fate of my comrade brought me back to reality. He was lying some distance from the battleground. I picked him up and carried him into the house, only to find it completely ransacked. Putting him on the ground, I ran into the other rooms, checking drawers and spaces for any kind of first aid. I did find some Iodine, but there was no cotton to be found, not even a small piece of fabric. Our own clothes were too soaked with blood and water, and it never occurred to me that our enemies wore a uniform too. What I found instead was an open pack of cotton swabs, lying among an assortment of metal pieces on the bathroom cupboard.
“Fuck it. Fuck them. Fuck everyone. Son of a bitch. What the fuck am I supposed to do with this shitty pack of Q tips? Take out the cotton tips and make a fucking ball out of it?? Huh…..” I was hopeless and continued this profanity-laden rhetorical rant of mine for some time, as my mind slowly grasped the feasibility of the solution which I had stumbled upon.
I started removing the cotton from the end of the swabs. Now that my adrenaline rush had subsided a little, I started feeling the effects of my injuries. Both of my bullet wounds were causing extreme pain, but it was the broken nose that was hurting the most. My whole body was shaking and the simple task was becoming more and more daunting with every passing second. Somehow through all the pain and blood, I was able to form a small cotton pad from all the q-tips. It was a bloody, dirty mess but that was the best I had at that moment. I felt as if I could faint any second. My cotton pad would never be able to stop the bleeding of that man, and yet I had to try. I somehow dragged my body, I could barely walk at this moment, across the bathroom floor and into the drawing room where my comrades were lying. I found the wound on his chest and pressed the makeshift pad to stop his bleeding.
But then the bleeding subsided. And for a moment I felt that all the pain, the wounds and the sacrifice was not a waste. If only I could somehow get a radio message to the area command, we’ll get rescued and we’ll be safe. “And the first thing I’m going to do once we are safe is asking your name. Can you believe it, we are in the same regiment yet I don’t eve…” There was a big, gaping hole in the place where his Adam’s apple used to sit. The bleeding did stop because the organ which pumped blood in his body had stopped. He was dead. And dead for a long, long time.
I didn’t cry. I couldn’t cry. I did not have enough strength to perform this simple task. I laid myself down beside my comrade’s body, holding that blood-soaked dirty piece of cotton in my hands, sobbing incessantly. I had never even known his name.

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