Nameless

Another one dead. Another one gone.

This morning I watched the orderlies carry the body out of the tent and across the torrid, barren stretch of land – land riddled with cracks and the occasional bomb crater; with scars of war and devastation. I felt nothing as my eyes travelled from the bloodstained stretcher to the tormented expression upon the soldier’s face. It was as though I had become desensitized to death and gruesome sights.

Many are gone. More have suffered. He has not much longer to suffer.

The thought hits me now, as I sit in a rickety, rusting chair beside his bed. The ward is silent but for the coughs and wheezes of the patients crammed close to each other due to lack of space. The summer air is sultry and smells of dried blood and dirt and the rotting flesh of dead rats, with a faint trace of antiseptic. I can feel my undergarments sticking to my skin in the unbearable heat, and yearn to relieve myself of my heavy robes. In an attempt to restrain from succumbing to this temptation, I glance around the tent.

The makeshift pneumonia ward is overcrowded; there is virtually no room between the beds for us sisters to walk. All around me, men are in agony. They hover somewhere between the conscious and the unconscious, waiting for death – but it comes slowly. Pneumonia kills, but unlike a bullet in the head, it is not over in the blink of an eye – it tortures men until they teeter on the brink of death – they stand on the edge of a cliff, trapped between a wall of thorns and a sea of vehement waves, unable to move either way without experiencing pain beyond words.

This is where he stands at this moment. Physically, he lies here like a limp and lifeless mannequin, mousy hair overlong and matted and damp with sweat – but in his mind’s eye, he is on the cliff, isolated to all that is familiar to him. He can only go one way, and I know that the sea must take him.

I look down at the skin coated with grime, the slightly crooked nose, the angular jaw – and I remember our conversations about the war and the bombs and the Germans. I remember fearing him as he told me about the grandeur of the bombings. “What an extravagant display!” he said, manic exhilaration lighting up his face. “What a stunning show of fireworks! Did you see the sky? The inky sky, exploding with reds and oranges and yellows! It was a phenomenon!”

I often asked myself, “Am I paranoid? Is he insane? Or does he simply wish to approach the end of his life with optimism?”

I am still unsure of the answer as I watch his cracked lips part to take one last, shuddering breath –then his body suddenly relaxes, sinking into the sheets.

Another one dead. Another one gone.

Gone before I even knew his name.

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