The climb up Cheekha Dar was everyman’s nightmare, rock-boned and blood-gullied—not even an ant could hide there. Its steep, unstable slopes exposed its attackers to unrelenting bombardment from the adherents of Islamic States Alliance embedded on its strategic ridge tops. Body-parts of comrades who’d kicked a footy together or challenged each other to chess a week before, made the ascent even more difficult. ISA had gone viral, so out of control that even the mighty world government that replaced the UN, had no hope of creating peace. Random explosions of violence cowed the world, wrapping it in mistrust and fear. The ISA spiritual leader had to be somewhere. Tradition said that somewhere was nearby. The predictions of Revelations and Nostradamus were being delivered, as promised, but small men fought on, driven by idealism, conscription and lack of choice, trying to stop the end of the world.
Adam had faced these horrors a thousand times here before, yet this was his first time. Behind him, in front of him were the shadows of others who’d believed a leader’s call, followed an adventurer’s dream, felt an allegiance to an ideal—freedom, safety for loved ones. In the end war was only about power and money for an elite few—power and money that would never belong to the poor bugger who struggled up the hill, laden down with a nation’s expectations, a mother’s hope, a lover’s promise and forty bloody kilos of useless junk that was little protection from imminent death.
Afghanistan’s roasting sun sucked the esse from Adam Goodman until all that was left of the boy-man who’d left the sunburnt plains of Collarenebri was a desiccated shell, a life-numbed zombie who could not imagine his sister’s gurgling laughter without quivering in fear, remembering the broken cackle of the young suicide bomber walking into the café as his mates played cards. Behind him a shadow-other passed to him the whimpering of the Vietnamese boy laced with bombs lying in pretended death to blow up the first to touch him. In front a shadow-other gave him the piercing scream of a Turkish child-soldier, high on the romance of Ataturk, who drew his enemy to a barbarous pit of sharpened sticks carefully camouflaged— more brothers in blood gone.
On that treacherous mountain, on his way to certain hell, Adam Goodman became everyman, every soldier who’d heard the call, been dragooned or conscripted into the wars of the megalomaniacs who wanted land, oil, riches, power… He was the serf dragged from the fields of Richard’s England to fight the marauders of the Holy Land, the Roman by the cold fires waiting for Hannibal, the Mongul under Genghis Khan, the farm boy in Gallipoli, the conscript in Vietnam. Their life was his life, their history his history. Their suffering was his suffering.
Adam blundered on—an automaton who’d accepted his fate. At the top of the ridge was a hate hole of Taliban ISA, men like himself, thinking they were fighting for what they believed in. What did they believe in? What did he believe in? What could he believe in? Whatever it was it wasn’t here.
No air cover came. The Lieutenant had asked for it eight hours ago before they’d charged into no-man’s land, up the mountain straight into enemy fire. Adam had never believed it would arrive. Sometimes it was hard to understand the logic of desk-bound strategists. The shadow-other from Gallipoli passed flashes of equally abortive actions framed by men who had little care for soldiers on the front line. They were on their own.
A blasted night came, black ripped by flash white, yellow and red. Screams and the smell of escaping blood—Adam thought of the abattoir near his uncle’s place in Sydney. Men were animals in every sense. Flashes of the carnage in Culloden, the meat-fields of Flanders, the bloody massacres of the Armenians, shared by shadow-others—country against country, sect against sect, neighbour against neighbour, and sometimes brother against brother. The horror was the same.
What was there left to believe in?
He was alone with a million sandflies in the middle of no-man’s land. Daylight burned his eye sockets. How did he get separated? His platoon that always stuck together, had moved on. He remembered searing agony. Sand blown rocks about him pocked with spraying bullets, some burying themselves in more than rock, but that wasn’t his problem. The hot rancid breath of death whirled around him. Why were they still shooting? He couldn’t move. He couldn’t get his gun. Where was his gun? Ebon void fell on him like a shaken-out sheet on a lover’s bed.
Quiet at dawn. Deathly quiet. His mates had withdrawn, left him for dead. Why? Didn’t they check him? The medics always checked all bodies thoroughly, retrieving anyone with the slightest sign of life. He was alive. If he’d been dead he wouldn’t have felt pain. Pain was the essence of his survival. He didn’t feel like he’d been hit. No warm stickiness gelled around his prone position. He had a sense of wholeness, physically anyway, though his body twitched often and his heart was a Beijing driver in rush hour—erratically fast then snail slow. Floating visions of battlefields ran rampant in his brain—the iced disaster that was Stalingrad with the eyes of the dying barely fluttering snowflake tears, the torrid terror of Milne Bay with saltwater eyes crying rain. These eyes of the nearly dead were his.
Adam struggled to lift his head, just a little. A Hiroshima bomb exploded inside his skull. He was not on the rock-blasted hillside facing a sandstorm downpour of bullets—the last thing he remembered. Echoes bounced round a small church-like cavern sheltering him from man-made fury. A rough table with a small brown pottery bowl on it teetered beside a tortured monument of metallic shapes. A flickering fire smelled of burned dung, scorched oil and gunpowder. A slowly moving shadow on the wall was a silhouette of feminine grace, not one of the shadow-others. It was defined, moving in the same way as his mother moved in her house, wrapped in an air of dedicated possession. The shadow being came towards him and nodded. She was covered in black, removed from the eyes of strangers. Her eyes smiled as she beckoned to an ancient man in a grey-white keffiyeh that partially covered his steel hair strings. His flowing robes jangled a little as he hobbled forward. His teeth were as worn as those of an old warhorse. He held up a huge blackish armoured scorpion with his right hand and indicated his neck. He pointed to Adam.
So he had been bitten. His neck felt swollen and sore beyond the searing burn of fire. He had been bitten.
The man moved forward with the bowl and urged Adam to drink. The liquid reeked. Adam disciplined every urge in his body not to vomit. Shadow-others caressed his mind with visions of a Bedouin in the desert ministering to a hurt ANZAC, a German woman bandaging a fallen airman, a Japanese guard giving a smoke to a POW. That made the swallowing easier. He breathed in the kindness. He drank the care. He touched the compassion. He would survive.
He knew what he believed in then. It had to do with the purest form of life respect. It had to do with love, compassion, tolerance, trust, truth... It had to do with being others in the past, past present, and future. It had to do with the still sad music of humanity. It had to do with knowing yourself in the infinite stretch of time.
Adam recognized the contorted metal beside the table and round the cavern, broken twisted guns. His was among them. He would not deliver war ravages again. He would make his stand for peace. The shadow-others stood with him, surveying a world they needed to make better for his great-grandchildren. History was written with every soldier’s blood but his great-grandchildren had the right to choose another future to give to the world.
Copyright: Julie Martin.