Everyday the scarred soldier went home, he didn’t live in the barracks. He didn’t have to sleep in a corner of a barn, but in a bed with his wife. They lived on the 5th floor of a tenement in the city. His wages could just about stretch to two rooms, a main room where they ate, slept and washed. They used a cupboard as a toilet for privacy.
He sublet the other room out to a large family from the slums; there were at least 8 or 9 of them; he rarely checked. With the money from the tenants and what remained of his wage, he could afford food for his family.
Ascending the crumbled steps to the 5th floor, he thought of his son. Now five years old and at a small kindergarten and school. He wanted his son to learn to read, so that the mystery of words wouldn’t make him stumble like he had. Be fast of mind as well of body.
He opened the door, his wife was cooking at the stove top. Her face lit by the fading sun from the curtainless windows. She looked radiant. He walked over, putting his arms around her waist and held her close while she cooked, saying nothing. His son fast asleep in the corner on a mattress with a blue and yellow flowered blanket wrapped around him.
His wife smiled. It was peaceful again, his body released the tension of the day into the soft atmosphere.
“The tenants have been crying today,” she said quietly.
He kissed her gently behind the ear and released her. Walking over to the adjoining door, he rapped lightly and opened. It was even darker in here. The soldier couldn’t afford electricity for lights for himself and his family; the tenants had even less.
Some were asleep in the gloom. He saw movement and a slight, bent figure stand and walk to him. It was the old lady; she shivered and creaked.
“How many today?”
“Nine, I think”, the old lady replied in a tremulous and detached tone.
“Tell them to keep quieter, otherwise the superintendent might hear them and then we’d all be out of a home.”
He departed, closing the door carefully as not to wake the sleeping occupants, or his son.
He sat in the only chair they could afford, a tattered mustard yellow armchair. It was ripped and faded, but still comfortable. It was so peaceful here. He never wanted to leave again. He never wanted to go. His wife, placed a plate of beans, grains and rice on his lap.
“Beans and rice, again?” The corners of his mouth were upturned, his eyes sparkling, reflected in his wife’s. “Yes, and you’ll be glad of what ever I give you!” His wife turned her chin upwards, defiant and challenging, whilst struggling to hold back a laugh. The humour shone in her eyes. She was relieved he was home, she always was.
He chuckled softly. He never wanted to leave this place. Never, ever.