The black and orange light of dusk filtered into the room through the curtainless windows. A single candle on the windowsill sent shadows dancing around the silhouette of the couple sat on the seat in the centre of the room. The scarred soldier was sat on the arm chair, wearing only a white T-shirt and shorts. His right arm wrapped around his wife’s waist and the left on her shoulder and she sat on his knees, her head leaning into his neck breathing in his musk. Her arms draped over his shoulders they sat together silently, enjoying the peaceful moment. The soldier was due back from his week’s leave tomorrow morning; he had spent the time entirely with his family, with his son by day and wife by night. They would look up at the stars together and make pictures from the constellations, tracing them out with a tip of the finger. It had been a good week, but alas after the peace of the evening he was to head back to the barracks, unaware of any of what had occurred in his absence.
In the morning, at first light he dressed in his uniform and put on his boots. His wife stood by hand on his shoulder as he laced them up swiftly, with fingers deft from practice. Standing and taking her in his arms, he twirled her round in a bear hug. She giggled and choked; “Put me down you silly man, put me down and get off with you.” She managed to squeeze out in between fits of laughter. Gently placing her back on the cracked linoleum floor, he heaved a sigh. Kissing her deeply on the lips, he went on his way. After leaving the house and trotting down the steps, he made his way to the bus stop for his ride into the city. A neighbour strolled by and mumbled a good morning. He was an elderly man who dressed in cast offs, today pink shorts and a faded yellow T-shirt with a surfboard on. Sandals and a thin coating of grey hair tufts around his ears completed his ensemble. The soldier saluted smartly and continued on his way. The bus was late. It was always late to this part of town. He arrived as the soldiers were lining up for morning parade and duty assignments.
Quickly taking his place in line, he noticed a subdued atmosphere lying heavy on his fellow soldiers. Before he was able to ask a neighbour what was happening; the General arrived by car. It stopped in front of the men and a window in the back was wound down. A hand appeared, waving before it was withdrawn. The drill sergeant called the men to attention as a minder held the door open and Pero emerged from the car. In a pair of knee high black boots and a broad general’s hat balanced lazily on his head he surveyed the men before him. Marching smartly up and down the front row, his riding crop held tightly in his left armpit his large hat bobbled and swayed. The scarred soldier glanced briefly at his colleagues; their eyes were downcast and defeated. What had happened in his absence, where had the fighting spirit of his friends gone?
They were quickly placed into groups of six and delegated to various areas of the slums and the city for patrols. He called over the drill sergeant; “Why are we patrolling the city now?” He asked. The sergeant sucked in a deep breath, filling his cheeks before exhaling slowly and ending with a sigh. “The city has become dangerous, according to the General there are enemies everywhere.”
“What has happened here?”
“You do not want to know, my friend. Just keep your head low and do as you’re told. They’re putting soldiers in the hands of his men now if they don’t fall into line.” The drill sergeant looked at the scarred soldier. “Seriously, do as you’re told. You have family to think about.”
The sergeant gave the soldier a pat on the shoulder and resumed barking orders at the men. The scarred man was to join a city patrol on the look out for thieves and beggars. He was in a group with five younger soldiers, mostly new recruits. Their eyes had the hard glint of criminality. The truck dropped them off in a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of the business district. The juxtaposition of wealth and poverty divided by an invisible line on the pavements. The patrol set off casually, walking towards an area where trade often took place. Old women sat on the kerb of streets with baskets of produce held between their knees; surrounding a small square dominated by a decaying stone statue of some old Greek god. Traders and hawkers yelled their offers at the passers by; the smells of street food and alcohol lingered as the soldiers made their way around the square. Stopping in front of a trader, a woman in her mid-fifties with greying hair and a face lined with hardship, one of the younger men demanded some of her goods. She was a cloth merchant and the recruit decided that he needed cloth for some new clothes for his girlfriend. The women demurred but capitulated under the gaze of the other soldiers, some of whom were adjusting their rifles and toying with bayonets.
One by one, the young soldiers took their tribute from the traders and old women. The scarred soldier stood on the sidelines, refusing any offers blankly. A recruit with a wisp of blonde hair sprouting on his upper lip approached a young girl selling shells and other worthless ornaments. He was shouting at her and laughing. The scarred man walked to them as the young recruit made a lunge towards the girl, grabbing a fistful of hair in his hand.
“Let her go, she’s just a girl.” He said to the young soldier who sneered in return. “Shut it or I’ll add another scar to that pretty face of yours.” He ambled away with the girl’s hair still in his hand; she stumbled after him trying not to fall and crying in pain.
The scarred man walked over rapidly and pushed the soldier away, forcing him to release the girl. The other young men approached and surrounded the scarred soldier in a circle, each lazily pointing their rifles at him. The recruit who had grabbed the girl laughed. “Looks like we’ve still got some resistance here lads.” The others laughed with him as the scarred soldier slowly turned in a circle to face each one. As he came back to the first recruit, he noticed a spark in his eyes. A thud came to the back of his head and all went orange, red then black.