This is the eighth part of my short story,Two Women. Please, would you take a look at it and correct my mistakes.
The road was in bad shape, riddled with potholes and ravaged with the deep marks of tank tracks. I pitied my young driver who was more running slalom than driving a car. The beautiful countryside had many physical reminders of the conflict. Some houses had been completely destroyed, some had large holes in their walls and roofs, and some were partially burnt out. But there were also houses and villages which had miraculously been spared - the silent witnesses of the capriciousness of a war. On the side of the road, we could see a destroyed tank, a personal carrier and the carcasses of cars, stripped of everything which could be sold on the market. Once we overtook a tractor with a trailer, overloaded with refrigerators and washing machines. Two soldiers sat on the sideboard drinking moonshine. They bawled at us “Cheers” and lifted their bottles up against the bright morning sky. Both the driver and I laughed and he said that for some people this war was the best time of their lives. They had plenty of money, drove expensive cars, and were able to commit all possible crimes without fear of punishment.
The streets of the capital gave the impression as if the country was not at war at all. Sidewalk cafes and open-air restaurants were overcrowded with patrons, some of whom wore fatigues, but the large majority were men and women in light summer clothes who enjoyed their meals and drinks under the warm sun. Apparently, there was no shortage of good food, or money, or expensive cars, which were parked nearby. Streets and parks were teeming with people who seemed not to bother to look up at the military vehicles which occasionally thundered past. For those in the establishment without any connection with the military, the war must have appeared as something abstract which they would never fully grasp. They had probably read the news from the front line and obituaries as a pastime. These were entertaining stories which sparked curiosity which would be extinguished within a few seconds, because their spoiled minds demanded more entertainment all the time. They were too busy with their own trivialities to feel empathy and pity for the mass of anonymous soldiers. After all, the establishment often supports the military at war but keeps its sons and daughters away from uniforms and front lines.
At headquarters I was met by a large group of my fellow officers, many of whom I had known since our time at the military academy. In those times, they indoctrinated us with the idea that there were many countries in the world which were plotting against us, and which were going to attack us if we did not remain watchful and prepared. Our instructors never told us that one day we were going to fight against each other. The thought that our former colleagues were now sitting in their headquarters trying to figure out our next move made the whole situation tragic and absurd at the same time.
There was a feeling of excitement and apprehensive expectation in the crowd. Everyone had arrived here to hear that final order, which we had awaited for years. All these sacrifices and suffering would be of no use without that final push, which would liberate all parts of our country. Although there were those who were more careful and argued that the time was not ripe for it. After all, everything depended on the great powers and their own interests. The fate of our country was not decided only on the front line but in Washington, London, Paris and Moscow, where the callous bureaucrats pursued the interests of their own governments, and did not care about suffering and slaughter in a small country.
We sat in a small hall and became impatient because our superiors were late. Someone said that they were probably sitting in a restaurant eating chops and drinking wine. They would come first when they sobered up, which meant the next day. People laughed and told more jokes, which probably was a way to relieve tension and kept the mood high. And when they finally arrived, the three generals looked as if they had indeed spent the last hours indulging in food and drink. They were men in their fifties, overweight and sweaty. Their heavy trunks and rolls of fat at their necks and faces were intimidating. This body fat was like natural armour. They apologized for being late, by telling us that they had an important meeting with the President. Then they proceeded to explain the current political situation in the world, which was favourable to our cause. The world had finally understood who the aggressor was, and who defending their land and people. We were not only fighting for our people, but for the civilization, justice, humanity and other ethical values which had made our nation so great. There was no doubt that our leaders would go down in history as true heroes while those who attacked us would end up in court as war criminals.
“My dear friends!” said one of the generals and his authoritative voice shook with emotion. “The time has come to liberate our lovely homeland. We have just talked with the President and he has assured us that the whole western world is with us. The Americans, the British and the French will give us their full support. The Russian will officially remain silent, but they have understood that we are the winning team. They are not interested in making enemies, because they will need us in the future. The only condition our friends have made is that we must be swift. I have assured our President that he can fully trust us. We will be a storm, a hurricane...”
The general was in ecstasy, sweating and flushing red. He assured us that our enemy was weak. They had shortages of everything, from food to fuel. Their soldiers were exhausted; they had not received their wages for months; their families are hungry and destitute. They would dissipate like smoke. Of course, there would be some hotheads who were going to fight, but they would be dealt with accordingly. “Believe me, my dear friends; it is not matter of weeks, but days. With God’s help, nothing can stop us,” he concluded.
This was the best news we could have heard. This was our manna from heaven. I guess that almost everyone present had only one thought on his mind: to come out alive, return home, take off the sweaty, dirty uniform and never use it again.
To be continued.