Student or Learner
This is the fifth and the last part of my short story "The Volunteer," please would you proofread it.
Three days later, I went to the town centre. On the main square, I saw five buses filled with soldiers, carrying their rifles and with the helmets on their heads. There were hundreds of family members taking leave of them: mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, aunts, grandparents and neighbours.
Small children were crying in the arms of their strangely dressed fathers, wives hugging their husbands, mothers holding the hands of their sons and girlfriends giving last kisses to their boyfriends before they boarded the buses and disappeared towards the north. It was a sad scene and I did not want to stay and watch men leaving their families and preparing themselves to kill or be killed in a meaningless war. Being an onlooker was causing me pain as if I was one of them.
Suddenly I heard someone calling out my name and I saw Zoran beckoning me. “Don’t be afraid, I’m not going to kill you,” he shouted and his face was beaming with smile. He was dressed in a brand-new combat uniform, had a helmet on his head and AK-47 on his shoulder. Beside him were his wife Milena and his mother. “So you pretend not to see me, mate?” he said pushing his helmet back from his forehead.
I told him that I was just passing by; I did not know that they were leaving today. I glanced at his wife and mother and saw tears in their eyes. They must have been experiencing the most difficult moments in their lives, as all other families around them. “You’ll see me again in a few months,” he said. “If I don’t have at least one medal on my breast, you can spit in my face. Maybe I am mad, but I am not a coward.”
He laughed again, his eyes sparkling, reminding me of the time when we were in school. We shook hands, I hugged him wishing him good luck, and he said that the next time we would see each other he was going to treat me with a drink. I walked away and when I turned my head, I saw Milena and Zoran kissing and hugging, his hands stroking her long black hair. I hurried home because I was feeling that if I stayed a second longer I too was going to cry.
Two days later, my father came home from his job and his face was dark. He told me he had some terrible news to tell me. His hands shook when he lighted his cigarette; he pulled on it and said, “Zoran was killed yesterday.” He did not know the details, but they were not important in this moment.
I immediately felt a knot in my stomach and I walked outside in my orchard to find peace in my mind, although I knew that nothing could alleviate my sorrow at that moment. I asked myself what kind of evil power controlled our world. God could not be so cruel. Maybe he had become disappointed with human beings and their narrow-mindedness and decided to give the Devil free rein.
Since that moment, the Devil had toyed with human beings, creating mayhem and suffering everywhere.
I would not know the truth about Zoran’s death until three months later when one day my former schoolmate Nenad met me in the town centre and treated me with beer. He told me how Zoran came for the first time in the trenches on the front line. He sat there and began joking from the very first moment.
The other soldiers laughed, glad that there was someone among them who could relieve their boredom and make them forget their fears and worries. After about one hour, Zoran’s energy and inspiration ebbed away and he became silent. The enemy on the other side was silent also. In the last 48 hours, not a single shot could be heard and the soldiers enjoyed this brief lull, aware that sooner or later the chirping of the birds would be drowned out by explosions and heavy automatic fire.
Zoran was always restless and now as he became bored sitting in the muddy trench, he lifted his upper body above the parapet saying, “I just want to see how it looks like on the other side.” Before anyone had managed to warn him, the sniper from the other side, used this second of Zoran’s recklessness and shot him in the heart. He died immediately.
After his death, I saw his mother Biljana on a few occasions, but I always avoided her. I never found the courage to speak to her, to express my sorrow at her son’s tragic death. I thought that any words would be superfluous, any phrases without meaning. I would watch her while she was dragging her feet, looking down, with dark rings around her eyes and dressed completely in black.
There were hundreds of women at that moment all around our wretched country dressed in the similar clothes, walking in a similar way and trying to deal with their grief, which would follow them like a curse until their last breath.
About one year later, I was walking by the health centre when a black “Mercedes” stopped. The door opened and the young woman dressed in black came out, holding a baby in her arms. At first, I did not recognize her, because she looked much older, as if those months had been years, but in an instant, I knew that she was Milena.
She walked up the stairs and the baby was gazing at me with his dark, piercing eyes before the door closed behind them. At that moment I wished I had Zoran beside me because the war had come in our town and the soldiers on the street was staring me with their hateful eyes and the long knives on their belts made my blood turn cold.