By Sana Rasool
Institute of Environmental Sciences and Engineering
NUST H-12 Campus Islamabad
He walked through the deserted streets. There was an eerie, dreadful silence everywhere; like the silence of death. Was this the same town he had visited only a couple of days ago? Where he had played soccer with the local children, taken photos of their smiling faces, even shared a few humble family meals with them? How hospitably they had treated him. Even though they knew he was from a people who had devastated their lives and their land for ages to come.
Now the stench of burning bodies, human waste and fear invaded his nostrils. He felt sick to his stomach and turned around to return to leave before he threw up.
“Coward. You cannot even witness the cruel injustice you dished out to them. Your people came flying over them like the devil out of Hades and swished the life force out in a matter of seconds. One bomb is all it took. And you cannot see the destruction? See it! See what you do to them and fly away as if nothing has ever happened. After all you are only on a last inspection tour to make sure they are all dead, right? In a few minutes you’ll be back on a plane having a hearty dinner with your family, you heartless savage.”
He didn’t think he could ever eat anything again. Is this what was happening down here when the pilots were cheering at the brilliant targeted hit? Oh God! Even the devil would have cried today.
He entered a house to his left. Everything was turned upside down as if someone had been seeking shelter desperately. There was a huge gaping hole in the roof of that hut like house. He pushed a broken chair aside. A cat meowed somewhere. A dog barked in response. He moved to the next room. The scene tore his heart out and he doubled over as wave after wave of nausea hit him.
A beautiful little child lay there smiling up at him, oblivious to the fact her life had just been devastated. Her mother lay on top of her in a primitively protective stance. There was so much blood on her he couldn’t even make out the face. A few feet away, a handsome young man was sprawled across the floor, hand reaching out to the woman and child; the child’s father; a look of regret over his face. Only two days ago, this woman had taught him how to make sharbat. She had laughed when he had moaned in pleasure at the heady but exquisite taste.
The radio on his military belt crackled to life.
“Captain Andrews, this is Baghdad military command base requesting a preliminary account. Report if you have found any survivors. Out.”
He closed his eyes, as if that would change the reality. Cruel, cruel world… What was this child’s fault? The epitome of innocence. She held out her hands playfully and giggled at him. Guilt so strong, surged through his veins and hit his mind and heart at the same time, he thought he would die. But death didn’t feel very merciful today. He had yet to suffer.
“Captain Andrews, report back if you hear me. Out.” The voice grew impatient.
Slowly, very slowly he pulled out the radio from his belt and raised it to his lips.
“Captain Andrews reporting. Military Command Base, can you hear me? Out.” He said.
“Loud and clear captain. Tell us about your findings.”
“I…have…have discovered…one survivor. Breathing steady, all functions normal. No sign of external or internal injuries. Age around 3 years, female.” His voice was husky. He barely controlled the urge to be sick again. But the commander’s next words didn’t leave him any choice.
“Very well Captain. Eliminate the survivor. Report back to the base in 0100 hours. Your return is awaited. Out.”
The radio went lifeless. He became violently sick. He convulsed and shook for what seemed like hours. Time lost its meaning. He slumped against the wall, put his hands around himself and rocked silently. It was only after sometime that he looked up and saw her still smiling and making little noise. Hunger perhaps?
He knew what he had to do. He pulled the rifle off his shoulder holster. Checked the safety and aimed. He stood there. Just stood there looking at her. She giggled again. Then noticed something was wrong. Instinctively her little hands curled in her mother’s hair and she tried to get her attention.
Andrews closed his eyes. He was the best sniper in the regiment. He had done this before. It took only a few seconds. He pulled the trigger back and let it go. The silencers didn’t let his rifle make any sound. There was a slight cough like noise. And then silence. The giggling and squealing stopped abruptly. The birds suddenly stopped chanting. It seemed as if time had frozen.
Andrews exited the house and moved on to find other survivors.