The ground seemed to swallow me whole, as I became enveloped in the darkness that I had fallen into. The noise began to fade as it was buried by the booming echo of what I presumed would be my few remaining heartbeats.
The past shifted back and forth in my head, the few seconds I spent lying on the ground gave me time to relive my memories of the previous events. Every image of the moments creating this situation struck me like a blade. It would have caused me to jump but the power in my body had abandoned my muscles and was taking refuge in my mind, only tormenting me further.
The previous hour had begun as usual, my unit and I had been sent on a routine patrol of one of the many abandoned villages in order to confirm the absence of hostility before a convoy passed through. The place was a ghost town or at least appeared to be.
The heat was unbearable and the tonne weight of gear and artillery made enduring it no more enjoyable. Walking on the desert ground felt like walking on eggshells, hearing the ground crack beneath your feet was not a comfortable feeling. We passed through the seemingly empty debris of broken buildings and scared earth while its ears and eyes had already made us a target.
The usual calm was instantly shattered by what sounded like a footstep in the distance. Being a soldier who was a stranger to any conflict or hostility other than boot camp, this lit a fuse in my mind and began to burn towards panic. We were ordered to stay put in an area of cover, at my first glance I could see only four or five men carrying AK-47s. They were definitely aware of our presence. They were only visible for a fraction of a second before they became part of the scenery.
We were at a huge disadvantage as these men were more than likely experienced in combat in this environment while I was inexperienced in combat in general.
We divided into the rubble covering each other’s movements in order to advance on the supposed enemy. I had lost sight of them at first but as we drew closer to where we had spotted them they became visible. They also appeared to have lost track of us as they were searching the rubble like maniacs. They split up just as we had and at that point it seemed like a good to execute them as stealthily as possible. As my comrades carried out their swift actions on our targets, I began to stalk mine. Being the rookie, I relied on what I was told would happen in any given situation, and followed my memories over my instinct. Which is why what happened next shocked me beyond any possible training exercise.
As I followed my target it lead me around a corner which I snuck around with ease only to find what I could only perceive to be a 14 year old child carrying a rifle. Through a crosshair, he was nothing more than a destination for the bullets in my gun but in my eye, the target had become a person, a living human.
The child stood innocently staring down the barrel of my rifle. His eyes remained motionless. This child was nothing but a brainwashed minor wielding a weapon but in my mind he became invincible. I couldn’t figure out which would be the bigger crime, sending a child out to war or being the man to take is life.
At that moment, in my head the only war that was being carried out was the battle of morality between the two sides of my conscience. I lost track of the situation and began to stare into the space between my gun and the child whose life lay in my hands. I lived the moment a thousand different times in that second and one way or another I had to die, whether I killed my conscience or I abandoned my ability to survive.
At that point, my burden was lifted off my back by the blade of one of my fellow soldiers. It was not I that buried the child’s future and yet in my mind to this day whenever I bleed, I bleed his blood.
The next few minutes felt like hours as the sun descended into the sand. The sweat on my head crept down my face as I watched the world around me buzz like a hive, watching what now appeared to me as the worlds most elaborate and euphemised terrorist organisation instead of the justified honourable military it once was in my eyes. I sat back watching my country achieve apotheosis for only the wrong reasons. Was war an act of protection or deprivation? Was it Justified or criminal? I stood upon the edge of my morality, staring down into the dark depths that had begun to chew my sanity and would eventually swallow it whole.
I began to breath un controllably, the fuse had burnt out, the panic had hit me, staring around at the questioning, confused faces as I slowly dropped to the ground, I felt like my head was asking to many questions of itself, questions my mind was beyond answering.
I hit the ground, fading out allowing the earth to become my casket. Not understanding my pain yet not needing to at the same time. My brain had given up.
And here I sit, several years later, cradling myself with my arms restrained behind my back in a white jacket in a padded room which has forced itself to become my home, my prison, my tomb, casting an eye at my past yet never to understand reality ever again, I drop my head to my chest and exhausted, I close my eyes…