Toy Soldier

“Of course, of course I shoot. Of course I kill. In the war. I kill because if I don’t, they kill me.”
He had big, watery eyes, and his irises were golden-brown, as if the color of dead leaves stained with blood had become entrapped there. He sat hunched, in a constant flinch. His hands were oddly quiet and still – but it wasn’t calm that made them so, but rather the tension of imminent fight or flight. Even though both his buttocks were sunk deep in the armchair, he seemed to be on the edge of his seat. If he’d have wanted to, he would’ve been able to be up and running before the woman across from him knew he’d left his chair.
“It was war – you had to shoot. You wanted to live.” The doctor’s soft voice was melodic and almost too soothing for him. He had known women who looked like her once, and he had seen them contorted in shapes that this doctor couldn’t even imagine. He couldn’t meet her eyes. He was scared that if he did, she would be able to see his commanders grinning at him, calling him a good boy, and giving him a small, unripe fruit as a reward for the work he’d done during the day. And then there’d been the better reward, the reward that he even now craved and wished he could get again, even though they – the new they, not the old they – had explained to him that it was bad for him and that he couldn’t have it anymore. It had taken him days to get out of bed, he’d felt so rotten without it all, but he felt alright now, though the thought of that reward still made him twitch at times.
The silence had stretched on until he couldn’t stand it, so he broke it again. Those golden-brown eyes of his looked at the corner of the room, where a spider had made an elaborate web. He had good eyesight, and he watched the spider move across the web to fetch its dinner. It must have been an old spider because it moved slowly. “Yes. I wanted to. But it was bad. It was very bad. But they promise – they always promise it would be last time.”
“And you hoped, every time, that maybe this time they meant it.”
The spider had reached its meal and it began to detach the wrapped, cocooned insect from the man web so that it could hold it in its front legs and hold it up to its mouth. He watched it. He almost thought he could see it smiling.
“I liked it. Sometimes.”
“It?”
“Shooting. What they gave me after.”
There was another long pause, but this time the woman broke it, her voice so gentle and careful that he looked at her for a quick moment just to make sure it was really her speaking. “You liked it just like they wanted you to like it.”
“Yes.” He hadn’t meant to sound so harsh, but his voice came out that way, raspy and deeper than usual. His voice hadn’t changed yet. He hadn’t thought about the impending joys of manhood since he’d been a little boy admiring his father’s chest hair. He hadn’t really thought about growing up in years. He hadn’t been sure that he was going to grow up. He still wasn’t.
“Am I bad?”
“Do you feel bad? Do you think you were bad?”
“I was. But I didn’t want to be.”
“So maybe you were’t, really. Because you didn’t want to.”
“And now I can be good. Right?” He wasn’t sure if the question was the one he wanted to ask. It wasn’t really about being good. It was about what being good meant. Being good had meant shooting just a few months ago. Now being good meant something different, he thought, something that he remembered from those early years before they – not the current they, but the past they – had moved into his life. What scared him was that being good was going to change again, soon, and that he wouldn’t be ready for it this time. If he couldn’t keep up with being good for whoever the future they were going to be, then he would die. And he knew, although he couldn’t quite put it into words, that he’d done too much by now to be able to retract his decision to live, no matter what.

Otherness

The words came slowly. So slowly that they got stuck in his throat multiple times. It shouldn’t be so hard to say it, he kept thinking. It didn’t make sense. The body doesn’t work that way. There’s no mechanism for keeping words inside because they’re painful. The vocal chords work on command and don’t go on strike because of what they’re forced to say. The difficulty lay in the mind, in the heart, in whatever otherness lay deep in his chest and swelled painfully.
He couldn’t say it. He could. He couldn’t. He had to. He wouldn’t. It was too hard.
“I…”
But one word wasn’t enough.
“I think… I think I-”
Three words in the first sentence of a long paragraph that he’d practiced in his mind over and over again. Maybe it was all wrong, really. Maybe, in the end, when it came right down to it, he’d been kidding himself. He could never do this sort of thing. He didn’t know how. Other people did it every day, sure, but they must have something that he didn’t, something sick and unhealthy, or maybe he was the unhealthy one.
“I…”
He tried again, but it wasn’t working. It wasn’t happening. He was going to give up. He had to give up. There weren’t many choices left, if any. A part of him sighed in relief, admitting defeat. He’d known all along he couldn’t do it. Why had he tried at all? There was absolutely no point.
At the moment of giving up the otherness that weighed him down panicked, suffocating. In a gush of air and a burst of passion, it shoved the words out of his mouth.
“I think I don’t love you anymore.”
He stared at the face across from him, watched as it crumpled slowly, and could almost see the otherness that lay in the chest that belonged to that face. That otherness, which moments before had been cushioned comfortably in the knowledge of safety, was crying out in pain, its shrieks not heard but felt. Even as he felt every conscious part of his mind collapse in on itself in the shock and horror of what he’d said, the otherness in him breathed two words into him, words that only years later he’d be able to appreciate and agree with: “About time.”

A Train Waits at a Station

A train has pulled into the station, and waits, humming gently with the still-working engine. It has been at the station for a while, because of a delay on the track further on. The passengers are in no hurry, though. They walk along the platform, from this side to that, strolling arm in arm or alone. They’ve come from a great many places. Some of them have been on the train for a long time and are only too glad to stretch their legs, while others got on only one or two stops ago, and walk along curiously, as if unsure whether or not their journey has actually begun at all.

The cars of the train are all empty, except for the driver who sits in his cabin, idly smoking a cigarette out his small window, and the conductor who walks down the train to inspect each compartment. She reaches the last car, which is always empty of travelers.

The last car is quite odd and unlike all the others. It’s decorated: frames hang on the wall, holding canvases painted with people, landscapes, abstract shapes and sometimes only a few words. But the conductor is used to these, and focuses only on the other things that litter the floor. In the very middle of the carpeted floor lies an orb of many colors. The conductor is one of the rare people who see words in colors, and the gem shines to her in the earthy-brown of deep-rooted friendship, the blood-red of family and parenthood, the bright yellow of childhood and the misty lilac of memories. The orb, made of finely spun glass, glows brightly so that the walls and picture-frames are all lit with stripes of this color or that.

The conductor takes the orb in her hands and carefully wraps it in tissue paper. The light still comes through the paper, and she puts the orb in a small straw box that closes. Through the cracks in the woven straw glints still the light of the colored orb. She puts the straw box in a bigger metal lock-box and clasps it tightly. There, the light now isn’t visible. As an extra precaution, though, she puts the box in a briefcase and locks it. Around her, there are still a suitcase big enough to hold the briefcase, and a steamer-trunk big enough to hold the suitcase. The car itself has a lock on its door, although it’s usually left open.

The conductor leaves, hoping the metal box will be enough to keep the tender orb safe and sound. She walks back up the train, her thoughts dwelling on a strange question – if the orb shines in the box, then is it really shining or could it go out without anyone being the wiser? The thought of the light disappearing brings her incomparable, unexplainable grief. But, as she glances at her watch, she realizes that it will be time soon to call the passengers aboard and keep going, and so she forces herself to get on with her duties.

Two

“It’s  a long story,” he said, frowning slightly, before smiling again. His hair was brown, his face thin, and his expression let nothing away. His smile was utterly disarming, and he didn’t seem to be feeling a thing except the usual cheerfulness he displayed to the world. He had his work spread out in front of him, the usual scientific jargon he was so into, and he slid his eyes back to it easily and went right back to studying. His shirt, bearing the logo of his workplace, was tight, as all his clothes usually were. He was attractive, there was no doubt about it, and his cheerfulness was like a sun, drawing unsuspecting people to him and making them think, naively, that everything was alright with him. Everything was always alright with him.

The girl, clutching her book, wasn’t so naive. She had her guesses, and she voiced them in a cheerful tone to match his own. He laughed, brushing them away, and went back to studying. She took note, though, of the slight glint of panic in his eyes.

____

“It’s a long story,” he said. His hair was black, his face thin but muscular, and his expression was fraught with pain. His eyes glinted with unshed tears, but they never leaked out, not once. He laughed at himself, laughed at his emotions. “It’s a long story,” he repeated, but he went into detail. Not much detail, but enough for the girl, clutching her book again, to understand. Her heart beat within her breast, pounding with emotion for both of them. She could see his pain, and suspected the other’s pain even if he wouldn’t voice it. She hugged him, murmuring “Aw, honey,” and made sure to let him know that she felt for him. It wasn’t easy, she couldn’t imagine it would ever be easy for the two of them.

____

Alone in her room, with headphones in her ears, she thought about them. She wanted to help, somehow, for some reason. Maybe it was only that her own experience was so much happier than theirs. Maybe it was that she knew what it was to trust someone implicitly and she wanted them to feel it too. Maybe it was just the fact that she was so far away from her love that she needed to see others flourish as she couldn’t in her current situation. Maybe it was, quite simply, that she wanted to befriend them both. They were too pleasant to give up, and she wanted to find a place for herself. She had always done this – reached out instinctively to others, lent herself as a support to those who needed it. It was one of her joys.

With music throbbing in her ears, she noticed the lyrics suddenly. “This night has only just begun. If there’s discretion that you’ve not abandoned, now’s the time.” Fitting, she thought, and closed her eyes and listened hard until the next song came on.

Distraction

A buzzing drone in my ear, I struggled to open my mouth in anything other than a pointless flapping and ranting of facts and figures. As my mind struggled to stay with the task of solving problems, complaints and mistakes, my fingers itched to be of use, and dragged my mind elsewhere, time after time.
It was hard to believe that the despair that had overtaken my mind and emotion just hours earlier seemed to have dissipated and dissolved under those same itching fingers, those same thoughts that were causing my mind to wander and my mouth to smile more often than not. The feeling of my fingers flying across the small pages in those precious few minutes between the chattering of voices in my ear – ah! The best feeling in the world, to be for once creating instead of venting, making up instead of putting down facts.
The ink flowing from the pen seemed to give birth to new ideas and characters with every twitch of my fingers, clutching the pen so tightly that my arm began to ache before long. My mind flowed with names, situations, ideas, friendships, worlds – all so far and free from my own that they made me dizzy just to think about them and the control and power my make-believing mind would have on them.
The hours passed quicker than they ever had before – even when I could not write for an hour or two at a time, my brain never ceased to create and invent and add flourishes to the characters and their unique traits and situations. It was the best distraction, and I’m not minded to forget it any time soon.

Casual Warfare

If there is one thing that people who live in stable countries don’t understand, it’s how casually a country can slip in and out of war. Perhaps I’m being unfair though – perhaps it is only this odd country, a so-called “Holy Land,” that acts this way. This place, Israel, Palestine, The Land Where Jesus Walked – whatever you want to call it, it has been, and apparently forever will be, a battleground.

It is an extremely odd feeling to realize how casually and nonchalantly we accept the state of warfare and the murderous activities that suddenly flare up around us here. The most people seem to be doing is starting different Facebook groups, so now my inbox there is filled with invitations like: “Join the ‘Boycott all Israeli Arabs!’ group,” “Join the ‘I agree with Israel invading Gazza’ group,” and “Join the ‘Everyone change their profile pictures to the Israeli flag!’ group.”

It’s horrid. It’s horrible. It’s, most of all, weird. It’s not normal to sit at work and hear people getting phone calls about rockets landing in their cities of residence and not to have that bother you particularly. It’s not normal to see people joking on the inter-office emails about how they hope they won’t get blown up on their rides home. It’s not normal to need to wish your coworker to feel better when she leaves work early because of a cold and to tell her in the same breath to be careful and not to leave the house too much.

Every time this country slips casually into war, almost without my noticing, I feel that humankind must be insane.