A military camp. It is early in the morning. The sky has hardly begun to brighten yet. Most of the men are sleeping in the barracks. Two soldiers sit outside, on watch. Both are nodding off, their muskets cradled to their chests like babes. A cigarette slowly burns down between the fingers of the man closest to the door.
Our soldier, or the enemy’s soldier - at this moment you will have to imagine that it doesn’t matter - he lies curled in his bunk over the top of a small bloke who’s snores belie his wiry frame… it’s annoying but… well, it doesn’t matter now. They’re all fighting the same war. And besides, the boy’s too small to pick a fight with, and because of that, he fades from this soldier’s thoughts.
For this soldier, the day is easier than the night. With all the marching and training and talking of the men around him. In the day time he doesn’t think about the things he thinks about at night. Things like: ‘Will there be another battle tomorrow like the one today? Will I be shot, like the boy in the bunk across from me was?’ That bunk is empty now. He thinks ‘Will I have to be pressed together with the other young soldiers in the bushes, smelling someone’s vomit, feeling someone else shaking, while we wait for what feels like hours for our Commander to find us?’
The soldier has quickly come to realise that being in the war, actually being in it, and not just watching the sky light up with musket-fire from the safety of his home, miles away is very different. Being in the war, and swinging blindly at anything that moves and hoping it won’t get you first -- hoping it’s not a comrade -- is very different.
He is seventeen and his hands smell like dirt and cigarettes which he doesn’t like but smokes anyway. It’s odd, and he won’t admit it to himself, but he misses a lot of things he wanted so badly to escape from - which he thought he was escaping from when he joined the army. He is seventeen and he is lying in the top bunk of some barracks in some country that really isn’t all that much different from the country he left, and he is missing his mother.
He is seventeen.
The knife he carries by day feels familiar, but cold in his hands. He’s seen things now - things soldiers can do. He’s done them. But he is good at forgetting. He can forget that all soldiers aren’t good, and he can forget that he’s seen some of their ‘enemy’ do far more heroic and humane things than he’s seen his side do. But he can believe that they’re doing the right thing. He can believe anything he likes if he tries hard enough.
His family could be dead by now, but that doesn’t cross his mind. Things like that don’t often do. He is good at only seeing and hearing what he wants to. But then, so is everyone in the war. Whether they are the ones doing the fighting or not.