Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pride and prejudice

Jane Austen's 'Pride and prejudice' is my all-time favorite novel but this post has nothing to do with that classic masterpiece. Just wanted to get that disclaimer out in case some gray-haired publisher from England decides to sue me for copyright infringement violations.

It is with a lot of pride that I am posting a short story here that my daughter wrote today. She took all of ten minutes to write this story.

Short story, she claims, is not her cup of tea but I beg to differ. It is a tough genre, I agree. Much more difficult to grasp and master than a novel even since the author does not have the luxury of time and length to carve out his/her characters, plot and so on but I think my kid has done an awesome job of it. If you think I am prejudiced, so be it. I think I am entitled.

Here you go. Hope you enjoy it!

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Coming Home

He stared at the candle. A sudden blast of cold wind shot through the window and threatened to blow the light out, but he blocked the cold with his hand.

Four years. Four years since he had seen light. The blasts of bombs, and the yelling and screaming and shooting, the harsh barks of commanders issuing hurried orders to their men. His unit had been stationed in the mountains of Afghanistan for two years now. Huddled in a corner of the rickety one- roomed cabin, he stared at the candle.
One of the men who had been playing cards in the table got up and walked over to him.

“Sorry ‘bout your loss, Ben,” he said softly, laying a rough hand on his shoulder. “Jack didn’t deserve to die.”

“No one does.” Ben’s throat croaked from lack of use.

The man looked like he might stay, but then changed his mind and left his comrade alone to get back to the card game.

Ben’s eyes had not left the candle. In its light he suddenly perceived a mirror through which he could see his own gaze; the gaze of a young man stripped of family and feeling. There was a crazed look in his eyes, the look of a man who had given everything, including his memories, to go through hell.

His commander’s last words to him echoed in his brain. “Ben, there’s still light. Remember that. There’s always light.” Jack had placed the candle in his hand and squeezed his shoulder before turning to make a poor soldier’s life miserable.

Now, staring at the candle, he was plagued by memories. His wife weeping as he left to join the service; his three- year old daughter clasping his neck as though her life depended on it. He could not even remember their names anymore.

“Come back soon,” they’d both called to him from the doorway. “Come back soon.”

At first, Ben had replied to every letter they sent as soon as he could. Now he did not even bother to open them. He knew that all he would find would be pleas for his return, pleas that he had no answer to. He no longer controlled his fate; war did. War decided when he ate, slept, fought, and died. Around him he could dimly hear the insane laughter of his comrades at the table beside him, as if from far off.

They’ve done it, he said in his mind. They’ve gone and taken us and everything we had. We’re not human anymore. We’re machines. That’s all we’ll ever be. Soon we’ll all flicker and die just like this candle will, and they’ll just get someone else to replace us and keep the war going.

A jolt went through him. For the first time in four years, Ben was thinking. His mind, before moving mechanically to the orders of his commanding officers, now awoke as if from a long and deep slumber. With his thoughts the memories flooded back into him.

My name is Ben Towski. I was born in Austin, Texas. My wife… Ashley! He leapt to his feet, almost knocking the candle over.

The men at the table stared at him. “You alright, Ben?”

Ben stared at them. Though he had known these people for four years, they seemed like strangers to him; he turned away from their dead, insane gazes.

“I’m fine,” he told them roughly. They shrugged and went back to their game.

Ben picked up the candle and stared at it wonderingly before slipping it into the large pockets of his coat. He grabbed a pack of matches and headed towards the cabin door.

“I’m going to get a smoke,” he told his comrades. They ignored him, so he opened the door and walked out, pulling the hood over him to block the wind. He coolly made his way through the soldiers who were scuttling in and out of the cabins. No one paid attention to him as he walked away from them.

At last, a sentry saw him through the blizzard. “Where are you headed, soldier?” he called out.

Ben turned back to him. “I’m going home.” For a moment something like realization passed through the sentry’s face, and Ben took that moment to turn and run. He ran through the blizzard, ignoring the warning shouts of the men. He did not feel the wind chilling his face.

I’m coming home, he said. Ashley, I’m coming home.

He would leave these deserted mountains, and walk till he found a village. He’d fly to America again, even if he had to hitch a ride amongst the cargo. He would find a way.

There was a knock on the door. The woman wearily walked towards it. In the first year she had run to the door, keeping that hope that she would open it and find her husband there. Now it was a nightmare to do so.

She swung the door open and froze.

Ben smiled at her. His face was haggard, there were scars all over him, and his clothes were barely more than rags, but his smile seemed godly.

“Sorry I’m late.”

-Aarthi Sankaran
9th grader
Godwin High School

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-Meena Sankaran

5 comments:

Jayakanthan - ஜெயகாந்தன் said...

Nice story Arthi! Write more!!

நாகு (Nagu) said...

Wow, Arthi! Amazing stuff. You write as if you have been thru Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan fronts! I liked the way you got into a soldier's mind.

And wonder what will happen if its as easy to walk out of active duty! Or is the end something along the lines of M Night Shyamalan movie? :-)

Niveda said...

WOW! its definitely not prejudice chithi, it was awesome and moving :) Aarthi: Awesome! iam very happy that you have come around and started writing for the human world too. AWESOME!

Srilatha said...

Aarthi is awesome. I have read her stories before and she has always been good. I feel so happy that I have been able to watch her grow through her literary work. She is sensitive and has more than an average sense of empathy. This shines through her work making it all the more poignant and real.

Meenakshi Sankaran said...

Aarthi says 'thank you' to all of you for your feedback.

Here is mine too. THANK YOU!