SPOILS OF WAR
So this was what it felt like.
This was what he had been missing since the first day he'd become aware of his status as an unwanted, a reject and a member of the forsaken. These feelings of utter hopelessness, grief and anguish were the last in a long line of uncensored profanities that should never have befallen one such as him.
But where the previous emotions had bruised and battered him emotionally and physically, he had endured and survived, wiser about the cruel and unforgiving world around him. Yet these, though he knew them well, could not compare in the slightest to what he'd been told, been taught, or experienced. These feelings, crushing him in their dark and stifling void, following what was one of the most primal instincts, were the only ones that held the power to break him.
And break, he did.
Like a dam that had suddenly been filled to its capacity, he could no longer hold in the swirl of despair and rage that battled within him for control. Despair and rage at the world that could force him to do what he had effected; that could force him to sell his soul to the Devil like so many others before him.
With this unforgivable act, he'd become one of the damned, one of the hell-bound… one of the majority.
His listless eyes were puffy and bloodshot, red-rimmed violet-blue that was soaked in the unfamiliar saline liquid known to others as tears. He'd given up crying a long time ago… it was something that one just did not do when one wanted to survive independently on the streets. Even as he'd stood by and watched his best friend fall into Death's welcoming arms as a victim of the plague, he had not cried. Tears seemed unworthy and meaningless to honour the passing of a companion that had been more than a friend but also a confidante, a defender and the brother he had never had.
He knew all this. He had tried to train himself so that he would no longer show weakness to others in the form of tears… and he had succeeded, mostly. Yet now, with his normally iron-hard control broken, he could not help the shining rivulets that coursed down his face like streams of silver in the dim moonlight available, occasionally mingling with the stinging sanguinary streaks that trailed down the skin littered with cuts and abrasions. Shining with an ethereal light, they almost lit up the gaunt and thin face that was now shades darker than its normal creamy complexion, marred by the budding blossoms of black and purple that seemed to hide the fair skin underneath their large and unflattering petals.
His head of short, unruly and night-darkened chestnut hair was inert as the still eyes stared forwards, seeing nothing, not even the graffitied wall in front of him that was barely two metres away. Droplets of dark crimson, almost black in the lack of light, tarnished all available surfaces including the walls, the crates and even him, pooling almost generously around the contoured but motionless form lying a few feet away.
Shaking hands slowly unwrapped themselves from the shining object within his grasp and he watched in morbid fascination as it fell the short distance to the filthy ground below. The object that had been a gift, given in good faith as a means of protection, had now condemned him to an eternity of guilt and mourning. Its once immaculate appearance had now been coated with a substance that had forever scarred its original purity. Just as his soul would always carry the blemish of this inexcusable act, so too would the blade that had been the instigator, never to be flawless again.
Unstoppable shudders wracked his body as he drew his knees up before wrapping his thin arms around them, burying his face in his unwashed and tattered black pants that seemed to soak up the tears quickly as a minor comfort. Curling himself into a foetal position, he rocked himself back and forth, trying to calm the millions upon millions of warring emotions inside him.
Attempting to make himself as small as possible, as if that simple act would cause the world to inflict lesser injuries on him, he could do nothing but let his body take control with their immediate need to express his subconscious's reactions. His conscious mind had already withdrawn from the situation, unable to process the circumstances that had led to his current state of being, taking with it the ability to justify what he had done so that he could put it behind him. Taking away the only means with which he could redeem himself in his own eyes.
Indefinite amounts of time passed but he continued to sit, slowly regaining control of his limbs and body as unmerciful reality sluggishly crept back to him. Gradually, the trembling reduced and the sobs grew quieter until he sat, silent and unmoving except for the small rasp of breath into tired lungs as the only proof that he was indeed still alive. Still alive and able to continue living unlike the still form that lay on its side to his right.
His head lifted and for the first time, he took in his surroundings with a clear mind and a view unobstructed by tears. The rotund and immobile form of the middle-aged soldier lay to his right; his army green uniform now defiled with the puddle of dried blood from the wound on his chest that had soaked into the coarse material. The broken alcohol bottle, its jagged ends spotted with, not the man's but his own blood, the cause of the various cuts on his body.
The bottle was the proof of why the man had, in a drunken fit, unleashed pent up frustrations on he who had been huddling in the dark alleyway, his large brawny arms connecting with harsh and solid impact upon his own body time and again. The uniform was also proof of why others on the street, taking a single glance at the clothes that adorned the soldier and the gun secured in its holster, had turned the other way when he had dragged the ragamuffin from his huddled position and further into the alley. Ignoring without sympathy his screams that had echoed through the confined spaces of the dark, unlit street.
The seemingly endless war that raged around him had taught society to disregard what did not affect them personally, to ignore the homeless that were considered the pestilence of the community and especially to fear the soldiers who were corrupt but above the law. The powerful diplomats were so attentive of the bigger picture they tried to achieve, the end of war and a brighter future for all humans, that they were uncaring of the immediate problems such as poverty and starvation that gripped the cities in ugly claws and squeezed, allowing more to be covered with Death's dark cloak everyday.
Reaching out a hand for the object that had fallen from his fingers, steady indigo eyes regarded the crimson stain before wiping it off on the tatters of his pants, revealing once more a shining blade. He may be one of the homeless and he may suffer from poverty and hunger, but he refused to meet Death prematurely, especially at the hands of a man such as the one that now lay dead beside him. He had made a promise, before that person had died, to he who had given him a chance to live. He had promised that he would cherish his life and that he would do his best to continue. Even when faced with the bitterest of experiences, he would continue because he refused to be one of the weak and helpless. And because he had made a vow to the one person who had mattered to him in his entire life.
Casting a final look at the corpse, he pocketed the knife and rubbing the back of one grubby and bloodstained hand across his eyes, eliminated the last of the salty trails that had flowed down his cheeks. Never again would the liquid taint his face… He would be strong and he would survive, for with his first kill, committed in self-defence, he was now an initiated. He had proved that he would be able to persevere on his own and he would live.
With that thought, the little boy of six years old uncurled himself from his position next to the wall and a large crate and walked away, not even flickering another glance at the body that littered the ground of the narrow alleyway.
War changed all people, and it had changed him from the naïve and innocent boy of yesterday to the stronger and initiated boy of now, ready to face the world and its ugly dealings. His defenses, that had been broken and knocked down so thoroughly a few hours before had been rebuilt stronger than ever and he was ready to face everything that would come his way as what one night of shock, withdrawal, death and determination had made him.
A child of war…