And it very simply changed everything.
Our last hug, our last kiss, I could still remember it so vividly. I gazed into her wet eyes for the last time before leaving for primary base. Both hands holding her cheeks gently, rubbing away the tears that was rolling down from the edge of her lovely eyes, I was at a lost for words for a while. Not knowing what was best to say, I just blurted something out.
“Don’t wait for me if you can’t. If you find a man you can love more than me that loves you more, just go. I want to see you happy.”
With that said, I turned and left. Tearing my hands away from her, I left without even looking back. It just hurt so dearly to part with the people that you love especially when you don’t have any assurance of seeing them in any near time to come.
“Come home colonel!”
Come home colonel!
Her voice still rings in my head. Now lying on the hospital bed, surrounded by groaning patients of my same fate, her voice now haunts me. It taunts me. The reminding of sweet memories and times I had with her only causes me grief and sorrow. It just doesn’t help anymore to think about her now that I’m alone and injured and immobile. Those thoughts, no longer keep me alive. Those thought, unlike the war days, no longer inspire me to stay strong and keep moving. Instead, it only makes me wonder why wasn’t I killed in action.
She was supposed to wait for me at the base when I was being transported back, but I was already knocked out before the carrier chopper touched down in base. She could have been there. She could have seen me in such a terrible condition. Perhaps, she couldn’t accept the Me that was before when she last saw me.
If she left me then at the base and never return, I don’t blame her.
I blame myself.
I blame my foolish self. I blame myself for letting her go too easily. I blame myself for not being the tough soldier I should have been where she was concern. I honoured the call of my country to protect the Zanotopian citizens. And as I protected the house from intruders at the front gate, I was robbed of my very own belongings from behind.
I love her enough to let her go.
Maybe she was never mine to hold. Maybe she never was meant for me.
Such self pity and self comforting words just doesn’t work anymore. I pushed the little red button beside my bed. A nurse came to my aid. Young and fresh from nursing academy, she smiled and asked courteously how she could assist me.
“This bronze mask…” I whined. “It’s suffocating me.”
She let out a little laugh as she rolled me to the side to check the back of my mask. She loosened the screws at the back of my mask. “Better?”
Yeah. Better. But not good enough.
I thanked her as she trotted off to check on other patients. I took great effort to move my head from one side of the bed to the other side of the bed. The mask was heavy. I had no idea what happened to me when I was still asleep, but all I knew was that when I awoke I had this big shiny brown thing over my head.
The doctors said that it was an innovation. It was a breakthrough in technology and medical research. It was supposed to initiate mitosis of skin cells at an accelerated and yet controlled rate. By right, it would help my wounds heal even faster.
But I just couldn’t see that right now. I couldn’t see how that bronze mask was going to heal me. I was already relieved from duties from Pishrow team. I was expected and supposed to be promoted to be a Reyarp in a few months time due to my excellent performance, but all of that has suddenly changed when I was planted and left alone in behind enemy lines.
A Reyarp cannot be in service as long as he is still injured.
I lost my dream. It was my next greatest dream after Nire since joining the army. It didn’t matter how many medals I’ve collected or how many letters of commendation of excellent service I received. All I wanted was to be a Reyarp. To be in the midst of the elite and Supremes of the army. To yield the best weapons and clad the most sophisticated armoury and conduct missions like none ever. To rescue and reclaim territories, to expand the Zanotopian influence.
The greatest dream I lost, was Nire.
It took a long time to win her heart. Many many years of loneliness and waiting, many sleepless nights of soul searching and wondering why she would never respond or reply, the times where the body is just shouting to give up but the heart quietly tells me to hang on, the moments where I look at all the other guys from military academy trying to tackle her from a distance and swallowing all the bitterness in my guts.
And I couldn’t see how the bronze mask was going to help heal that dream I lost.
Again, I was left to doubt in the Sergeant. Shortly before I went into unconsciousness, he again promised that he will take care of me, that he will make sure that he sees me right until I recover. He promised that everything will be fine after that.
Everything will be just fine. Yeah right. You can count on that.
It was the same type of loneliness that crept into me again. The very same loneliness that I felt back when my troops left me. Alone to face the enemies and alone to face death. The same loneliness I now face behind a bronze mask where people try to show their concern and care to me without knowing how I look or feel. My family visited me. They tried to sound encouraging but they just couldn’t see me. They couldn’t look through the bronze mask.
The bronze mask was supposed to heal me. But now it’s hurting me. It’s suffocating me. It’s killing my soul. Deep inside me, I wished the doctors just didn’t give me the bronze mask. I wished that they would never put it over my face. I want people to see me. I want people to know what I’m going through. I want people to understand all that I’ve went through for my country and nation.
Or was it just that I wanted Nire to see the face behind my mask?
No, she wouldn’t be able to accept it. She wouldn’t be able to take it. Maybe, perhaps, the mask is doing me a good. Maybe it’s protecting the people I love from being further hurt.
The sound of crunching boots was getting louder and louder. That sound was familiar, and soon enough I saw him. He grabbed a chair and sat beside me and warmly greeted me.
“How are you doing?” I couldn’t bear to answer that question. I couldn’t allow myself to let him know the truth about how I’m doing. Deep down I was doubting him; I was questioning every single word he said. Although he has always proven his words to be trustworthy and reliable, but this time I couldn’t believe what he said. Again.
He looked straight into my eyes. Past the solid bronze mask that hides the face and my eyes, hides my tears and my pain. Past the mask that I wore not just on the face, but over and around my heart.
My eyes met his. For once, I saw such concern, such love, such mercy and grace. The tears that now rolled down just felt different. No longer were they cold lonely tears from a shattered heart, but they were now warm, so full of hope, so full of joy. Tears that I’ve never felt before, tears that never rolled out of my eyes ever before.
"Eyes on me. Eyes on me, your commander, your chief, your leader..
.. eyes on me, your friend, a partner in arm, a companion in battle, a counselor in your war." He could read my mind. He knew exactly what was on my mind. He could sense the doubt I had and the disappointment that I’m going through. He knew me inside out.
He stretched forth his arm, and as his sleeve folded back as he stretched, the scar obtained from the blast back in the mountainous desert was seen clearly. A dark bluish black scar that formed a little valley from his wrist to his elbow, the stitch marks were could still be identified from a distance.
He touched my mask. Though the bronze mask, it failed to hinder his warmth from reaching me.
"Eyes on me. As you look towards me in battle, as you look towards me behind your bronze mask and not on Nire or anyone else, you will not be disappointed.
I promise you."
From the ashes of defeat came the fire of hope. A small spark ignited in my heart, and though the wounds are yet to heal behind that mask, still it gave me the courage to continue my battle and to continue to fight on. I slumped back into the comfort of the bed, now resting in total peace that the bed could have never offered me. That peace came from the assuring Sergeant when He saw the tears behind my mask. Not only had he saved my life, now he's saving my soul.
Sergeant, I trust you.
“Come colonel, let’s go for a walk.” He called a nearby nurse and summoned for a wheel chair. Helping me get on it and making me comfortable, he pushed me out of the ward slowly.
“There are some things that you are yet to know Colonel,” he said calmly. “There’s much that you have to know about the things I see and the things you don’t see.”
He wheeled me out of the ward and headed to the cafeteria. A few people that passed by recognized the Sergeant and greeted him cheerfully. And in return he acknowledged them graciously. He sure is popular everywhere he goes.
The cafeteria was abuzz. People were moving here and there. Some were going in and some were going out. I was still wondering why Sergeant brought me here when my eyes just caught hold of something.
It was a small lady with her head nested in her hands, lying on the table in a little sleep. My eyes turned moist as I slowly and carefully analysed her features. The same long hair, the same eyebrows, the same ear, the same hair band that I once told her was my favourite, the same green T-shirt that she always wears when we’re at home…
“You see Colonel, she was always here from the very day you were warded. She never left you; neither did she ever look for anyone else. She was always waiting for you to come home. She was waiting for you to take her home.
“And she’s still waiting.”
I looked up to the Sergeant. “How did you know all this?”
He smiled back. “She’s my younger sister.”