He spent a lot of time thinking, pondering, wondering, a little questioning here and there, some scribbling and jotting down notes here and there on rough papers that he will never pick up till eternity - helps him get organize he claims -, but other thann that, he spent most of the time thinking.
It's funny how an army private can sometimes dumbfound a staff sergeant. Not that it happens most of the time elsewhere in other countries since regulations and discipline is always utmost priority until it stifles communication and interaction. In Zanotopia, soldiers of different ranks and positions stay at the same bunks, work in same units and groups, and are almost indifferent where rank and profile are concern, thus the freedom of speech among the hierachy.
It was during training. The whole batallion was running and doing the normal drills as usual. And as usual too, the troops in the units will always remove their shirts. Some say it helps to get the sweat off your shirt - save some water on the extra amount of dirty clothes that has to be washed - other thinks it's an opportunity to flex their muscles to each other. Not that they're trying to get attention from each other, especially when they're of same (or similar) gender, it's the ego that's at stake.
Unusually, however, the staff sergeant will wear his shirt. More than just a shirt, but the complete army outfit. Many have wondered, but not many dare to ask. More so that the SS is well known for his temper, lousy attitude and impatience. Never takes 'no' as an answer, never accepts 'sir I think you're wrong' as a response, never accepts failures, and seldom - if not never at all - encourages questions asked.
The irony then comes when it didn't take someone from a position above his to throw him that question, but someone new, fresh, no almost nuts about the military, to 'make him wonder'.
"Sir, while everyone runs without their gear and outfit during the drills, why do you do that?" the private asked.
The question of course stunned the SS for a while. He never expected a junior to throw such a question at him. His colleagues and bunk mates teased him before, but no one actually asked out of concern and care. Somehow, like always, his defense mechanism started was activated. Excuses and some barking around, telling him off for being a busybody and a warning to stop snooping around his business.
Interesting enough, that defense mechanism though activated, never worked out any results. He just stared at the junior, mouth ajar with no words said yet, and gazed into the eyes of the junior. From those little eyes beneath the ruffled hair trickling with sweat, he knew that this junior knew something about him.
"Sir, it can get a little heavy at times." I'm sorry if I'm being a busybody, maybe I'm not in a position to ask, but just so you know..
I'm concern, and we care about you sir.
The private trotted off to the dinner calls of his friends, leaving the SS behind, amid tired soldiers moving to the canteen, but alone in his thoughts. Drowned, he knew that in that sea of thoughts was an answer. Or he need not even look into those thoughts, he just need to lift up his shirt for those answers.
Quietly closing the door of his bathroom cubicle, he took of his armour piece by piece. Standing in front of the mirror, stark naked, completely stripped off his armour, he saw what he never wanted others to see. Unhidden by any piece of garment, the bruises of his torments were clear and evident. The marks of a suffered and tortured ex-prisoner of war, the traits of an abused soldier back in the old regiment, the scars of a defeated soldier.
All this while, he knew so surely, that if anyone saw those bruises that will never fade, those scars that will never heal, he will be discriminated. The army perception is that the weak will never be fit for the army, the sick don't deserve to be a part of Zanotopia's elite military force, the defeated are never regarded as soldiers. At the back of his mind, he can imagine himself losing all opportunities to rise even further in the ranks. He saw himself isolated and secluded, rejected and discredited despite the stars and stripes he won for himself, despite the lengths he covered in the battlefield, just because he was defeated.
Sick, a disease in the mind. Bruise, more than just a blue-back mark across his back and chest, but a spot in his heart that hurts when applied pressure.
Later the evening he met up with Nire. Wasn't he glad that he had that opportunity to be at the side of someone who would finally understand. She was always the good listener. He would spill his thoughts to the floor - that's where his eyes were glued at everytime he talked 'with' her - and she would just listen, absorb, be a part of the scenario he was in, and finally and most importantly, the advice.
"You know," she broke the long silence after he concluded his problem. "The question is more than just why aren't you prepared to let people see what is inside you, but rather, what is it that you can't accept about yourself."
Second stunner in a single day. He exhaled heavily along with a sigh.
You still can't accept yourself for what you are, can you? I can't. I just can't. Expectations. Overidealistic dreams. What are you? A robot that can be repaired? God that is divine and untouchable? You're made of flesh and bones, blood and breath, like anyone of us, you're still human, you're still vulnerable like anyone else, and you carry what all of us too carry.
"Finally someone pricked you at a soft spot huh?" she poked him. He nodded slowly. His past has always been his soft spot. His memories, at times, haunts him. Often he asks himself, do I still live in the shadows of my past, and far too often, he allowed himself to believe so.
Right now, who knows, he might be thinking twice of running the way everyone else in the army runs. Hopefully he will be able to take those heavy armours adorning him off one day. If that day really comes, it will because it took a brave junior with enough discernment to take that step up, with nothing more but care as a needle and curiosity as the prick, to poke the SS at a place where he needs to be pricked. Like a clogged vessel, the blood can only flow when an exit is made. The private, like a porcupine and its prick, or maybe like a doctor with the surgical tools, made that exit for him.