This came second in a competition last year. Was written in 2 hours under test conditions in grade 9.
I run. Not in fear or longing – I run for joy. I run through the sea of green grass whispering and swaying as I brush past effortlessly. Suddenly, I feel the coolness of the meadow change and the sun is now beating hard on my back, sand dancing around my ankles as I bound along the beach. I wade into the waters and, stupidly, dive for the breakers. A loud sound deafens me and all turns black as a wave comes crashing down in a fury of deep blue. For a moment I am trapped in my own fear, but soon I resurface in the world of reality in Afghanistan, bereft of such simple pleasures as a luscious meadow, or such a nice beach. It’s a world of war.
Panting on my makeshift day-bed, I scan the room (a large, dirt-brown tent) for my partner. I spot him already suited up and heading towards me. He helps me into my vest and we pull the canvas door aside, emerging into the full wrath of the midday sun. We set out together, me eager and racing ahead, my partner armed and cautious. Military troops direct us to an open plain where we have recently been operating to clear mines. I am relatively confident in this situation; a lifetime of training in mine-detecting has prepared me.
The yellow-brown dirt is bare and untouched by human feet save where a few mines had been unearthed on previous days. A sniff of the air and I know what has happened – it’s already occurred twice in one month. My partner and I make careful tracks across the sandy ground; me leading and him trailing behind, putting his life in my hands. We reach a place where particles of dirt are only just settling around a deep cater. An elderly man is gasping out his last breaths, his legs blown to smithereens. Not too far away stands a frightened child, clawing at her face, shoving fists in her mouth, tears making tracks down her plump, soft cheeks. She wails and screams as she stares at the half-person lying in the sand. My partner gently picks up the dying man’s broken body and shows the girl how to hold onto my vest-belt as we guide them back through the mine-riddled field to solemn troops waiting to whisk them away and lead us back into the safety of the tent.
The remainder of the day is filled with mine-detecting and clearing as we work to make safe the outskirts of this poverty-stricken village. I overhear men saying that it is estimated a few hundred lie in the seemingly endless expanse of yellow-brown dirt. But that is just a rumour.
Tonight we are congratulated on our rescue but the atmosphere holds a certain air of mourning because the old man has passed away. Still, my heart is filled with contentment after a long and tiring day of work. And to my most profound thanks, I am honoured with a slab of meat from my partners’ plate – a rarity to someone of my status whose diet usually consists of canned food.
After all but a few lonely troops have sought their hammocks, my partner and I find a quiet spot and we sit and he talks. He talks about his weakest moments, about his most profound joys. He explains his worries, then his plans for the future, and all the while, I listen. And I listen like a true friend; like what he has been to me. No matter if his mates want me out of the tent because of my low status, he lets me in. instead of ignoring me mindlessly, he includes me. He has been kind, loving, and the best friend anyone could ever ask for. And thus we have spent our lives in one another’s company in willing servitude to the endangered lives of others.
When finally his trails of words dwindle and die in his mouth, he chooses to sit and lie beside my mat on the floor and we sleep in the safety and comfort of each other’s warm and friendly presence.
* * *
We wake bright and early to face the day. Eyes groggy and mouth contaminated with the vile taste of morning-breath, we stumble around in the early light. After a bland and quiet breakfast with the rest of our team, we ready our gear and begin the day’s work. Dawn is greying the sky and the sun soon follows to banish the black silhouettes of the night and, like reviving cold hands by a fire, replace them with the warm details and colours of the day-time world. As the morning progresses, the town awakens and becomes alive with the stench of petrol, raw meat and careless filth.
A group of children begin to play a game with a ball of dry twigs not too far from our site, and some part of me longs to run and jump and play too. It is only about ten minutes later before we hear the screaming. I speedily turn and am confronted with a child standing in the un-excavated area of our site. The ball is just out of her reach but she won’t move to get it. My partner is thinking ahead of me and he carefully makes his way towards her. Once he has reached her location, he calls for my assistance. I instantly realise that the girl is standing on a mine and must have heard the click of the metal plates and froze. Thank goodness.
My mind is racing as I fly to his aid, but little do I realise my tracks parting from his imprints left in the dirt. And so I am almost unaware of it when I feel the unfamiliar metallic “click,” thrumming and echoing though the earth and vibrating up to my feet. It is only curiosity that makes me halt where I stand. Nonetheless, I am able to recognise my situation in a matter of seconds. I look at my partner in fear, but he cannot see it in my eyes. I try calling him over, but cannot hear me. I must do this alone. With no rocks, nothing to shift the weight onto the mine, I decide to slowly crawl on my belly, millimetre by millimetre. I am a light, skinny little fellow. Perhaps if I inch my body off it, I can still get away and it might detect my presence. Might. Foolish hope.
I am almost all clear of it when it springs up abruptly, the “clang” of the mechanism filling my ears and welling up in my soul – cold, deadly, and alone. I am engulfed by first orange, then red, then black. My feeble, small body is thrown forward in its almighty power – a toy discarded by a spoilt toddler. I hit the earth barely conscious, pain spreading to every peaceful place in my body. My vision is wavering and my ears are overwhelmed with a dull ringing noise. I see the blurred shapes of people rushing around me. Then I only see colours. The edges of my sight become a cloudy black, like all things good have fled from the world. Then I see my partner, and all my hearing, vision and happiness rush back. But he is not happy to see me. His eyes hold great sadness. Tears spill down his face and he rocks me in his arms.
“It’s going to be alright,” he says. “It’s going to be alright.”
And all I want to say is I know, I know, because as long as I’m with my partner, everything will be alright. But I can’t, because I’m just an ordinary Army Dog doing his job.
You were good to me partner, and I will miss you.