My Sweet Gentle Veteran
The Commonwealth of Lividia consists of several nations banding together under a greater good. One of these nations, the Republic of Galcia, has a particularly strong theatrical culture. As such, like many other girls born here, being an actress was my all-time dream. The performances led me under the enchanted impression of that glamorous theatrical life, the exciting adventure these stars led, and the endless possibilities should I join them.
But then the war happened, and the rest was history. Everyone was affected, even the cinema world. Strong young actors were sent to the front, their faces plastered all over recruitment posters. It got so bad at one point that they started conscripting people. I fortunately was not old enough for conscription at the time. Meanwhile, father was an engineer, and mother was a nurse. So all of our family was spared from the horrendous combat on the front.
From time to time. Faces of courageous soldiers would grace the headlines. Brave men and women who have done valiant deeds are named Heroes of the Commonwealth. Whilst most featured are men, there is this one time when the face of a young girl made it into the headline. Her face was solemn and calm, beautiful and serene. It was so unlike the previous individuals. Although the black and white ink made me unable to discern her features. As far as I remember, that's the first time I've ever seen the lieutenant.
Our first meeting won't come until after the end of the war. I was helping out at a newly established aid centre. Handing out aid cheques behind the counter to veterans who just came back from the war. The one thing that broke my conception when I heard the word ‘veteran’ was the age range of the people involved. Before this, I thought they all would be grizzled middle aged men with scary looks. But the truth was far from that. Most of the people lining up were young boys. Many of them haven't even reached their twenties. Some even looked to be around my age. And to think that these boys are war veterans…
At the end of the day, the officer in charge of the aid centre, Mr. Hiigata, summoned me. Quite a surprise, I couldn’t think of a reason as to why a high-ranking officer such as him would summon a lowly service volunteer such as me. When I came to his office, he revealed his intention
“Theresa Lonnete. From today on, you will be relegated to be the personal maid of a certain distinguished individual. Here’s your work order.” He said, handing out a map consisting of two letters.
“A maid? Me?” I questioned.
“Yes, we have thoroughly reviewed your experience and personal history, and concluded that you would be the best person for this job.”He said, still in that monotone yet commanding tone of a military man.
“Do you have any-” before he finishes, Mr. Hiigata gets a phone call and excused himself. I suppose he didn’t expect the discipline and the stiffness of a soldier from a civilian volunteer like me. So that’s why he tolerated my questioning tone. And honestly, I am quite indifferent about this whole ordeal. As long as I can help, I’ll do it.
Being a maid though, I’ve only seen them in cinemas and theatre. As far as I know, their job was to take care of things that their master found too menial to do themselves, such as cleaning up the dishes, cleaning up the kitchen, the toilet, the bedroom, the clothes, the garden, etc, etc… Oh, and some cooking, I guess.
A jolt coursed through my mind. If I recall correctly, two famous Galcian actors that are serving on the front-line hail from our city. I remember gasping at the thought that maybe I'll be the personal maid of one of these actors, Jonathan Paul or Charles Le Blanc. My adventurous mind delved deeper into my adolescent fantasy, stuff that I’m too embarrassed to recall now. Fortunately, before I lost myself, Mr. Hiigata came back from the phone to address me.
“By the way, I think I should mention that this distinguished person is a female. 1st Lieutenant Caulia Cornellia Cromwell, hero of the commonwealth, recipient of the medal of honour and plaques d'honneur. Rejoice at this great opportunity"
“Oh… Yes, sir.” I said, trying to hold back my disappointment.
Curses. I remember thinking. There goes my teenage fantasy. Mind you, at that point, I still dreamed of becoming an actress one day. So I genuinely felt like that was a missed opportunity.
So anyways, after that, he explained some details of the work that I’ll be doing. In short, I was told to stay at this veteran’s house and help her with all sorts of things until she could at least settle down properly. They hid a lot of details in that vague statement. For example, it is not clear how long it would take for her to ‘settle down properly’. And Mr. Hiigata personally apologised for the sudden assignment, but he promised to give further support should I need it. Wow, suddenly I feel like some important person to have this high-ranking officer saying that to me. Mr. Hiigata told me to go to a certain room where my veteran would be waiting. He said he had to take care of some stuff before going in there himself, so, went in there I did.
After walking for some minutes, I found the room Mr. Hiigata mentioned. Everything else in that bombed out bunker looked like it had been torched in flame except for that certain room. It looked brand new, as if they had just renovated it.
Opening the door to the room I found the veteran that was waiting for me… I think. Because I genuinely thought that I got the wrong room. There, besides the rows of rows of empty chairs, I saw a girl sitting on a wheelchair. She's pretty, really pretty. She somewhat looked to be around my age. Her long, straight white hair fluttered as she looked at me, her lavender eyes gleaming like amethyst. Her pale skin seemed to glow like that of a beautiful candle as well. The main cause of my assumption was her uniform, or rather lack of. She was wearing a pure white sleeveless dress, and she was quite slim. There's no way this is the veteran I'm supposed to be serving right? She looked like any other Galcian girl! I bet if she went for an audition, she could even feature in a drama if she tried.
Well, that line of thought only lasted for less than a minute. For then I realise one glaring sign that she is, indeed, the veteran.
Which is her arm. Or rather… her lack thereof. And then a realisation dawned on me
Oh… So that’s why they wanted a maid…
No wonder the military out of all suddenly wanted to have a maid. It wasn’t for vanity, it was necessary.
She locked eyes with me, seemingly examining me from top to bottom.
"Can I… help you?" She asked.
"A-ah. Are you Lieutenant…" Lieutenant… She’s a Lieutenant, right? I scrambled the documents given to me as I didn't memorise her name. "Uhh, 1st Lieutenant Caulia?"
I don’t know much about military ranks and stuff, but aren’t Lieutenants kind of a deal? My uncle who served in the previous war only ends up as a sergeant. So you’re telling me this young and pretty girl outranks my uncle? A comical image of my uncle, a tall 185 cm man with a big moustache, being ordered around by her with a whip in hand pops up in my mind, though only for a brief moment.
"Yes, that's my name. And rank, I suppose."
And her voice was… very soft. Not what I imagine how a veteran would sound like… or looked like at all for that matter.
"I'm Theresa Lonnete. A volunteer for the veteran aid service. From today on, I will be serving as your maid."
My first impression of the Lieutenant was a combination of disbelief and amazement. They said she was a hero of some sort, so that’s impressive. And to think someone like this earned that distinguishment. Add to the fact that she doesn’t seems to be that much older than me.
The door opened, and then Mr. Hiigata came in. He walked in strong strides, and stopped in front of the veteran, giving her a salute before bowing deeply towards her.
"Lieutenant Caulia, ma'am. Your car has arrived.”
Meanwhile, I was standing in the corner of the room, perplexed. They sent a car to escort this girl? It is well known that cars are a luxury that only a select few are privileged to, so she really is an important person. Though looking back, my apparent surprise at this was caused by my overexposure to the theatrical world, and me in my ignorance putting the limits of my vision as the limits of the world. I didn’t account for the fact that the wealth of all the cinema stars combined couldn’t probably hold a candle to the military and its vast budget.
And then there’s Mr. Hiigata’s reaction upon meeting with the Lieutenant. I recognized his gesture, it’s oriental in origin. A gesture to convey an expression of great respect and honour towards a certain someone. Mr. Hiigata was a Captain, I don’t really know how far from a Lieutenant that is, but an officer bowing humbly like that towards someone of a lower rank could only mean one thing. Lieutenant Caulia really is a respected individual in the military.
“Hiigata. Raise your head. You don’t have to bow to me like that.”
I could see Mr. Hiigata visibly clenching his fist. And continued bowing anyway. Meanwhile Lieutenant Caulia looked at him with pity in her eyes.
Aaah, the tension in the air between these two, the awkward gesture of the man, the understanding and forgiving look of the woman. I’ve seen enough theatrical drama to know that these two have some sort of history between them. Though I obviously dared not to question it, my mind went through a lot of assumptions, which includes whether they were lovers or childhood friends. Then I quickly decided that it was best not to dwell on it, and I sure glad I did. I later learned that wasn’t the case. What I didn’t know at the time was that the real horrors of war have no sympathy for storybook romance to blossom.
Several men came into the room. Escorts, I believe. They stopped to salute the Lieutenant before helping in bringing her baggage to the car. One of them went to push her wheelchair, and then they left the room. Mr. Hiigata was bowing through all of that, and stood up only after Lt. Caulia had left.
“Ms. Theresa, you should go in the car with her.”
“E-eh? Someone like me?”
“Yes, you’re going to be helping her from now on after all.”
Well, riding in a car was one of the things I had in my list of things I wanted to do before I die. It’s funny how unceremoniously that one was crossed off.
“Please take good care of her, and…”
Ooh, here it is, here it is, what would it be? the reluctant third party confession? Or…
“No, nevermind. Goodluck with your duty.
“Oh, Yes sir. And thank you”
Ah, it’s the boring alternative. Oh well, I guess military men are still men after all.
When I went out to join the escort, I saw the men helping her out of the wheelchair to get into the car. A four wheeled osvo sedan, a luxury brand. It really does seem like a scene out of a movie. I wanted to help, but everything seems to be handled pretty well. So, one of the men told me to get in the car instead.
The two men outside closed the door and made gestures that everything was ready to go. The driver then gently pressed the pedal, and the car started to move. In the rear-view mirror, I could see the two men from before standing upright, and giving us a salute. their figure gradually disappeared as we drove further.
I can’t believe all of that just happened in such a short amount of time. This morning, I worked behind the receptionist desk, and now, I’m riding in a luxury car with a supposedly very important person. Well, it’s true that the context of this happening came from the military, instead of the cinema world. But It all still felt like a dream regardless. I tried to compose myself by twirling my finger around my side hair.
The Lieutenant seems to notice this. And she giggled.
“Are you nervous?”
“Eh? Uh, um, I’m, yes, not really, uh yes. I mean, no.” I said, giving my best stern military-like impression. Though obviously my haywire of a brain failed horribly in the grammar department.
“Ahahaa You’re nervous.”
“A-ah… uh… yeah…”
She leaned in closer to me. Well, she tried to, but…
“Ow ow oww…ouch.”
“L-Lieutenant?! Are you okay?”
… she seems to hurt her back or something when she tries to do that. So instead, she gestured for me to scoot closer to her. So, I did.
“I used to do that too. During the war.”
“You used to… do what?”
“That thing you’re doing with your hair. Twirling it around in your finger. It’s oddly calming, isn’t it?”
“Y-yes… So you get nervous too, Lieutenant?”
“It’s Caulia. You can just call me Lia.”
“Of course, I get nervous. I too, am just a girl, after all. When I was just a recruit, I used to twirl my hair in my fingers all the time. Well, it's quite unfortunate that I can't do that anymore though. "
"Ah, uh... I'm sorry."
She nudged me in the shoulder a little. And now that I'm closer to her, she leaned into my ear.
"You see. I don't really care much for all of that honours and stuff. They're just a big boogus. So please, you don't need to be nervous around me, okay?"
I could feel my cheeks burning up a little bit. The Lieutenant... She really is just like any other girl! She does not give off any intimidating aura like Mr. Hiigata did, and she made an active effort to make herself as approachable as possible.
She smiled, and I smiled as well.
The car was still moving. The Lieutenant stared out the window. She seemed to be watching the world pass us by. Seeing her, I couldn't help but wonder how someone like her became the hero that everybody respected. What's her story? If she’s just another girl like she said, how did it end up like this?
I then heard the lieutenant start to hum a tune. A traditional Galcian folk song, I found myself listening to it throughout the journey…
I helped her sit in the chair I prepared for dinner. A small roasted chicken breast with a side of asparagus soup sits atop the table. She groaned in pain several times during the process… of sitting down. The sight somewhat reminded me of my late grandmother…
“A-are you okay, Lieutenant?”
“Well what do you think? Broken ribs with fractured hips. Arms are gone and so are my bone. Hey, that rhymes.”
“Ahahaha, sorry, I couldn’t help it… Anyways, this looks and smells really good.”
“I’m glad you think so. Here, let me help you.”
“Thanks, If you would kindly.”
I stood closely beside her and grabbed a fork and a knife to first cut off the chicken, and then gently shove it into her mouth.
“Mmm, it tastes good too” she said as she munched on it.
Well, I always take it as a compliment. But after learning that the Lieutenant mostly survived on a diet of rock-hard K-brod (military bread) and dry sardines during most of the war, I don’t know how I should feel about her compliment. I’ll keep it on the positive end for now.
Little by little, the plate starts emptying until all of the chicken breast is gone. But the Lieutenant has a habit of making me scrape off everything that’s on the plate until there’s absolutely nothing left. It wasn’t because of anything. She told me before that her battalion got trapped and encircled in the city of Pravois. The ensuing 8-month long siege was brutal, and a lot of people died of starvation. The effect was so profound that she refused to leave anything to waste on the plate, years after the siege was over.
“I’ll be moving on to the soup now.”I said to her. As I grabbed a spoon and slowly fed it to her. The same thing happened with the soup, it’s just that since it’s impossible to scrape off the tiny bit of liquid with a spoon, she asked me to finish it instead.
“Thank you for the meal, Lonnete. That was delicious.”
“No problem Lieutenant. I’m glad to help you.”
I’m glad I managed to feed her properly without messing up. My eyes were quite heavy, so I was afraid I might not be able to do my duty properly. Nevertheless, after helping her drink a glass of water, I went ahead to go clean the dishes in the kitchen right beside the dining room. The Lieutenant is still sitting there, watching me. Well, of course she would. She couldn’t do anything on her own after all.
I remember occasionally yawning as I wiped the dishes. And after some moment of silence, she decided to start a conversation.
“ Hey, Lonnete. You said you’re only three years younger than me, right? So, you were in middle school when the war started?”
“Yes Lieutenant. I went to Yelton Spring Middle school, to be exact”
“I see… How was it before? Do you have friends?”
Huh, that’s new. And I don’t know how I feel about talking about my school life to a famed war hero like her. But she… Right now, she really does sound like a senior… Or rather, a big sister to me. So I obliged.
“Yes, I made a lot of friends at school, everybody was into the theatre scene at the time, and we usually went out to watch the cinema at weekend!” I said. Recounting those days fondly.
“That sounds fun.”
“Yes it was. It might sound dumb, but at the end of the movies, we would rate all the top male actors by how hot they look. Looking back, we didn’t really pay attention to the movies or plot whatsoever, only the males.”
“Ahaha. That’s fine. As long as you’re having fun… How are your friends nowadays? Do you still keep in touch with any of them?”
“Oh, I did write to some of them. Though I haven’t got the opportunity to meet up as I’m...” I found myself choking on my sentence, trying to rearrange the words in my mind so that I wouldn’t hurt the Lieutenant’s feelings. “I’m… I didn’t have the time to… There weren't any interesting movies in the cinema recently anyways.” Yes, yes, shifting the blame to the cinema should do.
“I see…” The lieutenant said, her voice now weaker than before. Another silence followed before it was revealed that my attempt was not successful.
“You know… I never really had any friends when I was at school.” She started.
“Back then, I was too shy to even look at someone in the eyes. I would never have been able to talk to someone the way I’m talking to you right now. Heh, war has a way to make you grow up, I guess.”
Even though I’m looking at the dishes right now, I can feel her letting out a sigh.
“And that’s why, I wanted to apologize to you right now.”
“Because I was thinking of relieving you of your maid duty.”
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