My Sweet Gentle Veteran (Under Reconstruction)
I looked at the Lieutenant, eyes wide.
“So… when you didn’t specifically request for a maid around your age, you’re saying that I wouldn’t be here?”
“Probably not. They’ll hire someone more qualified for the job.”
I thought about it. I thought about what if I wasn’t working as her maid. Come to think of it, I originally only volunteered for a limited period of time for the veteran aid centre. The limits of which has been way overdue.
But after all this time, after almost one year of being with her, I never raised any complaints. I wonder why? Objectively speaking, the work was very tiring. I have to wake up before the sun rises, I have to do a lot of labour, I have to be very considerate of her, and I slept way after the moon rises. It was really tiring.
But why have I never sounded a complaint?
“I’m sorry for being such a burden Lonnete. I was only thinking of myself. While it’s true that I lost my parents on the first day of the war and My siblings died in Edna. I shoulnd’t have been allowed to be someone else’s burden.”
“I’m sorry that I’m so useless… I broke my back and I lost my arms during the final battle of the ringed tower. I cannot take care of myself, and I don’t have anyone else to return to. All my colleagues perished along the way, and I’m sorry that it had to be you that would take care of me… I can’t go anywhere without you helping me. I need to have you spoon feed me every time I need to eat. I need your help to undress me every time I need to take a bath, and to dress me up when I'm done. I need you to help me go to the toilet, I need you to brush my teeth, I need you to put me to sleep at night. How am I any different than a baby?”
I left the kitchen, and started walking towards the dining table
I walked closer towards her.
In that moment, I realize why I never even sounded a complaint. I realize why I subconsciously decided to stay with her and letting go of many other opportunities I could’ve pursued.
“Ah, one good thing is that an artillery shrapnel lacerated the area around my womb, so at least, you won’t have to deal with my-”
“Caulia! Stop! Please… stop…”
Without wasting any second, I wrapped myself around her in a hug. Fearing that it would cause her pain, I was being reserved with it. Even though I wanted to hug her tightly, I really, really, wanted to…
But I mainly did that in order for me to avoid listening to what else she would say. I couldn’t listen to it anymore. It hurts, it hurts so much. The sting to my heart was so painful I couldn’t take it anymore. All I could feel was pain. Even if it was second hand, it was still too unbearable.
After all. I decided to do all of this because I cared about her.
“A-ah… I’ve said too much, haven't I? I’m… sorry. Yes… I’m sorry for dragging you here.”
“No, no! That’s not what I meant! I asked you to stop not for my sake, but for yours! Please, stop hurting yourself… And how… How could someone endure so much pain as you have… Why do you have to endure that much pain? How is that fair? What have you done to deserve it? You’ve lost everything, you’re in constant pain, you are doomed to be alone for the rest of your life… How is that fair?! What was God thinking?!” I said, no, shouted out at the top of my lungs. I couldn’t process this much misery; it was too absurd. No wonder everyone in the military respected her so much. No wonder a Captain bowed deeply to this young and frail looking girl, no wonder a world class actor asked a nobody like me to take care of her… They knew what she had gone through, and they knew what she must deal with looking onwards. They did their best to console her, but what meaning do brass medals and honorific plaques hold when you’ve lost everything?
She was silent upon listening to all of that.
“Lia… I’ve noticed this since meeting you. But your eyes, they’re always looking at something else, don’t they? Your eyes were always empty… You never actually looked at the things in front of you, you were always looking at something else. In your head, in your mind, you were reliving all the horrors you went through, didn’t you?”
Still, I receive no response. It seems my words did not reach her.
The Lieutenant had been hurting all along and she always blamed herself for it. I still have her around my arms, with me sobbing intermittently. “I can only imagine what kind of horrific images you’re witnessing, every time I talk to you, every time you’re eating, every time you sit down in your painting room and stare down on that blank canvas. But Lia, please, you don’t have to bear it alone. You know? I don’t mind sharing that burden to you, I don’t mind helping you out. I don’t mind you taking my time away from me. So please, let me share in your burden, Lia.”
After more silence for what felt like an eternity, I finally got a response. She fixed her posture upright, and gently pushed me aside.
“You called me Lia.”
She said, with a smile on her face. Meanwhile I still wore this ugly crying look, looking up at her with a dumbfounded expression. I think she found it funny somehow as she started giggling upon looking at me.
“Ehehehe, you called me Lia.”
“A-ah… I did, uh… I’m Sorry, Lieu-“
Before I finished my words, she stumped me in the head with what remains of her right arm. It… actually kind of hurts…
“Stuupid. I wanted you to call me that.” She said, her face quite annoyed.
“But that’s not good. You’re making me too attached to you.”
“How can I relieve you of your duty now? That’s not fair.”
She said that, but a smile returns to her, and she takes a deep breath.
“I’m sorry for making you think like that, Lonnete. I even made you shed some tears for me.” She spoke. “I probably would’ve cried alongside you too, if not for the fact that my tears had long since dried up.”
Pluck! Again, she stumped me with her right arm before I got the chance to say the word. I noticed that her reflex was quite extraordinary.
“Stuuuupid Lonnete. If you call me that again, I will have you court martialed for disobeying my order.”
“Heh?! You can do that?!”
“I sure could. Am an officer, after all.”
I don’t know whether if Lieu- I mean, Lia, is serious or not. Or whether she has that kind of power in the military or not. But I’m not too keen on finding out. People who have served in the military are really, really good at switching off the civilian mask they wore on everyday life should the need arises. I’ve experienced that with my uncle. So I obliged.
“Hehe, that’s more like it.”
She sighs. before continuing.
“Still. Thank you for doing that, I am glad that to know you cared about me.”
“Well… I’ve been taking care of you for months. How could I not?”
She giggles at that reply. And I found myself trying to wipe away what’s left of my tears.
“You asked ‘what was god thinking?’ Funny, it reminds me of something. Did you know that I met God during the war?” she said, calmly and confidently
“I didn’t believe it at first, but after she showed me some evidence, I began asking a torrent of question to her. Mainly, why did you let this war happen, why did you let evil run rampant? why didn’t you do anything?”
I do not know whether I could believe what the Lieutenant said or not. I don’t know whether this is a mental episode or not. I’m pretty sure I didn’t mistake the drinking water with schnapps or wine. The fact that she used the pronoun of “she” to describe God was… something. But I was still too emotional to refute any philosophical belief at that time, not that I have the actual capacity to do that in the first place. And besides, the Lieutenant seems so confident in her statement, So I followed along.
“Do you know what she gives for an answer?”
“Why, a question, of course, like some irresponsible teacher. It seems that God can’t even avoid this trend.”
I was… too emotionally tired to give any meaningful remarks back at that statement. Though I think I remember giving a dry laugh…
“She said ‘sure, I can save everyone. But what do you think would happen if I were to save everyone? If everyone were to live happy, with no worries in their life, they don’t have to work for anything, they don’t have to fear anything. They can sleep, eat cakes, sing songs all day long. If I were to eradicate all evil, what do you think would happen, then?’ she said.”
“What did you say Lia?”
“I wisely said ‘hnghgnghgh…’ because I just had my arms amputated by an explosion and the pain just started to settle in.”
“It’s crazy painful.”
“I- I see… Y-yeah, I would imagine so…”
Waah… War veterans… their sense of humour is… really dark huh…
“But this is what our God said. ‘it would be the end of the world.’”
“Doesn’t make any sense, right? Before I was able to ask for clarifications, she was gone, and left me just like that. Shortly after that, I too passed out.”
“But how? If all misery ends, why would it cause the end of the world?”
“I thought so at first… Until I read something in a newspaper, about a certain experiment gone wrong.”
“What is it?”
“So a group of scientist wanted to found out what would happen if the rats has all their needs accommodated. How prosperous said colony of rats would be. So basically, the same premise of what our God mentioned in her example. The rats were given food and water, they were given spaces to walk, they were free to go in and out of the enclosure. It was practically rat heaven. What do you think happened?”
“Well… You did say that it was an experiment gone wrong…”
“Ah, right, I spoiled it ahaha. But yeah. The rats did not thrive at all. It was the complete opposite. It was total chaos. They began killing each other on the first week, some starting to cannibalize other rats despite having access to food given by the scientist. They prefer to stay at one place despite given complete freedom to go whenever they please. The rats went mad, it was basically the end of the world for that certain rat colony.” She paused, lowering her tone for her next sentence. “And in that moment, I immediately thought that ‘She’s right… Our God is right…”
“That’s… Scary, but is it really fair to compare us humans to some lab rats?” I said.
“I’ve given some thought to that to. But in the end, my conclusion is still the same… No, in fact, it would be worse, given what we humans are capable of. It might not be far off to say that it would be the end of the world as she said.”
“I believe the keyword here is absolute ingratitude. Drawing examples from the rats, they were given foods and drinks regularly for free, yet some of them choose to cannibalize their fellow rats. Why? Because they can. And just because they can. It is the same for humans and their wars. There aren’t any inherent reasons why war should happen. Fundamentally, we did it just because we can, through our sheer ingratitude to prove to ourself that we can. We are, after all, an irrational being.”
“That’s…” I paused. “That’s why this war keeps happening.”
“Yeah, and it’s all because of our ingratitude,” she said, giving a disgusted smirk. “The same thinking that caused the rats to eat each other just like how humans kill each other.”
I have no idea why or how me, a maid, ended up having esoterical discussion with a war veteran using some rats to describe human behavior. I always found these abstract field of knowledge to be quite boring in school. But seeing it explained through the lens of real-world example made me realise how messed up our existence is. All because some people wanted to demonstrate themselves, and display their power. There was no moral high ground, no spark of righteousness guiding them. Just pure hatred, narcissism, egocentrism, childishness, and not giving a damn.
“But why couldn’t she stop it then? Why couldn’t God stop this irrationality?”
“I believe she could. But she chooses not to.”
“Because that would mean she would have to kill every last human on this world”
Lia took a deep breath.
“You see, that’s why I was never really bothered with having my arms gone. I don’t know whether God intended for our meeting to be meaningful or not, it might not be. And I don’t know whether the conjecture with the rats is a correct one or not. I believe there are many points of argument for those with a critical mind, whether it be for that God’s statement or for the rat experiment, but I don’t care. I’m a soldier, it doesn’t matter to me. I’ll choose to derive my own meaning, and that is, being alive is a blessing in its own right.”
“That’s a beautiful conclusion, Lia.”
“You think so? And here I thought you theater girl would think that it’s clichéd or something.”
“Some clichés usually led to a happy ending… And of course, I want everyone in real life to have a happy ending. Clichéd or not.”
She smiled at my reply.
“Well but of course, I’m still a flawed human being after all. Even after saying all of that. I still couldn’t get the images of what I’ve seen off of my mind just like that. That’s why sometimes, I acted like I did…”
“It’s okay Lia. I understand.”
And then we were interrupted by the sound of the clock striking. As before we know it, the clock already indicated a time 9 in the evening.
“Ah! I’m sorry, I should’ve prepared some warm water for you…”
“Ahaha, we really forgot about time huh.”
“You need to sleep early Lieu-a, Lia. You’re going to the capital tomorrow morning for the victory parade, right?”
“But because your battalion is no longer with you, you’ll be marching all alone on your own didn’t you…”
“Yeah, I will be marching alone.”
“Would you be okay?”
“Probably not. I’ll be sad. I might even cry.”
“What, you want to come with?”
“I… I don’t want you to be sad, Lia.”
She lets out a dry laugh after I said that.
“God, having a friend that cares for you is wonderful.” She mumbles, still not quiet enough for me to be able to hear her. “I can’t believe I missed out on this because of social anxiety. How stupid…”
“You… don’t have to go to the parade if you don’t want to.” I said, gently pressing on her shoulder.
“I’m a soldier, Lonnete. I have to do my duty.” She said in a stern voice. It was quite surreal witnessing a beautiful girl in an equally enchanting white dress saying such a line. Though if anything, that just means I couldn’t do anything to change her mind.
“Although they probably won’t mind if you hitch a ride with me to the Capital. You just can’t join me in the parade. You can watch it along with everyone else on the crowd.”
“Really? That’s good to hear!”
Her voice trailed off and she looked away from me. I could see her ears reddening, I’ve witnessed this kind of signal many times before. It’s when you wanted something that you’re too embarrassed to ask outright. And I think I know what to do.
“Yes, of course, Lia. I will cheer on you from the crowds.”
Her head quickly turned to me and her eyes lit up “That’s good to hear.”
“But if I see you cry. I will rush towards you and give you a hug.” I said with confident determination.
“No, please don’t. They’ll arrest you.”
“Then don’t cry.”
“Geez… That’s a tall order.”
“How about this. Why don’t we visit the National arts museum after the parade?”
“W-wah!! You’re right! The national museum is in the capital!” She said with a shout that came out of nowhere.
“Right? Do you want to go? Want me to pack something for you to wear on the museum? Or are you fine with your uniform.”
“No, not the uniform. Give me a blouse or a dress.”
“Well look at the time, shouldn’t you be doing something?”
“Oh, yes! I’ll be right back.”
I proceed to stand up and head towards the bathroom to prepare some warm water for her. But as I walked, I remember smiling with glee along the way. I’m just glad that I’ve come into some sort of understanding with Lia. And I could’ve sworn that, for the first time ever, I’ve seen some light in her eyes even only for a bit. She’s finally seeing me, looking at me!
I arrived on the basement and turned on the boiler. The dreariness of this place couldn’t scratch the brightness in my heart right now. What could that light on her eyes meant remains to be seems. One thing is for sure though.
It could only mean something good. And I’m looking forward to it.
It was high noon on the Commonwealt's capital city of Aronessia. On a straight path 3 kilometers long, stretching from the Parliament palace on the north end, to the unification plaza on the south end. The edge of the road was completely packed with people, it was quite the festivities with short wire fencing that served no other purpose other than separating the parade with the people standing on the edge. On the other end of the avenue, several podiums and stands could be seen, housing people holding all kinds of musical instrument in their hands.
Everyone was willing to see and share in the momentous moment. To celebrate the one-year anniversary of their victory over the Radovin Empire and the Tasmir Khaganate, a victory parade is to be held along the main avenue. My rather slender figure managed to secure me a spot in the front row of the crowds. meaning that I would be able to see Lia when her turn came.
Of course I've seen her off earlier this morning. And what I speculated was true. Foot soldiers such as Lia would have to march alongside their fellow battlegroup. Having none left alive, she would have to march all on her own. Well, save for someone else that would have to push her on her wheelchair.
The first to rode on the parade were the higher brass. All the generals, admirals, and marshals, riding on open topped cars alongside their confidants. Themselves standing tall and firm, gracing the crowds with a proud salute. The people replied with cheers as the music blares louder.
Next comes the cavalry. The mechanical monsters of the Commonwealth, stuffs such as crawlers and mechs. I have to say standing beneath the sight of one was quite a beholding experience. They tower over you, some even blocking the sunlight as they pass.
After all the iron beasts had passed, comes the regular men and women in uniform, marching on the avenue. Time to time, holders of prestigious awards would get special mention as they marched along the way. What I found interesting was the quirks each of these awardees has when they passed on the streets.
It is a well-known fact that individuals of superhuman abilities exist in this world. The Radovin has their witches, the Tasmir has their Alchemists, while in the commonwealth they were referred to as mages, specifically combat mages. These people were rare, of course. But the military of each respective nation put them to good use during the war.
And of course, the recipient of those prestigious military awards were mostly these kinds of people. They look quite striking too, you could tell them apart from the common dregs by their appearances alone, whether it be an unnatural hair colour, unnatural hair shapes, or unnatural body shapes. I would know, some of these people had just passed through the parade after all. Though I don’t know how they got those or how they maintain that kind of appearance in the chaotic field of war, I suppose that’s what make them special, I guess.
But that’s just all the more reason why I put Lia in very high regard. There’re these groups of people with all sorts of crazy abilities. Such as flying faster than a missile, shooting fireballs out of their hands, possessing the minds of their enemies, yadda, yadda. And then there’s Lia. A shy girl who just likes to draw, receiving not only one, but two of the highest awards the Commonwealth could give to a soldier. I am aware that she doesn’t like to dwell on her achievement. But the fact that a regular human like her could outperform the likes of combat mages is just astonishing. No wonder everybody respected her so.
Speaking of Lia. The line of the battlegroup that had passed me is starting to get thinner and thinner, indicating heavy casualties suffered by said battlegroups. And then it went empty, as if nobody was marching along the avenue. That’s what everyone seemingly thought, until the loudspeaker announces yet another name of the so-called heroes of the Commonwealth.
“Hero of the Commonwealth. 1st Special Drop Troops Battlegroup, ‘The Ouroboros Legion’. Recipient of the medal of honour and plaques d’honneur. The 5th most decorated serviceman of the entire Commonwealth. The White Witch herself, 1st Lieutenant Caulia Cornellia Cromwell.”
Unlike the previous bombastic sound of army boots being trampled onto the grounds that accompanied the announcement. Lia’s announcement was followed by a sudden wave of silence as the figure of a slim girl in uniform with hair white as snow appeared. Sitting atop a wheelchair, being pushed by some random serviceman I did not recognize. They are the only one present at the wide avenue. I can see her face from here. And yeah, just as she said, this seems to take quite a heavy toll on her. I saw her looking down on the ground, not meeting any of the crowd’s gazes.
I heard some people whispers among themselves, I heard some people gasp in disbelief, and I heard some people crying at the sight of her. Knowing that her marching alone meant the rest of her battlegroup can’t make it to the parade, one way or the other. The only thing not affected by the sight was the marching band and the confettis that keep playing uninterrupted.
As she 'marched' through the silent crowd, I can see her face looking extremely downcast. I can see her face seems so bitter with memories.
“Oh no, Lia…”
I have to do something. Yesterday, I saw her genuine smile for the first time ever. A light finally lit up in her eyes that had always been mired in haunting memories. And now she’s about to return to those miserable faces again. I will not let that light left her again, not this time, not anymore. So I decided to do something.
She said they’ll arrest me if I went beyond the wire fencing and trespassed, right? So that means I’ll just have to do it from here…
I calmed myself first by regulating my breath, slowly, calmly, in and out, in and out. And then, as she started to pass in front of me, I took one very deep breath in my chest, and shouted out at the top of my lungs.
“LIAA! I’M SO PROUD OF YOU AND EVERYTHING YOU’VE DONE. SO HANG IN THERE, YOU CAN DO THIS! “
I somehow managed to level the sound of the marching band through my shout alone. And of course, people all started to turn their attention at me with all sorts of looks. From here I can see Lia, too looking at me with wide eyes and parted lips. Everyone but the marching band members were looking at me right now. I admit, I felt a cringing sensation by drawing this much attention, but being in the theater world had been my dream since the very beginning. And if I ever wanted to achieve that dream, I will just have to push through this situation with all of my might.
I stood tall and fixed my posture upright. And then in a swift movement, I gave my best impression of a military salute at Lia. I kept my eyes open and looking forward at her. And to my relief, I’m glad to see her… smile? Or was it a smirk? Is she mocking me? I feel like she’s making fun of me or something. That ungrateful girl. But then, slowly, I heard a clap from the crowds. It started as a shy clap, coming from someone in the crowds, slowly, one became two, two became four, and in a chain reaction, the applause started to drown even the sound of the marching band.
And then suddenly I heard the crowd erupt into a deafening roar, all clapping their hands and pumping their fists in the air. I could see some flowers being thrown her way. And her face is... in tears...
... So she cried anyways, I failed, damn. But! But somehow, it doesn't feel like a sad moment anymore. No, she just seems happier. And it was clear to me at this point, she was looking right at me. I followed her eyes as she turns around and puts on a huge smile, despite the tears flowing from her cheeks.
I kept my stiff saluting pose as her wheelchair passed me by, applause still roaring loudly from the crowds. I swear I could see even the man pushing her wheelchair smiling and talking to Lia. I hope he’s consoling her.
They continued to walk through the avenue, their figure gets smaller and smaller as they got further away from my spot. Eventually, another battlegroup would pass by us, and another names started to get special mention from the loudspeaker. I slowly lowered my salute, my face brimming with a fulfilled smile, as I waited for the day to be over.
At least today ended in a good note.