A tiny ant worked its way through the blades of grass, scuttling across the moist earth crumbling away at its feet. The sky above it stretched blue till the horizon and with its cascading white clouds, it had taken over the grey sky of the day before. The rain had hammered down like shells and had turned the earth weak and muddy under the ant’s legs. As it meandered on however, the surface changed all of a sudden – it felt cold and hard as the ant moved from the earth, onto a surface of tempered steel. It climbed vertically upwards now towards the blue.
A young girl, all of nine, her long skirt flirting with the tips of the grass, waved her way through the green carpet towards that tank in the field. It had been there, standing still, since the war. She had seen it here for as long as she could remember; but the war, she’d never seen – a kindness that was never extended to her father. He had found himself in the midst of it all.
She had heard stories from him, though. The way the soil grumbled as the tanks rushed at you, the dust and wind trailing behind them. Her father had fought in the war and spoke of the legends of the tank in the field, almost fondly it seemed.The glint in his eyes, as he reminisced, frightened the little girl peeking out of her pearly white sheets. She would find it hard to recognise her father during these frenzied episodes and there was always that one story he recalled every time the sky turned a terrible shade of grey before a storm. He would speak of the first day when he was allowed to enter the tank and would also speak of how the enemy infantry had run for their lives as the tank had rushed towards them; how they had scattered like – grass from a lawnmower.
His smile would widen as he relived how the enemy had feared him on that tank and his big capable hands would clench thin air as he gripped the imaginary controls to the turret on the tank. His fingers would curl around an imaginary trigger and he would fire away shaking with the recoil of glory. His hands shook with a feverish frequency that could only be matched by the clammy tiny fingers trembling in fear underneath that white bedsheet.
For that quivering girl however, it had always been a spot to hide in. Somehow, once she was outside the sheets, she would see that tank as it had truly become over time – a theatre where butterflies danced and hid behind shining towers of light that managed to peek through holes in the armour. It’s where she’d pondered over countless childhood fantasies; asked questions that her father would never let her ask out loud. Her ‘secret spot’, it had been, where only those towers of light heard her mumbled secrets.
“Jennifer! You go on ahead. I will be a while!” called out her father, catching his breath.
The muddy earth from the day before was holding him back, while Jennifer had already sprung her way to the tank. He laboured forth towards his daughter’s laughter, his knees still straining against the remnants of the gray skies laboured to forget.
Of course, he had seen the skies grey before, but not owing to vapour. He remembered the ash twist and turn in eddies to lend the sky that colour and the shells flying out of that smog. He had fleeting moments when he saw flashes of how one had come out of the air and fallen feet away from him. How it had exploded, leaving his friend gripping his mutilated leg in agony. The flashes were growing dimmer with time, yet at times he wondered if it was okay to forget, whether he was allowed that pleasure of release. Wouldn’t that be unpatriotic? To consider their great defence a thought unpleasant; a thought to be forgotten. How would he then attend the parades that reminded him of the war and salute his seniors at the podium as he marched by? Would he still be able to meet their eyes?
It wasn’t all dark however.
He remembered the days before the grey as well. When, this very field was full of birds that used to peck grains out of his hand – back when their glistening necks still reflected the blue skies with tasselled brush strokes of white. The war had changed all of that. Kindness was of no value, only the strongest survived in the real world is what he’d learnt. The birds had never helped him; the tanks had saved the land and the country from the enemy. The tanks had saved him from other tanks, yet somehow the irony was wasted on him, or perhaps he didn’t wish to see it, lest the hero of his story fell from grace. A deep sigh escaped him – how wrong had he been of the world as a child. He knew better now. He knew what was necessary and had done what needed to be done. He could feel his chest swell as he stared upon his protector in the field and his little girl safe, running towards it.
Jenn had just reached her secret spot, where blushing flowers shadowed coarse steel. Just as she was about to go inside, Jenn found an ant struggling in a puddle of rain water by the barrel of the tank. Her earthy heart urged her to dip her hand into the puddle and let it crawl onto her diminutive finger. Raising her finger, she saw the ant frantically rush up her finger as if being near a human somehow signified greater danger. Bemused and taken aback Jenn placed her finger on the dry steel and let it crawl off. Oddly, once on the steel the ant stopped; perhaps stunned by this sudden act of previously unknown kindness, perhaps thanking its saviour. Jennifer smiled at the ant and with her hand on the door, stooped in and smelled in the earthiness.
The floor of the tank had morphed into a garden of nature as Mother Nature’s magic wand sought to undo the wrong. Here was her playground– Jenn’s playground.
Jennifer settled on the familiar green turf and called out to her father again. This was always their time alone and she wasn’t going to compromise on it. The ‘tank day’ they called it. Here her father would teach Jenn about the mistakes he’d made as a child – how he had misunderstood the equations of the world. Jenn never understood why her father called them mistakes. She accepted she was perhaps too small to understand them completely. Yet she hung onto every word that fell from those lips because it set one musing in concrete – her father had been exactly like her as a child. Jenn couldn’t help but feel happy about this connection she shared with her father. As any child of nine she wanted to grow up to be exactly like him.
She was already giggling when she heard her father’s footsteps. The man struggled in, his hand gripping the door, as his giant shadow was cast on the earthen floor. He smiled at his daughter and made to close the door behind him.
The rescued ant was crawling away on the frame of the door as Jenn’s father closed life’s doors on it. Nature had worked its magic on the horrors of the war. Perhaps, marks left on people were made of still sterner stuff.
The war was still not done killing. Nature needed help.
Author’s Message (theme):
All countries begin rebuilding after a war – the buildings are reconstructed, the economy finds its way back to its feet. There is however something more grievous that can’t be undone that easily – the damage to the community.
Of all things humans do, most are horrific. We have left a trail of destruction in our wake with the exception of certain subtleties that mankind has championed above all – love, compassion and empathy. The ones who’ve been through war seem to belittle these powerful emotions, weaknesses and subtleties of the human experience.
Perhaps, they are right. Perhaps these are weaknesses, but they are the most beautiful things we do. What is most frightening however is, the pride which these human beings take in being hardened. The thought that being hardened puts one on a higher pedestal is frightening. For if lovers grow fewer, the number of loved must fall precipitously.
Armament is not just taking away funds. It’s taking away our human beings.