The Curse

My first memory about it was in the bus. As we approached the airport, all I thought was, wow this is it. There were 20 of us, many I had never spoken to. Jack sat next to me, this was his third time. Rob and me were the only ‘freshers’ if u could put it that way. Everyone else had at least been in one.

We were instructed not to waste much time, “The planes have to be back for more men”, the General yelled. The inside of the plane was crowded, as we got to our positions the plane took off. Jack was still next to me, he never spoke a word from the moment we left from camp.

As the light next to the door lit up, one by one we jumped off the plane. Jack always had a way to put things into perspective, “out of the frying pan into the fire”, that’s how he explained the art of paratrooping. He had been a brother since day one. He always said I reminded him his brother John.

“War brings out the worst in men”, he had told me once and had also added “Worst in men brings out war”. We landed scattered around a field; there was no sign of any sort of war. One of the guys looked around and said “come out come out where ever you are”. Paratroopers are the soldiers that are always surrounded; we get no time to prepare our selves; how can we simulate 20 men surrounded by 1500.

As we walked up to the other groups of troopers we were told of an enemy bunker we had to take out. The bunker was 3 clicks to the west and was heavily guarded. We made sure that our weapons were loaded as we moved slowly over a hillock.

The war had not yet begun for most of us, but the men looked like they were returning rather than entering into a war. We spotted the bunker 30 minutes later. There were approximately 15 men in and around it. 20 versus 15 sounds like good odds, they are not. We had to wait until nightfall to attack. Jack told me to watch my back and moved ahead.

As the night crept in we crawled into the grass. The enemy had 2 major points 2 machine guns on either side of the bunker. The plan was simple, takeout the men behind the machine guns and then pick the rest. Jack had always told stories of how he used to carryout stealth missions; I had the honour of watching him in action that night. 10 minutes passed and we had taken control of the bunker. The sound of bullets echoed through my head. In the commotion Rob had killed one of the enemy soldiers. I was the only person in the group who had not got his hands red yet.

It is spectacular how people tend to do the right thing the wrong way. Wars have been fought before and it seems odd that we have never learnt from our mistakes. You might be wondering what a war critic is doing in a war. Well I am here and I have a job to do.
The secondary mission was to maintain control of the base until a backup team arrived to relieve us. The radio message informed us that the backup was on the way and would arrive only at dawn. As we stood there in an enemy bunker, we wondered if the enemy knew. What if our own paratroopers show up and think we are the enemy. Our only choice was to wait the night. It was an hour later when it happened. Rob suddenly ran screaming; three other guys jumped on him and told him to shut up. Jack ran towards them, he then took Rob to the side. Jack and Rob spoke for sometime, the whole thing happened so fast that I could not think about anything else. A few minutes later Jack came over to me and told me that the war had gotten into Rob.

I was in charge of one of the machine guns; I looked around for any sudden movements in the grass. Suddenly there was a shot; it came from near the other machine gun. We were under attack, I saw an enemy soldier crawling up and I fired.

I slept for a few minutes after the attack. Jack came over and just nodded. He sat next to me as if waiting for something to happen. We never spoke a word. The smell of death was all around, I tried my best to sleep, it was my turn next to be the watchdog.

I saw him again this time his face was up against mine. It was the enemy soldier I had just killed. He stared at me and mumbled something in native. It sounded like a curse. My hand reached for the gun, I was not sure if he was going kill me. My hands felt metal and I grabbed the gun. I tried to lift it but I couldn’t, I turned around and Jack was holding my gun. He shook his head as if to say “NO”.

The enemy soldier never budged the entire time. He kept mumbling. I looked at Jack and back at the soldier. I had no idea what was happening. Jack grabbed my face and covered my mouth. I could not move my head. He whispered “cool down don’t get scared….”

I was sitting down with my head covered. I was crying.. Soldiers are not meant to cry but I was. I looked up and the enemy soldier was still talking to me. Jack sat in front of me holding my gun. I looked at him and asked “why Jack why?” He replied “no one knows why.” He then walked out of the bunker. I screamed “DON’T LEAVE ME ALONE” and ran out.

My life had changed that moment, when Jack had taken the gun. What he said to me still echoed in my head.

“What do u see?”
“I see him.”
“The guy I just killed.”
He took a deep breath and said “It is a soldiers curse. When we kill someone we carry their soul with us until we die.” The soldier was a ghost. The first ghost I ever saw, the only ghost I ever saw.
He added “You can’t do any thing about it. You have to accept it and move on. He will try to get you killed. But as long as u concentrate and keep him out of your mind, you will survive.”
I asked him “Do you carry someone?”
He grinned and added “21. Let me put it this way I have never slept for over 6 years. Ever since I killed the first of them. It is like I have a crowd around me all the time.”
“How do u manage to…”
“Survive? A good soldier stands up and fights. Come what may.”

Every one now spoke to me, it was like I was one of them now. As dawn came so did the backup. They took over the bunker and gave u our next target. It was a section of trenches that we required to capture to allow safe passage to arriving units. We were given the location and it was just 5 clicks to the north.

It is never easy to concentrate and it is tougher with someone screaming in your ear. Rob and I were the only soldiers who found the walk very stressing. The enemy soldier was bleeding from the bullet wound, if ghosts could bleed. He had a murderous look in his face.

The trenches were like mazes. About 5 feet below the ground level. There were 5 major positions were the ammunitions and the storage were placed. The two men looking out for intruders were easy targets for us. We had about 15 min to make a plan. The normal strategy of the any soldier was to send out 2 men at a difference of 15 to 20 min. This would give them an early indication of an attack, incase neither returned in that time. Jack and I decided to take on the nearest storage unit. This would give us more weapons and safe place to fend off attacks. Interestingly, our strategy worked we had control of the storage within a few minutes.

But this is when we realized we had committed an error in calculation. The enemy’s strategy was not of 15 min but of 10 min. Waves and waves of enemy attacks followed. We lost 12 men and 3 were wounded. That’s when the first unit arrived. The 20 odd men who arrived were good enough to provide us the strength to take out most of the enemy soldiers in the trenches.

I was breathing hard and looked at Jack who was right next to me. He was hurt. A bullet had hit him. As I screamed for the medic, He looked at me and said “Don’t waste the medicine on me, the bullet has hit an artery. I will not make it.”
He took a deep breath with a sigh added “Get me the photo.” The photo was a picture of his family. He always carried it with him. “Promise me, you will tell my family that I loved them.” He kissed the picture. “Do you know the best thing about dying? The ghosts leave u so that you can die peacefully. Finally I can get some sleep….” Those were his last words. I never had to ever go to a funeral, It was the first time I saw someone I cared about dead. It is hard to explain how I felt but I remember screaming and crying for sometime.

We had guessed right about how important the trenches were. Even before we could consolidate our position in the trenches we were attacked. This time it was about 100 men and we had no chance. I remember we gave a fight for sometime but one by one we were gone.

The gun was not pointing to my head, as I looked up. It was you, with that sadistic grin.