Leftover Loyalties | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 13, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, October 13, 2018

FICTION

Leftover Loyalties

Our weapons were taken away the day the General discovered the note I had written to Aumita. I could sense his disappointment, but luckily he cared more about the indignity of having to give up his arms over a subordinate's love affair with a foreign girl.

She was a foreigner now, for the war had ended. We had lost. Perhaps my attraction to her is a last-minute attempt to keep the strings bound, whatever that might mean. Frankly, it was tiredness more than politics and lust that made me fall for her. Of course, if circumstances were different, if it had been her inside this compound, I wouldn't have thought twice before committing any series of war crimes to get hold of her. I wonder why it is that barricades make us behave.

Brother Pig, my friend and fellow comrade, thinks I'm doing everyone a disservice by following through with this fling. We're already the villains in their story, he says, it's too late, Romeo, let's leave in peace, let's leave them be. Brother Pig, a married man for twelve years, obviously had never fallen in love before. He wasn't the sort of man who understood these things. It is also why he longs to return. It's over baba, he says, either kill us or free us. He'd clap his hands to add flavor to his point.

Honestly, we all said that, at one point or another. It's been over two weeks since we'd been here. It's only natural we'd be bored. Officially, we were to still have our heads held high, pretend it's only 'a game,' believing that nothing significant had been lost, but it's hard to do all that once you no more get to listen to the radio channels that sing your praise in rain or shine. It's been a while since anyone sang our praise; it's even got Brother Pig frustrated. They're waiting for us at home, he'd say, I'm sure of it.

Unlike him, I'd stopped thinking about any of that. I didn't think there was anything to be achieved by daydreaming about the honor that awaits us back home. Brother Pig would sometimes go the other way and panic. What if they label us weak, he'd cry out, what if they think we're to blame?

I'd scoff at him. “Of course they wouldn't. Why would they? They need us back home,” I'd say.

“Well then, why aren't we there already, baba?” Brother Pig would ask back.

Of course, these things take time. Exhausted enough, I wasn't in such a hurry anyway. There was Aumita for me. She lived nearby and visited often. I had seen her the first day we were brought here, and soon enough we were exchanging notes. A young boy, who sold us cigarettes inside the compound, would take my notes, which I'd write on the paper inside of cigarette packs, to her and bring back her replies to me.

He charged me much less for the courier service, and I was grateful to him. Perhaps he was a sympathizer. I wouldn't bet on it though, he probably just wanted the money.

We soldiers weren't that sympathetic to our cause either. We had to be patriotic, and we were, even though most of us never really cared. I had joined because all my friends had. Brother Pig joined because he hated his wife. He regrets our loss because now he'd have to go back and hear his wife nagging about this shame the rest of his life. “If it were up to me baba, I'd rather be dead now,” he said.

There were talks now, though, that it would be sooner than we think. I didn't know what to think of it. Many in the compound had already discussed in minute detail how they'd spend the rest of their lives in here. It won't be this spacious and green anymore, they said, in forty-fifty years, when our descendants, inbreeds and laden with God knows how many diseases, would populate the entire compound to its maximum, every inch of this place would be ghettoized: there would be buildings going up till it had space to accommodate us all.

I laughed it all away. It would never be this absurd. Perhaps, I hoped, they'd let us assimilate. I don't know about the others, but I'd try very hard if they let me. I'd change my name, speak their tongue. I wouldn't mind doing any of that. There's no shame in all that.

That day, when we were ordered to lay down our weapons and hand them to the Enemy, everyone was in a rather festive spirit. Our seniors, stuck with us for so long, were delighted to see their counterparts from the other side, people they had trained with side by side in their younger years. There was laughter, a great deal of bantering, and drinking. Their happiness trickled down to us and we started becoming happy as well. Brother Pig thought it was the best day he had since the end of the war. So much dancing!, he said, we can even lose in style!

Certainly, I could not be as happy, for the General had caught me red-handed that morning, trying to pass on a note to the boy. “We'll talk of this later,” he had said and went off to surrender his guns.

Many cried the next day, having finally realized that their weapons weren't by their beds anymore. Brother Pig wanted me to cry too. “Go on baba, he'd prod me on, you can do it, I know you can.”

I wasn't any mood to entertain him, though. I was busy thinking whether the General would really follow up on my situation.

It was heartbreaking, I tell you, I couldn't eat. With no smokes left, I waited for the boy to show up with great unease. I gather I wasn't ever in this state even when I waited for home. It's been quite a time since I did that.

I was still there when it became dark. There wasn't much work to do, and I didn't want to be anywhere where I could be invited in to talk of home or play cards or tell the same five dirty jokes in various ways.

The boy did not come that day, which was disappointing. I had, unknowingly as this things do, started crying.

“I knew you had it in you!” Brother Pig said, spotting me from some paces afar. I smiled at him, not knowing what else to do, with water still running down my cheeks and my neck and down under my shirt.

 

“Arre Baba, don't you worry!” he said. “We'll be back home in no time!” He wiped away my tears with his handkerchief. “Have faith in the General,” he tried to console me, “He'll get us out of here, he will. You just watch!”

 

Rafee Shaams is an essayist and short story writer.

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