#8 That Boy At War

I knew the war had begun. When I rummage through my memories now, I realize that the seed of that long battle was sown precisely during that time. There were no arms involved yet, no sound of gun fires, no declarations made by either of the army chiefs yet. It was only the media that was buzzing with noise, but at the border, there was nothing but silence. However, the day I received orders from my army chief to ‘get active’; I knew this silence wouldn’t last for long. I knew the war is not far off.

I had been living in the enemy country as one of them for three years. At such young age and limited experience, I was chosen to be the spy for this mission. The Intelligence Bureau of my country gave me special training, fake identity and all the supporting documents as proof of citizenship if I was ever questioned. I lived in a small, rented cottage located in a village that was close to the line of control. My cottage was precisely 27 steps away from an army bunker - an important one.

The enemy army had secretly constructed that bunker in order to target various key areas of our land across the border. During my first year in that village, I devoted all my time researching about that bunker and its surroundings. I was collecting data that’ll be useful when I’ll have to execute my mission. The bunker was hardly visible. Nobody could look at that small lid and imagine that there were over two dozen soldiers beneath. They were well equipped with all the facilities and armouries to strike us at the state of war.

To avoid suspicion, there wasn’t any army base camp near the bunker. However, it was only 18 steps away from GU’s living quarters. GU was the code name we had given to the enemy army chief. He and his immediate staff could see the bunker lid directly from the balcony of his living quarters.

I kept a constant watch on all the army activities and proceedings in that village. Whenever I would see any development, I would report it to my army chief across the border. I would see the best time and use the walkie-talkie to communicate with them. I had been hiding it behind the flush tank of the toilet in my cottage. In the latest communication with my army chief, I was asked to finally do what I was sent there to do three years ago - destroy that bunker before we start the war.

Over the last one and a half years, I had put together a plan to execute the mission. It was my observation that if I have to make the destruction and not be caught, I have to do it on a Sunday between 4:23 and 5:31 AM. The probability of anyone seeing me destroy it was the least during that time. The biggest threat, however, was GU himself. Once in a while, he would be found walking around the bunker during that time window.

Two days prior to my operation, I began collecting hand grenades and other explosives that I had hidden in various places all over the village. While putting them in a bag and counting them, I thought about GU and his big ass moustache. Getting caught by him meant endless torture and brutal interrogations, which would then lead to my death. However, I was out there to do a job for my country and its glory - the pride overpowered all the fears their entire army could evoke in me.

On Sunday, at 4:20 in the morning, I silently walked out of my cottage wearing a green dress and a backpack. I walked a little and then began crawling on the uneven land towards the bunker. Soon, I reached the lid of the bunker and used all the strength in my arms to open it. Once the lid was off, I did not give any reaction time to the soldiers inside. One after the other I kept throwing hand grenades inside. I didn’t stop unless I ran out of them. The bunker was deep. I could only hear the mild sound of explosions inside, but couldn’t hear anyone shouting. The moment I was done, I closed the lid and rushed back to my cottage.

Nobody saw me. I quickly changed, went back to my bed and pretended to sleep. An hour later, I eased a little and informed about my safety to my army chief before sleeping. It was almost afternoon when I woke up. I walked out of the cottage to check the situation outside. From the distance of those 27 steps, I could see a lot of army officials surrounding the bunker lid. There was an army tank that had arrived at the location and I saw a few soldiers getting down. Possibly, they were getting rid of the dead bodies and other soldiers were taking the position.

Within hours, the situation was back to square one. I killed their soldiers, but could not destroy their setup. Without that, my army chief could not begin to strike them and start an all-out war. I needed a bigger plan. I had a discussion with my army chief and asked him to supply me with more explosives and give me some time.

Over the next few days, I was asked to reach random locations in the village, pick explosives and bring them to my cottage. They were supplied to me by the other spies in the village planted by our army. Even I wasn’t told who they were but I knew they silently keep a watch on the proceedings of the mission. Once again, I put all the explosives in my bag and began observing the bunker every day. I would sit for hours outside my home, pretending to do my work, hoping I’ll find a perfect time to once again attack without being caught. It was important for me to stay safe. I knew that if I get caught, they’ll beef up bunker’s security. For another spy to take over and execute this mission would take months.

A week later, I got another chance. It was late Saturday night when I saw no one near the bunker. I repeated the procedure. I rushed inside my cottage, changed into greens and hung the bag full of explosives on my shoulders. Silently, I walked those 27 steps to reach the bunker. Once again, I used all my muscle to open the bunker and began throwing all the explosives I had. There were no screams, but only the distant sounds of explosion. I carefully picked my bag and went back to my cottage without leaving any trace.

Next morning, their army officials came; lots of soldiers surrounded the bunker and began reinstating its operations. Once again, the situation was restored in no time. My army chief across the border wasn’t happy. I had to do something. In my next attempt, I decided to go all out. I found a bigger bag and got all the explosives that I could get from all the possible resources. When I saw the next opportunity, I dashed towards the bunker for the third time with the intent to destroy it beyond repair.

When I opened the bunker and began throwing the explosives inside. I sensed footsteps approaching towards me. Without looking around, I tried to throw as many explosives as I can. However, in no time an enormous hand reached my collar - GU’s hand.

“You’re the one behind all of this!” He exclaimed.

I tried to get away from his grip but failed.

“Leave me!” I shouted.

“Everyone living on this street is fed up of these blocked drainage lines!” He shouted.

“Sorry uncle,” I began to cry.

“Sorry? Come, I want to inform this to your parents,” he said and held my wrist tightly.

“Don’t tell them, uncle. I am sorry,” I cried louder.

He rang the doorbell of my place and soon Papa opened it.

“Gwale Ji, how are you?” Papa said and noticed him holding my wrist while I was crying, “what happened beta?” he asked me.

“It’s been weeks since every family on this street is fed up with the choked drainage lines. I have been calling people at municipal corporation every few days. Today I caught your son throwing big rocks and garbage in the drainage line,” Gwale Uncle said and loosened his grip on my wrist.

“Is this true?” Papa asked me               

Without answering him, I released my hand and ran straight into my room. Scared of the scolding, I hid under the bed. I heard Papa apologising to Gwale Uncle and assuring him that I would not do this again. Papa invited him in for a tea, but Gwale Uncle had to rush. I heard the door closing and moved back, anticipating Papa approaching me any time now.

“Come outside champ,” he said as soon as I saw his feet from under the bed.

“I did not do anything Papa. I was just playing a game!”

“Come outside and talk to me. I promise I won’t scold you.”

“Alright,” I said and crawled outside.

Papa sat on the bed and smiled at me while I stood in front of him, waiting for him to say something.

“So what is this game that you’ve been playing?”

“I call it Boy at War,” I mumbled.

“Okay,” he said, “what are the rules of this game? And who do you play it with?”

“I play alone. I have to destroy an army bunker of the enemy army because I am a spy on a mission. I do it by throwing bombs inside the bunker,” I explained him.

“By bombs and bunker, you mean rocks and drainage line.”

I nodded.

“But in the game that’s an army bunker, Papa. Those uncles who come to clean the gutter, they come in a truck. In the game, that truck is the enemy army’s tank. I have a secret walkie-talkie too,” I enthusiastically said and ran to get an old hand shower head that I had hidden behind the flush tank in the washroom.

My Dad took it from me and stared at it for a few seconds. Maybe, he was trying to figure out where all of this coming into my head at the age of six.

“Where did you get the idea of this game?”

I thought for a while and Papa was patient enough to let me put my thoughts together.

“That day... you were talking to Mumma about the news on the TV. You were telling her that about the Wolf War that’s going on...”

“You mean Gulf War,” he corrected me and I nodded, almost giggling, “so you heard us talking about army spies, bunkers and wars and that gave you the idea of this game?” He asked.

I grinned and nodded.

“Come here,” he said and pulled me closer, “what you were thinking in your head, wasn’t a game. You were creating a mess that was troubling Gwale Uncle and so many other people living around us on this street.”

I bowed my head in shame, but Papa gently touched my chin and made me look at him again.

“The scenarios you’re making up in your head are not real, champ. They should never be the reason for someone else’s trouble,” he said.

I looked into his eyes.

“I want you to promise me that you’ll not repeat this.”

I promised him and he hugged me.

As kids, we all have been in wars like these. We’ve been on the battlefields in our heads, holding the toy guns. We’ve given parent’s love to the dolls and cared for them as if they were real. We have miraculously saved the lives of patients while wearing a fake stethoscope around our necks and have been the kings of castles, fortresses that we’ve made out of the sand. We all have made an imaginary life for ourselves and loved living in them. However, it’s the incidents like these and Gwale Uncles of the world that bring the realities in the way of our stories.

Fortunately or unfortunately, my parents weren’t as successful in conditioning me to see the realities of the world. Three days later, in that chilly December morning of Pune, I was waiting for my school bus outside my home. I saw Gwale Uncle taking his usual morning walk. He noticed me staring at him and smiled at me. I gave him a fake smile and looked away. I was still hurt. That was the first time my stories were taken away from me and Gwale Uncle was responsible for it. I looked at him again. He was flexing and stretching his arm muscles while walking back towards his home.

“This is not over GU. I will come back and take my revenge,” I mumbled.

I knew the war had begun.

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