“Sergeant, what exactly is he doing?”
“Nothing Sir…” The pause prolonged, almost tangible… the air heavy, as if the smoke of 20 cannons expelling their toxin was suffocating any thoughts of reality.
“We’ve left him to his own devices while we wait for the Medics to make up their minds. He lives out here beneath the trees.” The pause dragged wearily on again… “Sir… the lad’s not reacting to any human emotion. He shuns all contact, yet… there he is, existing only meters away from his peers.”
The billows of silence waft into the mental spaces again. These men have seen blood, they’ve seen the remains of their troops scattered on the red earth… and in the trees. They’ve watched men lance the enemy with blunt bayonets. They’ve seen hate, love… longing… lust for life… depravity. Is that not the lack of love? Depravity? They’ve seen almost all there is to see.
Or, have they? Have they yet another new frontier to see? The intangible barrier… the divide between the rational and the dim, dingy dark distance of derange?
“Is he reacting to anything… anything in the slightest?”
“No Sir. No… the lad seems oblivious. Totally withdrawn from this life. He’s there… he eats what’s put out for him. He knows to drink… no beer, no soft drinks, only water. He’s even in control of his hygiene… sneaks into the showers in the middle of the night. He’s become totally primeval… yet, he somehow knows how to stick to the basics.”
“Tom?” The lingering pause turns into a semi plea… “Tom?”
“Don’t bother Sir, just don’t. Tom’s spirit was blown totally out of his core during that ambush. Only the physical form returned. Tom… he’s long gone. Gone with his twin brother who was blown into a million bits. I saw it happen… the lad walked out of the ambush… covered with the remains of his brother… as if in a mist of red… “
“What shall we do for him?”
“Nothing Sir… we do nothing… for now.”
Sergeant van der Merwe stood… ramrod, rigid, straight. He stood, wondering when he’d ever walk out from beneath the cloud of his own brother’s death.
“Nothing Sir. No, all you need do is send two letters home… let the parents mourn all at once. One shock is enough… “