Thursday, April 2, 2009

Of Soups and Breads

He shuffles across the hard linoleum floor, a shuffling gate that relies more on his right then left leg. He stops, old wrinkled hands reaching for a can of soup, next to the Ramen noodles. He grips it in his quaking hands, desperately trying to recall the strength they once had. But he can’t, and the can drops from trembling hands.

His eyes may have once been a deep, charming blue, in the days when they viewed distant shores and his beautiful newly wed wife. But now, now all that remain are empty, ice blue windows that peer into a distant soul. She is not with him today. Is she still with him at all?

He tries to bend down to pick it up, but stops half way. A sigh. And he slowly rises. You can almost hear the bones popping, breaking. Shaking hands reach for the shelves and scans the price tags, before retracting back. He prices everything, carefully calculating with those distant eyes, the cost. What will he give up this month? He shuffles along. Apparently it’ll be tomato soup.

Walking further, he passes a young woman with chestnut brown hair. He tips his cap to her as he passes, a crooked smile on his face. There was a time, when that smile would get them all giggling at the dances. Now she doesn’t even make eye contact, looking the other way and walking past as fast as she can. Did she remind him? Did she cause him to recall a summer long gone when he did not shuffle, but ran with the wind in his face? Who did she look like?

He stops to decide between two kinds of bread. Long ago, he may have looked with the same concentration at two rounds, deciding which to put in his gun. Yes, his blue cap tells his tale for him. Across it, spread like neat golden soldiers on the parade ground stand the shields and miniature badge pins. He was there. On that day. When they landed the beach, and ran across the blood stained sand. Is that why he didn’t take the tomato soup?

His eyes scan the same label over and over again as if trying to recall the meaning of words, or is it, the meaning of life? He takes the bread on the left, and shuffles along. What happened to his leg? Is it his momento from that day? Is it the price he had to pay? Small price compared to the others sprawled on the sand. He walks along, still ignored by all.

A couple walk up from behind him. They are impatient, and rightfully so. She is pregnant, hands resting resolutely on her protruding stomach as if she carried humanity’s only child. Her companion is not very patient today. He scowls, muttering curses under his breath at this old man. Why is he so slow, the man asks her irritated.

Maybe he doesn’t hear the man’s comment. Maybe he can’t. Maybe he chooses not to. Maybe he’s heard similar comments so many times before, he simply doesn’t care anymore. Is this who he risked his life for? Is this what he fought to protect? The three behind him?

He pushes his cart along, picking up toothpaste, pain killers, frozen peas, and canned tuna, all to go into the cart with his bread and his milk. He walks on further to the check out stand. He waits in line, far off eyes seeing what? Long lost friends and relatives slipping into forgetfulness? Distant battles on distant shores among fallen brothers? Her? His fingers touch on the ring on his finger as if it’s a raw wound. It must have been her.

The woman behind the checkout stand scans item after item, loud gums smacking as false fingernails and false eyelashes flash across a false smile. She doesn’t even see him. A loud demand for money, and he pauses. Trembling hands take out his wallet. He counts out each bill, like a year of his life, smoothing creases before handing them to her. She flips through them carelessly, and gives a pert smile. A disgusting smile. He doesn’t have enough money.

Those frosted eyes that once looked screaming enemies and mortar blast in the face now quiver with fear. Did he miscount? Is he now recounting in his head, all the prices swimming together in a cacophony of confusion and arithmetic in his mind? He gulps a few times, seeking air in our underwater world. Then there is a sigh, and his trembling finger points to the bread he chose so carefully.

He shuffles along, taking his small brown paper bag with him. A few feet and he’ll be out of the store. A few feet and he’ll be out of your life. A few feet and you’ll forget him, like everyone else have. Is he sorry that he fought for you? That he saw his friends die for you?

No. Never. And that’s is why he is a true hero. Wounded, despised, forgotten, ignored, and yet through it all he wears his cap with pride. And that is what makes him a true hero. Now, will you simply forget?

“Blessent mon coeur d'une langueur monotone…”

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