Five years later.
Two figures wandered across a small patch of grey grassland onto a deserted and destroyed road.
One figure limped badly and the other was cradling the stump of his left arm with his right. To all who saw them, the measly population of this shrinking town, it was clear that the men were war veterans. They both had startling black hair and sullen faces to match.
It was clear where they were going, too: an almost empty street where rubble took the place of the houses. It must have been badly bombed during the war- everything was a mess and there would certainly be no survivors. Yet, that was their destination.
On reaching the street, one of the men uttered a cry of horror and tried to run (as much as he could with his injured leg) towards what was left of the first house. Not even its little white gate was left standing.
The man without an arm followed him slowly, and placed his remaining hand on the first man’s shoulder. The man was standing as still as a statue, but when he felt the touch, he pulled away.
“The whole street…gone. I’d always seen it as a pretty and simple little place, but now it’s gone.”
“It would have been during the third year of fighting; that’s when the enemy found the technique of combining nitrogen and carbon dioxide to make droppable explosives. I remember it because our camp was one of the first to be targeted and we lost Sergeant Malcoms.”
“I don’t remember much about the war,” Phillip whispered, so quietly that it was almost deadly, “I don’t try to. I never want to go there again; I never want to see the images or relive countless pain. My mind had blocked out those dreadful thoughts.”
Momentarily, he clutched at his heart and his eyes misted over. He would not look away from the wreck of what once might have been a house for his family.
“Oh, it hurts…”
Ryan gave Phillip a side-long glance and almost rolled his eyes. Thankfully, something close to brotherly love stopped him.
“While you’re standing there in pain, think about me, left with one arm forever. At least your wound can heal eventually.”
Phillip spun around angrily to stare at Ryan, the former wincing slightly at the effort on his leg.
“She’s gone. Moved on. All the physical pain in the world can’t drown out my heartbreak. And you’ll never know because you chose to feel nothing for anyone.”
“Phillip, you don’t know what happened.”
“I know enough about my fiancée to realise that she would have had the sense to leave the house before it was destroyed. And she would have the sense to find someone else, fall in love, start a family. After all, she told me that if I left for the duty, she’d never see me again.”
“Suit yourself,” Ryan shrugged, not at all bothered by this revelation.
He walked away, gathering his grey duffel coat further around himself. Finally, standing at the end of the destroyed road, he called back to Phillip:
“I’m getting out of here. I’ve got things to do and other people like us to meet up with. If you want a lift back, now would be the time to speak up.”
Phillip didn’t turn. Instead, he said one, and only one, word to his brother.