I continue walking and soon I can see that there is someone else with him. They are watching me and waiting. I am close enough now to hear them speaking to each other and although I cannot understand them, my instinct tells me that one of them will kill me. Someone will be killed. I know that the odds are that it will be me because Hauptmann Strauss has already made me a traitor, long before he planned to make a hero out of me. And traitors deserve to die. It has been a week and now the Russian will get his chance to do this Rattekreig and his country justice. Kill all what love stands for.
The Russian and his comrade have seen me and I take a clear shot, before they have a chance to act. The boy collapses on the ground next to him. I look at the Russian for a long moment, searching his face, as he holds on to his rifle and I prepare to die. I am sorry. It is all that I can manage to say out loud and I feel the full meaning of the phrase growing on me as I turn away.
“I do not speak German,” he calls out at me, a voice wrought with exhaustion and pain.
His words and the sound of his voice stay with me, playing over in my head. We speak in different tongues yet there is a momentary understanding between us as we exchange words. Mine are spoken out of acquiescence to the situation I find myself in. His are spoken in final desperation and even though I do not understand his words, I know that he does not want me to walk away. I still hear it in his voice, ringing in my ears. I take one steady step after another, knowing that I leave him with a decision to make. Continue to be a traitor like me or be true to his nation, which will he choose?
The further away I walk, the more certain I am that neither of us will see each other again. It is time the stalemate between us ends, this temporary pacifying sense of freedom that we gave each other over the past week, but I continue to dodge every bullet that comes out of his rifle. And then it happens. A sharp pain pierces through my left shoulder and I come to a halt. The bullets have stopped flying around me and I feel the pain that is spreading through my arm growing more in my heart. End my suffering. I stop for a few moments, waiting for him to take a clear shot. Nothing happens and I turn around looking at him, straight in the eye. I can feel the blood trickle down my arm, dampening my uniform and I look away scanning the area then head towards nearby debris. The planes will be overhead soon and I crouch down behind the rubble, squinting as I look back trying to find sign of him to say my last goodbye. This prolonged game of playing dodge the bullet has finally come to an end and I have been shot. In my mind I have travelled further and beyond what it means to survive. My platoon will advance and I am as good as dead anyway.
I live moments in hell as he walks away from me. Instinctively, I find myself shooting around him creating a halo of bullets that fly everywhere but at him. I shoot out of frustration and anger at this war and at the brief encounter. I shoot at the thought of the boy lying beside me, my comrade and many others whose lives were all but taken out so easily, too early. I shoot hoping that the other Germans would appear and I can kill them instead of having to kill him. But no one shows but him and I continue to shoot raging bullets until suddenly the soldier stops walking and stands still, his arm slowly rising up to hold and press into his opposite shoulder. Can it be? Have I done what I have strived so hard to avoid? Have I broken the silent pact between us and become a traitor to him?
He turns and looks at me with piercing eyes, heavy with understanding. I can only but return the look before I duck down. I can feel death approaching as the sound of the engines rips through the sky. Any moment now and the bombs will destroy all trace of the past week. The rifle feels heavy in my arms and I know that I have a decision to make; a question of survival. But before I can run out, I hear Germans close by, speaking. The soldier’s platoon has advanced and I hear the soldier’s voice too. I watch through a crack in the wall and see him leading them astray from his spot by the rubble. They try to lift him up and drag him away but he resists, motioning to them to go a different way. The planes are overhead and I hear the sound of bombs being dropped. The first blast shrouds me in debris and dust and as soon as I manage to recover, I find temporary shelter. Another bomb lands not very far away and soon I am deafened by the continuous blasts, my vision blurry from its effect. I wade through the battlefield, changing my shelter spot at every drop of the bombs while trying to find the soldier. I lie flat on the ground and the area changes its face on each impact. I fail to recognise it.
It is minutes later but it seems like a lifetime. The sound of the planes and the bomb blasts are distant. They have exhausted every inch of my surroundings. I cannot see the Germans anymore but I can hear their faraway voices. I look around me for the soldier but can only see mounds of rubble. I take cover at every corner as I continue to search for him until I find a figure lying crouched in a makeshift hole surrounded by bricks. He is bleeding. This is torture. He is not moving but I can see that he is breathing. I hold on to my rifle and carefully lift the brick shadowing his head to reveal the soldier’s blond hair. This is hell.