The Bengal Beat

What Survived the War

How will society treat a man permanently disfigured from war? (Photo Courtesy of Pixabay, photo credits to OpenClipart-Vectors)

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay, photo credits to OpenClipart-Vectors

How will society treat a man permanently disfigured from war? (Photo Courtesy of Pixabay, photo credits to OpenClipart-Vectors)

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He woke slowly from his slumber and wearily eyed the faint slit of sunlight that was intruding its way through his dark blue curtains. He sighed and rolled off the bed onto his numb feet, carefully trying not to wake up his wife. Quietly, he tread across the wooden floor to the children’s room. He felt himself attempting to smile when his chestnut brown eye rested upon Benjamin and Ruthie huddled in their beds. He was about to embrace the two in an enormous hug to wake them for school when a slender hand rested upon his broad shoulder.

“John, the children are still afraid of you,” his wife’s soft voice whispered in his ear.

He nodded silently, and suddenly the familiar searing pain sprung across his face. John stumbled down the stairs to the kitchen, leaving Marie to wake the children, and flipped on the electricity that had recently been turned back on in the remnants of the city. He could hear little laughs of glee upstairs and soft feet plodding down the wooden stairs. Again, John tried to smile, but the children only peered uneasily around the corner at their father. Marie finally nudged Benjamin forward into the brightly lit kitchen, where John was sitting on the chair sipping cold coffee. He placed the ceramic mug on the table and bent down, beckoning to Benjamin.

“Benji? Remember me?”

John hoarsely croaked, his voice a remement of the deep, powerful force it used to be. Benjamin ran in fright to his mother.

“Mommy, I had a nightmare about him again last night,” Benjamin whispered, his coffee eyes wide with fear.

John slowly rose, his thirty-year-old bones and heart aching, and went into the living room. The kitchen was silent for a few minutes, and then he could hear Marie harshly scolding the children for treating their father in that manner. Benjamin and Ruthie began to cry, but John heard Marie quiet the children and turn the stove on for breakfast. A single tear coursed down his cheek.

The hands on the clock inched forward until it was eight o’clock. Marie was just coming back from walking Benjamin and Ruthie to the bus stop for school. Her small figure stood in the living room doorway, outlined by the bright light streaming from the kitchen. She sat beside him on the couch in the dark living room and took his rough hand in both of hers.

“They just need time, John. You’ve been gone for a little–”

“Five years, Marie! Do you know how long that’s been for me? I barely had time to see Ruthie born before I was yanked away by this war! And now my own children don’t know me! It’s bad enough to be cast away by everyone else but by my own children–”

John’s voice, now strained from shouting, feebly sank away into the darkness. Marie continued to stroke his vein-streaked hand, and quietly fetched fresh bandages and a bowl of warm water. Somewhat unwillingly, John allowed her to gingerly take off the bandages that concealed everything except his hazel eye and rigid nose. He remembered when Marie first saw him getting off the bus from the war, with the bandage concealing his mangled face. Marie didn’t even recognize him at first, but when she saw the blue handkerchief she had sewn the Christmas before he left dangling out of his olive green pocket, she ran to his open arms. It was difficult for John to return home with every person turning their head on the streets and curious children peering behind their mothers’ skirts. People refused to hire a mangled soldier, and as one postman told him, “Nobody wants a monster like you scaring off the customers.” John wondered if he would ever find a job to support his family. Of course, Marie stood steadfastly by John in all his decisions, but he knew that even though Marie pretended to accept his ruin of a face, she was still shaken every time the bandage came off.

Marie finished removing the last strip of gauze, leaving his bare face exposed to the sunlight streaming in from the windows of the living room. His pale forehead was still bruised and swollen, and his right hazel eye languidly stared at her beautiful face. Where the left eye was supposed to be was a patch of skin covering the socket. Somehow, his hatchet nose had survived unharmed, but she could still see his pink gums protruding through the gashes in his pale cheeks. And for the first time since John–this wrecked heap of man–returned from the war, Marie realized she did not fear the gruesome face. Even though he was not the once dashing young man she married ten years ago, John’s heart had survived the war. And to her, that was all that mattered.

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