"Only the dead have seen the end of the war."
At last the noise of the machine guns was over. The smell of roses and mustard gas from the trenches around him reached his nose as the atmosphere fell in silence. They had had to stay buried between the dirt and the dead for an entire hour while the rounds of four hundred bullets per minute passed a few meters above their heads. He really didn't know how they had managed to survive until that moment. They were only a tiny section of only a hundred men against an army of thousands just a few meters from where they were. He did not dare to look up through the fence that kept them barely alive. He felt quite disturbed when he contemplated that horrifying landscape surrounded by blood, death and destruction. Everything was silent, not a soul made a sound through that place. It is always like this after a massacre. The only thing that sounded were the birds, who sang a gentle melancholy melody in honor of the deceased.
-I think they finally ran out of ammunition - he whispered to himself, almost without thinking. He did not expect anyone to respond while he contemplated his silent meditation, but a voice that came from behind him, in a joking tone responded by telling him
- ... or finally they got tired of killing us ...
He turned his gaze to his brothers in arms. When they woke up that cold and depressing morning they were about a hundred soldiers, but now there were only around fifteen. Most of those who accompanied him, he barely knew them. Among them were Gomez, a thin guy who was kneeling smoking the third pack of cigarettes that afternoon, Marquez, a low private who kept talking about what he would do when he finally came out of that stinking place and Williams, a soldier who came from the distant lands of Illinois, USA and that always walked with his head down, reading an old and crumpled copy of the 'Quixote' by Miguel de Cervantes. He was not so sure who had answered him, but by the time he turned around he saw them, gathered in that narrow corridor of stones and moss, nodding again and again, on the verge of letting out a laugh. Even in the middle of the battlefield, they still found time to make jokes.
He remained silent looking at the rest of the soldiers. He simply did not feel in the ability to laugh after having gone through something like that. In fact, after those two months of having to spend his days buried waiting for the war to finally end, he could not feel anything. He had seen all kinds of things during his stay at the front. He had seen how a soldier had died of gangrene in the camp after a slight cut in one of his legs or as several of his colleagues had been blinded by the toxic gases their enemies used, seeing them use those weapons that spit fire to burn everything that could, including soldiers who ran away terrified like human torches, mowed by pain and horror. He had seen so many things, as his friends died like flies, something that previously disturbed him deeply, seemed completely normal by now. That made war on the people, take away their humanity and turn them into weapons, nothing but weapons.
There was no escaping the dementia that caused him to be in the trenches. Long holes in the middle of the earth that the soldiers were forced to call home. Sleeping in the floors full of insects and excrement surrounding them, having to pass through the corpses of anonymous soldiers, loads of expired food and puddles of rain and blood. He always had to walk with his rifle, hanging from his left shoulder, and the gas mask that had been handed to the battalion after the last attack. It was not safe to go around unarmed. From encountering enemy soldiers who hid among the ruins or tanks waiting to find survivors. When they used to bring rations from the nearest bases, people used to fight like rabid dogs for even a crumb of bread or a box of cigarettes. He could only hope that reinforcements would arrive some day and finally the whole suffering would end.
But at least that day the machine guns had decided to finally shut up. He thought he would take advantage of that opportunity to get some rest, even if it was only five minutes of the countless enemy bursts he had to go through. He leaned against one of the filthy walls of the establishment and looked around. Everything had fallen back into a calming silence . Williams had decided to continue reading - it was the third time that he had repeated that story- while Gómez and Márquez were talking about what the soldiers always talk about: what they would do as soon as they left that gap. For what he managed to hear from the distant conversation, Gomez planned to arrive and go directly to the nearest bar, get drunk and hire a prostitute to have a good time with her. Márquez, who seemed to be completely the opposite of his comrade in arms, only wanted to see his wife and children again, whom he had not seen since the beginning of the war.
He had to admit that it seemed pathetic enough that they were always talking about what they would do when it was over. To begin with, it was quite unlikely that, after what they had to go through, they would manage to return. Besides, he did not think it was possible to return to his normal life as if they had never had to go through all the suffering for which they had endured for almost a whole year. Go back as if nothing had changed. It was basically impossible to achieve it. It would be like denying a huge scar that had interrupted through his generation and divided it in two. When they were enlisted most of them were barely nineteen years old, having just left university and with their whole lives ahead. Now, with twenty years, they had already lost all their childhood and their innocence, having to go through that. There was no way for them to see the beauty and hope that once was in the world. They could not simply turn back time to before they had made the fatal mistake of enlisting. It's not as if he somehow, in the depths of his dehumanized heart, he still didn't had any distant light of hope to come out alive from that stinking place and somehow get back to his mundane and quiet existence, but to survive in a world in which living is not the order of the day, one doesn't must be guided by that distant idea.
From his mild state of meditation, he felt a light blow on one of his shoulders. He turned his gaze quickly and was faced against the dirty and bony face of Gomez, with a smile between his lips that surely did not predict something good. He stared at him with his profound, dark eyes as he tried to decipher what he was doing standing there, frozen. Since he had first arrived at the camp, Gomez had taken it as his personal mission to annoy him the most he could, no matter how many bombs or assaults they had to go through. Almost three months had passed, but still he was still with the same enthusiasm he had from the first day. He decided not to say anything about it, avoiding the problems that very likely that could cause. He was staring at him, with that strange grimace on his lips. He looked strange, all covered in dirt and blood as he watched him silently. After a couple of seconds, Gomez finally made the decision to break the awkward silence in which they were involved
- Navarro! - he shouted, even though he was next to him. Navarro coughed a bit, trying to clear his throat and answered
- What? - He said with a bored look and a completely disinterested tone. In Gómez's face, the closest thing that resembled a smile formed in his lips. He even gave a slight laugh as he fell silent thinking exactly what to say about it.
- ... what happens- he replied, after laughing an akward moment -I'm ... I do not want to sound abrupt or anything ... I know it's quite difficult ... but, I was wondering if ...
- ... if I had a cigarette I could give you? - Navaro replied with a dull tone.
He had expected it. Every time he started talking to him and ended up stuttering without knowing clearly how to continue, he knew he was going to ask for that. Throughout his stay in that camp, he had acquired a cigarette debt with Navarro that reached almost three digits . It had become monotonous to have to go through that questionnaire almost daily, sometimes even in the middle of the battle. He could not afford to lose more of that valuable object. On the battlefield, cigarettes were the most valuable possession a soldier could have, next to his rifle. They served in a certain way as currency between the trenches. If you kept enough of the weekly meals that were given to each reservation, next to a plate of food and a glass of water, you could, among other things, earn another portion of food, water, ammunition, and even (if you had an exuberant quantity of them) one could even try to bribe one of the generals to transfer him one to some other camp. Unlike most of his comrades in arms, he did not smoke. He kept them in a small box that was locked in his tent, waiting some day to have enough to leave the hole in which he was trapped. But every time Gómez came crawling towards him, asking for just one more cigarettes, he was forced to do so. Once he refused to do so, during his first week in the camp, and the next morning he discovered that his tent had been ransacked. Since then he was forced to give them to him whenever he asked, no matter what. All because he didn't wanted them to steal all their belongings again... or at least, more than usual.
As soon as Navarro finished the question, he could see how Gómez's eyes lit with happiness. Undoubtedly, he was the soldier who smoked the most in the entire camp. He smoked around three boxes a day. Navarro had no idea how his lungs could handle such a large amount of tobacco and nicotine. It seemed odd to him that, unlike the others, who kept each cigarette to exchange it later, he would, barely after being given to them, he would or start smoking them or keep them for use in the illegal casino that they operated with the south camp. Maybe that was the reason why he always saw him asking others for more. In truth, he didn't know why he smoked so much. In a way it was like killing yourself, little by little. He supposed it had to do with the same reason why each soldier was given a complete package next to the essentials. It not only served to calm their nerves, but in a certain way it worked to face them more and more against death. Whatever the reason, he knew only one thing: he could not afford to lose more. During all those days he had saved and finally had enough to secure a transfer to the northwestern frontier, the safest part of the war. He couldn't lose them when he was so close to finally being free. He only had to endure until a new shipment arrived and everything would end.
- Then? - Gómez repeated impatiently
He knew he wasn't going to like the answer. Surely he would reproach him until one of the two gave way. It wouldn't be a nice battle, that was for sure. He swallowed some saliva and, after a shiver went down his grimy back, with all the courage he had gained in battle, he answered the edge of the whisper
-I'm sorry, but the answer is no ...
He could see how the joy disappeared as quickly as it had appeared from his eyes. He could see how the smile that had adhered to his lips came out and a grimace of disappointment appeared instead. He was completely frozen, staring at him like a statue. Navarro could realize that something was wrong at that time. I was not entirely sure what he was supposed to do next. The ragged beating of his heart was the only thing he could hear at that moment. It was as if the rest of the world was paused and he could only felt in his chest his heart beat. He began to feel the need to escape that situation as quickly as he could, but it was too late for that. He tried to look away and pretend as best he could that none of that had happened, but as soon as he tried, Gomez shouted at him with a tone of desperation.
He felt as he began to sweat and shivers go by in the blink of an eye through his nervous system. Not knowing what to do, he simply pretended ridiculously that he had not heard it. Then, in a more calm and civilized but equally dry way, Gomez repeated the question
- What did you say?
He felt the growing need to deny what he had just said. He knew that he had just gotten into a huge problem from which there was no way out. In fact, he was surprised that he had been able to hear it, knowing that he had said it almost whispering to himself. His mind was in crisis and his stubborn throat just stuttered out. He spent almost half a minute until he finally managed to say, stuttering all the way
-Nothing ...- He said in a low voice, almost without himself being able to hear himself
-no, that's not what you said- shouted Gomez with remarkable anger accumulating inside him. At that moment he understood that there was no way out of there, so he made the decision to simply regret what he had said. He hid his eyes and pulled a small, worn box out of one of his pants pockets. Without looking at it, he threw it in the direction of his companion, who caught it. It didn't take long to him to see what it was and shout at Navarro
- Thanks, buddy!
And then, as suddenly as it had appeared, he left without saying anything else. Time continued to pass uninterrupted while Navarro was silently contemplating his life decisions. I almost could not believe what had just happened in front of his nose. After finally having been able to have the courage to say that not for the first time in all those months, he had repented after he had only threatened him with empty words a couple of times. The same thing always happened. When he finally accomplished something, it did not take more than five minutes to throw it all down the drain. He was completely fed up with all. He just wanted to have some excuse that could get him out of there as soon as possible. That he fell wounded in combat or that he finally finished the time he was supposed to be there before he could return to his family. In truth, that was his only reason to keep fighting. That faint and distant desire to return safely to somewhere where there was no need to see blood and violence on a daily basis.
As time passed and he was wrapped up in his thoughts, the rest of the world was finally silent. He felt calm to see that desolate place that had remained after the battle. Although, maybe there was too much calm after such a storm. He supposed that finally he had the right to rest after all what he had to go through. But even so, he felt that there was not much time left for the tranquility to disappear and the unnecessary and irrational violence that happened in that place would return, full of young soldiers fighting without having any particular hatred against that enormous invisible enemy, controlled by generals who were thousands of kilometers away, sending them like pigs to the slaughterhouse, some of them knowingly so.