TWO WHOLE LIVES IN 1000 WORDS
(A winning essay in a nation-wide essay tournament in Singapore)
Theme: A day to remember
Jason and Michael went way, way back.
When did they become the best of friends? Maybe it was when Jason saved Michael’s life by beating up a rattlesnake with a golf club.
Did I mention that he was ten years old then?
Maybe it was while Michael was slaving with Jason to help him finish his frequent community service. Michael being there made all the difference.
I must also not forget the time they climbed Mount Nesthorn in Switzerland, and served in the army together.
The weeks turned into months, the months turned into years, they grew closer everyday, brothers in arms.
Being young men, they started dating, going for similar girls – even going on group dates. They gave other courage – they could always count on each other for advice, support or just a listening ear.
I now fast-forward three years into their future – a frosty July morning. Church bells rang throughout the streets of Sand Point, Idaho. Flowers were thrown and wine was toasted to the health of the two beautiful couples who had chosen to wed at the same time on the same day – in the same church.
Later, Michael and Jason found themselves once again climbing a mountain, Schweitzer Mountain, this time on a chairlift ride with their wives, Cherry and Vanessa, treating themselves to a truly panoramic view of the pristine waters of Lake Pend Oreille.
The utterly breath-taking view completely mesmerized them.
The setting sun cast a lovely salmon pink glow over the cotton wool-like clouds, as it slowly dipped below the horizon. The remaining light glinted on the soft bed of snow like a sea of diamonds as a fresh breeze tickled their skin.
It was impossible to resist the urge to wrap their arms around their spouses and give them their very first kiss…
However, the day I remember most occurs years later in 1940, after they got their first house in Louth, Lincolnshire and have their first child. It all started with a loud knock on Michael’s door…
An army officer holding an official looking letter greeted him – he had been recruited into the army!
There had been reports of the Germans taking over much of France and constantly bombing London, but how bad was it? How would he break the news to Vanessa? Then the officer knocked on Jason’s door as well…
Months later, they were again fighting side by side – this time for real. With their trucks bombed, they endured endless marches in searing heat, digging trenches and pitching camp – when they were not fighting Germans.
The battles were where all hell broke loose. Thick smoke and gas made visibility low. Their ears rang with the sharp cracks of gunfire and exploding shells – whistling like firecrackers before unleashing deadly shockwaves and spitting shrapnel.
There was an incessant fear of death – an ever-present possibility. Every time they heard the “rat-tat-tat” of machine gun fire, or the droning of German fighters overhead like a swarm of angry bees, they would break out a cold sweat.
They soon lost count of how many times they had brushed with death. Gas bombs spewed poisonous fumes, choking the life out of people, slowly burning them from the inside out. There was a fire in their trench. Michael remembered flames rapidly filling his vision, burning him, the pain like boiling acid dissolving his skin. The smoke temporarily blinded him – it was only thanks to Jason that he escaped with his life.
Then winter came, bringing harsh cold winds. Many fell very sick, trembling non-stop from the bitter chill. Cut off from help on all sides by the Germans – nothing could be done. Then came the inevitable. Ambushed, they fled, yet choosing to carry their sick and injured comrades along.
In the end, they could only watch as the ruthless Germans caught up, slaughtering every man capable of resisting. I cannot imagine the painful shock that engulfed Michael when Jason, his childhood friend, crumpled, bleeding and battered, onto the floor, never to move again…
Michael awoke in a bare, dimly lit room. On a solitary table was a row of torture tools. He knew what was coming. Several rough looking soldiers shoved him into a chair, and bound him with sharp cord.
“Tell us where your next offensives will be ‘captain’ and I will let you live, or else…”their leader barked, letting that threat hang in the air.
Save your breath, I thought, you’ll kill him anyway…
“Never”, Michael’s features were set in stone.
Immediately he was bombarded with a volley of fierce punches and kicks that left him doubled over, vomiting, his left cheek and eye a mess of crimson red blood.
He still did not give in.
They then took a device that resembled tweezers and handcuffed his hands to the table. My eyes widened in horror. They began to tear his nails right from his hands. He howled tight animal screams of pain, shattering the evening. His eyes teared, flashing fire like that of a madman’s.
If I were he, I would have given up long before that, but losing his best friend made him more determined than ever – not to betray the cause Jason gave his life for.
Another soldier entered, “Sir our spies obtained the information you seeked.”
“Good… kill him.”
That gunshot would ring in my dreams for a long time…
Who am I? Just outside that room, through a one-way window was a group of Hitler Youth forced to watch the gruesome spectacle.
I was deeply moved by Michael’s immeasurable courage, and greatly ashamed of my association with the Nazis. They were friends, brought even closer through war, and stuck together till the end.
I imagined their family waiting for him to return – they deserved to know what happened. I stole his bloodstained diary, vowing to one day return it to their family and tell them that they died… heroes…