It took some time before the incident entered my thoughts. I thought it sounded much the same as anything else I’d heard from those parts. But it came back, kept coming back, each day, the same sound of the same story. The same howls, same cries, same tears; like a needle stuck in a groove, every morning. That got my attention. I opened my mind to what was happening, and when I marked it well, I wished to close it again.
I heard that people died that day. There was claim and counter-claim that I marked not, justifications and condemnations, history and history that I heeded not. I heard, over the wail and fury of the storm, people died that day. I feared – I doubt you can conceive – that you were among them. To be in that situation would be very like you. That’s why I tried to contact you, to see if you would reply. A single word, just one, would have meant you were safe. By God, I hoped and prayed, for what else could I do? A single word, that’s all I needed. And it never came.
My relief came not from you but from tales in common currency that told the nationalities of the dead. I realised you could not have been amongst them. Hearing so was a blessed relief, and I slept well that night. Upon the morrow, I cursed myself for my curses, rebuked myself for my rebukes, though they were ever gentle, and you deserved them anyway.
So I got used to that old silence of yours. You’re a wretched communicator, and selfish – your silence shows scant regard for those you leave behind. You deserve a bloody thrashing for the pain you have done.
Perhaps that is harsh. I cannot tell. Yet it remains. How many hours I might have spent with you, even though you would have bored me with your politics, and tales of bloodshed and war, just to know how you were. But I have been reticent on this, for I fear I am sometimes, perhaps, a little hard on you, a little rough even; sometimes I worry you find me bruising, difficult and not worth your patience. But see it from my perspective, and you’ll see how patient I can be.
When I saw you for the first time after the atrocities were done, not just alive but fit and well, I felt nought but pride and admiration, especially when you detailed – to my utter horror – all you had been through, all you had seen. I was amazed at your bravery, your nobility, and appalled at your stupidity; in awe of your selflessness towards those who never knew you, and of your selfishness to those who honour you. Unbelievable! The way you justified the dangers, the way you made sacrifice sound dutiful, put in my mind a gun at your head and a noose around your neck.
Upon my return home from that meeting, that reunion, all for the joy, the fear and the hurt, I struggled not to weep.
I recall in not equally vivid measure that we had a gay old time together, with others as well, of course, once you were back. I rather got used to you being around – meeting up halfway through the week for an impolitic quota of drinks, mostly going down my gullet I think. I do recall one occasion, however, standing at a bus stop. You had no cause to be there, local as you were, though I was not. But you worried for me, and wanted to see me safely home. It was so much like you as you were, when you were young, before you became serious. I pretended to be affronted, but secretly I hoped the bus would never come.
But then you did it again, didn’t you? Even as we drank together, you were planning another mission just like the last disaster. And I only heard through the grapevine, on the eve of your departure.
You accused me of gross overreaction at the time, but it was typical of you not to see what anyone else could see. It was your bullheadedness that made you close your heart to me and my pleas, my cries that you were going on a suicide mission. I think now that you really thought yourself invincible, invulnerable; but I knew you were going to your death, and it enraged me that you seemed to revel, to lick your chops, at the prospect of some martyrdom. It was telling, I think, most revealing how violently you reacted when I said that to you, and when I said martyrs die alone, not in gangs; that too many bodies only made for a statistic. You hated me for that.
No matter now. By this point, your mockeries had ceased to find their target. Your words fell like bombs upon a bombsite: all they did was move rubble. But at such a distance, it is odd, isn’t it? How I can’t remember if I went from you, or if you dismissed me.
I know I was difficult. But I was good, too. I know your other friends were easier, and there was more you had in common with them, and more banter to be had with them. But there was something about us, something, that you couldn’t get from anyone else.
Some months later, once more through the grapevine, I heard you were engaged on some business out there. But your little robins didn’t talk much. It didn’t matter, for I understood what it meant: the highest hurdle was in getting to where you were, and there was no way you would turn back now that you had cleared it. It meant you were going to stay, stay in that squalid desert where nothing grows but discord, tyranny and oppression. It meant, even were you to live to a hundred, I would not hear from you again.
So it was that I lived my life, thereafter, according to a different code from yours. It would have been unacceptable to you, as I made it free of guns, murder, politics, and full of sex, drink and other intoxicating pleasures. This will shock you more than anything: I am bourgeois.
And where were you? You might have been shot the first day you arrived, for all I knew; and for all I cared, for I found ways of getting you out of me. You were gone – gone.
So much crueller is the irony, then, that my life of plenty has been cut short, shorter than yours that was spent in a warzone, just as I see you on the horizon once more. I was approaching my final weeks when a robin told me you were coming back. I wondered if I should see you before my time was up, but then I remembered who you were, who you are. In any case, my time is short, and my strength fails, and I am amazed I have made it to the end of this letter. But the last full stop is my final breath, and there will be none of the old, familiar tears for you. Shed none for me.
Farewell, my warrior. For all the wrong I have done, forgive me. I can do no more, nor answer for those already done. I only ask that you believe me loving to the end; and as my dying breath carries your name, that you believe I ever was, and ever will be, yours.