Life After the War

I was reminded of this story today. I wrote it quite some time ago and had subsequently forgotten about it until now. It actually did perform sort of OK in a writing competition and was awarded a massive $100 prize and subsequent publication.

That never actually happened.

But, in stark contrast to more recent posts here it contains no sexual innuendo, nor anything that tries to rhyme. Not exactly a breath of fresh air, but something of a change, at least.

Although there is the familiar mix of love and tragedy. I can’t seem to escape that theme.


It was a winter when news arrived that the war had been lost. And so, as the sun was setting on a cold afternoon we waited for the bus that was to take us to where my father’s ship would dock.
We were thankful for the shared warmth inside once the doors closed behind us. Everyone on board did their best to rest during the long journey down the mountain but a corrugated and winding road rendered sleep impossible for all but this eight-year-old boy.

They had to wake me as we came to a halt at the waterfront and parked alongside other buses, trucks, horses and a ramshackle collection of bicycles. I was still wiping the sleep from my eyes as we made our way through a shallow freezing fog along the gravel path that led to the wharf. There we stood, the three of us, huddled together in silence, wondering, each for our own reasons, what would happen next.
We heard the sad call of a horn through the fog before gaining any sight of the ship itself and I felt them both, my mother and older sister, stiffen beside me.
When its dark shape slowly materialised through the mist I began to see movement on board. Soon I could make out men taking up positions along the deck, many of them smoking and exhaling huge clouds of smoke and condensation as they looked out over the harbour. I recognised them from my imagination as men of adventure who had crossed wild oceans gathering riches from mysterious foreign lands. I imagined too, a cargo-hold and chests bursting with gold, silver and diamonds. And I imagined, on that bitter July morning, that we had come to collect not only my father, but also my father’s treasure.
By the time the ship was alongside us the sun was shining and the wharf had become a scene of high activity as ropes were thrown from above and secured to the bollards that lined the dock. I could hear men shouting orders and swearing and I was aware, too, of a tangible excitement in the air, but my mother and my sister remained rigid and silent. Looking up onto the ship’s bridge I saw a man with the sort of dishevelled white beard that one might imagine to be a nesting place for birds. He was attired in a brightly coloured uniform adorned with glistening medals and I was immediately reminded of pictures I had seen of another man from another world far away.
“Is that Santa Claus?” I asked.
It was then that my sister began to cry. Suddenly it had grown even colder and as the fog was lifting I began to feel the chill of the impenetrable sadness that had descended upon our family.

The war, as far as I could tell, had been going for a lifetime, so I had never known my father. He had inhabited my life only via stories and fading photographs. The most fantastic of such stories were delivered by my sister and they told of a man who could perform acrobatic acts with the skill of a circus performer and who could run faster than a leopard. He could hypnotise the fish in the river and scoop them out with his hands. He could encase you in a bear-hug that blocked out the night. Every day, it seemed, I was told that he would soon magically reappear, and so it struck me as hardly surprising he should choose to do so concealed within a box.

We watched as the gang planks were lowered and the first of the ship’s passengers began to disembark. First off were those carried on stretchers by their uniformed colleagues and then others with arms in slings or with bandaged heads and patches across their eyes. I saw men on crutches without legs. There were nurses fussing around amongst it all, wearing crisp white dresses and expressions of perpetual concern. It was as if there had been an explosion on board and the debris was being expelled in waves. Most of the able-bodied personnel were kept on deck to convey a series of crates and equipment along a human line that led to the convoy of waiting trucks.
The unloading of the ship was long and laborious but throughout my mother remained silent and strong, her arms tightly around us both such that I could feel the vibrations of my sister’s sobbing and laboured breathing transferred through her body.
Eventually they brought the boxes out. They were made of cheap wood and each was carried solemnly down to the dock by two soldiers who, having set them all on the ground in front of us, stood nervously to one side wondering what to do next. Nobody told us which of the boxes was ours. Everywhere around there was weeping and then somewhere within all the grief the man with the coloured uniform and the beard appeared out of nowhere and held out his hand to my mother. She kept both her arms firmly around our shoulders and glared back at him. And then she spat in his face.
“Do not dare touch me.” she said, “We give you our whole world and you give us back only a box of bones.”

We found the box with my father’s name on it amongst all the others, and soldiers helped us load it onto the floor at the back of our bus for the return journey. Most of the other passengers chose to cram themselves as close as possible to the front. I heard someone complaining about the smell.

The next day we lowered our box into a deep hole and my uncles helped us shovel dirt on top of it until it was gone. I suppose that I still did not really understand what was inside.

And I suppose that I never will.


10 thoughts on “Life After the War

    1. Butt wait, she said
      There’s more
      Just look at what
      I have in store
      Let’s take a chance
      A little dance
      Before I then
      Remove my pants
      After that
      No need for chatter
      Upon the bottom
      Of the matter
      All on show
      My bum, my tits
      And all my other
      Hidden bits
      You’ll have no doubts
      You’ll hold no fear
      There’s more to me
      Than just my rear.

      Liked by 1 person

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