The small child stood and swayed as he peered up at the strangers. His potbellied frame, covered in the tattered remains of a cast-off shirt, appeared too large for the spindly legs and sand encrusted feet below it. On first impression his triangular face, with its’ wide-set dark eyes, reminded the soldiers of a small, feral cat. Emotions tugged his face into graphic representations of the flight or fright conflict going on in his mind. His tiny tongue licked furtively at his chapped lips as he stared at the canteens attached to the soldier’s belts.
The group of soldiers, some not much older than their observer, paused to see what the boy would do next. In this unforgiving wasteland, even a child could be a danger. The enemy had no reverence for life, and freedom meant freedom to kill. A small child had been wired up as a bomb and pointed at the soldiers before, and more would be again. At this moment, there was only this child and these soldiers frozen into a segment of time. Hands twitched towards guns, a small foot stirred the dust, as each side waited for the other to make the first movement.
The boy’s shirt heaved in parody of a pregnant woman’s belly, roiling with life. The soldier’s eyes widened, guns were lifted, and the boy cowered. The frozen tableau was shattered by the wails of an infant from beneath the shirt. The boy’s clawed hand reached up and patted his belly, moved the shirt and exposed a skin and bones baby wrapped in rags that tethered her to his chest. Her wide eyes spotted the soldier in front and small chubby hands waved toward him. Chuckles dimpled her cheeks in a parody of good health as she pinked up with animation. The boy slowly unwrapped the rags and pulled his sister into his arms, then carefully placed the naked baby on the ground in front of the soldiers. Dropping his shirt, he stood naked and proud next to her, mutely conveying his lack of weapons and bombs to the troops. Pointing to his mouth and making chewing motions, then to his sister, he begged for help. Fear might animate him, but despair had not washed hope from his soul.
Canteens came out, food was offered, an extra shirt made a covering for the baby. The boy was clad in someone’s shorts, a hat for each was found. There was no enemy here, freedom had arrived and was displayed in the soft voices and gentle touch of the soldiers. They moved off, the innermost soldiers each carrying a precious burden. Sand whipped up obscuring their outlines and blurring the scene. Was it a twist of fate that brought them together, or had the cry of freedom brought children to the men that could save them? America’s soldiers had conquered a new enemy, and for this troop, Father’s Day was just beginning.
© Carol M Chapman 2004
Written in deep gratitude for our heroes that have left home, jobs, children, and family to go out into the unforgiving desert and offer freedom to those in need.