The Bloody Old Bugger

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
a soldier ends up in the medical camp and comes out as a poet.

Submitted: July 21, 2012

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Submitted: July 21, 2012

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BANG!!!

I was shot. A sudden surge of adrenalin, a morphine injection and two minutes of pain is all that I had experienced before losing consciousness. I woke up, not sure how many days later, to find myself in the medical camp 21 kilometers away from the heart of the war. This was the third time I had reached the medical camp during the past 5 years of war.

 

From that partially inclined bed, I glanced around the tent where several young men lay in their beds with doctors and nurses nursing their bullet wounds, cuts and war induced illnesses. Something about the setting in the camp was not the same as what it was the previous two times that I was there. I soon realized that the thing that was missing in the camp was the old man- who by now was considered to be an integral part of the medical camp. There were jokes going around in our regiments that if one were to wake up one morning and hear the uncanny voice of the old man, one can be sure that he had reached the medical camp.

 

This old man was a real character- right out of Miss Havisham’s Satis House. He was perpetually clad in a colonel’s uniform sans the badges (which we guessed was the returns of one of his larceny escapades). Some called him a soldier of dreams and some called him a storyteller. But what he did was weave huge and unrealistic stories about his exploits during the Anglo Zulu war. He used to speak with such passion and zeal that one would often wonder if he were the ghost of Col.Thesiger’s gunman.

 

He would roam around the medical camp all day and survive on the little scraps left in the camp pantry. If he saw a poor soldier lying in bed with eyes open, he would belt out a short sentence about hope and start off with a story. “In 1842, when I was part of the infantry in the ____ war……”

 

He had the uncanny ability to make even the most tragic of events sound hilarious. His stories never inspired the soldiers nor did they make one marvel about the man. He was merely a tramp who we- men of honor considered him a guy who would never achieve greatness, never win medals of war nor gain public acclaim but would spend time dreaming and aimlessly roam around the camp.

 

Breaking from my reminiscence, I asked one of the nurses where that old man was. “He died. About a fortnight ago. In between one of his stories to a group of young soldiers, he clutched his chest, slowly walked out and an hour later died under the dead old oak.”

 

“All that he left behind was his trunk” she said, pointing to one corner of the tent before carrying on with her work. I slowly made my way up to that trunk and opened it. Below some junk and gibberish lay a dirty white sheet of paper which had a quote. “The supreme callings of life are not fulfilled by attaining pinnacles of greatness but achieved by doing those small things which spread happiness.” The name of the author or the poet who wrote that is of little relevance to me. All I know is that I have come across only one person who lived his life on that line- the bloody old bugger.

 

He would never have attained social fame or respect and admiration of the country folk. His heroics would not be talked about over flutes of wine. He did nothing which demanded those but what he did do was bring a smile on the faces of those young soldiers whose faces had lost all color and who eyes had lost all innocence. Those stories which had neither artistic appeal nor chronological significance managed to amuse those soldiers who were devoid of all joys and comforts of life.
 

Many soldiers often lost in the hysteria would forget all about a fractured palm and start clapping or thumping it on the breakfast boards unmindful of the stale tasteless food which lay on it. Here was a man who inspite of not being a gifted storyteller had the ability to make those soldiers forget about all the evils of war and for a few moments indulge and pamper themselves with a smile. The tired soldiers staying miles away from their natives and light years away from their loved ones found a moment of happiness with that old man. For those young men who never found hope of neither victory nor defeat, this man gave them a glimmer of joy. Ironically, the only thing that made the war bearable was an ugly old man with a gruff muffled voice.

 

The death of the old man did leave a void in the medical camp and in the hearts of the camp’s occupants. I spent the remainder of my time in the medical camp pondering over something which was left behind by the old man and the young soldiers - a question. The kind of question which dwindles into the minds of countless generations of people but yet remains unanswered- “What is the purpose of life?”


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