About fifty yards ahead of the twenty-one year old Eze, one of the leading tanks was burning, a soldier’s body sprawled across the hatch, the right arm dangling down towards the main turret, his helmeted head spattered with blood. Another tank, to his left, lurched to a crazy standstill as a shell shattered the left-side track; four men jumped down and sprinted back towards the comparative safety of the boundless, anonymous sands behind them.
The noise of the battle was deafening as shrapnel soared and whistled and plunged and dealt its death amidst the thick forest and the scorching sun. Men shouted and pleaded and ran—and died; some blessed swiftly in an instantaneous annihilation, others lingeringly as they lay mortally wounded on the bloody ground. Yet, others burned to death inside their tanks as the twisted metal of the hatches jammed or shot up limbs could find no final desperate leverage.
Then it was the turn of the tank immediately to his right—two officers leaped down from it, one clutching his arm which had been blown off from the elbow downward, and they just managed to race clear before the tank exploded into blinding flame. Eze and the two officers had struggled only some forty yards before flinging themselves down as another shell kicked up the sand just ahead of them, spewing its steel fragment in a shower of jagged metal. And when Eze finally looked up, he found the one-armed soldier dead; a lump of twisted metal embedded in his lower back.
He and the other soldier got up at the same time and began running; they had seen some of the enemies running towards them and shooting blindly. Eze ran like he had never done before, his partner was also a great runner; keeping a regular and even pace behind him. Eze could feel a wheeze as a bullet shot past his head—an inch closer and his head would be splattered on the ground; he ran faster. The two soldiers could simultaneously see a huge rock some few metres before them, and they were both running like hell towards it. They were almost a few steps before reaching their fortress when Eze saw that his partner had been shot. A small geyser of blood erupted from his neck. He staggered forward several yards, like a sprinter who had crossed the finish line. Then he collapsed to the ground. He had been struck in the lower outside part of his neck, near his right shoulder. Eze Chima could not leave him lying there; he bent over the collapsed soldier and dragged him behind the rock. Then the enemies stopped running towards them, they stood away and continued shooting at the huge rock; the bullets ricocheting to different directions.
Eze cradled the soldier’s head, applying pressure with both hands to the pulsing wound on the back of the neck, desperately trying to staunch the flow. The pressure was not working. Eze felt his uniform becoming warm and wet, and he realized what was wrong. There was an exit wound at the front of the soldier’s neck, perilously near the larynx, from which bright arterial blood was gushing. The soldier was trying to talk but it came out as a whisper.
“Wh-what is your name?”
The wounded soldier smiled, “I’m Uche. I like being a soldier I am—but I hate wars.”
Then Uche’s face concocted into that of agony. “I-I feel pain.”
“You will be okay, trust me.”
“I’ll kill those bastards.” He whispered. He wanted to shout but he could only manage a low rasp, loud enough for Eze to hear “Leave me.”
“No, you’ve been hit, you can’t fight them.”
Eze tried to hold him but the wounded one jerked his body away from him. He grabbed his gun and crawled out from behind the rock. He crawled a few feet and then used his arm to raise himself. Immediately, a blast hit his midriff, slamming him to the ground. His abdomen had been torn apart. Recovery was out of the question. For the moment, the enemies’ shooting range was focused on the dying soldier; they were busy disfiguring him with series of bullets. Eze took advantage of the opportunity and bolted; he didn’t want to be trapped behind the rock and then get killed. The enemies would surely not be standing forever waiting for him to come out of his hiding. He ran farther into the thick forest with a speed he didn’t know he possessed. Eze Chima was more satisfied being in the forest than in the open, he could hide anywhere in the forest and never be seen. He could even live in the forest better than most animals.
He was on the run when he met another enemy, they seemed to be everywhere. Eze had always been known by his fellow soldiers to be extremely fast with his weapons, and before the enemy could raise his gun, Eze had shot him as swiftly as he had seen him. The enemy had died instantly but Eze continued firing at him with the stance of a soldier firing at a person who could no more return fire, but whose continued appearance was itself a dire menace. When he stopped firing, the enemy’s gut had been burst open and a small saliva bubble mixed with blood had formed at his lips. Then immediately behind him, another enemy appeared, and in fear, Eze fired blindly, shooting all the bullets in his cylinder. The man staggered backward, making an odd gurgling sound; one of the bullets had pierced his throat, which exploded in a gush of arterial blood. Eze walked slowly towards the dead man, he wiped the tears in his eyes as he saw the dead soldier. They had shot Uche too in the neck, and he, Eze, had paid them back the same way. He was tired and he sat by the dead enemy; he leaned against a tree and closed his eyes.
The sun was fighting its final descent beyond the war zone when Eze Chima opened his eyes. The last orange rays were filtering through the thick foliage of the trees. Eze became confused; he couldn’t believe that he had slept all through the afternoon—so he had been unconscious for a couple of hours now. Everywhere was strangely silent; the cries of the injured soldiers, the explosion of tanks, the sharp cracking sounds of gunshots—everything had all stopped. He stood up abruptly. He was thankful that no enemy had come around to find him sleeping after he had killed two of their men in the same spot, they would make him suffer so much that he would have to beg them to kill him. Surely, they would be kind and delighted enough to kill him—slowly. Sweat broke out of Eze’s forehead; he was afraid. What has happened? He thought fearfully. He walked slowly out of the forest into the open war ground, and then he knew what had happened. He sat where he was, severely shocked but apparently uninjured. His eyes looked down at his legs, then at his arms; he felt his face and his chest, then he tried to wriggle his toes in his army boots. Truly, he was uninjured. Just about thirty minutes before he slept off there had been a dozen enemies trying to kill him. And now, there was one man alive here—him. His first conscious thought was a feeling of ineffable anger, but almost immediately, his heart rejoiced as he saw his other colleagues who were alive being carried on stretchers. Most of them had lost one or two of their limbs each. Only then and gradually did a sense of vast relief surge through him—relief that he had survived, without a scratch, and he said a brief prayer to God in gratitude for making him come through. With another stream of tears flowing down his eyes, Eze found himself sucking his lower lip between his teeth. He had actually bitten into the soft tissue; he could taste a trickle of blood.
The war had ended.