Region: the North
Hello. I'm very excited to be here.
Daheibegs sat on a chair in the kitchen, looking out of the same window he had looked out of last night. He could see the beginnings of frost forming on the ground and the smallest plumes of breath twirled out of his mouth. Daheibegs shivered, wrapping the shawl tighter around him. The shawl was not yet showing the signs of age despite being over forty years old. His wife had knitted it for him to celebrate ten years of marriage. He had given her a rocking horse. She had interpreted it as his way of saying he wanted children, but that hadn't been his intention at all. Two years later, she fell pregnant. Daheibegs had never mentioned his wife or unborn child to the one friend he had.
Daheibegs would, in the decade and a half between the shawl being made and his wife's death, wear the garment often. At least once a week. On the day he had gotten the news about her accident, he was wearing the shawl. To the funeral also. After that, it was put away, folded and placed inside a trunk. It was only in these few first days of winter that Daheibegs would wear the shawl now. It had been her favourite time of year.
Daheibegs rose from his chair, trudged over to the door and laced up his boots. He removed the shawl, let it draped over a banister and tugged on a coat. Stepping outside, Daheibegs paused for a moment, listening to the frost crackle underfoot. She had loved that sound. He shut the door and made his way to the back of the house, moving in a tight circle around the place. He set off towards the forest after that, walking across the flat landscape with the ease that only a journey taken one thousand times can afford. He went slowly and quietly, head bowed, hands in pockets.
Passing under the canopy of the first of the trees, Daheibegs never stopped. He followed a path of intensely clipped grass to a clearing not that far from the edge of the woods. He paused now at the entrance. A squirrel was nibbling a rare nut by one of the headstones. It bolted for the nearest tree when it saw him. Daheibegs watched it scamper, wild-eyed up the bark. It fled from sight and Daheibegs moved forward to stand beside the two headstones. They had never been a rich family and buying headstones didn't seem proper. That would involve other people in the clearing and other people writing their names. There were no graveyard authorities to consult so two large rocks had to suffice. The names and dates of the two lives had been scratched with hands and heart tormented by grief. Now Daheibegs hands were still, resting there in his coat pockets.
After around half an hour Daheibegs emerged from the forest. He made his way back to the house with the same purpose as before. He unlocked the door, undid his laces and held the shawl once more, lowering it onto his shoulders again. It was time for another mug of tea and maybe a trek up the mountain to see his friend.
The winds of another day yelled past the window in Daheibegs's bedroom like a sailor being flung from the rigging and into the sea. Daheibegs lay there for a while. He stared into the ceiling, listening to the sound. After a few minutes, he rose. When he first tried to open the door, it wouldn't budge. After ramming the door enough to create an opening, with the removal of his coat he was able to slip through. Moving quickly, he rammed his coat back on and saw immediately what the problem was. The snow had built up outside the door. Daheibegs grunted, grabbed the worn down shovel from beside the door and set about clearing the entrance. After only a few shovel-fulls, the door was sufficiently unblocked. Daheibegs observed the depression, considered it suitable and turned to replace the shovel. As he did so, the sight of the displaced snow, now piled into a small mound made his stop. Ever so slowly, into the desperate cry of the wind being dragged across the ground came another sound Daheibegs had not heard in person for weeks. The sound of a child's laughter had made its way to him. He looked at the snow pile again, remembering a day similar to the one upon whose snow he now stood. He had been rolling a clump of snow across the ground, his wife working a little ways away on a smaller lump. She was pregnant and they had wanted to make a snowman. Daheibegs had even been willing to hand over his favourite pipe to complete the picture. As both snow balls were approaching the right size, he had turned to his wife and said something. She had looked up, tripped over what was to be the snowman's head and landing straight onto the ground. The remains of the head had fallen as her shins had crushed it further into the ground when she fell. Daheibegs had raced over to check if she was alright. After his constant fretting made her throw a snowball at him, they both laughed, the misshapen wreckage of the head lying next to them.
For a few moments, Daheibegs couldn't look away. Then, in a few strokes of the shovel's edge, he had returned the snow to mere powder. He turned sharply, went inside the house again and locked the door.
About two hours later the door opened again and Daheibegs stalked out, moving slowly and unceasingly towards the fields. Even though it was winter, he still had work to be getting on with on the farm. First he made sure the hay was fresh for the cows, his limbs shedding the tensity about them and taking up the easy, confident movements that come with a familiar task. When he checked the calves he noted with a frown that he might have to take some calves into his house. Bringing them in was common in the cold climates of the world, and although it meant they kept warm, Daheibegs didn't like letting them into what was meant to be his property. Despite having to do this for most years he had been farming, he had never got used to it. When he was a child he used to love calves. By the time he had gotten into farming he had been an adult and it was on that first winter that his love of calves began to melt like the snow into an inevitably feeble version of what it had been.
Daheibegs sighed before moving on. He checked the machinery. It was all just about operating with the onset of winter although there was a strong possibility of it breaking down if the winter got any colder. He looked towards the road, dreading the thought of having to go to the nearest town and purchase things anew. Could he even afford that? He frowned once more and after a vigorous scraping down of the cattle pens, finished off with a check of the food stores before trudging back to the house. The door was locked again.
The shell must have whined through the dust and smoke and gas. All shells do. The staccato sounds of gunfire, the long howls of men in agony, during which time they revealed that despite all their beliefs, ideals and equipment, they screamed no differently from the wounded hunter-gatherer who lay underneath the African sun thousands of years ago. Whether the dry crackly grass or the swiftly soaked concrete was their coffin, they died with just the same feral sound on their lips. Then there was the screaming of a different kind. Desperate men hurling frantic commands across the ever-deteriorating battleground to their ever-weakening units.
There were some strange moments though, when it seemed that every soldier, on both sides, had decided to stop what they were doing. Some were probably recalibrating the aim of the artillery guns while others just stared, rifle clenched tightly between them and the carnage. They stared at the chunks of concrete and plaster, at the gaping holes in the buildings. They turned to the thrown up paving stones of the square and trembled. In that short respite, they saw what the smoke and the tears had obscured. They smelt the blood of their friends, they heard the ringing in their ears and if they were lucky, they dreamt of home, of their sweethearts and family, imagined or real. By the time they did that, the next shell was already released. The rifleman had already peeked up from his cover and had already aimed his gun.
There had been a man who had been hiding just inside an alleyway. Daheibegs saw him emerge, aim his rifle at the enemy and begin walking. A man cried out to him to get back to his position. The other man fired his rifle into the positions of the cowering enemy but they were all to well hidden for the shot to hit. Then the order was given to cover him. Whenever an enemy would flash above the parapet of debris their would be a crack from the other side and that man would collapse. After about six cracks had scored hit, the soldier was still walking. The enemy stopped trying to shoot and then the soldier walked past their positions, they shot him in the back. Unfortunately for him, the impact wasnít fateful. When the battle the bodies were checked for life. The man next to him was an enemy, gasping and writhing on the shattered remains of a cluster of paving stones. He was shot dead without even a thought. Next, we moved on to our own. The men who knelt down said he was still murmuring about his wife, even when lying there on his stomach, staring at the basement window of a house now scattered across town. There was no saving him in the state he was found. He shared the same fate with the foe that had just been checked.
Daheibegs sipped his tea. Earlier that day he had completed what tasks he had to do on the farm. It was comforting on some days to go see the cattle. They knew nothing of the war, and they didnít know anything about Daheibegsís service. A few times he had began talking to them about it. He had told them that despite all the propaganda, Ozizcangenattleerstopinean people just did not like each other very much. They were a loose confederation of people and while they might band together to protect their country, the divisions were never erased. The calves grew bored and tired after a little while. When they left, Daheibegs continued to speak, but he spoke instead to the hay, fresh and vibrant. Sometimes his vision would blur, and he would make no attempt to bring anything back into focus. He would just continue speaking. His wife would listen too. She would sit down on the stool next to his. She would sit there as she always did. She would nod in the right places; she would stroke his back when it was appropriate. Then, when he was done, he would look over to gauge her reaction and she would go. He would stare at the barn door and the weather outside. He would sigh and pick up his equipment and take a deep breath. Then he would leave. The calves would sometimes watch him go.