Barry S. Jandebeur
Spring erupted in a rebirth of color. You could smell it, poised to usher in a refreshing renewal. It seemed,
however, to pause and hunker down while a relentless volley of small arms fire chipped away at the garden walls, sending stone
fragments crashing onto grass littered with torn fabric, strewed gear, and undefinable chunks of human flesh.
Raheem clawed the blood stained earth and with one crooked
elbow and scissoring legs he inched forward holding fast to Hartley's shirt collar. With each forward jerk, Hartley screamed
in pain while the shell shocked, bullet riddled wall sprayed debris. Raheem ducked, smashing his face tight to the ground.
The packed dirt smelled of war, death, and futility. The garden gate beckoned, a tall oaken arch that would swing open on
forged steel hinges - a passage to safety. Beyond, a hill dropped to the west settling in a meadow of tall grass where sheep,
immune to the sounds and chaos of war, grazed peacefully in the afternoon sun.
Inch by inch, Raheem dragged his comrade through the gate, while bullets splintered the arched top,
flapping it like a wounded bird against the war torn wall. The gate bell, dangling from a bent piece of steel, rang erratically
as if in pain. Raheem encircled Hartley in his arms, cradling his bloodied head in the crook of his neck as if to comfort
a crying child. With their legs twined they screamed in unison as they rolled as one down the hill like a runaway log until,
slowed by taller grass, they came to rest at the edge of a sod road.
Raheem untangled his legs from Hartley, now quiet and still. From the road, the spongy sound of tires
on dirt muffled through the grass. A dilapidated cart rattled to a stop and a child-size woman with full head covering climbed
down. She studied Hartley's torn and twisted body and nodded at Raheem with warm and caring eyes. An old man, his head turban
wrapped, watched from his seat. When the woman spoke in a tongue Raheem knew well, the man climbed to the back of the cart
where bulging burlap bags lay to one side and chickens squawked from twig cages. He pushed the chickens forward and spread
hay on the wooden planks. The woman, kneeling now, with a cloth dipped into an earthen vessel, wiped blood from Hartley's
face. She gently drew his tangled arm across his chest and tied it with a thin white scarf. With the old man, she and
Raheem lifted Hartley into the cart. Her eyes gestured for Raheem to climb beside his friend.
Soon the cart rocked and started forward and the soft beckoning tinkle of small
bells on the mule's harness echoed across the meadow. In the west, the sun kissed the horizon and a lingering breeze blanketed
the tall meadow grass. The garden wall, captured now in shadows, stood quiet.