by Leo Gillard
Yes, it was the end. But was it a triumph?
The whole city was alight, though not literally. That was the fate of cities elsewhere, but not here. The war, that long, seven years of conflict, had come to an end, and the city was full of celebration. Citizens and returning soldiers alike moved through the heaving streets, each one letting out the tension seven years in the making.
Everyone seemed light. Everyone seemed pleased. It was as if everything had finally fallen into place, everything was right again. And even though there would be a hundred challenges to come, a thousand questions still unanswered (tens of thousands orphaned, hundreds of thousands killed, more than a million injured).
‘And even though’ perhaps implied some kind of resolution to come; a final triumph, so to speak, over the many trials they had faced.
There weren’t all that many people who felt confident that such a resolution would materialise. Triumph didn’t feel like a resolution, didn’t feel like a victory, and definitely didn’t feel like a relief. It felt like a word tinged with and weighed down by everything that had been lost along the way.
It felt like an older brother, dead in the final year of the war, and one name amongst far too many. A mother, lost to a sickness spread through dirty water, caused by the destruction of a safe source. A war injury which could never truly be healed.
It felt like a mother and son becoming after years forced apart. Half a decade of being shunned for something uncontrollable and undeniable. A long future ahead in which perhaps everything would change for the better, but perhaps nothing (and a hundred experiences that came before that told him that perhaps it would change again for the worse).
It felt like years dedicated to a cause heralded as a success but then denounced in the same breath. Trust in systems and people and authorities so broken that it could never truly be fixed. Bonds forged on the basis of a campaign that would disappear just like smoke now all the bombings were done.
There were parties in the streets for days. Pan didn’t attend a single one. Bel made an attempt, but was pushed out by someone he didn’t know for the way he spoke (a constant refrain, over all these years, that had not disappeared alongside the war). Annie stayed inside with her remaining brother, remaining mother, and willed her mind not to liken fireworks to gunshots.
On the fourth day, Pan had run out of food in his house. Bel went into school early, determined to get some homework done before someone decided he didn’t deserve to have a good day. Annie went for a walk, desperate to get out of a home full of memories that bit into every breath.
It was a nondescript street; an offshoot of a nondescript road, with three nondescript destinations that just happened to intersect.
They didn’t speak to each other. They didn’t have any reason to stop, any reason to stare. There was nothing that linked the three of them. Nothing at all. For a single moment, their paths crossed, and they never would again.
There was nothing special about their stories, nothing all that unique. Just seven years of tragedy that the whole world experienced in some form. Their suffering was not the most extreme, nor their lives the most ruined. They were just three people whose paths crossed, briefly, during a triumph that was for everyone yet no one.
The celebration of the triumph would last seven days. The war had lasted seven years. The events and experiences would last a lifetime, and the consequences would stretch on into the mists of a distant future.
No, it was not a triumph. But was it even the end?