War Never Changes

By: Shaban Benito Luigi

There are a lot of things that can change the world. War is one of them. I can’t tell if the world hasn’t had enough of it, or if it’s just a naturally occurring thing. Because no matter how much the world has changed because of it, war never changes. They say that if you live and breathe war long enough, you become immune to it. My experience in the Canadian Army proves that to be somewhat true. But soon, violence becomes somewhat of a naturally occurring thing. When a day goes by without violence, I welcome the brief sigh. But when a week goes by, I start getting suspicious. Sure, I become immune to it, but at the cost of getting addicted to it.

My name is Mandeni, Second Lieutenant Salo Frenanda Mandeni. Or as my Platoon would call me, “Rook”. I joined the Canadian Army at the age of 17, and rose through the ranks like a firework. I was made an officer as Second Lieutenant at age 23. I was young, but I was good at my job, up the point where I was dishonorably discharged, all because of a single army brat, though I agreed my temper had a role in it as well.

At the time, I was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment stationed in Kandahar. I had been patrolling the outskirts border between Kandahar and Lashkar Gah for a month. The first few weeks were a constant battle to clear out insurgents. Thankfully we had the Royal British Marines on the other side of the border helping us out. But that week was eerily silent.

No shots fired, no insurgent sightings.

I had been visiting this one farmland by the borders of Kandahar and Lashkar Gah on my patrols during the previous few weeks. The owner was a good friend of mine, Kareem Al-Badhani, father of two, husband to also two–though one of the wives, a widower, had left for Pakistana few weeks before–It was funny to see the locals of a country we were technically invading welcoming me and my platoon with open arms.

It was on the edge of the afternoon, with the sun kissing the horizon in the distance. Shafts of sunlight seeped through the windows into the living room, casting a shadow on the chessboard between me and Kareem as he emotionlessly caressed his black thick bushy beard while tucking his robes into his lap.

Kareem keeps his eyes focused on the chess pieces as Malik–his son who I’ve been teaching to speak English–walked into the living room with a tray of two cups filled to the brim with hot tea. He set it down on the table beside the chess pieces.

Malik looked over the game, and blissfully picked up one of my pieces and examined it. “No, no, that’s my rook.” I said with a chuckle as I took it back from him.

He looked to me and said in broken English “I am Malik, you Rook?”

“Y-Yeah, I’m Rook…” I realized it was futile trying to convince him that I wasn’t a chess pieceset theRook back on the board. Besides, I liked the name.

“Are you winning, Leftenant Rook?” Asked Lieutenant Hector “Bishop” Wayne, an officer of the British Royal Marines, as he walks through the front door of the adobe. He’s been my friend/nemesis ever since I arrived at the border. If it wasn’t Kareem, it’d be him sitting in front of me, trying to fight his way through my defences of Rooks and Knights. But there was always his one favourite piece, the Bishop, one I’ve grown cautious of whenever he plays against me, after it had cost me more than a few games.

Bishop look to Kareem and said something in Pashto, the local language here in the border–and a language I can barely understand–The two nod and Kareem stood up from his seat and walked past me, tapping my in the shoulder along the way as he walked past me to the kitchen on the other side of the house.Bishop and I took our seats in front of one another. Hestared at me menacingly as he moved his Bishop up to get a taste of my defences.

I made a few moves as we chatted about how quiet it was in the border, and he always found a way to counter my moves. I was nearing a check mate, before my platoon Sergeant, Sergeant Kingsley comes to through the door, interrupting the game to tell me that the platoon has finished their patrol. I told Kingsley to tell the men to pack up their gear and get ready to move on, before hearing a couple of footsteps behind me. I turned around and saw Aaminah–Kareem’s first wife–walking out of the kitchen with a mountainous batch of cookies along with her daughter, Aishya.

“Ah, thank you kindly, love!” Bishop said, jumping out of his seat to walk to the door shouting for his men to come before walking over to Aaminah as she sets down the tray of cookies onto the table beside the chessboard.

I told Kingsley to call in our own Platoon. He salutes me with a smile and walks off towards the main road to gather the platoon. A few of Bishop’s soldiers walks in and greets me as they walk over to the mountain of freshly baked cookies and dig in.

A minute later, a few of my platoon walked in and greeted the family along with Bishop’s platoon. Most of them have gotten well acquainted with one another. Perhaps too acquainted, as I spot Kingsley talking up to one of Bishop’s engineering Specialists, Kara.Bishop grabs a cup of tea and a cookie before walking up beside me near the doorway, and whispered about the interest Kara seems to have in Kingsley.

We chatted aboutthe current politics in Afghanistan, before my radio Specialist walked up to me and handing me the phone saying it’s from the FOB. Ah, the Forward Operating Base. The place where higher ranking officers sit back, relax, and enjoy a warm cup of privilege while their inferiors do the grunt work.

I grabbed the phone and answered. At first, the voice was annoyingly unfamiliar, so I asked who it was, and he answered with the name “Major Jonathan Presley”

As soon as he said his name, I cringed at the thought of being under the command of one of the General’s sons, but then it got worse as I remembered, Jonathan is the youngest. I received a note that said that there might be a change of leadership, but to think that they’d put someone so green…

Bishop notices my look of concern and asked if I was okay. I shrug off his concern andlistened in as the Major ordered me and my platoon to come back to base. I jokingly answered him “Don’t wait up for me, ‘hon” and hung up before the Major could finish and give the phone back to my radio Specialist, who gives me a look of concern. As I told him who our new commander was, we shared the same look of sourness.

I told him to give the boys a few more minutes before packing up. He nodded and saluted me before walking back towards the group, continuing his chatter with his own platoon, along with Bishop’s as they chow down on the cookies.

I let my soldiers have a few more minutes of R&R, before ordering them to pack up their gear, and hit the road. Bishop and I gave our compliments to Kareem and his family, before leaving them a bag of grain–that I stole from the base–for their farm as a token of gratitude. Bishop and his platoon stayed to patrol the area for a few more hours, while my platoon and I say our goodbyes and drove back to the FOB. As the sun sets in the horizon, the only thing I could think of, is how quiet everything is… too quiet.

We arrived back at the FOB an hour after sunset, I decidedto visit the command centre to gauge this new commander for myself. I casually strolled into the command centre, and as I walked up to the operations room, I overheard a heated conversation from the other room.The new Major was questioning my undisciplined attitude, and I could hear the very familiar voice of the second in command, Captain Beaumont, defending me.He’s always the one to get me out of trouble whenever I went too far. He’s the only senior officer I trust, since he and I have fought side by side in the field thrice.

As I casually walked into the operations room, Icouldthen see the source of the other voice, an annoyingly young looking senior officer with blonde hair, hazel eyes, scrawny pose, with an egotistical chin lifted so high I’m surprised he didn’t break his neck. I can already tell he’s trouble by his well-ironed clothes and overly pompous attire.

I’ve taken a long enough look to gather an opinion, so I turnedaround and walked out of the room in silence. “What’s his problem?” I could hear him asking the Captain behind me.I walked out of the command centre and make my way to the sand barrier walls that encircles the FOB, and climb to the top of them.

I took a seat on top of the wall, and took in the view overlooking the mountains and deserts surrounding the FOB. It’s a quiet, and beautifully clear night, with the moon shining bright, accompanied by the stars around it. With weary mind, constantly thinking about the new commander, I took out a Biscuit pack from a British MREpack, and ate it.

The sweetness of the biscuit reminds me of home, and the batches of cookies mom used to make for me and my sister. Though “home” is pretty much nowhere as of the moment, and mom isn’t really around to bake cookies anymore, with her being dead and all. It hadn’t even been a month after her death before I enlisted into the army. And with my sister being sent to a mental institution, I figured getting away from all the gloomy memories for a few months, maybe a year, would be a good idea.

Now I’ve found myself missing them, my sister especially. I missed her straight forward friendliness. Most of the locals here are either genuinely friendly, suspiciously friendly, or plainly out to kill me. Though I’ve found myself attached to the friends I’ve made here, and the enemies. The silence is welcoming, but the firefights are addictive. You not only get used to it, you subconsciously find yourself actively seeking it out. The only way to get away from it, is to try and forget about it. And in that moment, the MRE biscuit I have finished was doing a good job at keeping me distracted.

“Was that my biscuits?” I heard a familiar voice call out from behind me. My instincts get the better of me as I reach for my rifle. I turn around, and my muscles relax as I realize who it is. It’s Bishop, still in uniform with a metal canteen mug in his hand. I welcomed the friendly presence, but I wondered, what could he be doing in a Canadian army base?Looking past him, I could actually see his platoon resting in the courtyard.

“Aren’t you supposed to be sipping tea somewhere?” I jokingly asked.

He chuckled and said “I’m sipping tea, here”. He told me he was there because his superiors told him to evacuate to the nearest base, which was my base. Curiously, I asked him why, and he didn’t seem to have an answer. I subconsciously offered him whatever food I have left packed away in my pocket, which was apparently an expired beef jerky. I completely forgot about taking this from an American soldier a few days ago.

He declined the obviously rancid beef jerky, before offering me his tin cupof tea.

I shrugged, accepted the cupof tea and took a sip. He sat down next to me, and we continued our chat about the politics in Afghanistan, and about the new commander that has been assigned to the base. He told me that he felt sorry for me, and that if comes down to it, he’ll back me up in an argument.

That’s when the Americans arrived.A convoy goes through the gates, parked, and out comes a few soldiers in U.S. Army uniforms, carrying briefcases and laptops. Bishop and I gave each other a synchronized look of curiosity, and quickly hopped off the sand wall, and made our way to the command centre as the US soldiers entered the building. We followed them in, just as they’re setting up their laptops and briefcases on the table of the operating room.

I heard them chattering commands to each other as the screen at the front of the operating room turns on, showing a drone footage of a familiar farm, with people carrying rifles walking up to it.

Major Presley was talking to one of the U.S. Army officers, a Colonel, as Bishop and I walked in. I brazenly barged in, catching the attention of most of the people inside the operating room as they stopped whatever they were doing. The Colonel took a good long look at me and asked the Major “What’s he doing here?”

“Nothing, sir” The Majorwalked up and told me to leave. I persisted, asking him what was going on.And just then, Captain Beaumont walked up and grabbed my shoulder, telling me that something’s about to go down, and that we should go outside.

I gave the captain an inquisitive look, before sighing and walking out of operating room, and out of the command centre with Bishop walking close behind. I asked what the Americans are doing here.

The captain gave me a sorry look and saidthey’ve been a high-ranking Taliban officer, and they’ve spotted him in Kandahar, and they appeared to be taking refuge in some farm by the border. They’re sending in an air strike to bomb the farm

“Wait what?!” I shouted. There’s only one farm by the border close to this base, and it’s Kareem’s farm. I tried to explain to the captain that Kareem would never defect to the Talibans. But he sighed and scratched his head saying “Major Presley’s sources would say otherwise…”

I asked the Captain who his sources was, and the Captain shrugged, having no answer. I shouted at the top of my lungs angrily, making sure everyone heard that the Major was making a huge mistake.

And suddenly, just as I had hoped, the door to the command centre opened, as Major Presley himself walked out. I shouted asking who his sources was, and all he said was “It’s confidential”Growing impatient, I shouted, telling him that he is making a huge mistake, and when I told him about Kareem, all he said was that he’d be an “Inconvenient casualty”. My face grew red, my fist clenched, I was about to lose it.

The Colonel asked if everything was okay. The Major turned and said that he had everything under control, and just as he turns back to look at me, I sent a hard clenched hook straight across his jaw. His head twisted to the side and body falls to the side, opening the door further as his body slumps onto the ground, unconscious. At that moment, I knew, I’ve sealed my fate in the army.

Everyone suddenly looked to me in surprise. The Captain gave a look of disappointment, but at the same time, he saw it coming. The guards around me were ready to jump to apprehend me at a moment’s notice. I looked past the Major’s body, into the command centre, and I saw the Colonel’s look of surprise.

“Bloody hell that was a good hook” Bishop said.

Without a thought, I bolted straight out of there, away towards the vehicle pool as fast as I could. The guards gave chase as Bishop followed suit, but they’re not as well trained nor as experienced as we are, so they lagged far behind

I spotted a lone, unused Humvee by the gates, already conveniently facing out towards the roads down to the farm. I signalled Bishop to follow as I quickly ran up to the driver seat hopped in. Bishop hopped into the passenger seat next to me. As I closed the door, I heard a gasp and a shriek coming from behind.

Bishop and I turned, to find Sergeant Kingsley, alongside Bishop’s Engineering Specialist, Kara, halfway undressed in their uniform. The two of them were blushing hard as they put their uniforms back on.

“Specialist?” Bishop said.

“Sergeant?” I said.

“Lieutenants” The two of them answered simultaneously, blushing fire truck red.

“Way to go, my man!” I cheer for Kingsley, before realizing, we’re still being chased. I quickly put the Humvee into gear, and drive straight out of the gate, pushing it into gear, down the road towards Kareem’s farm. I asked if there was any weapons around.

Kingsley told me that there’s a few rifles in the trunk, and asked where we were going. I told him we were going to go and save Kareem, and without a second thought, they signed on to help.

I explained the plan to themas I started driving up to Kareem’s farm. I could see the clay adobe in the distance, and the lights through the cracked windows. It almost seemed peaceful, but as I drove up, a crescendo of gunfire littered the front of the Humvee, cracking the windshield. I quickly slammed the steering wheel, causing the Humvee to drift across the ground, sending dirt into the air creating a dust wall between us and whoever’s shooting at us.

Bishop and I tookthe opportunity to hop out and rush to the back of the Humvee, and pull out the rifles. Kingsley and Kara followed suit, and took cover behind the Humvee as the dust settled.

As the mist was picked up the wind, I readied myself to shoot at whoever was shooting at us, before I could even see anything, Bishop opened fire through the cloud of dust. I could hear a painful shout through the mist as Bishop and I move forward towards Kareem’s farm, keeping our weapons at the ready as we pass a wounded Taliban. “What a warm greeting” Bishop said as Kingsley apprehended him.

Kingsleygot behind me, and the Karagot behind Bishop, as the four of us moved up on the house’s front door. We carefully stacked up against the open door, and I slowly peeked into the living room, and saw that it’s empty. I heard the sound of metal crashing onto the ground from the kitchen. I signaled for Bishop to cover me, and the four of us breach into the living room, weapons drawn.

Thankfully, there was no enemies around. I made my way into the kitchen, and a frying pan flew past methrough the air, almost hitting me in the face. I covered myself as a knife flew past my leg. I turned and saw Kareem’s wife throwing kitchen utensils at me, shouting in her native language. I shouted for her to stop.

As she realized who I was, she quickly set down her arsenal of kitchenware and rushes over to me, with her daughter holding on to her clothes from behind. “Rook! Malik! Help!” She points to a door leading to the guest building.

I looked back to her and I ushered her and her daughter past me to Bishop and Kara. I turned to the door, and recklessly barged on through, not caring for my own personal safety.As I kicked the door open, I spotted a very, oddly short man, carrying an assault rifle.

The suspiciously short man turned around, revealing himself to be a young boy, no younger than Kareem’s son, carrying an assault rifle, with an ammo belt wrapping around his chest. I froze, I couldn’t pull the trigger, even as the child raises his rifle towards me, I look past him, and saw Kareem’s son, Malik, hands raised. “Rook!” He shouted, before the sound of gunfire drowns his voice as I feel something impact my chest.

I fell backwards onto the ground as the child soldier shot me in my body armour. I quickly raised my gun, but I couldn’t fire. I couldn’t bring it to myself to fire my weapon at someone so young, but then, another person, this time an adult in Taliban clothing rushed down the stairs from behind the child and raises his own rifle at me, but before he could fire, I pulled the trigger, firing a shot straight through his chest. The adult Taliban falls to the floor, groaning in pain. Malik rushed to my aid as soon as the child Taliban comes to theadult’s aid.

As Maliktried to pull me up off of the ground, I could see that the adult Taliban has gotten back up, holding his wounded chest as he ran out of the door into the fields with the child. I turned to Malik and asked about Kareem.

“Bad men! Up!” He points to the ceiling.Kingsley rushed in behind me, and I quickly tell him to get Malik out as soon as possible. He grabs Malik and the two rush out back where they came.

I made my way up the stairs, weapon at the ready, and before I could reach the top, a gun barrel poked out and opened fire. I quickly ducked out of the way as the bullets impact the clay walls around me, sending a debris up into the air. I pulled out a flash grenade, and threw it up there. I waited a few seconds, before BANG! I rushed up, expecting to find Kareem with a couple of Talibans, only to find 4 Talibans, 3 of them already making their way out the window, and no Kareem. Confused, I now realize that Malik mentioned that there are only bad guys.

In the moment of realization, one of them opened fire at me, hitting me square in the chest. I reeled back and returned fire at them, killing two of them as the rest made their way out of the adobe window. I grunted in pain as I rushed up to the window. I aimed my rifle out, but before I could fire, I could hear something, the familiar sound of a sonic boom in the sky. The Air Force has arrived.

I looked to see that Bishop and the rest have made their way out of the adobe, and are loading up onto the Humvee, and I can see that Kareem has actually been found. I sigh in relief, but then I remembered, I was about to be blown into pieces.I quickly climbed up the window, groaning in pain against my possibly broken ribs, and jumped. I fell to dirt ground hard and tumbled across. I quickly got up as the Talibans from before started firing at me, I felt a bullet impact my leg as I can hear the sound of jet engines coming closer, and closer. Before I could reach the Humvee, I looked up, and saw a flash of grey against the night sky flying past at supersonic speed.

As the sound of the jet engine blends away, I thought to myself “This is it… This is how I’ll die. Through the ignorance of others, and the stubbornness of my own” I reached down behind my shirt, to grab the locket that held my sister’s portrait, but I find no purchase, and realized that I’ve left it back at base. I thought to myself “Really? I don’t even get a cliché hero’s death?

A few milliseconds later, the bombs land all around. A crescendo of explosions erupt, the adobe explodes into a million pieces, sending shrapnel of metal, hard clay, and sand all over the place, pulling a cloud of debris, dust, and dirt off the ground, throwing a shockwave straight through my chest as I felt my lungs being compressed. I fell forward to the ground, gasping for air in horrible pain. It was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced, and I would’ve died if Bishop hadn’t come for me.

I simply laid there, helpless, paralysed with a shrapnel sticking out of my thigh, bleeding out to certain death. But Bishop and Malik came back for me, through the smoke and debris, they pulled me back to the Humvee, and Bishop drove us all back to the Base.

On that faithful day, I learnt a lesson. I’ve realized that as a soldier, being addicted to violence, I almost always tried toseek out death wherever it laid slumber, and poke it. On that day, death woke up, and almost grabbed me, and though I wasn’t ready for it, I couldn’t do anything about the fact that I brought it onto myself. I knew that if I kept this up, this addiction, will surely kill me.

But as soon as I got back, they pulled the shrapnel out of my leg, patched me up, and handcuffed me for disobeying direct orders, and assaulting a superior officer. Captain Beaumont, Bishop, Specialist Kara, and Sergeant Kingsley vouched for me in court-martial. I got off easy with a dishonorable discharge. But it was exactly what I was looking for, a chance for a normal life.

“And now, here I am, talking to my sister in a mental health institution” I say with a chuckle, at my sister who’s currently in front of me, smiling abnormally at the chess piece between us. They don’t seem to restrict her as much as I expected. Her long black hair covers half of her smiling face as she tucks in her sweater.

She looks to me and gives me a warm innocent yet awkward smile as she moves her queen up to take away my rook, and flank my king. “Rook” She says, chuckling happily as she taps the table to call a check mate.

I chuckle at my fourth time losing. My sister smiles happily at me, before moving on to the table next to me, where another player waits with another chessboard. My sister handily beats him before moving on to the next, and then the next, and then the next, one by one, some with less moves than others, she secures her victory, tapping each table as she wins.

It’s funny, seeing her walking around the row of tables, playing chess against 8 different opponents, some of them guards. She gives me a glance of pure happiness as if to say “Look, brother! I’ve won!” as she finishes beating every single last one of them without breaking a sweat.

As her opponents reset their boards, some of them leaving in amazed frustration, I leave the table and walk up to my sister, and give her a warm hug. She replies with a bite to the shoulder, as she wraps her arms around me and holds onto me closely, it almost seems like she won’t let go of me, as if she’s too scared to lose me.

“Mira, I have a date to catch” I say to her, as she finally stops biting my shoulder and lets go of me. “It’s been fun catching up. I’ll see you soon, sis” I say my goodbye.Though I’d love to spend more time with her, I have a date to catch.

“Love you sis” I give her a quick kiss on the forehead before walking away. She waves an exaggerated goodbye at me as I walk away.

That night after visiting my sister, I went on a date with the therapist that was assigned to me soon after I’ve left the military. It went well for a first date, and we agreed to meet again soon. I took the time to catch up on the world.

I’ve heard in the news, that about a month after I left the military, the Canadian Army was pulled back from Afghanistan. Though Bishop moved on to becoming a member of theSpecial Forces, we still kept in touch through mails.

Kareem moved on to the much safer side of Afghanistan, and became a baker, before making enough money to send his son and daughter, Malik and Aishya, to study here in Canada with my help.

I soon became their legal guardian when Kareem died of a heart attack a few months later, and his mother died in a bombing in Baghdad.

But even though I’ve left it all behind, there was something that always bothered me since I went home. The peace and quiet was welcoming at first, but soon, the itch was reaching out to me from the past. Even though I’m far from the war, I can still feel it, the hunger for violence, and the thirst for adrenaline.

I can still feel addiction, the itch, the lust, the urge to seek out where death slumbers, and poke it. But now I’ve found a new purpose for it. No longer is it a blind mindless lust for violence, I now have a cause for it: To keep everyone I care about safe, no matter the cost.

But the military life was behind me, and they probably wouldn’t recruit me again. I could no longer fight for peace and freedom, or for loved ones. The life of violenceis behind me, buried beneath a mound of calmness, and peace, never to be unearthed again.

… Or will it?