The Pink Ribbon
He stood, staring at the rubble that he’d once called home. Unsure of whether to feel sad, he continued standing before it with his baggage in his hand. Standing and staring as the wind blew past, lifting sand from what was once a green pasture. Watching as wind flapped what was left of the curtains, as it whistled through the open windows.
This… This was the place that he’d gave him motivation when he was away. The place that held memories that carried him through his deepest depressions. He fell to his knees. This… This was the place that he fought each day dreaming to return to.
He let out a shout, as the emotions crashed down onto him, no longer caring for his surroundings. No longer caring for whether enemies lurked in the shadows. His family. They were gone. Gone.
Gone just like that. He slammed his fist into the ground. Gone before he made it back. Gone when they should’ve been safe. Wet droplets stained the sand beneath him.
Why? Why even when he fought so hard to defend the country? Why, when he fought to protect other families? Who was around to protect his? Why did his absence have to rob him of the very thing he’d fought to protect?
Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? He slammed one fist into the ground after another, disregarding the stinging pain from the micro-lacerations gifted by the broken glass and shrapnel dotting the ground. The physical discomfort was nothing relative to the loss.
Why? His shoulders drooped. His entire body slumped. Defeated. Why? Why did the heavens mock him so? Why?
A bright pink, under the dirt and red blood stains, caught his attention. That pattern! Eyes alight with recognition, he dove for it, frantically brushing aside dirt and shrapnel with his unprotected fingers. His hand shook, as he carefully scooped what remained of the ribbon into his fingers, holding it delicately as if it were some fragile treasure. Giving it a squeeze, he closed his eyes and pressed it to his heart.
Finally withdrawing the ribbon from his chest, he lowered his gaze to his held out hand. His breath hitching as he opened his fingers, putting the accessory in full view. His sister’s favorite hair piece. Before he left for his deployment, he couldn’t remember a day that she didn’t wear it. It had looked so elegant on her. He could still see the way it magically held up all her hair. Now, it was nothing but a tattered piece of fabric.
A gust of wind blew past, lifting it from his palm. No! Not his only connection to his family! Immediately, he picked himself up, and began chasing after the wind-carried fabric. But, higher and higher, it flew, before disappearing into the trees.
Even as the winds died down, he didn’t catch anything falling from the sky. It must’ve caught on a branch somewhere. He had to get it back. Looking up, as he walked, he crashed into someone. Turning his attention away from the trees, he looked down to see that it was a child.
“Are you okay?” He asked, suppressing his emotions and crouching before the child to help him up.
“Yes, sir.” The child answered shyly. “I need to go home now.”
“It’s dangerous running around.” He told the child, reining the pain at the reminder of his family’s fate. “Especially while there may still be enemy troops running about, still unaware of the treaty.”
“What’s a treaty?” The child asked.
“It’s an agreement between two countries to stop fighting.” He explained, patiently.
“How can two countries fight?” The child inquired, looking confused. “Aren’t they just land?”
“The people in charge of the country send people living in the country to fight each other.” He answered. “So there might still be people from the other country here.”
“So, then how do we know who is from the other country?” The child asked.
“You can look at their clothes.” He answered, pointing at the patch sewn onto his uniform. “Most of the people from the other country will be dressed like I am, with a different flag stitched here.”
“So would papa have the same one as yours?” The child inquired, putting a finger to his lip in thought.
“I would think so.” He replied, standing. “It’s getting late. I’ll walk with you home.”
“Okay.” The child answered, taking his hand.
As the walked, he spared another glance back at the trees. It was probably the last he’d see of the ribbon, if it hadn’t already disappeared, but he couldn’t abandon the child. He couldn’t let another family become like his own. He couldn’t let another home get decimated. Finally, he forced himself to look ahead.
Blinking back tears, he let the child lead him further and further away from the memory of his family. He could return later, he promised himself. Once the child was safe. Once the enemy soldiers completely depart from their soil. Once he could say for certain that both the child and his family were free from danger.
“Thank you, sir.” The child said, turning to face him upon exiting the forest. “My home is just ahead.”
“You’re welcome.” He said, kneeling before the child. “I’ll stay in the area, these few days. At least, until the country announces that the enemy troops have been fully withdrawn.”
“Okay.” The child answered. At that instant, in the absence of the forest’s shade, and under the glow of the sunset, his eyes widened. The child had his sister’s eyes.
“Wait!” He exclaimed, as the child turned to leave. “Is everyone in your family okay?”
“Yes.” The child answered, cocking his head to one side. “Do you want to see them?”
“Please.” He said, sucking in a breath. Could his sister have survived? Could his parents have survived? Was this child really a relative?
“Okay.” The child answered, taking his hand.
Letting the child lead him along, he soon found himself in front of a little house with a straw roof, within a neighborhood of many similar buildings. Before this one, a woman stood, hanging recently laundered clothes. He froze in his steps, staring.
As if sensing their presence, she looked up at them, and dropped the basket of wet clothing, spilling them onto the floor. She put a hand to her lips.
“Joesph.” She whispered. He saw tears well up in her eyes as she ran up to him, wrapping her arms around him in a hug. “You’re alive!”
He nodded, returning the embrace, his eyes stinging and his face wet. His sister was alive. She was still alive. She was still here.
“Are mother and father…” He started, letting his voice trail off, uncertain he wanted to hear the words aloud.
She let go of him, shaking her head.
“They’ve passed.” She answered, with a sigh.
He lowered his head. So he still hadn’t made it back to see them. He still missed his chance to say good bye. He felt his sister’s fingers against his face, brushing away his tears. He smiled, grateful. At least, he still had family. Still had family that survived the war. Still had living family.
“Rebecca!” A voice from inside the house shouted, approaching. “Come in for dinner!”
He turned to the voice. How could it be? But, it was. Standing at the doorway was a face that he’d never forget, but one that he had expected to have long left his family.
“Sarah.” He said. “It’s been too long.”
“It has.” She said quietly without moving from the doorway.
“Mama?” Another voice asked timidly, popping out from behind her. A boy that looked as much like her as it did to him, to how he remembered looking before war. A boy that appeared to be at least six. He’d been gone for seven years. Could it be?
“This is?” He asked.
“Your son.” She answered, her hair and skirts swaying with the wind. “I’ve never left.”
He turned to his sister, who nodded behind him.
“Mama!” The child that originally led him here called, from behind him. A wave of guilt washed over him, he had totally forgotten about the other child. “You know this uncle?”
“He’s my brother, your maternal uncle.” She said, taking the child’s hand, before turning back to him and offering her hand to him. An invitation. “Let’s go in for dinner. Together.”
He nodded, unable to trust himself for words. His sister. His girlfriend. A nephew. A son. It was more than he could’ve asked for. Tears streamed his face, as they led him inside.
As much as he missed and as much as he lost, he smiled. Sometimes, it wasn’t what one lost that mattered, but what one still had. He was glad to still have surviving family. Glad to still have a home to return to. He watched his family and its new members, gather around a table. Watching them smile back at him, despite the grime that coated his skin and clothes. Suddenly, he could see a future just as bright as the past.
Thank you He prayed silently. Thank you, Lord, for everything.
This story was inspired by a writing prompt from the “Promptly Written” Publication.
Not the plot, just the object essential to the plot
THE PLOT: A soldier comes home from battle
THE MCGUFFIN: A silk ribbon