The Front Has Gone Cold
A crackle of sniper fire echoes against the rubbage that is left of the city, bouncing off anything it can find like a devilish hound in search of a meal. His own stomach growls in contempt, and he cleans out his gun to distract himself from the incessant gnawing. The government doesn’t pay him enough for this.
Though only in his mid twenties, war and lean times have hardened Mustafa, hollowing out his cheeks and scraping the edges of his patience. From his perch on the rubble, he can see the whole of the front lines. And it looks like a whole lot of nothing.
“Mustafa! You on guard today?” a young voice croaks tentatively from the other side of the wall. Nadeem had joined the rebel fighting when he was only fourteen, but his fondness and talent for cooking had won him some favor on both sides of the wall.
“About time you got here,” Mustafa growls at him with as much good nature as he can muster on an empty stomach, “It’s just me now. Emir’s on the north side today.”
“Good news for your tummy then, eh?” the voice chirps back as a small package glides neatly over the wall, landing about a yard away from the foot of Mustafa’s watch tower. He climbs down and ravenously unwraps the parcel. The daily bread. There is a soft thump on the other side of the wall as Nadeem plops himself down to listen to his enemy eating. Is that what they are? Enemies?
“What is this war even about anymore, soldier?” he asks tiredly. The older man grunts, swallowing a morsel of bread that sticks to his dry throat like clay. The younger man continues, “You should come join us. Many pretty girls on this side, you know,”
Mustafa licks his fingers as the last of the bread disappears. “I, for one, enjoy having electricity.”
“Yes, but it would be much easier to hand you bread rather than toss it over that stupid wall,” Nadeem utters dreamily, closing his eyes as a soft breeze tousles his hair. Mustafa folds his arms across his chest, not trusting himself to respond. Both men start as, over the horizon, a pair of girls pry away loose chunks of the wall to cross from rebel territory to the Ba’ath side. Mustafa instinctively reaches for his gun, but some unspoken force causes him to hesitate.
“Go ahead,” Nadeem says quietly, “shoot them. How else, cousin, can you call yourself a man?”
Nadeem was just an infant when Mustafa had last seen him, all sparkling eyes and innocent trust. The conflict had calloused them both.
The soldier lets down his gun with a sigh. For a few moments, the wind whispers between them in that silvery, ethereal way that only nature can do. In the distance, the girls reverse their journey. Nadeem was right. They are pretty.
“I’ll race you to it,” Nadeem offers, “the chink.”
Wordlessly, Mustafa nods and leaps to his feet. Maybe if he’s lucky, he can get a head start.