A SOLDIER’S FATE
They were from same street and from same school. That was years ago. In their young days, they had shared dreams; common dreams for their future. They wanted to settle down in the hill town of Gori, which was their ancestral town; a quiet sleepy town, where you could live reasonably urbanized life and afford a kitchen garden and a small orchard too. They wanted to have a peaceful life, surrounded by their children and a few pets playing around.
After school, Tamuri had joined an accounts firm as intern and his childhood friend Miranda was a helper in a departmental store. They wanted to save enough money before getting married and moving to Gori, the land of their dreams.
Life but took an ugly turn shattering their dreams.
Tamuri was now posted on the North Western frontier of the country pitted against the Russian troops positioned there in support of disputed territory of Abkhazia. Not that his battalion could have stopped the Russians advance but it soothed the battered ego of Georgian government to have resisted the colossal Russians even if it were symbolic. It was late in the evening and he was sharing the cold dinner with his mates in the forward trenches. It had snowed the previous night; the chill in the air was biting and they had to save kerosene of the rickety stove for the long dreary night.
Looking beyond the sky line, quietly chewing a piece of dry chicken, Tamuri was lost in the reverie of past memories. A year had passed since he had left his home, his mother and Miranda, who was once his beloved.
She must be sharing a cozy cottage with Zurab, unmindful of my woes. He thought.
Zurab was Tamuri’s cousin who had all the makings of a worldly wise, successful person. His father, a Deputy Minister in the public works department helped him in getting contracts for the government works. Zurab, a shrewd young man quickly learnt the knack of keeping the government officials happy. Inevitably, prosperity gravitated towards Zurab and then other traits followed. Zurab became ostentatious, garrulous and fond of women, wine and wealth in that order or it could be interchanged. He would take them out for dinner and shower lavish gifts on them. And that made Zurab popular among girls of Mtskheta Street, the place where he, Tamuri and Miranda had spent their childhood.
Zurab had an eye on Miranda as well as she was fair, beautiful, charming and affable. She was but in love with Tamuri who at times was riled when Zurab tried to come too close to her. He once expressed his fears to Miranda.
“I don’t like that philanderer coming close to you, trying to win you over.”
“Tamuri! I love you more than anything in the world. You don’t have to bother,” Miranda had assured him time and again.
Tamuri had lost his father in the earlier Abkhazian aggression of early nineties. He was the only hope of his widowed mother. Tamuri wanted to be a sculptor. “One day you will see my creation on the main entry to Tbilisi from Gori,” he used to tell his mother and he had confided in Miranda.
“Why Gori side?” Miranda had asked him.
“Because Gori is our ancestral town. It will be a gift from a sculptor from Gori to the capital of the country.”
Tamuri had a flair for sculpting. He loved it and spent all his week-ends in the company of Shalva Gogiashvili, a famous sculptor who saw great deal of promise in the young lad. But the situation changed too rapidly after Tamuri’s father was killed in the war. He had to earn his bread and look after his mother. His ambition to be a famous sculptor was relegated; he had to join an accounting firm to earn his livelihood. Tamuri was sad to abandon his love for sculpting but Miranda’s company gave him strength and kept him going. Whenever he found time, he would visit his mentor and watch him work on the sculptures.
The year was 2008. Trouble started again.
The Russians crossed the Georgian border with Abkhazia, threatening the town of Zugdidi. The Georgian government panicked. Her army was too small before the overpowering Russian presence. Besides, the Georgian boys were not enamored by a career in the armed forces. The forces were acutely short of young soldiers and officers. So the Georgian government issued orders enforcing conscription. All young boys and men were to serve the army for five years. There was no appeal against these orders. Tamuri’s plea that his father had already sacrificed his life for the country and that there was no one to look after his infirm mother was not heeded by the authorities. The letter of reference from the national sculptor was also of no avail. Tamuri was given thirty six hours to report to the 3rd Regiment of the Georgian Lancers deployed in the North Western border.
Events took place so fast that he could not even arrange groceries for his ailing mother. He was heartbroken to leave his mother in that condition and to be separated from his beloved. That evening he brought ‘kachapuri’ from the nearby vendor and shared it with his mother. The old woman had no words to say. She could not even bite the kachapuri. There was a lump in her throat.
“Son take care of you. Don’t worry for me. I am a dying lamp. A blow of wind will put me off. You have a long life ahead of you.”
Tamuri left for Miranda’s place. Zurab was there. Tamuri knew Zurab too had received the mobilization orders but he saw him in animated spirit enjoying peeba, the Russian word for beer. Miranda looked subdued. He wanted to be alone with her. The possibility seemed to be remote. Miranda’s father offered him a seat on the table and asked him to join.
“Let’s share Zurab’s happiness,” he said smilingly. Miranda came up to Tamuri and offered him a can of peeba, which he took reluctantly. A little later Miranda’s mother appeared with a tray of snacks. Tamuri noticed; the old lady too had a thin smile on her face. He was perplexed.
Miranda solved the riddle. “You know Tamuri! Zurab’s father has been able to get his mobilization orders rescinded. Wish someone had helped you also.”
Tamuri never liked Zurab. In fact, it was a mutual dislike. Zurab was a loud mouth and always bragged of his father’s position in the government and of his wealth and he was never shy of throwing his weight around and impressing the girls.
“I have come to say good bye to you…. I mean to all of you,” he managed to say looking at Miranda.
“I am sorry for you,” Miranda whispered. Tamuri noticed Zurab was smiling. He ignored it. He was desperate to talk to Miranda, to hold her in his arms, kiss her and hug her. He looked at her with all the pain in his eyes.
“Take care of yourself. The place and the enemy are very hostile. Please don’t bother for your mother. I will look after her. God bless you,” she said and then went in to bring another tray of snacks and cans of beer. Tamuri looked at Miranda pensively and then left the place bidding good bye to all.
He was now posted at the war front. The soldiers had access to phone once in a week. He had tried to get in touch with Miranda but she would not come on line. He was dejected and crestfallen. Thoughts of all kind perturbed his mind.
Why is she not talking to me? Had she left him for Zurab? He would talk to his mother and return to his post.
A year had passed since he was separated from his people. It was that fateful afternoon that he had received a letter from Miranda. It read that she was getting married to Zurab on the coming Sunday and that his mother was serious and had been evacuated to hospital.
He finished his dinner and checked his light machine gun, LMG and the munitions. That evening the enemy aggression was on the rise. They were firing rockets and mortars. The enemy had superior weapons and better fortified trenches. Casualties on Georgian side were always heavy. Tamuri was guarding one of the positions. Tamuri knew there was no possibility that he would be given liberty to attend his cousin’s marriage or for that matter see his ailing mother. Grief overtook him; it pained him that he could not do anything for his dying mother.
As the night advanced, enemy fire intensified. Suddenly his buddy was hit by a splinter cutting across his face, blood spluttering all over. Tamuri saw him faltering and falling in the trench.
Tamuri was now defending the post singlehandedly. The thoughts of his ailing mother and of his beloved, going away from him vanished from his mind. He was now a soldier defending his motherland; a possessed soul uncaring for his own life and safety. There was no stopping of him. He was returning the enemy fire furiously, changing the magazines of his LMG one after the other.
The Russians had not anticipated such fierce resistance. They stopped firing but there was no stopping of Tamuri even after his platoon commander asked him to stop.
“Let there be an end to this agony for all time to come,” he shouted at his officer without interrupting the barrage of fire from his LMG. The Russians were vexed and annoyed. They lobbed a couple of incendiary grenades at his bunker. There was an explosion and then there was a ball of fire followed by thick black smoke all over.
Firing from either side subsided. It was time to look for the dead and wounded. His friends in arm rushed towards Tamuri’s trench.
Tamuri lay at the bottom of his trench, his one hand still on the handle of the LMG and Miranda’s letter in the other.