He lay dying among the dead. The vast open skies above him were azure with feathery specks of clouds floating by. Around him there was only barren rocky surface of colossal Himalayan peaks. He was resting against a huge boulder looking around on the landscape which stretched along for miles where so many of his fellow soldiers had lost their souls. His combat uniform was caked in blood some his own and some of the others he had killed or watched being killed. He felt the life force slowly ebbing out. Tears sprang in his eyes, he didn’t want to die, not now when life back home was about to begin. Flashes of simpler, happier times rushed past in his brain. He saw the faces of the people who were waiting for his return. They were the ones who would be worried for him, eagerly awaiting any news of him. He had fought enough, he had fought the aggressors and then his injuries. He had survived till now, managed to hold on for over a day and a half. Now was not the time to give up. He had to stay alive, he had to keep himself safe for Kash, for his son. He fought back the numbness and willed himself to draw energy from the love of people back home.
Slowly he came down on his stomach as he couldn’t stand upright due to a fractured leg, he was sure it was a fracture because it hurt like hell, and then there was the enemy perched like vultures on the silent peaks preying on the valiant soldiers scaling the mountain. The war was still on. Lying face down, he crawled down the mountain towards the safety of of his own country. It was painful to move even an inch. His entire body screamed out in pain and revolt. Shrapnel embedded in his flesh bore deeper and caused excruciating pain. When he could take it no further he stopped near a small Himalayan stream which was gurgling its way down to the river. Its water was fresh and sparkling with life. Its purity touched him and he stretched an arm to feel it. He cupped some of its water in his bleeding hand and drank greedily. He had not eaten anything for so long, ever since he led his team on the mission. His rucksack in which he carried some dry fruits and chocolates had disappeared when he had fallen off the cliff. The coolness of the water brought some degree of satiety. Suddenly he heard stones rolling down from the heights and lay still next to the stream on the sparse greens. He did not move, playing dead. The enemy was on the heights and could observe any movement, especially during the day. He stayed that way resting on the cold earth waiting for any other sound but nothing happened.
Soon he fell into a deep sleep brought on by fatigue. He had managed to crawl a few feet and had used up all his energy. Some of his wounds had opened up and were oozing blood but he felt nothing. He had already crossed the threshold of pain which was humanly possible to bear. So that now his mind was oblivious to any more discomfort. Only his will to survive and live to fight another day kept him going.
“Sid! Wake up! Time for school!” he heard his mother calling out to him and opened his eyes with a start only to find himself engulfed by the star spangled night. There was no other sound except the water of the stream he lay by. His stomach growled with hunger but there was nothing except water. He grabbed a fistful of grass and chewed on it to quieten the rumbling of a hungry body, drank some more water and began his downward decent under the cover of darkness. Now he was less cautious, the night gave him the security he needed. The war was raging around him. He could hear the guns firing and shells exploding on distant peaks. He didn’t know how many more peaks they had to liberate. He had been on a mission that had been successfully completed with the help of his men but he himself had been seriously injured in the exchange. He was happy to be alive despite the fierce battle which he and his boys had fought. He was sure the tricolour was aflutter on the conquered peak but there were some more to wrench out of the enemy’s control. Had his body permitted he would have gone for another conquest but at the moment it was of prime importance that he kept himself alive.
He had managed to cover some distance, crawling with the help of his elbows which were badly scraped. He needed some rest now. So he turned on his back and lay supine looking at the night sky again. The twinkling sky brought the old nursery rhyme to his mind and he started reciting it. It kept him occupied and kept his mind off the pain. The sky was absolutely clear. In fact one could attempt to count the stars although an impossible feat. The moon shone brightly in the glory of the sun’s borrowed light. The peaks were sufficiently illuminated and he knew this would be his chance to reach the safety of an army camp. He may not be able to survive another day in the open. The night temperatures were pretty low. His weak body would not be able to hold on for long. He had to get through, he had made a promise. And he always kept his promises, atleast conscientiously tried to keep them.
The moon was slowly making its way across the sky. Siddharth mustered up enough strength to take the arduous journey down the hill. He again started crawling slowly, carefully, aware of his surroundings. A few feet away he felt a backpack in his way. He grabbed it and rummaged through it. It belonged to some soldier, which one was hard to tell in the darkness. There were the standard issued items in it and a pack of chocolate. Siddarth thanked the stars, not just his but the heavenly ones as well. He took cover behind a rock, there was no dearth of them on the barren mountain sides, and sucked on the gooey sweetness of the cocoa. It was Cadbury’s so the backpack must be of an Indian soldier. Having something after so long made him forget all his worries and he sank into the pleasure of the moment.
In the happy state of mind his mother’s voice rang in his ears. He remembered the day when his mother waved a letter in his face. He was deep in sleep. He grabbed the letter with half open eyes and looked at it. It was an interview call.