Heart of a Soldier

The streets of Tikrit bustled beneath the high, burning desert sun. Crowds of people dressed in tan, red, and gold filled the sidewalks, a young commander saw tall fields of wheat lightly bending in a summer breeze with every sway of the crowd. He wiped a trail of sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand, slightly tilting back his helmet. Beneath his heavy jacket and gun strap, his skin itched and burned with sweat. Dust stung his eyes and took permanent residence in his hair, turning it from the color of melted chocolate to an undesirable ash-brown.
Jonah remembered that the summers in Indiana had been filled with warm days swimming in a lake and nights chasing fireflies, nothing like the summers in Iraq, with the blistering heat by day and negative degrees by night.
Luke walked beside Jonah, the stock of his gun jutting into his hip and the barrel pointed at the cracked mud ground. His mouth was pulled into a thick line, the dark skin on his neck and cheeks were a light pink from wind whipping sand up onto his face. He didn’t look much different than the day that Jonah had met him at training camp in Louisiana, although it would be difficult to tell after spending practically every day for the past two years together. Luke was like a brother to Jonah while he was away from his family during training and now on his first tour of duty.
The people at the market moved easily, an old woman wrapped in a blue sari examined a few vegetables at a farmer’s stand, cradling them gently in her wrinkled hands; wide-eyed children kicked a dented can around the sidewalk, one of the little girls smiled at Jonah and Luke when they walked by, revealing that she was missing a few of her front teeth. Luke hit Jonah on the shoulder and nodded his head toward several burly men making their way through the crowd. The men were dressed in ragged cloths and walked as if they were wearing splints beneath their clothes. Jonah unlocked the safety on his gun and told the kids to take cover in the alley.
Luke and Jonah watched as the men slowly began to drift apart from each other in the streets, occasionally looking over at one another. The tallest of the men stood in the middle of the road, staring at Luke and Jonah, and yelled to the crowd in Arabic, “My people; do you not see the enemies among you? Are you blind or are you ignorant to their evils. They have named themselves our leaders and have called themselves our friends. If that is true, then why do they stare at us like we are criminals and carry guns wherever they go? They are not our friends and we will not allow them to stay here any longer.” Jonah felt his heart drop inside his chest as he translated the man’s words to Luke. The man pulled a gun out of his pocket and fired it into the air. Jonah heard the screams of terrified women around him; fruit rolled over the street as stands were tipped over in the crowd’s panic; a small child wailed as his mother grabbed him off the ground and ran into a nearby building. His heart pounded ferociously while he held back the trigger, his gun releasing bullet after bullet towards the men. A scream tore through his lungs, his gun jolted his entire body with every shot.
Other members in his squad had also opened fire on the men; they took cover behind the tipped produce stands, garbage cans, and a car that had been parked on the sidewalk. Jonah and Luke dove behind the car where a few other soldiers were sitting to load their guns. Luke’s mouth was twisting with pain.
“Luke! What’s wrong?” Jonah could hardly hear himself over the fanfare of shot blasts. A dark red liquid was staining the right side of Luke’s jacket. Blood rushed into Jonah’s head, he felt dizzy and nauseous as his friend’s blood covered his hands. Lindsay and Reardon, members from their squad, crawled over from behind the back tire of the car.
“We can’t transport him like this, it will do more harm than good,” Lindsay tore open Luke’s jacket and was searching for the bullet hole through all the blood.
“You can’t just leave him here!”
“Well we can’t run him into a building, we don’t have time! Those men want American blood and won’t stop until they get it, even if it means killing an injured soldier. The best we can do is open fire until they are all dead. It’s going to be them or us, one way or another.”
Lindsay’s words rang through Jonah’s head like solemn church bells at a funeral. Jonah reloaded his gun and Luke’s and looked over at Lindsay and Reardon, “Listen to me, on my count you are going to lift and carry Luke into that building over there,” he strapped the guns across his shoulders, a trigger in each hand, “Do not stop until you are at the furthest wall.” Jonah looked at Luke, “You sure as Hell better get a purple heart after this.” Luke grabbed Jonah’s sleeve, tears welling up behind his eyes while Lindsay covered his wounds.
Jonah strode out from behind the car; his movements were slow and deliberate as he faced the men who wanted nothing more than his blood. The men pulled back on their triggers, hurtling bullets towards Jonah like a herd of bulls. He dropped his guns to the ground as the wave of metal collided with him head on. Each hit brought back a memory to Jonah; his mother holding him in her lap and singing him to sleep as a toddler, playing in the gold fields of wheat with his brother, his first kiss with Mia Littleton beneath the old willow tree, building his first car with his dad in high school. Jonah heard the strumming of his guitar on the porch, he smelled the sweet honeysuckle and poppies growing in his mother’s garden, he saw Luke with the gunshot through his chest and his family crying at the kitchen table over a letter with his name at the bottom. Then there was light.
Jonah lay lifeless, covered in blood and shrapnel in the dusty street. He had died for his friend, his family, and his country, all without firing a single shot.





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