The cold was getting to her. This night was worse than the previous three. She strained her ears, trying as hard as she could to catch any sound. It was a quiet deathly night. First it was the mosquitoes, silent but dangerous. She preferred the noisy type, at least you knew they were coming and from where they were coming. She tried to comfort herself with the fact that these must be the male mosquitoes because of how they attacked. No beating about the bush. No noise. They were just there for blood. And blood they would have. She smiled to herself. Her belly and elbows were beginning to ache because of the position she had taken. And yes, the cold was getting to her. It was a cold foggy night and that alone added to her distress. She could not see anything that was few meters from where she lay. This was turning into a nightmare. She should have listened to her instinct this time.
Then she remembered her fiancé Steven was a few kilometers from where she lay and immediately, the hardships she was undergoing became a dull throb. This was close to where the soldiers had set camp for the night and mentally, she could almost hear their snoring. They’d been so tired of late. And demoralized. They were losing this war and the world knew it. Almost half of their troops were dead, some were badly injured and the remaining soldiers were losing motivation by the hour. For the last two years it had become so bad to the extent they were beginning to question the real reason for the war. Why were they fighting? They didn’t have a legitimate reason anymore. Every week it was for some new reason, while the real criminals drank champagne in their huge houses paid for by the taxpayer. Or out there playing golf and sending millions for their daughters and sons studying abroad. Or in planes headed to a foreign country taking their MCA’s to study how to plant onions. Or….or what? Or in chattered planes lying face down, totally naked, being massaged by a bevy of beauties that were young enough to be their granddaughters.
Why again, were the soldiers out there in the forest, fighting an unseen deadly enemy? Fighting a losing war? By now, someone somewhere should have called for a strategic retreat to recoup and re organize. But that someone was probably too proud anyway. Or maybe he was involved in the business of arms, and stopping the war would have meant a huge loss for him. Whatever. The soldiers were just in there, hanging, because quitting would have been such a disgrace and most of those who had, were at that very moment that Grace was lying down there, being framed for treason.
Suddenly she heard movement ahead of her, and hushed conversations. She sat up straight and peered ahead, cursing the fog bitterly under her breath. She couldn’t see properly. Any sound she made, just a small move and she’d be as good as dead. Her head would be blown off, and the enemy would carry her off as a priced possession. Word had gone round that the soldiers were having good luck of late. That they now had a guardian angel. No females were sent to fight in this war, and it would have shaken the whole country to its corrupt core to find out that the guardian angel was actually a female. The army had tried at first to prevent the story from leaking, but somehow, it had managed to. Dead bodies of their enemies found in the mornings, with no clue on who did it. Planted bombs unearthed and placed at points they could be noticed, unwired and all. It was amazing, really. They had no idea who was doing it. On one night, they found three huge bombs, all unwired and there for them to see. One of the bombs had been big enough to clear out a whole camp.
Grace was glad she’d learned these things from her late father, who had been a major in the army himself. He had always regretted the fact that the army didn’t take in female soldiers, because he knew that his only daughter whom he loved so much would have made one hell of an officer. If anything, she would have been better than most men he knew. Hell, she would have been the best there ever was.
Suddenly the two men came into focus and the first thing she noticed was that they were more wary than the other guys she had to deal with. She knew immediately this was going to be one long night. A night that she would either come out of alive or dead. She’d grown tired of sitting all day in the house watching highlights of how the war was being lost and yet the man she loved most was in there. God knows she loved that man, more than any other man- apart from her father of course.
The guys were coming towards her direction slowly, eyes darting this way and that way. From her father’s training, she instinctively knew that they couldn’t have come alone. There had to be another group, waiting for her to react, so as to know her position. The thought was comforting because it meant they didn’t know where exactly she was. She sat still and waited, contemplating what to do. For any other human being it would have been hard to remain calm under such circumstances but this was Grace, the daughter of a man who’d risen from being a peasant to holding the rank of major.
As quietly as she could, she groped for a stone and came across a small rock. She took it and hurled it as far as she could to her right. It landed quite a distance from where she was. She held her breath and waited, counting to three. Immediately, bullets rained towards the direction the stone had landed, their noise deafening in the still night. These bullets were from her back but slightly to her left. The invisible group that she had sensed was somewhere hiding. Grace adjusted her position and took aim immediately towards where the bullets had come from. She heard a loud yelp of pain. One man down. Thank God her father had taught her to be an accurate shooter. Immediately she rolled to her right and no sooner had she done this than a spray of bullets landed on the spot she had just evacuated. This time from the guys she had seen coming towards her. She adjusted herself and aimed towards them. Taking down one after two shots. That one died on the spot. She moved further back again, leaving a trail of bullets in her wake. She raised her head up took aim and in a single shot, the other man was tumbling down the hill, crying in anguish. After a few seconds she had heard his head crush on a rock with a sickening sound.
She moved again, changing her position. This was not a game she enjoyed. It was a sick, sick game in which one’s life could disappear with the snap of a finger. From the way they were shooting she’d known that the hidden guys were also two and that she had taken one down. She could almost smell the remaining man’s fear from a while away, re-strategizing now that his three partners in crime had been taken down by an enemy they’d underestimated.
She lay still. He lay still. Each with a hunter’s mind. Let the mind games begin. She lay there for a long while until she became tired. It occurred to her that if she stayed in that position for a minute longer she would lose concentration and it would be over. It was her weakness. She had the concentration span of a fly. So she decided to bait. She got up noisily and immediately, a bullet whizzed by the right ear. It was a risky adult’s game, this one. She ducked and heard another fly on top of her head. She got into position and took aim. He was a sneaky one, this guy, and it took more than four bullets to take him down. She sat down for a few minutes, allowing herself his cries of a dying man. She got up and went towards him, kicking him over to see his face. She saw the surprise on his face when he saw her.
“We didn’t know it was a woman,” he said stutteringly. She smiled at him and said nothing, her heart flying out to him in sympathy. Such a young wasted life! A handsome young boy like this, being used as a pawn in this horrible business. It pained her to no ends. She saw the look of death in his eyes. He was slipping. He giggled like a small boy and tried raising his hand.
“Hi, I’m Reuben. It was nice meeting you. Can I take you out sometime?” he was smiling happily and it was the last thing he would ever say.
Grace sat beside him, holding his hand tightly. She felt the prick of tears in her eyes and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t help it. She let them flow freely. She didn’t know for how long she sat there but when she woke up, it was raining. She closed the young boy’s eyes and left without looking behind. Her image as she went down the hill was one of sadness.
In her mind she could almost see the headlines in the press tomorrow. Guardian angel strikes again. Ohh, good old media, as predictable as they had ever been. At least they were a constant in this ever changing game. She almost smiled to herself as she headed to her safe hideout.