Soldier’s Eyes | Short Story

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‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me…’

The words travel across the small Northampton church as the old priest addresses his flock; once great in number and devotion, now composed of a little over a dozen aged men and women soothed by the mellow voice of Father Marion.

‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever…’

Before the mass is over, a young man enters the church and sits on the last row. Young but weighed down by an indistinct burden made it so by the sunglasses that hide the solemn look in his eyes. He stoically listens to what remains of the sermon.

And once the old priest has spoken his last word, and the last of his audience have gone and left the church back into the less soothing world, he approaches the young man.

‘It’s good to see you, Matthew.’, the old priest said with a warmth tone in his voice and a smile on his face.

‘You too, Father.’, the young man replied in a numb yet polite manner.

‘I was wondering when I would see you here again.’

‘Yeah…’

The priest’s face is suddenly filled with genuine concern.

‘You’re shaking…’

‘What?’, the young man asks seemingly with genuine confusion

‘Your left hand…’

Matthew looks towards it, noticing the tremor.

‘Oh yeah… Yeah… I got hit with shrapnel in my leg and spine, knocked a nerve out of place, I get tremors from time to time… I don’t always notice them…’, he said with a tragic sadness in the stillness of his voice.

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Yeah…’

He pauses.

‘Yeah…’

Father Marion sits on the bench in front of Matthew, his concern is ever growing.

‘Are you in a lot of pain?’

‘Only when I breathe.’

His response troubles Father Marion even more so. He tries not to show it, not that Matthew would notice it for his mind and sight are focused on Christ’s image standing above the altar. The Lord’s tranquility mirrors the young man’s numbness.

‘I remember the first time you came to this church with your grandmother. Must have been what? Twenty odd years ago?’, he asks amidst a smile in an attempt to reconnect with the young man.

‘I don’t remember…’

‘Only kid that wasn’t upset his grandmother made him come to church every Sunday.’

‘I really don’t remember…’

The old priest pauses and ponders for an instant or two.

‘How long has it been since your last confession?’, he asks now with a more serious tone.

‘Long enough that it would take me a while to get all my sins out.’

‘Well, we’re not on the clock here, son.’

‘I’ve done bad things…’

‘We all do bad things throughout our lives.’

‘No offense Father, but that carries a little less weight coming from you.’

‘My point is that more often than not the reason behind the doing does carry more weight than the actual doing. And I know you, Matt; you’re still that same boy whose grandmother used to bring to church with her every Sunday and I know the things you did were done out of a sense of duty to your country and to God.’, he said trying to comfort the young man.

‘I may have started with the best of intentions but somewhere along the way a part of me got lost and I just don’t know how to get it back…’

The old priest gathers his thoughts for a moment or two.

‘Suppose you have a hundred sheep and you lose one of them…’, he finally says.

‘Really?’

‘Yes’, he replies, ‘What you do is you leave the ninety-nine sheep in the open country and you go find the one that is missing. And when you do find it, it’s cause for rejoice.’

‘Nobody thought of telling Luke that leaving ninety-nine sheep in the open country would probably mean that once he got back from retrieving the lost one, the rest would most likely be long gone?’

‘I do not believe he was considering the strategic implications when he told the story. It’s a parable about repentance and how it’s best to have one lost soul who finds its way back home then ninety-nine righteous ones who never need to repent themselves.’

‘I know what it’s about.’

‘What I’m trying to say is that you will find what is missing and in the meantime you still have ninety-nine sheep; you have a family, you have friends…’

‘You just changed the meaning of the parable right there…’

‘Well, it’s a parable; it’s open to interpretation.’

Matthew gives out a faint but genuine smile before sitting back against the bench and turning his sights towards the stained glass windows adorning the small Northampton church on all sides. The sun shines through them illuminating the century-old altar cross.

‘There was this woman…’, he finally speaks still gazing into the distance, ‘We were in this village that I can’t remember the name and this woman… she was just staring at me…’

He pauses briefly. Father Marion remains attentive.

‘All of the sudden they start opening fire on us… It wasn’t suppose to be any insurgents there… But there they were and they were firing at us… It didn’t last long and we didn’t suffer any casualties on our side… But that woman… She caught the first rounds… She was in the way and they fired at her to get to us… They didn’t care… Not like this surprised me or anything, I knew who we were fighting…’

The old priest cannot mask his concern and how unsure he is of what to say next.

And Matthew smiles faintly once again. A smile turned into a brief laughter.

‘Hate is a funny thing, Father…’, he says, ‘I just want to kill them all… And I lost brothers over there… But still, I always come back to that woman… staring at me… I have no idea who that woman was… Why is she the one I keep seeing?’, he asks almost desperate for an answer that will somehow make everything alright.

‘Because you weren’t fighting demons, son. You were fighting men. And it’s Man’s capacity for evil that keeps a good person awake at night.’

‘And how does one shake off something like that?’

‘I don’t think one can… Not entirely.’

‘That’s not very comforting.’

‘I never fought in a war. I never had to kill a man or witness others die around me. But when I was twelve years-old my older sister was run over by a car. The driver just kept going. They never found who it was. I felt such hatred, too much hatred for a young boy to feel, I couldn’t understand how someone could do something like that. I couldn’t understand how God could allow for something like that. But at the funeral service, the priest talked about forgiveness and the pursuit of grace even during our darkest hours and somehow I connected with what he was saying… Forgiveness is the silver bullet. But even after all this time I still pray for strength so my heart won’t be filled with hatred again. And I became a priest so I could try to help others achieve the same in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. We never shake it off completely because I don’t believe we should.’

‘So, we just carry on do we?’

‘What else is there?’, the old priest smiles for a moment or two, ‘Would you like me to hear your confession?’

Matthew breathes deeply as he leans forward once again. With trembling hands he removes his sun glasses and closes his eyes.

‘Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned…’

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