He laced up his boots and took one last look at the mirror in the hallway, assessing if everything was in place. No, he wasn’t vain. It was mechanical for a soldier to check if his uniform was worn right, all its elements in place. It was mechanical because his mind was preoccupied with other things…things he couldn’t bear to think of but had to….things that he really hoped wouldn’t come true.
His wife appeared just before he stepped out. He had hoped he could make it without the goodbyes and the tears that accompanied them.
“You were sneaking out?” she looked at him accusingly.
“I had to, sweetheart. You know how you get whenever I have to leave…”
“How dare you? You were going to leave me without a word… Without a last look of your face to remember you by?” she teared up. She did that so easily. Exactly why he didn’t want to tell her.
He took her in his arms “Sssh, now. You know why I did it. Stop crying, it’s not good for the baby” he patted her bulging form. How he wished he could have stayed back for the birth of the child. It was only a few weeks away.
“And don’t say last look…. You’ll see me again. I’ll never let you go…” he assured her… mechanically. The opposite was just as likely, if not more so.
“Promise?” she looked up at him tentatively, imploring him to earnestly make a vow that he would not break. He dithered, but eventually nodded in assent.
He kissed her, she let go and he went out the door.
Two months later a letter arrived from him saying he would be coming back in four days…just like he’d promised. The house was happily noisy. She was bumbling around, setting up the house for his arrival. She had plans to cook his favourites, wear his favourites. There were so many things to take care of!
Four days later the ding of the bell made her rush to the door with the now month and a half baby in her arms. But instead of his bonny face, she saw her father in law’s, and a few others, carrying the weight of his death on his person and in his wrinkled face. He slumped at the door even as she screamed in unison with the wailing neighbours who had gathered to bemoan the loss of another son to a useless war.
“He promised…he promised me he was coming back! He even wrote to me…”
Her father in law cupped her face tenderly “That was me, child. He was in the hospital when they called us. Thank God, I took the call. I didn’t want to alarm you. He wanted me to write those words to you.”
“But he promised…”
“…promises are meant to be broken, aren’t they?”