For Our Future
In a tranquil meadow left undisturbed for seasons upon seasons, I hear a distant thud as I bathe under the warm afternoon sun. Slowly, the crisp footsteps ring clearer amidst the innocent chirping of the birds, and olive-brown shapes march into view, their hands and body moving in unison. Following them are massive artillery guns, which abruptly halt when the general at the front turns around. At once, the soldiers relax and lower their weapons, breaking off into subunits as their eyes sparkle with pride and hope. I notice a young man, no more than nineteen years of age, limp towards one of the groups, sweat dripping down his bright, sanguine cheeks. Panting, he looks around desperately for a place to rest, but suddenly trips, sending him sprawling onto the ground. Fortunately, another soldier catches sight of him and hurries over. With a heave and grunt, they make their way towards the rest of their comrades, who are indulging in generous rations of fresh meat and vegetable stew. A gentle breeze blows past and my petals hover in the air, a sea of red greeting the eye. The army begins to awaken from their lull, and the synchronous marching resumes with renewed vigor, each man fighting for his loved ones, his country. As they blur into the distance, their purpose and unity in each pace and swing of their arms engulf me in a sensation of brotherhood, and I yearn to be able to speak, to ask what they are fighting for.
Dark clouds descend overhead, covering the bright speckles that had once illuminated the night sky. Slicing through the tranquil air, a single gunshot reverberates in the continuum of space and I shiver, my stem stiffening as the dissonant melody of artillery and rifles play out, one after another in quick succession amid the scarcely audible cries of the wounded. The sky is set ablaze for only a fraction of a second before plunging back into eternal darkness, but lifelong pain has been inflicted on many. Tears fall from the sky and splash us in a cold shower, tears of families that would be despairingly clutching letters at the dinner table, wondering what their sons, brothers, and husbands had sacrificed their lives for. I wonder too.
A slight drizzle awaits the remainder of the army. With the general leading the way, they trudge back from where I had last seen them. For an instant, the soldiers seem unchanged. But as the general slowly raises his arm, signaling a meal break, no one moves. He tries again, louder, and some men meekly disperse. I desperately search for someone I recognize, and my eyes instinctively catch sight of the limping youth from earlier. Except he isn’t limping anymore – his leg was amputated. And he looks much older, his puffy cheeks hollowed; his contagious smile replaced with a grim, war-hardened line; his eyes, once sparkling and full of desire, now haunted, staring off into the distance. Urgently, I look for his friend, the one who had helped him when his leg was injured, but my attention refocuses back to him, and I catch sight of another helmet in his possession -· this one clutched tightly against his chest. Soon, the men gather their rain-soaked equipment and disappear from my sight, leaving behind shattered hopes and an amalgam of grief, guilt, gloom.
Winters and summers have passed without any trace of the soldiers. They seem like a distant memory, a relic of the past, and I’m afraid that I will forget them if l close my eyes and let the cozy sunshine seep through me, wanning my petals down to my roots … And when I open my eyes, a young girl stands before me. Her silky hair radiating in the light, she eagerly motions to someone with her small hands.
“Papa! Look at what I found!” she exclaims as she peers intently at me. I curl up in defense, hoping that she doesn’t step on me.
An elderly man weakly hobbles over, and I notice that his leg is amputated.
“Poppies … ” he whispers, and suddenly I can see his thoughts, flying back to when he was in the army, when his comrades had fallen next to him, when he promised to his friend that their lives were not lost in vain. He takes the girl by her hand, and she bounces happily, free from the horrors of war. I had wondered why soldiers laid down their lives when they had sisters, mothers, wives back home; what was it all for? Looking at the father with his prosthetic leg and the daughter skipping joyfully along, their two hands clasped tightly together, I now know the answer. A light gust of wind blows by, and I faintly catch his last words – “May we always remember”.