Thursday, 22 January 2015

A Poppy and Barbed Wire

A poppy sprung up, ruby-red, next to some barbed wire. Where am I here? he asked the thistles that grew alongside him. Where are others of my kin?
But thistles of course act as guards and never make intelligent conversation. They waved each day in the golden sunlight or in the light breeze, if there was one. They shooed birds and bees away from his blood-red petals. Don't rest here, they seemed to say, he is protected.
And while the long green grasses were softer, they weren't much better. They whispered nonsense and at times tried to smother him. Tried to conceal that he, in all his loneliness, existed. You're not wanted, they told him. Why did you bloom here? Don't you see the barbed wire?
I had no choice in the matter, the poppy replied every time, I want my mother.
A mother, a father, a home, those times seemed like so long ago. But he was sure that there had been a life before this. How did I come to be here? A lone poppy in an overgrown field or meadow?
Do other poppies think as I do? There was not another to ask, not that he could see.
The soil he was in was a hard brown-red, which to him seemed unusual. The colour didn't seem true to natural earth. Shouldn't it be darker – more of a brown than a red? Did something happen here that as a poppy I can't remember?
The barbed wire remained taut and hostile, almost as if it wanted to prick his memory. Every so often, he tried to communicate: What is it? Tell me. But nothing so far had worked.
Until one day, he pleaded: Please, if you know something, anything, put me out of my misery.
How can I keep returning to this same lonely spot, year after year, if the truth of how I came to be here is clouded?
And this time, it must have touched a raw nerve.
The horror will not be forgot, the barbed wire said, if I told you. Are you sure you want to know? Once you remember, your innocence will again be lost.
But I need to know why I stand here, away from places where I presume many others bloom?
You were a spy here. Working alone against the enemy. You were so scared, you got careless. In your short military career, you'd seen others fallen. But I don't know all the facts, other than that you were young and fell here with no fellow countryman to cradle your head as you took your last dying breath. It was a pitiful death, and I'm supposed to be neutral, but how could I be when you fell almost upon me? War is senseless.
The barbed wire spoke so pragmatically that the poppy did not feel distressed hearing his own story. It had been too long for that, but hazy memories did come back of a war he'd been involved in. A war that had shook him, shook him to his very core, and all those around him. So many lost, wounded, bloody; displaced within their own mind and body. No good came from war, whether at home or abroad.
These cold, hard facts made him feel detached, but thoughtful for there was no going back, what had happened had happened. It was just a fragment of his past. The barbed wire wouldn't tell him how his life had been put to an end: whether he'd been shot or fatally wounded in some other way. In the wrong place at the wrong time was all he would say. A poor lamb who'd lain dead, his blood seeping into the earth, until a deserter had stumbled upon him in his slumber, closed his glassy eyes and quietly buried him.
At least I was given my dignity, the poppy thought, others may not have been as lucky.
The barbed wire in his dry, impersonal tone continued his monologue: There's no need now for you to dwell on this matter. Those living see the beauty of the poppy, but also the colour red and remember the bloodshed. You will never be forgot...
The boy's soul could finally leave.
The poppy was a poppy once more, just a red petalled head gently nodding in the breeze.

Picture Credit: Peter Francis