It almost always starts the same way, although some like to insist on a variety to the process. There’s a humped, oddly swollen abdomen which grows prettily for the better part of a year, then quite suddenly a loud, yawning cry from lungs which have only just discovered this new use. The crying doesn’t ever really stop, merely punctuated as it is by uneven fits of slumber and a pert little mouth stuffed full with lactose laden nutrition.
At some point there is talk of school, the way one would speak of a pending marriage, anticipatively and slightly obsessively. So it happens that the afternoons afterwards begin to be passed in a monotonous manner, a babble of incoherent sounds supposed read from a large, colourful book, liberally punctuated with healthy bouts of the now familiar cry. A hurried pacification from an impatient aunt(or older sibling) and a minor bribe of cavities-inducing edibles usually remedies the situation. In the morning, the foggy air is rent with the cry once more, as neatly ironed miniature pinafores and shirts and shorts are thrown around and draped on the little figure. The outfit is promptly matched with a pair of barely matching socks(not like anyone can tell when they’re so small), an overflowing bag of lunchtime favours and of course a backpack with the face of some goofy cartoon character on it. Thus armoured, the young soldier advances to the battle field.
There are stories to be told and recounted of the Battle. Stories of Queens who have no idea what to build a bridge with(it just keeps falling down), of elephants who are too big for school and lions with really tiny waists. Tales of multiplication tables and States and their capitals, of little orphaned boys who want more food and poor village boys who are determined to go to school. We hear them all, sung and chanted and we laugh.
No one really knows when the stories begin to change. The graduation has been slow and steady, all the delicious trappings of ‘growing up’. From the small, round, ‘unbreakable’plates that crack at the slightest hit to the proper, white and flowery ceramic’flat’ plates, complete with a steel spoon and a glass tumbler. From the playful contraptions carved from plastic that play short delightful jingles when the tiny numbered buttons that litter their surfaces are pushed, to the actual, real life devices that never stop buzzing and ringing. From being the ‘rat with ten fingers’ to executive overseer of the little hole-in-the-wall store in front of the house, with the occasional twists to the ear and slaps to the back of the head when a customer isn’t treated rightly. And of course the pictures, the forgotten catalogue of witnesses to the barely recollectable times they bare on their glossy faces, and the incredible, increasingly distorted tales that come with them. This is when we start to hear of the more serious parts of the Battle. The Algebra and Geometry, the Periodic Table and the Elements, the Debit Accounts and Cash books, the Figures of Speech and Language Use. We listen intently to all the details and finally, it is time for the War.
The War Front is a fiery place unlike anything that has ever been beheld. A place of double ended candles and cramped auditoriums overflowing with pulsing humanity, of fashionable vultures and good looking hawks that hack away at pieces that have been flung aside and forsaken, of hurried notes taken in barely discernable sprawls, of bleary blood shot eyes staring into black seas of endless swimming words and figures. It is a place that sucks soldiers in and spits them back out tastelessly, half whole and half made. Above all, it is a place of death, the death of human emotions and feelings and dreams, more death than most could fathom. It is here that our soldier ventures.
And it will not stop there. The War will end and our soldier will return, weary and worn but with smiling eyes. The seemingly forgotten cry will return too, muffled and old, reduced to nothing but a silent double stream. It will be there after days spent wandering dusty roads in suit and tie, strolling down street after street in a worn but neat dress, plastic folder clutched in both hands, and it will flow in an endless torrent the day the miracle happens and they finally ‘get in touch’. It will stay for months after the funeral, our dear old general going on a well earned retirement. There will be a strangely different kind on the day the ring is worn, two parts made one.
And it will be there on the day it happens, our soldier screaming and panting in a hard, antiseptic bed with a humped oddly swollen abdomen, or pacing in a cold white corridor before a door with a sign that reads ‘Labour Ward’. Then it will die, an old contented death with a final whimper of defeat, shrivelling as it touches smiling lips.
But it will live again, rising like a phoenix from its grey, warm ashes, newly reborn in a loud yawning cry from lungs which have only just discovered this new use.