The bushes ahead were thicker than we expected. Machete in my hand, chopping through the greens, making a path for our platoon of five, not for war nor any blood shed, but to carry the medical supplies to the ill-torn villagers in the deepest valley of Afghanistan where the nearest medical center was few hundred kilometres away. They desperately needed our help.
I was the vanguard of the tiny platoon, five of us held standard M-16s which were commonly used in wars, but we had the savvy about if someone ambushed us, we would be cockroaches facing the sole of the shoe, utterly incompetent against them who were armed with more advance weapons or overwhelmed by an immense number of enemies.
Help that came through this route would end up in the pit of nadir, to an uncertain death, only one out of ten platoons that were able to complete this mission alive. I did question my teammates about their choice in following me to this susceptible death role, they riposted about the villagers needed our help urgently, the medical supplies of the villagers were depleting as we were speaking. Our platoon had no second thoughts, we marched through the thick mountains, the undulated path leading to the village.
Helicopters were incapable of traveling such distance holding so many people and much load of medical supplies which was why going there by foot was the Hobson’s choice. Before starting mission, we prayed silently that we would be safe and spared by God’s mercy. We packed everything needed to be transported to the village, wrapping a few more layers of bubble wrap and plastic over the medical supplies, securing them to the maximum, the villagers lives were in our hands.
The journey to the village would take approximately two days if we did not rest. We told ourselves that we were not going to rest until we reached there. We were adamant to bring the medical supplies to the villagers, time was ticking away as we packed. Dropped off by the chopper to the meeting point we were supposed to be after we had completed our mission. Before entering the dense forest ahead of us, I offered everyone to pray together, none of us refused, but deliberately accepted my offer since our very first mission.
Making sure everything was in place, “Let’s go!” I shouted vehemently. Something felt wrong, a harbinger hit me like a truck, it told me not to go, but I ignored it the whole nine yard. I stood petrified staring blankly into the sky, hoping nothing bad would occur to us.
They were way ahead of me without me as their vanguard, “What’s wrong, Tom?” Paul shouted, “Catch up or else we will leave you behind.” I snapped out of my anxiety, my fear about the unknown danger which was imminent.
We hiked through the rocky paths of the mountain, realising the first day of the trip was with progress which were lower than our predictions. It was mea culpa mostly, I was not focusing during the day, I nearly lost the medical supplies which was carried by me, twice. There was less chattering during the hike, they knew something was wrong with me, so John, my right-hand man, took the lead. We helped each other out, I was being helped the most, dragging down our progress.
I pressed my knees unto my chest, curled up like an anxiety ball beneath the sea of stars. “Don’t worry…” Paul patted my shoulder, “it was just a hunch, that’s all.” He was looking at the stars also.
I brushed him away, “It was not as simple as that, remember back in those mission where I acted as such, something bad would happen…” I shifted my view to him, “Murphy’s Law states tha…”
“that something that will happen must happen.” He interjected. “Didn’t I told you how many times not to believe in this crappy law, the fate is in our hands and our destiny is in His, whether He wants us to go home tomorrow, we can’t fight it, we must to surrender back into His embrace. Don’t worry so much about the future, worrying just doubles our burden, it’s not even in our hands, just go with the flow.”
I chewed on his words as both of us stared into the starry sky, “I wonder how many stars are there in the sky, this is a question which I wanna ask Him when we finally meet.” His words trailed off with the sounds of the wild that whisked the silence into an orchestra of nature, we sunk into sleep.
0331, my digital watch was bright enough to let me see. I went to the nearest river and washed myself. The hunch was lingering in my thoughts, it was irritating, I plunged myself into the river, holding my breath, hoping to shun off this hunch. I went back to the camping spot. It was just time to embark to the second half of the journey, we were expecting to reach by noon.
It rained after we started the journey, the hike was gruesome, if one of us lose focus for a split second, we might find ourselves falling to our deaths. “Heads up, boys!” I shouted to them, I took back my place as the vanguard. Slicing through the dense bushes, covered in mud, carrying the packages of medical supplies which were the saviour for the villagers.
The rain was restless, drizzle at times, but mostly thunderstorms. Neither did the rain nor the thunder stopped our hike, we pursued our way clinging on to the mindset of saving the villagers. We reached the village at twilight. The village was lit with torches. The rain diminished into the dark sky.
The chief of the village welcomed us with opened arms. He led us to one of his guest houses which was quite dilapidated due to the meager number of villager who were fit and healthy to sustain the condition of the village. We rested the medical supplies there.
As we walked to the guest house, I heard the villagers chanting something over and over again, they were pointing and looking to the lower parts of our bodies. When we reached the guest house, we were surrounded by the villagers, we took off our shoes to let our feet take a breather after a long journey. The villagers kept pointing at our feet and saying the same thing.
“What were they saying?” I whispered to Paul who was also the translator for the team.
“Beautiful feet. Beautiful feet. Beautiful feet.”
I remained silent and stared at my bare feet, what was so beautiful with our feet? It was a compliment. I continued distributing the medical supplies to the villagers, looking at some lives saved in front of me. I asked Paul to tell them about me offering them a prayer. Paul nodded. The villagers congregated in front of me, Paul as my translator, we prayed together.
Souls were saved, tears of joy filled the place, medical supplies were no longer needed, no more reliance on medicine, the whole village was saved at that instant.
We left the village saving them, leaving imprints of Him there, getting them closer to Him.
“Tom… we are… ambushed…” Paul uttered under his breath, clutching the hole in his chest.
My comrades were dead as Paul told me about the ambush. I took cover in the dense bushes. I knew I stood no chance against the assassins. A knife was held by my neck as I ducked for cover.
“Assassination of five soldiers who were converting the villagers…” He said in a monotonous, cold voice. Slicing my carotid artery, blood was gushing out of my neck. “Complete.”
Flashes of the distant past flew through my mind, waves of memories hit me in a heartbeat.
Welcome home, my child with beautiful feet.