“I was there Jamie, back in Iraq…and everything was burning.” Tom said quietly with wide eyes. Looking directly at his brother but not seeing him at all.
“It’s okay now Tom, you’re safe here.”
“No, the shots, th-the the shots I could hear them!”
“There’s no shots Tom, your home-”
“I can still hear them Jamie, shouting orders-”
“I can’t! Quinny, H-he fell-”
“No man gets left behind” he recited blankly, “He was my mate I couldn’t leave him!”
“I know Tom, but it’s all over.”
“A bomb, it was a roadside bomb…went off right in front of us. Quinny p-pushed me out of the way! He saved my life…”
“He was so brave-”
“No! It should have been me!”
“Tom doesn’t say that!”
“You all welcomed me home like a hero!”
“You are Tom! You are…”
“No, no I’m not…How can I be a hero when, I can’t even save…my best friend?” he cried.
“Tom, now you listen to me-” Tom was sat in a corner, trembling, hugging his knees to his chest. Recoiling violently when his twin brother tried to touch him. “Maybe you couldn’t save Quinny, but you saved the lives of so many others! Mine included Tom…You’ve seen some terrible things and I know that. I can’t stop you reliving them – I only wish I could! But you have to stop torturing yourself over him.”
“Yeah…I’ve seen a lot of terrible things…but I’ve done some too.”
“I’ve killed people Jamie!” he said tortured.
“They were evil-”
“God! Even you sound like the corporal!” he laughed mechanically “Nah…nah some of them were innocent.” He swallowed.
“In the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Doesn’t make it right!” he cried once more and dropped his head into his hands. Fingers pulling at his closely shaved head – where there used to be long, thick dreadlocks. “It wasn’t just Quinny-” came his muffled voice. “…there was Archer – James Archer, he just reminded me of you! a-and Adam Durrans, Dunny we called him…Danny Costello, they were killed in the same blast too” he counted emptily.
“Oh Tom,” Jamie sighed and tried once again to hold his brother. But he jumped half a mile and shivered, burying his head further. Every so often he would twitch randomly as the memories from the war made him remember the shots of machine guns in his head. Once he even cowered still further into the corner he’d backed himself into as he heard an imaginary bomb blast. Crying the names of his platoon friends. Jamie could only sit and stare helplessly. Was Tom going mad? Unable to offer any scrap of comfort, powerless to make it stop. God he hated himself right about then. He hated country, its leaders for sending his beloved brother to war. He hated his step-father for encouraging Tom to join the armed forces in the first place. But mostly Jamie hated the enemy, for making Tom turn this way.
“I hate this Jamie.” Tom said quietly after a silence that seemed doomed to stretch on forever. “I’m so weak.”
“Tom you’re anything but weak I can assure you.”
“Yes I am! I can’t even control my own bodily functions anymore!” he contradicted.
“What happened earlier was not your-”
“Of course it was! How can it be anyone else’s fault?” Tom’s brother just shook his head. “Jamie I pissed myself when Harry burst that balloon!” he yelled in shame, finally raising his head from its hiding place in his knees.
The twins’ 21st birthday celebration. The day after Tom’s return from his first tour of Iraq. Everyone – Tom included- had been laughing and enjoying the afternoon. Until one of their friends’ son burst a balloon. That’s when it happened. Like in slow motion, Jamie saw Tom’s face fall and zone out of the room, the wet patch slowly appearing on his jeans. The sound was exactly the same as a gunshot. Jamie couldn’t even begin to imagine the fear that sound must have instilled in his brother for him to wet himself like that. Tom panicked his first reaction to flee the room. When Jamie found him in his room. Crawling army style round the edge of the room. His mind fooling him into seeing the wasteland of what used to be Iraq instead of the beige carpet. Jamie had managed to keep him in a corner and bring him back to reality.
“Tom that doesn’t matter, everyone down there understands-”
“Understand?! How can they possibly understand what this feels like? Pissing yourself when a balloon pops? Watching your friends shot to smithereens?! How can anyone understand?”
“They…well they…” Jamie struggled to defend their friends and family.
“They what? Pity me?” he laughed bitterly. “Keep your pity Jamie, I don’t need it.” He spat. The latter sat back on his heels, hurt. At the same time knowing that the normal Tom wouldn’t be saying that. He knew that this was the Tom that went out on the front line. The hardened soldier. The Tom that shot people dead. Post-war Tom was vulnerable ad open to injury. Jamie reckoned he’d seen that Tom just moments ago.
“I…I’m sorry Tom. I just wanted to try and help.” He ended sadly and stood to leave his brother to his thoughts.
“W-wait…” Tom said weakly and scrambled to his feet also. Catching Jamie by the t-shirt as he turned to leave the room. “Don’t…don’t leave me…please?” he voice sounded broken, his shoulders sagged, his head to the ground. Jamie sighed and smiled at his twin in resignation. He could never stay angry with brother for long, especially not now.
“Come on Tomi, let’s get you changed.” He led his brother by the hand into his own room.
*---* End *---*