Short stories, Travel and Health Information
Sergeant Vitharana, who was usually the epitome of calm, was seated outside my office when I arrived that morning, a look of consternation on his swarthy features.
He sprang to his feet as he spotted me and snapped off a regulation salute.
‘Come in, Vitharana” I said as I opened the door. “What can I do for you so early in the morning?”
He followed me in and sat down heavily in the chair on the other side of my desk.
He swallowed again.
“Sir …..” he began, and then blurted out “Sir, I have seen a very bad dream.’
I had known Sergeant Vitharana for a long time. A man of few words and stiff upper lips, he had shown himself to be calm, unflappable and reliable in a crisis. This was totally out of character.
“Tell me about it” I said, gently, as one might when talking to a young soldier.
“The problem is like this, Sir” he managed to continue, involuntarily looking over his shoulder as if to make sure there as no one listening “Last night I saw the God of Death. He was leering at me – and then he said that he would be waiting to meet me this Sunday.”
I drew a deep breath. We had all been stationed in Jaffna for the past five months, and life in these parts was not exactly pleasant. Working at the Army health facility here, we had to deal first hand with all the war casualties, providing Level 2 primary care before they could be transferred to the Level 3 hospitals in Anuradhapura and Colombo. We had seen some pretty nasty sights as more and more young soldiers were brought in injured or killed in this protracted war. We had also had to deal with young men suffering anxiety attacks and post traumatic stress, psychologically damaged after seeing friends and colleagues losing their limbs and lives in front of their very eyes.
As health support personnel, however, we were relatively sheltered as our work was within the heavily guarded military camp. Short of the LTTE Tigers staging a bombing raid or over-running the place (certainly a possibility but a very remote possibility), we unlike he war-fighting soldiers were not in gave danger.
So to see Sergeant Vitharna in such a state was not what I would have expected.
“Sir,” he went on “I don’t usually have dreams. But this was so real that I can remember every detail. The God of Death actually had Prabhakaran’s face. I have to say, Sir, that I am really worried. I have to get out of this place”
This was most out of character. Vitharana was an experienced soldier, a trained Army medic, who had spent years in the service. Recounting a dream where he had seen the God of Death personified by Velupillai Prabhakaran the dreaded leader of the LTTE terrorists, was quite out of character.
It was scary.
He had been here too long. We had all been here too long. There is only so much of this type of stress a man can tolerate before he snaps.
I pondered for a while. Vitharana remained silent.
“Vitharana” I began, “your posting here was for six months, so you only have another two weeks left to go. Would you like me to send you back to Colombo?”
He looked at me. Part of him, the human being who had seen so much death and dying, wanted to accept my suggestion straightaway. The other part of him, the senior NCO who was supposed to be immune to war and its effects, was telling him to stiffen his upper lip and soldier on.
The human part of him won.
“Yes, Sir. If you can do that I would be grateful. Let me go back early. I will be entitled to two weeks leave, so I can go home and spend that with the family before going on to my next posting, which will be at the military hospital in Panagoda.
“Ok, Vitharana. I will get it organised. You deserve a break after all that you have been doing here for us. There is a flight going back on Friday, so we will get you on that. You should be back home by during the weekend.”
He stood up, the gratitude in his eyes palpable.
“Thank you, Sir. I would not have come, but this is the first time I have had such a dream – and I have to tell you, Sir, I am really scared.”
He left Jaffna at the end of the week, because I made sure the paperwork was all expedited and signed off in time.
On Saturday morning we had to deal with seven badly injured soldiers who were brought in to our holding facility. By the time we had finished surgery, it was quite late and I was exhausted. I had some cold food by myself in the darkened officers’ mess and went up to my room to sleep.
I will never forget the dream I had that night.
In my dream I was sleeping when the God of Death entered my room and woke me.
The room was full of light. The menacing God of Death, as in Vitharana’s dream, had Prabhakaran’s face. He was looking hard at me with an evil smile.
I was scared. Really scared.
In a false attempt at bravado, I shouted at this apparition, “We have defeated you, you bastard. Vitharana is no longer here for you to kill. I have sent him to Colombo”
The apparition continued to leer at me – and then threw back its head and laughed, a horrible laugh that filled the room.
And then it spoke.
“I know” it said. “I came to thank you, Major, for helping me.”
I waited, a cold chill creeping up on me.
“You see” it continued “I was actually planning to meet him in Colombo”.
That was when I woke up in a cold sweat.
It was twelve hours later that I heard about the suicide bomber who blew up a bus carrying 47 civilians at the Pettah bus stand.
Vitharana had been on that bus – happily on his way back to his village to be with his family.
If you would like to read more short stories like this, check out my book Not Our War – available as an e-book from Amazon.com.au – the Australian Amazon site.
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