“We’ve lost the Belgian contingent in the Sinai.”
The general kept staring silently through the window, his hands behind his back, ignoring the reflection of the messenger who was still saluting on the other side of the spotless oak desk, the only piece of furniture in the gargantuan room.
This war, this long, drawn-out war would never end. Years of slaughter and nothing to show for it but millions of dead soldiers – good, honest young men who never intended to be cannon fodder but signed on the dotted line anyway.
“Three thousand one hundred and twenty-four, sir.”
The general bowed his head. The number was but a droplet in an ocean of lost souls but it hit him hard every time. He went on holiday to Belgium once, with his wife and sons. They enjoyed it there: the kindness of the Belgians, their witty sense of humour, their fabulous cuisine. He’d like to go back some day. If there was a country left, that is.
“You’re Belgian, aren’t you, Serge?”
“Sir, yes, sir.”
“Anyone you knew in the Sinai?”
The messenger did not reply immediately so the general assumed the answer was yes.
“Had any leave of late?”
“Not since February, sir.”
The general turned and opened the top drawer of his desk. He pulled out a standardized form, dipped his quill in the inkwell, filled in the form, signed it, sprinkled some pounce over the ink en then handed the form to the messenger.
“Consider yourself on leave till Sunday, Serge.”
Serge declined the paper.
“My place is here, sir.”
War never fails to make damned fools out of soldiers, the general thought.
Damned naive fools, who imagined their ceaseless dangerous efforts would win the war.
How he longed to be one of those fools again.
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