The old man, eyesight failing, peered intently over the glasses perched at the tip of his nose. His hands were steady and gentle. He turned the tin soldier over. People no longer bought such trinkets for their children. It was all plastic in garish colours with accompanying instructions, now. Children had lost the ability to use their imaginations.
Poor little fellow had really been in the wars. His leg had been completely severed and it wasn’t a clean break. This was going to take some pondering.
Why had nobody warned him, his skills would soon be seen as a dying art?
The Tailor’s son had been inconsolable about his broken toy. The tin soldiers had been his father’s parting gift to him. There had been twelve of them, but they had fallen along the way, till only one remained.
The journey on that rickety wooden boat over so many seas, through so many lands, had been hard for the boy. He was too young to see all that he had seen. The toys were his escape. They had given him a glimmer of childhood as it should be.
The last soldier had been broken in a scuffle last night. She had asked her son about it when she found him sitting on his sleeping mat, dishevelled and tear-stained, but he had been unusually tight-lipped. It didn’t matter much, she supposed. They were almost at their final destination, the place she had dreamed of so often, with space, and freedom, and safety.
Why had nobody warned her that it would cost her so much?
The soldier woke, and tentatively cracked open his eyelids. The last thing he remembered was being on that crowded boat, squeezed tightly in his boy’s hand. It was dark, and the seas were especially choppy. There was someone looming over the boy’s sleeping mat. The smell of alcohol and unwashed bodies mingled with the salty air. Rough hands had torn him from the boy’s grip and flung him across the room. He had heard the boy’s screams, searing pain had shot up his leg, and then darkness.
His eyes fully open, he took in his surroundings. The old man peering at him over his glasses had a kindly face.
There was no pain. Just numbness. And this old man with the kind face and the steady hands. The soldier closed his eyes again, giving himself over to sleep.
Why had nobody warned him how much he’d lose?
The world was clearly defined when he’d joined the navy three years ago, an idealistic young man with visions of defending the waters surrounding his home. Many nuanced shades of grey had entered his world view since then.
This latest group of human flotsam were the worst. More than half the group were children. He wearied at the thought of the lost innocence, the lost childhoods.
The boy with the broken tin toy had brought him to tears, though. Quiet and disconnected right from when they’d found him on his damp, mouldy bedding in what he optimistically called the hull of that death-trap of a boat. He knew something had happened, but the boy couldn’t, or wouldn’t speak. Not even when his mother had begged him, clearly terrified of what these uniformed men would do.
His heart had ached for this mute, broken little boy. A boy that could so easily have been him a lifetime ago.