He was nine when he remembers the war coming for the first time. It was how he said it, “I was nine the first time I remember when the war came.”
When the war came.
I had never heard it said that way. I think of men going to war. Of soldiers never coming back. But never of the war coming to me. To my family. My home. My city.
For Sam, the war came to him and his family. It came to his neighbours’ homes. To his city. His country. The war came and he hid. In a basement. All night. All day. “We’d be allowed out sometimes for a couple of hours during the day. For sunlight. To get food. Water. We weren’t allowed to play. You don’t play during war,” he said.
The second time the war came he was about fourteen. And then nineteen. “By then, I didn’t much care about the war,” he said as he clipped and shaped my hair, “I didn’t think about it. It came. It went. I knew it would come back. I tried not to think about it. It just was.”
He had to join the military. “I didn’t like that at all,” he said. “I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t fit in.”
“I couldn’t figure out why we had an army anyway,” he added. “We didn’t really have any guns. We didn’t want to have a war.”
He clipped a bit more hair. In the mirror, I watched his hands deftly wielding the scissors. His shaggy black hair. Full lips. Deep brown eyes. EArly thirties, handsome. But his shoulders are hunched. His chest curled forward, huddled over his stomach. I think of a turtle crouched in its shell protecting its soft body.
His eyes are downcast. He concentrates on his job. Stops. Punctuates a comment with his hands. The scissors snipping at air.
“They made us march. And line up. It was so tedious.” Snip. Snip.
“I was lucky. The war came back the year after I left the army.” Pause. “I’m glad I was gone from the army. I could not have killed another man.”
“It is wrong what happened. I was just a boy. I should have been playing with my friends. Kicking a ball around. Instead, I hid out. Eventually, it became normal.”
The war kept coming back. “The last time the war came, my mother and cousins left for safer places. My father and I, we didn’t leave. It was our home. We couldn’t leave it.”
And then they had no choice. They had to leave.
“I don’t want to be at war. I don’t want to fight. I want to get married. Raise children. Have a family.” He paused. His hands stopped moving. His body stilled. “I want to have peace.”
For Sam, war came and drove him from the arms of his family. It tore him from those he loves to send him half way around the world to a land he’d never been, a city he’d never heard of before. It took him from the sea he loves, a city, for all its war torn streets, that was familiar to him, a place he called home. It took him away and deposited him here, in a cold and northern clime.
It drove him to a place where ‘war doesn’t come’. And for that he is grateful.
I pray it never does. Come to him again, or me, or anyone I love, or anyone in the world. And I know my prayers are already unanswered. There are owars/conflicts taking place right now. I can name a few. Libya. Syria. Afghanistan. Nigeria. l know so little about war. I do not want to know more.
Perhaps, it is not time to speak out against war, but to speak up for peace. For that which keeps lives and families intact. For that which keeps us safe.
It can only come when war comes no longer. For with every mother’s child who dies, a seed of sorrow, of anger, of hatred is sown.
War gives birth to animosity. To tears of sorrow. To future wars.
Let us give birth to possibility. To love and hope and joy and peace. Let us put down arms and for Love’s sake, let us stand up for peace.