Strengthened by the meager sip he took, Manas strapped the canteen more securely to his waist, intent on moving onward. The sooner he reached their camp, the better. He picked up the standard issue machine gun that he had dropped earlier and started to stand up.
Just as soon as he rose to a crouch, however, a volley of bullets erupted and the ground around him exploded in dust and soot. Machine guns. The enemy had located him.
Oh no, not now. Please. Not now. He would’ve prayed to his God had he not given up on religion months ago. No, there couldn’t be a God. The world wouldn’t have fallen this low if there was.
He couldn’t understand. He had covered his tracks perfectly. They were –
“Mohan, hurry, come on, brother. You can’t give up now. Here! We’ll hide – aah!”
Manas found himself face to face with a boy who didn’t look to be older than eith years old. The boy’s face was dirty, smeared with grime and blood. But that wasn’t what Manas found interesting. No, what he noticed was the Machine gun that the boy was holding.
He was about to say something – a threat, a warning, anything to get the upper hand – when another boy, who looked to be about a few years older, limped into the site. It was obvious that, of the two, this new one was worse for wear. He was clutching a broken leg, and there was an eggplant-colored bruise covering half of his face.
Manas stared as the first boy broke their little staring contest, focusing on his brother instead, propping the injured boy against the rock.
“Muni! Muni! G-go, save yourself!”, the older one said weakly.
“No, Mohan, I – no! I won’t leave you here!”
“Go!!” the older one barked before dissolving into a fit of coughing. It was obvious to Manas that the boy didn’t have long to live. He was even going into delirium, his pupils rising until only the white in his eyes could be seen while his body trembled in a weak spasm.
“Wa…ter…”, the older one muttered, the shadow of death clouding his mind. The younger boy leaned into his brother, straining to hear what the boy was saying.
“Water! Right, yes, Mohan, I’ll find some for you…just don’t…please don’t leave me…” the boy was crying now, looking around frantically for something that he probably wouldn’t have found – and then his eyes found Manas’ canteen. The boy stopped and stared, as if verifying if what he’s seeing is real. And then his eyes trailed up and met Manas’ own wide eyes. Muni looked up at him pleadingly, and Manas clutched his canteen tighter instinctively.
They kept on staring at each other then, until another volley of shots erupted around them. Manas sighed and closed his eyes, recalling memories of the old watering hole, his friends, his family, their smiles…his life, before undoing the strap that held the canteen of water to his body.