After three long years of waiting, Mark finally headed home. The war had come to an end, and so had Mark’s service in the army. Mark stared out of the window, trying to contemplate all that had happened in the last few years. He had been waiting for this day for so long, to escape the horrors of war – the revolting sight and smell of blood and burning flesh, the raging hunger, months of freezing nights, days of lying spread-eagled under thorny bushes, months of agonizing thoughts after so many brutal killings, and the constant feeling of impending doom.
They say that wars can make men become wild savages who are nothing like who they had been before, but Mark was not among those who took pleasure in killing. He hadn’t been able to fit in with the rest of them, those who relished every kill. As time went by, Mark had gotten quieter – a prisoner of guilt and repulsion. He was careful not to let the others see how he felt, and so he had mastered the art of bottling up his emotions. Loneliness, repulsive nightmares and an insatiable yearning for his family had often kept him up at night. To be away from his family was the utmost test, Mark would try to picture his family but the images kept getting blurry and the memories vague as time wore on. They say that time heals all, but apparently, this could not have been more wrong. He had left at a time when his son Rick was starting school, and Dolores, his wife, had another baby on the way. There were times when Mark despised himself for missing out on his family’s lives, but he knew that it had never been in his control.
So much had changed now. He thought about Melissa, his daughter, whom he had not even seen. ‘I am a stranger to my own children’ he thought dejectedly. The letters from home had been few, and he had read every one of them over and over again, tracing his fingers tenderly along the lines.
Coming out of his reverie, Mark realized that the plane had just landed. Twenty minutes later, he was in a cab and going back home for the first time in three years. A strange sensation assailed Mark – he was happier than he had been in a long, long time, but at the same time, he felt somewhat apprehensive. ‘Will I be greeted with open arms, or do they hate me for not being there for them?’ he wondered.
Soon, Mark stood outside his doorstep and stared at his house for the longest time. How he had missed home! He paused, took a deep breath, plastered an awkward smile on his face, attempted to ease his face in what he hoped was a relaxed expression and rang the doorbell. He heard hurried footsteps, laughter and then the door opened. For a moment, he stared at his family, and they at him. For the first time in years, Mark’s face stretched in a genuine smile and in that moment, he rediscovered happiness – being reunited with the ones his heart had been aching for so very long. “Funny how you can’t seem to smile the way you used to, long suffering, huh? I see a permanent frown” Dolores joked, her eyes water – Mark’s misgivings fell away. The family stayed up late, catching up on each other’s lives, drinking in each other’s words and thanking the heavens for being together once more.
The next morning, before dropping the kids off at school, Dolores made Mark pose for a picture with Rick and Melissa. The three bore an uncanny resemblance – the same scrunched up foreheads, and the same faltering and conscious smiles.