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Coming Home

By Caitlyn Giles Bonekamp

The sound of the train subsided as Peter advanced forward and away from the platform. Carriage tracks divided the path in two; the wheat crop waving in the slight breeze. He followed the right side of the trail. The sun sat firmly above the horizon, filtering light across the freshly cut fields.

The same stillness that befell the countryside before the Great War still lingered among the hills. The grooves in the landscape couldn't help but remind Peter of the trenches in France. However, the sounds were much different. The white noises within the battlefields had become a comfort, whilst the deafening silence of countryside echoed a sense of solitude.

He held a satchel against his side, the brass latches digging into his hip as he strode forward. The land that he had left a mere four years ago had differed in no visible way, yet every detail that Peter surveyed seemed to have altered in a way unexplainable, just like the peaceful silence had become haunting.

A small girl appeared in the distance, a blotch in front of the sun. As she drew nearer, Peter could see the outline of her tiny body. With each step he took towards her, and each step she took towards him, their two worlds drew closer.

Two tightly knit braids parted her dark hair in two. The braid began behind the ears and crept to the shoulders. The hair was so restricted within the braid that it didn't look like the girl had wanted it, more like it was forced upon her. Pure blue eyes stared at Peter from afar, oozing innocence.

As she pranced towards Peter, her complexion radiated alertness and positivity. She smiled at Peter, as if silently greeting an old friend. She nodded once, giving a playful salute in his direction.

"Hello sir," she said. Peter stood, slightly taken aback by the child's openness. Peter glanced upwards at the setting sun, then back to the young girl.

"Hello miss," he replied. The sun was beginning to comfortably nestle itself into the valley. Peter spared himself one more glance at the setting sun before returning his gaze to the child before him. "May I ask your name?"

The girl grinned brightly. "Charlie, sir. My name is Charlie."

"What are you doing out at this hour, Charlie? The sun will set soon." Peter put his words forth gently, so as not to sound accusing. Charlie grinned even wider, tilting her head slightly.

"I have just come from the market. Not to fret though, my brother and grandfather are here with me." As she spoke, two more figures appeared in the distance, one shorter, one taller. Peter nodded understandingly. "Do you come from the Great War, sir?" Charlie inquired curiously, sizing up his uniform.

"Yes," he replied, "but it is over now." His voice was restrained. Charlie fell silent.

An adolescent boy bounded towards them, exasperation rooted into his features.

"Charlie, I told you to wait!" The boy grabbed Charlie by the wrist, tugging her backwards. Charlie glared at the boy, struggling to break free of his grasp.

"James, let her go," called a voice. Charlie swung her body around as much as the boy would let her. Peter merely stared ahead. "I can't keep up with you guys as well as I used to." An older man stood a few feet away from Charlie and James, smiling crookedly. His skin was darkly tanned from working in the fields. His eyes held years of wisdom.

"Yes, grandfather," replied James, releasing his grip on Charlie. Charlie sidestepped away from James, scowling at him. The man turned his attention to Peter.

"Hello Peter. Good to see you alive and well. Were my grandchildren courteous enough to introduce themselves?" Peter grinned at the man as Charlie and James stared at their grandfather in utter shock.

"Mr. Zhukov," Peter greeted him, "it is good to see you again. Baby Charlotte here greeted me almost immediately. I see you call her Charlie now?" Mr. Zhukov smirked.

"Well, some of us do." Charlie tugged at James' sleeve, staring up at him.

"Can I have my conker now?" she asked. James' eyes cast skywards.

"Why would you want it? I'm not going to play with you. That's a child's game." Charlie kept staring at him with the same empty look. "Sure. Whatever." James handed her a chestnut attached to a wool string. Charlie's expression lit up. The edges of Peter's lips pulled upwards.

"Is that one the champion?" Peter queried. Charlie beamed, nodding and smiling broadly. "I used to have favourites too. I used to be just like you." James glanced at Peter, pulling Charlie backwards and out of the spotlight.

"So you came from the Great War, sir? That must have been grand. Was it exhilarating? I have always dreamed of going to war." James looked at Peter, his eyes pried open, as if trying to find an answer by the expression Peter's face held.

"I used to be just like you too," Peter said to James. "I wanted to go to the war." Peter paused for a moment, as if thinking back. "And yes," he added, "I did come from the Great War. It is over now though." Charlie had strayed away, continuing down the road with her conker hanging from her left hand. James looked from Peter to his grandfather before turning around to catch Charlie before she got too far ahead. Peter and Mr. Zhukov watched as James ran down the road and yanked Charlie backwards by grabbing her upper arm forcefully.

"I need to teach that boy some manners," declared Mr. Zhukov, sighing. Peter kept staring at Charlie and James.

"I really used to be like both of them, you know. Especially him," said Peter. He glanced at the ground, memories bubbling in his mind. To Peter's surprise, Mr. Zhukov chuckled.

"And I used to be just like you, my boy." Peter looked up at Mr. Zhukov. "I was your age when I escaped Russia. And do not worry; the confusion does not last forever." With that, Mr. Zhukov turned his back to Peter, beginning the long descent towards the train platform.

Peter inhaled. "It will be dark soon, Mr. Zhukov. Be careful." Peter weighed each word as carefully as the last. Mr. Zhukov pivoted his body to face Peter one last time.

"I will be fine, my boy. The sun is to my back. You are walking towards it. So it is me who should be telling you to be careful." Peter watched as Mr. Zhukov twisted around and began to walk towards his grandchildren, and away from the sun.

Peter, however, did the opposite. He turned to face the land he had left four years ago, the land where he had spent his childhood days of innocence, his adolescent years of discovery, and his soon to be peaceful time where he would gain wisdom and experience.

Peter walked into the setting sun.

Did You Know

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