It had been 3 hours since he set up this vantage point. Not that he was impatient. Waiting was a part of his job. The sun had moved from above his head and had started moving into the depths of the heavens.
“Do you think they’ll show?” asked his young sub ordinate.
“Simmer down, they’re probably just stuck in traffic” he replied frankly.
“May I point out that there is hardly any traffic in the battlefield sir? “
“Yes you may, but I’ll just ignore you” he retorted.
The sniper looked at the young man’s eyes. He saw the familiar enthusiasm sparkle in the young man’s eyes. A chance to fight for his nation, a chance to win glory. A prime graduate from the top military school, what he lacked in experience, he made up for in skill. The young boy didn’t know what the war was about. In his mind, it was all still glory and pride.
“Do you want to go over the mission parameters again sir?” he asked, interrupting the lieutenant’s thoughts.
“I’d rather marry you and ride off into the sunset corporal” he replied with his usual dry sarcasm.
“I’m sorry sir, but I’m already taken. Got me a pregnant wife and all sir.”
“Well, I’m heartbroken.” said the sniper with a wry smile.
The corporal smiled. But the sniper could see that something was troubling this young man, there was something on this man’s chest that he wanted to get out.
“What is it you want to ask Dan”?
“I have no questions sir, my orders are clear.” He replied in a crisp voice. However, after a look into his Lieutenant’s eyes, the young man gave in.
“Don’t you think that our orders were a bit vague sir? All we know is that this is crucial to the war and that we’re supposed to eliminate any one who crosses this area.” The man argued.
“Orders are orders corporal.” Replied the sniper in a brisk tone.
The light in the sky was beginning to turn into a pretty hue of orange. The cold winter air ran past them and towards the city. He saw the corporal looking towards the city. Among all the excitement and sparkle in his eyes, he caught a small hint of sadness and perhaps even guilt. The city, once a sprawling metropolis, now just consisted of tall, vacant and dilapidated buildings, broken roads and the smell of death and war.
The old lieutenant wished he felt something in his heart. He wished for even a trace of apology in his conscience. After all, he was a part of this madness. He had destroyed the city that he had grown up in. And now he had made sure that no one would ever grow up here ever again.
He knew that it would never be the same again. The familiar smell of his mother’s breakfast, his father’s old books. Several birds flew over his head, seemingly unaware of all the pain and destruction in the world below.
“Enjoying the view sir?” asked the corporal from behind him.
“The view is tiresome corporal. We’ve been up here for quite a long time and I struggle to find anything pretty in this city. The birds however, they’re worth the watch.”
“Didn’t know you watched birds’ sir.” Said the corporal.
“My dad and I used to hunt birds when I was little. Those were simpler times”.
“Were you any good at it sir?” asked the corporal half-jokingly.
“Not when I was young, I used to miss a lot of shots.” He replied.
“What?”! exclaimed the corporal. “You’re telling me that the legend Lieutenant Evans was a bad shot when he was a child?”
“Oh don’t get carried away Dan.” said the sniper. “I could have easily shot you and your bloody mouth from a 1000 yards at the age of 17. The problem was that I liked birds.”
“Wow sir, you’re a soft person.” Replied the corporal.
The sniper however, didn’t notice this remark and continued on his trip down the memory lane.
“I remember this one day, when my dad took me to a special park about a 100 miles from home. We had driven up just to shoot the birds. Well, he wanted to shoot the birds and I wanted to watch the birds. We were after this really pretty bird, with a black color chest and red feathers. We tracked down two of them, a baby bird and its mother to a tree. My dad rested his gun onto a rock and steadied his aim. While I was still terrified of the idea of shooting a bird, a baby bird at that, I still took aim. Waiting for my dad’s signal, I waited with trembling fingers. The mother bird was singing a melodious tune, perhaps on how great life was, before the bullet pierced her heart. My dad had taken his shot and I fired at the bird. Needless to say I missed. Yet the baby bird did not move. I felt it look right through my scope and felt like it was asking me, “Why? Why did you do it?” Before I could take another shot, my dad had already took his aim and had prepared to.”
“Sir, there’s movement from upfront, to the north-east. We have our targets.”
The sniper took his position and adjusted his scope. His corporal measured the values and factors that would affect the bullet trajectory and passed it on to him.
Lieutenant Dan saw the approaching target through his binoculars. He had expected a convoy full of armed guards and a high value target. Yet, what he saw chilled him to his bones. Standing there, in the empty ruins, was a young woman and a child of about 5.
“This must be a mistake, there is no way this could be our targets” he thought. The woman seemed to be waiting for someone. The child of hers seemed to be busy collecting piles of rock and stacking it together. This couldn’t be the people whose deaths were crucial to the outcome of the war.
“Sir”, he said to the man with the trigger, “this must be a mistake.”
But the sniper didn’t hear him. Dan looked at him and saw something different. His lieutenant still adjusted his scope, concentrating fully at the task at hand. He shifted his position a bit, adjusted the direction of his barrel and calculated the parameters required to make the perfect shot.
“SIR!” the young man screamed, “They’re innocent!! It’s just a child and a mother. You can’t do this!”
Yet, nothing changed. Dan watched in horror as he watched the sniper take a deep breath and hold it. He was awoken from his momentary shock by the sound of crack of the bullet. He looked at the target, half in shock and half hoping for some miracle that the bullet had missed its target.
The bullet had found its mark. The woman was no more. She was shot right through the chest and the bullet seemed to have found her heart. But that wasn’t the dreadful scene.
It was the child. She looked at her mother, covered in blood and unmoving. Yet, she did not make an attempt to move. She did not do anything at all. Instead, he found her looking right at him. Through his binoculars, he could see her penetrating gaze, piercing the back of his head.
He heard the sniper draw one more breath. This time he acted. He moved to stop the sniper from firing one more shot. Seeing that he would not make it, he screamed “The baby bird sir, you can’t shoot it.”
The sniper paused. Before Dan could move however, he heard the sound of the bullet leaving the gun. He stared wide eyed as the girl of 5 crumpled below him.
“They were innocent.” he muttered, in a trance.
The sniper looked back at him this time. He did not, however, recognize the face that he saw. This was not the sarcastic, good natured man that he knew. This was not the man that spend the entire morning with him on the rooftop, talking about birds. In fact, Dan doubted that this was a man at all.
“They were innocent” he muttered again, looking at his lieutenant directly in the eye.
“So was the baby bird,” came the reply. “Welcome to war,” he said, with cold dead eyes.