The soldier-king stubbed the cigarette on the grey nipple of the Body. The only response of the Body was a momentarily, but extra-ordinary, widening of its eyes. This Opening of Eyes, as the soldier-king was fond of calling it, made the soldier-king thirsty, as usual. The soldier-king grabbed his water bottle. It was half full but he dared not drink it all. He just sipped a mouthful and poured the rest over the mouth of the Body. The water trickled away hurriedly along a familiar path-down the chin, over the neck—before it disappeared in the shriveled furrows of the neck.
Suddenly the moon broke free from the clouds.
The soldier-king flipped the Body over and began to trace, with the tip of his knife, the map that he carved night after night on the back of the Body. The map started from a vivid scar on the left shoulder and tried to make its way to the big hairy mole at the base of neck slightly towards the right side. The easiest way would have been to draw a straight line from the scar to the mole across the spine but there was something forbidding, something insurmountable about the spine. It protruded out like some hostile mountain range that refused to let you cross over. So the soldier-king was forced to carve out a longer path. From the shoulder the tip of his knife went down, parallel to the spine till it found a pass across the mountains of spine just above the buttocks and from here the knife tip went up, till somewhere near just below the right shoulder blade it began to waver and lose its path. It didn’t seem that the tip would ever reach to the hairy mole instead it appeared as if it wanted to rush over the spine and rush back to the scar on the left shoulder. The knife, it seemed, wanted just to complete the circle.
The hairy mole which looked like an old, gnarled, familiar tree in the middle of a village seemed to be always out of reach. Map of Home, the soldier-king called this cartography in flesh, sometimes. And sometimes he called it Map to Home. The confusion irritated him. As did the perpetually out of reach hairy mole. He grabbed his gun and began to beat the buttocks of the Body. But it didn’t feel like beating. The flaccid flesh of the buttocks took away the vigor of the gun hits. No resistance! It was like slapping water. This made the angry soldier-king even more angry. And God knows how much angrier he would have further gotten had not his gun inadvertently hit the thigh bone of the left leg. The crunch of the bone breaking placated his anger. And the soldier king hit it again and again till the bone could cry back no more. The bone was clearly broken into two, but the flesh and skin still held the leg together.
The soldier-king dropped his gun and picked up a stone and began to beat the flesh and skin into submission. It took him some time but eventually he got the leg severed from the Body and threw it away. By then the dawn had started to break. From the slope of the mountain the soldier-king watched the Sun rising up.
The day had started.
The soldier king hoisted the Body on his back with its arms passing over his shoulders and crossed in front across his chest and started to climb up the mountain.
Soon the soldier-king had climbed up to where the slope of the mountain flattened and then dipped and doubled up back to rise more steeply, forming a small, shallow gorge. The Gorge of Infinite Replacements, the soldier-king called it. Bodies were strewn all across this Gorge of Infinite Replacements.
“It won’t take me long.” The soldier-king said to the Body as he dropped it from his shoulders and dragged it to a fir tree on the edge of the Gorge.
Slowly and carefully the soldier-king slid into the Gorge. Once he reached down he began to scan the bodies one by one. Although his main focus was the legs, one short, bulbous nose could not escape his notice. It reminded him of something or someone. He took his knife out and cut this nose from the body and put it in his pocket before moving on to the next body. And from there to the next. Finally, about an hour or two later he had found what he was looking for.
“This will do fine,” he murmured as he bent over and began to cut off a leg from a body. He liked the eyes on this one too, but he did not dare take them. Only the nose and the leg will do.
Back at the fir tree on the edge of the Gorge, the soldier-king stuck the fresh leg into the Body and exchanged its old, aquiline, thin nose with the new one that he had brought back from the Gorge in his pocket. The only response of the Body was the widening of its eyes.
“Damn you!” The soldier-king cried out. “Now I have to get water.”
The soldier-king went back down the Gorge and began to scan the bodies once again. This time the scanning was not as detailed or thorough as the earlier one, it was more of a hurried, cursory look-through. And it did not take him long to spot a bottle clasped firmly in the hand of a one-armed body. The soldier-king pried it free from the bony hand. The bottle was corked tight and had enough water in it. The soldier-king took the bottle and rushed back to the Body where he opened the bottle, drank a mouthful and two and then poured the rest over the mouth of the Body where it trickled away along a familiar path.
The soldier-king hoisted the Body back again and walked around the Gorge of Infinite Replacements and continued climbing up the mountain.
At noon the soldier-king had climbed up far enough to look down with the same trepidation as when looking up. And so it was time.
“Time to feed you” the soldier king cried out aloud. And then very adeptly, he grabbed the head of the Body which was still slung on his back and brought the head to his neck. Then he pressed it hard till the brown lips of the Body parted and its yellow teeth bared.
“Go on then, be done with it” the soldier king said as he pushed the head further down into his neck.
“Now for today’s story” the soldier-king said as he let go of the head. “Start telling, now.”
Slowly but surely a crackling, gurgling voice began to pour into the air on the mountain. The voice hissed and cracked much like a voice from an old ill-tuned radio or like a voice over a struggling wireless set that gets frequently and irritatingly punctuated by the static noise:
“Today I bring to you from the depths unknown yet hostile enemy terrain the tale of a prophesized hero whose mother left him floating on a river in a wicker basket while on the left bank the outraged army laid a cordon around an apple orchard that was not neatly divided between two brothers, one of whom was killed on a bridge underneath which a river as old as memory flowed liked a snake cast out from a valley sold to the highest bidder at the auction of Genitalia and Gentiles in the palace of His Excellency Emperor Nameless Faceless, the first of his name but not the last elected duly every five years who must lead his clan of goat-milk fed thumb-less babies shorn every autumn and at the end of winter just when the last icicle melts into a song of the witch who mourns the loss of the devil at the hands of a marauding horde of metallic wasps laying waste the land as the unpromised eighth plague forged in the smithy of a lame god kidnapped by the forces and circumstances beyond our control but duly legal as sanctioned vide Order No: 25101947 Dated: 15-08-00 and thereby directed to proceed to the next place of posting with immediate effect failing which the law shall refuse to protect you in the line of duty and power to resist shall be deemed as futile as it is ultra vires pending enquiry initiated at the protest of the hungry people who must sacrifice a bull, not white, not black but with a phallus shaped like a bullet and fast enough to outrun the screech of a vulture on a moonlit silver night emptied of all its stars at the entrance wherein you shall deposit all your precious memories as no arms are allowed beyond this point to avoid all kinds of dangers that have a potential to disturb the peaceful conduct of the Conference of Parties to the Framework convention of the Historical Burden of Massacres that must be convened at the start of every war unless, of course, you come to know of it only long after at the anniversary of Epitaphs where old comrades reminiscence about holes in calendars hanging by thick ropes and creaking under their own weight and no letters to write back home despite all the questions raised by the newspapers in the disturbed areas where after giving due warning you may fire upon or use other kinds of force even if it causes death or arrest without warrant anyone who is reasonably suspected of praying for snow or playing cricket on the graveyard of dandelions after spending decades in political wilderness and waywardness whose only outcome was a head served on a platter with the utmost dignity of a succubus who bore the indignity to its full term of Nine years nine months and nine days to bring forth the son of a man whose imago was imprinted lovingly with the full-blown photograph of the Supreme Leader, having made his tryst with their destiny and thereby in his finest hour, waving at the sea of men returning from a war and taking their stand for freedom with great fury and despair in their hearts as we were forged together by this most critical hour of our national history wherein we will rise to the challenge by sea, land and air with all our might and with all the strength bestowed upon us by our dear Lord Almighty that the generations of our enemies will look back at this day and cower and tear open their breasts with their own hands and offer their hearts at the altar of our victory while our national anthem bursts through their ears renting asunder their thieving, scheming, traitorous skulls and on top of that dark, lamentable catalogue of disloyalty and treachery we will unfurl our magnificent and glorious Flag. We will. By God, we will. We will. We will…” By then the soldier-king had started to chant along the voice that thundered over the mountain. “We will. We will.” He shouted as he started to run to the top of the mountain with the Body on his back. He ran and shouted and shouted and ran till the sun was just about to go down to the other side of the Mountain. From the edge of the ledge of the Mountain that jutted out like a pouting lip, the soldier-king strained hard to keep looking at the Sun which remained precariously balanced at the summit of the Mountain, pouring the last dregs of its yellow warmth. This was the favorite time of the soldier-king. The Ending of the Day he called it.
But it did not last long, this ending of the day didn’t. The soldier-king tried to make the most of it. He stood on the edge of the ledge to keep on looking at the setting sun as long as he could. Nevertheless, the sun slipped over the mountain, to the other side. The soldier-king didn’t want to let go of it. He strained his neck on the edge of the ledge to catch one last glimpse. The Body on his back tugged with all its weight, the soldier-king lost his footing and both of them went down. Rolling. Tumbling. Falling. Down, down, down they went.
When the fall finally broke, the soldier-king opened his eyes and saw the Body lying beside him. The day had ended. There was darkness all around. The soldier-king lit up a cigarette, took a few puffs and stubbed the cigarette on the grey nipple of the Body.
The only response of the body was a momentary, but extra-ordinary, widening of its eyes.