Note: Been busy all week writing assignment for Professional Writing 2: Writing Across Fields. Pro Writing 1 entry can be found here. Apart from writing things like press release and such, the last part of the assignment is a freeform 1000-word write-whatever-the-hell-you-want deal. So I did a short story. Not really happy with it because to keep it to around 1000 words, I had to edit out a lot of elements that flesh out these characters’ online relationship with each other.
Friends to the End
Drained and bone-weary, Abu fell onto a large, dusty rock in the middle of the near-empty city. Several heartbeats later Chong came upon him. It took Chong only two seconds to identify him.
“Abu?” he said. Panicked, Abu sat up quickly, his arm reaching for his backpack. Chong interjected quickly with his arms in front of him and palms outwards, “Hey! It’s me. It’s Chong!”
“Chong?” Abu muttered incredulously. He squinted at the newcomer and was transfixed for some time. Neither moved for the duration. “You’re the last person I thought I would meet out here.”
“My goodness,” said Chong, unable to hide a big grin but still holding up his hands. “All those years on the chatting on the internet, and never meeting until now. Until today.”
Abu gestured for his friend to sit. Both men let the tension ebb out of their bodies. They sat in silence for a moment. Then Abu said, “I’d offer you some pajeri nenas or some kopi tarik, but I’m all out.”
Chong guffawed loudly, startling Abu who said sarcastically, “I can’t believe that for a small guy, you sure have big lungs.”
“I can’t believe you remembered my favourite food,” sniggered Chong. He reached for his backpack. Abu tensed for a second. He withdrew some packets. He tossed one at Abu. “It’s no pajeri nenas, but it’s serviceable.”
Abu tore into MRE pack filled with a preserved ginger chicken meal. After finishing, Chong offered him his canteen to drink. When Abu was done, Chong asked him, “How do you feel?”
“Much better. Thanks for the food. Been all out for at least two days.”
“It’s no bother,” Chong said, taking a swig out of his canteen.
“Also,” Abu said, “thanks for the books you sent my son all those years ago. You didn’t have to do that.”
“I was glad that he loved to read at five years of age. Did he love the books? How old is he now? Nine? Ten?”
Instead of answering, Abu said, “I wonder if the old online forum is still around. We haven’t had any internet for over a year.”
“We had some intermittent connection at the northern border a couple of weeks ago. I managed to log on. They’re still there, talking about all the stuff we used to talk about. There are a couple of new books and movies that were released that everyone was buzzing about and StarRaven72 left the forums six months ago after a disagreement with Herodotus Harry. Ouroboros got married!”
“Ouroboros? Really? That’s amazing. Who’d marry a guy who can’t string a proper sentence without dropping a truckload of f-bombs?”
They laughed for quite a while. Then Abu sighed, “Isn’t it great that they live in other continents.”
“Yeah. Well, we lived in different cities in the same countries and we’ve never really met.”
“How is your city?” Abu asked quietly.
“We thought that because it was a huge metropolis it was unassailable. But your urban combat battalion dropped in quick and wiped out the city guard. The 7th brigade returned to the city, but your battalion were too well entrenched. At the end, the city centre was a pile of rubble. Schools. Malls. Thousands of civilians dead.”
“They weren’t supposed to engage civilians. Just like when after your squadron destroyed our defending fighters over our own city, your planes bombed half the city into ash.”
“I’m sorry,” Chong murmured. “If it were up to me there wouldn’t be cluster bombs used.”
“And if it were up to me, your bombs wouldn’t have burned the flesh off my son. He lived for some time before he died. My son. HE LOVED THEM!”
The outburst surprised Chong. He answered with an icy tone, “Your people brought this upon yourselves.”
“You speak as though only my people suffered,” Abu said fiercely.
“I know that. My brothers died. You started it by suppressing our religious freedom and cultural expression because your leaders were afraid of cultural contamination!”
“Which you read from alternative online news sites designed to sabotage and destroy the peaceful balance of our multiracial society.”
“So you deny religious persecution?”
“No,” Abu quietly admitted. “It is my opinion that my community leaders acted against goodwill and our own religious edicts to unjustly persecute your people. These acts were political hotspots and they used mainstream media to fan the flames even more.”
“Why?” Chong blurted out. “That makes no sense! We were at peace!”
“Because this,” Abu patted the holster on his belt, “get us – the both of us – to do their job for them. How oppressive are my leaders?”
“Very. Hundreds jailed for posting their opinions on the web.”
“And yet the alternative news sources that rallied your people against them are not prosecuted at all?”
“The politicians were losing support just before the war, weren’t they?” Chong put his head in his hands in despair. “This is helping them stay in power, isn’t it?”
Abu said, “I suspected your leaders and mine were cooperating in using cultural and religious sentiments to get us to fight each other. Divide and conquer. The spoils of war will go to them.”
“And the post-war rebuilding contracts eventually too. Shouldn’t we stop fighting?” Chong asked.
“We should,” said Abu, “but by the sound of things, my squad will be coming around the corner of the street from the south any second now.”
“And my platoon too from the north.”
“They won’t let us stop fighting. Not after all the killing.”
“I’m not even considering stopping,” Chong said, “not for my brothers.”
“Me neither. Not for my son.” They both stood and straightened their tattered uniforms. “We shouldn’t have started fighting in the first place. Especially not because politicians told us to.”
“Will we ever stop fighting?” asked Chong sadly, his right hand reaching for his side.
“Not after all this spilled blood,” said Abu. His right hand was on the belt holster. “Maybe the next generation. Chong?”
“Thanks for the books you sent my son.”
“Any time. I’m glad he loved them,” Chong expressed sadly.
They held their gaze for a long time, their hands over their side-arms. Frantic yells from the north and south could be heard. Gunshots began ringing out incessantly. The drumbeats of war had caught up with Chong and Abu.
Then, they drew their guns.