Even the deafening roar of those rotor blades felt numb in front of the brutal image which I was compelled to see. “We’re losing him, put more pressure on that wound”, the medic put his blood-soaked fingers on Lt. Vikhyat Pathak’s neck, desperately searching for a faint pulse. I was holding his hand, while he coughed out blood on the black metallic floor of Sea Stallion bound for our base. “Captain”, Vikhyat’s eyes turned towards me, “Don’t say a word man, hang in there, we’re gonna get you out of here asap. Keep looking at me”, I was scared. Yes as harsh as I could sound, I was really scared for the first time. I couldn’t see my best friend like that. “Captain, if you see my son…” he pulled out a small box wrapped in paper which was now all crimson red, the lungshot had already taken the living hell out of him. “Just give it to him. Wish him a happy birthday, and tell him I’m so sorry that I…….”
“Shut up lieutenant, you’ll give the gift yourself, we’re almost there.”
“Captain, we both know this road is about to end here. Just do me a favour don’t let them reach our homes……” His pupils stopped searching for the glimpses which he always savoured, his heart stopped all of a sudden, “Get the charges ready, commencing CPR” the medic shouted and pushed me away from him, he started pressing Vikhyat’s chest aggressively. “Wake up goddamit”, he was scared too, he continued performing the CPR until madness took over him and he started cursing my friend, telling him to wake up. “Doc, DOC”, I put my hand on his shoulder and nodded my head, my eyes were moist, I felt a lump up my throat, I couldn’t say a thing.
When his coffin arrived his doorstep, I was the first person to meet his wife, “I don’t know what to say, all I know is that he’s still alive. These words of mine might seem fruitless right now, but he killed every last one of them till his last breath.”
She looked at me and hugged me tightly, “He’s gone”, her sobs brought tears to my eyes as well. I wanted to go somewhere all alone and cry out aloud, but I couldn’t. I swallowed the most bitter pill and stepped back, my hand went for my forehead, the salute was the only thing I had at my disposal.
A few months later I came across a familiar face, the one I had seen at Vikhyat’s funeral. His son, coming back from school, saw me and gave a smile like he always did. “Hey champ” I crouched in front of him while he sensed my purpose. His 8 year old hands were bearing ink marks, those of a hard working student. “Hello uncle.”
“I…uh… Forgot to give you something, your father gave it to me on your birthday”, my hand went inside my trouser’s pocket and pulled out a nicely packed box, the crimson paper was gone. “Belated happy birthday son”, I couldn’t control myself anymore, that lump was eating me to it’s extremities, those tears couldn’t be stopped. I hugged that little boy tightly and burst to tears in the worst way possible, “I’m so sorry…..”
“Uncle”, I looked up into his eyes while mine were red with tears, “Daddy always said that you’re like a father to me.”
“Your daddy……..your daddy is a hero son, and he’s proud of you. Take care of your mother alright.”
He smiled one more time and marched towards his home.
Seven months later, my squad was reassigned the same mission which had taken Vikhyat’s life. We were bathing in the red lights of the C17s cargo bay, I was wearing my helmet when I saw my squadmate struggling with his magazine belt. I bent forward and helped him with his problem. “What’s your name Lieutenant?”
“The real one Lieutenant.”
“Vinayak Pathak, sir”.
I looked up in his eyes, “My brother told you were his best friend.”
“Yes he is Lieutenant.”
The cargo bay light turned green, we all stood up and checked our equipments, the hydraulic doors started opening slowly, the white fog greeted us with cold winds.
“Time to avenge the fallen, brothers. For Vikhyat.”
“FOR VIKHYAT!” Shouted everyone back and started running towards the bay door, jumping one by one. “I’ll see you on the other side captain”, Vinayak gave a thumbs up and went ahead. I jumped in the last place, breathing calmly, entering Pampore.