17 The CenturionMar 16th, 2008 | By Ian Poulton | Category: Writing
A young army officer reflects on a black day
They don’t tell you the whole story when you join up. I suppose, if they did, they would get no recruits. There are good moments, but there are, of course, very bad moments – very bad moments.
Our family were always army people and I think I became a soldier without ever thinking about it; it was just what one did. Service to one’s country and all that stuff.
Being away from home for so long has not been easy. Children grow up very quickly and greet their father as a stranger when he arrives home.
Anyway, this is where I am and it is not done to complain. Morale would slip badly if officers were heard to be unhappy. One can’t really say, “Chin up, chaps” and then moan about one’s lot.
I find all the religious stuff here hard to follow. As far as I can see, it doesn’t do much to make life any better; or people any better, for that matter. All religion in this city does is to cause division and trouble.
Things have been fraught in the past week, the place has been heaving with people here for a big festival and it doesn’t take much for them to get excitable. There was a fellow up from the provinces, a good man; a man who had something to say. For some reason, the preachers and the politicians ganged up on him, and our governor sentenced him to death.
It was a travesty of justice, I’m telling you; the man had not done a thing wrong. My men were on execution duty yesterday and had to execute a perfectly innocent man. They knew and I knew that a hideous crime was being committed.
I was never a religious person, I’m too long in this job not to see through the hypocrisy of it all, but this man was different. All he had were the clothes he stood up in. I have heard stories that he spent his life with the poor and the people on the edge. Why would anyone want such a man to be killed? What had he done that so offended their sensibilities? How can anyone believe a religion that kills innocent people?
I was ashamed to stand there, ashamed at being involved, ashamed that my men had to carry out such a crime, ashamed at denying justice to a good man, to an innocent man.
But it seemed more than just a matter of justice. Take my word for it, executions are grim – there are struggles and curses and shouts and all manner of insults. This man said nothing, not a word, other than to forgive my men. I would not have believed their story if I had not been there.
It was extraordinary and it was frightening. There was a presence there, something uncanny, something beyond my understanding. The men became frightened. There was a feeling of something happening that was far beyond our control.
There were strange stories afterwards – strange stories about strange things happening and do you know the strangest thing of all? They have put a guard on his tomb, almost as if he might come back from the dead.
I know something, if there is a God up there, then he was present in this man.