Season 4, Episode 8
Written and Read by Neil MacDonald
The man who came back from the war to Jyoti the second time stumbled to a broken rhythm. He limped on a stick. He found it difficult to grasp things with the remaining two fingers of his right hand. He could not hold a mattock or a hoe so easily anymore, and fieldwork came hard to him. Swinging a scythe was near to impossible. It wasn’t just his amputated fingers that made a scythe impossible. His broken ribs had healed wrong, and when he swung his body, the pain in his side was as if the scythe was cutting through his own flesh, not the hay. Jyoti had to do the hay-making for him.
But this was not the thing that troubled Jyoti most. Something was broken inside her man. He started at sounds. In any room he insisted on positioning himself with his back to the wall, facing the door. He would say with a laugh that this was so nobody could sneak up on him. But Jyoti did not think he was joking. He was alert the whole time to dangers that only he perceived, as if he was still at war.
When they first went to the fields, Jyoti watched him stop continually to scan the skyline.
“What on earth are you looking for?” she asked him.
“Just keeping watch,” he replied.
“Habit,” he said gruffly. “Habit of war. You never know who might be coming.”
She took to watching him watch, trying to fathom the way the war had changed her man. She noted how he constantly scrutinised hedges and woods for foes they might conceal. He was quick to take offence and pick quarrels.
It broke Jyoti’s heart. What hurt most was that there seemed to be nothing she could do for him. She had hoped at first that he would forget the war, and again become the gentle sweet man she had wed these three years past. But he carried the war within him. At night as she lay awake, she would hear him moan and call out at the tumult within him. She had tried to be loving, considerate, solicitous, but that only seemed to annoy him.
“Don’t fuss me, woman,” he would say, “I am alright.”
But he wasn’t alright, not at all.
Only around his son did he seem calm. The boy was toddling now and speaking a few words, and Reuven would spend hours with him. He would toss the boy up into the air and catch him, to cries of delight.
“More” was an early word the toddler had learned. “More!” he would shout, “more!” And Reuven would toss him again. Baby Reuven seemed to be the only physic that soothed his father’s unrest.
Jyoti wondered whether having another baby might help her husband. But there was a stiffness to his body now whenever she wrapped her arms about him and pulled him to her; and often too, a softness to his cock.
She tried not to let Reuven see her anguish. She tried so hard. But there came one night in bed, when he rolled off her and turned onto his side, when she couldn’t keep it in any more. Her man turned back to her, as sobs racked her body.
“What is it, my love?” he asked.
“Do you not desire me no more, Reuven? Once you could not get enough of me. I know I am not so comely now. My hips are wider, I know. My belly ain’t so flat, and it has marks on it. But my breasts are still firm. You used to love to kiss them, and suck them. Am I not to your liking no more?”
He put his arms around her, and hugged her fiercely. “I love you, Jyoti. You are so beautiful.”
“Then why do you not take me, as you used to? I am still fertile. We need to make more babies.”
Reuven’s face darkened. Through her tears she watched his eyes narrow, and his brow furrow. When he looked like this, she knew, he would withdraw into silence for hours.
“Please, my love, tell me,” she pleaded. “Tell me what I can do to make you want me again.”
And this time Reuven did not go away into himself. She watched the anger in his face give way to crumpled pain.
“Believe me, Jyoti, you done nothing wrong.” She could see he was forcing back tears. “It’s me. I sicken myself.”
He turned his face away from her. Gently, she held his shoulder and pulled him back to her, a hand on his cheek to bring his face round. She saw tears on it, and smoothed them away with her fingers.
“It’s alright, my love,” she said. “You are my man. There has never been anyone but you. You could never sicken me.”
He tried to pull away, but she held him, and raised herself up against the bolster so his head was on her breast. She stroked his hair, not knowing what else to do. For a long time he didn’t speak, and she let the silence grow until she felt the stiffness leave his body, and he relaxed against her.
What could it be that made him speak so of himself? Had he taken some girl to camp wife in the war? Well, if so, a man had needs, she understood. She could forgive him that. Or maybe it was just the killing?
“What could be so bad, my love?” she asked at last. “Tell me. Whatever it is, you can tell me. I love you.”
Reuven’s shoulders heaved in a huge sob. “Rape, can you love a man who has raped a girl?” he spat bitterly, his voice muffled against her breast. She felt the vibration of it through her chest.
“You raped?” An empty pit opened in her stomach. This was not something she had even contemplated. This was so alien to the Reuven she knew. But war must do terrible things to a man. These things happened in war, they said. “Who? How?”
“A peasant woman, a girl really. In the hills above Mewwald.”
“And what happened, my love?”
“We had been out foraging for food, our company. Tolbert shot a pig. The others got some chickens. Then we had a rummage in the houses.”
“The house Tolbert and I went into, there was a woman there, with a young boy and a girl just coming to womanhood. Tolbert ripped her clothes off, the girl, and raped her on their own table.”
“I watched. She was screaming and crying. There was terror on her face. Tolbert looked so funny, with his breeches round his ankles, and his white bottom pumping between her legs. She turned her face to me. And then it became your face. And then Tolbert finished, and it was my turn.”
“You raped her too?”
“I was going to. Oh Gods, I didn’t want to. She was just like you, like us. Their lives had gone on just like ours, toiling for so little return, surviving, hungry, dirty. And then our lads had come and changed their lives forever. I didn’t want to. They weren’t the enemy. Tolbert smacked the old woman across the face, and she fell. They weren’t the enemy. I didn’t want to fuck her.”
“Then why did you, my love?”
“I didn’t. I was going to. But Ulrick came in and said we needed to get back to camp. We were expecting a big battle the next day.”
“Then you did nothing wrong, Reuven. You are not a raper.”
“I let Tolbert. I didn’t stop him. I just watched. And I was going to. For common folk like us, war is exciting. You can do anything, take anything. It felt like I had some power. It wasn’t even about pleasure, or not the pleasure of a woman anyhow. I would have raped her.”
“Why? If you didn’t want to?”
“It’s when you’re with your mates, you know? You do what they do. You’re brothers. Oh Gods, Jyoti, I was going to rape a girl just like you, and all so Tolbert would not think me weak. I was going to fuck her, so my mate didn’t make fun of me. I think of it all the time. It sickens me. I disgust myself.”
“Reuven, Reuven man. You did nothing. Your heart was good. You are a good man. See how you feel shame? That shows you are a good man.”
“I am a weak man,” he retorted in a frenzy of self-loathing. “I did nothing to stop it. I would have raped her.”
“Aye, maybe weak in that moment, in that place. But you are everything a husband should be. You are strong. You have provided for me and for little Reuven. We have a home, land, work. You brought us back treasures from the war. War must be a terrible thing, my love. I believe it makes men do terrible things. But now your war is ended.”
“Terrible things, aye, Jyoti. Things I never wish to talk of. I went to the war to become a warrior, and it made me weak, not strong.”
“I think mayhaps it made you stronger, my husband.” Reuven began to protest but she stopped his mouth with fingers on his lips. “Hear me out. You know now that you are capable of cruelty and weakness. Which of us is not? But it made you face your weakness. And that is not given to all of us. I doubt me that you would ever stand by again and let a friend rape a defenceless girl. Would you?”
“Then it has made you stronger. The cost was high. I hate to see your pain, my love. It hurts me so much. But, do you not see, if you hold it into yourself, the wound will never heal. You have told me the worst, and I love you still. Mayhaps even I love you more. In time, maybe you will be able to tell me of the other things that happened.”
“I cannot. I saw terrible things.”
“I am strong too, Reuven. I can bear them. A wound must be cleaned before it can heal. When you are ready, you can tell me.”
Jyoti held him in her arms through that night. For the first time, he did not toss and turn and cry out in his sleep. And Jyoti saw the way to help her man. He remained quick to anger, and he still kept his back to walls and his face to doors. He still started at imagined danger. But he had a measure of calm now. And, though sometimes when they lay in the marriage bed he remembered things and his cock grew soft, Jyoti learned to use her mouth on him in ways that surprised her and delighted him. At first she thought herself lewd and loose. But she grew to love the feel of his flaccid cock hardening in her mouth.
© 2016 Copyright Neil MacDonald
Presented by BigWorldNetwork.com