When Muriel was in the shower, she suddenly remembered how being in a combat zone felt. The water reminded her of the many times they had been under heavy fire and how they had narrowly escaped death. Well, how she had narrowly escaped death because there were others who had gave their lives for the cause that they were defending, a cause that Muriel had trouble understanding now that she was home.
She had arrived just a couple of days ago, being received by her parents and her boyfriend, although she hadn’t seen much of him. Muriel couldn’t explain it but, she had missed John so much in the filed and now that she had seen him again, she couldn’t even make herself hug him or kiss him or say anything sweet to him. She felt as if her heart had dried out in the desert, consumed by everything she had seen, day after day. She hadn’t even hugged her parents and they had tried and she knew they had felt it too, that awkwardness, like a barrier that now existed between them.
Trying to scare all the negative feelings and memories away, Muriel decided to shampoo her hair and enjoy the nice odors of her parents’ home. Where she came from, she didn’t really have the chance to wash her hair very often. Actually, she had showered a few times the last month and it was always a minute, two at the most beneath the coldest water a country that’s hot as hell can have. But, even so, she had to confess that made her feel alive.
The smell of chamomile that the shampoo had reminded her of a time that seemed very far in her past now. She had been picking up flowers with her sister near a house her father had rented in some mountains, not very far from the city where she was now. That time seemed like a dream. Because it was almost false, unlike the burned bodies and mutilated corpses she had seen in the last year. Her mind immediately went to the destroyed cities she had seen; the destroyed cities she had helped become a battling ground. Because, the more she thought about it, the more she realized her presence there was also a problem.
For many people, she was the enemy and even locals, just people that tried to survive, ran away from her when she tried to come near them. It didn’t help that she was the only woman in an assault team and that the rest of her teammates could be considered brutes. They were man built like a mountain, guys that she had managed to control during training. Some were nice enough, she could even talk to them about what she liked and didn’t like in life, about her boyfriend, her parents, her dream to someday become a veterinarian. But other were just beasts that had to be controlled at all times. And some other times, they were released.
She rinsed all of the shampoo from her head and then just enjoyed the warm water falling on her black, gliding down her breasts and belly and legs. Muriel instinctively touched her breasts, as if she didn’t know that they were still there. She really touched them and got a bit aroused but her goal was not that but to really feel something, whatever it was. She had been numb for so long that she started touching more and more and then put one of her hands over her vagina and… And she stopped.
Like a pinch to the stomach, memories came running into her brain, once again. One of those beasts, one of those animals she had been to war with, had tried to rape her on the first week. Luckily, Muriel was a good cadet, a good soldier in general and was able to turn his brute force against him. She threatened him with telling everyone and he laughed at her, touching his penis over his pants. She ran away before he could say or do anything else. That image stuck in her head, even though she had been trying hard to eliminate of her mind.
She grabbed the soap and decided to clean herself properly, every single centimeter of her body. She even sat down in the shower floor in order to feel she was under a waterfall or something like that. She had always done that, fro, the time she was a child, and her mother always told her that was a waste of water and that people in other countries would have loved to have that water to drink and cook and live. And then she would argue with her and loose.
Now, Muriel had seen the world and the truth was that she didn’t really cared if a family or a boy or a girl had no water to drink because of her. She simply didn’t believe that it made any difference. For her, she had discovered, the world was full of shit. The world was evil and awful and people didn’t really ended up in the bright side of things. People had bad endings, every single day. People died or they were killed, and there were orphans and fear conquered all of their hearts and that was just how things were.
What Muriel had done in that country, her killing and her helping, was not useful. She didn’t make any difference by doing those things and she was ready to tell any idiot than helping with such stupid things didn’t help anyone. Being kind one moment and awful the next didn’t make you even or something. It made you human and humans are made to make each other miserable, make each other suffer and, slowly but surely, make competition go away because that’s how the world goes.
Then, she stood up from the floor and closed the shower. The lack of water noise made her tremble but she inhaled deeply and stepped out.
She took a yellow towel her mother had left her and dried herself with it over the small mat on the floor that was shaped like a hamburger. She liked that mat, ever since she had seen it once, one of those few times she had been able to chat with her mother over Skype. For some reason, she had shown her the hamburger mat and told her it smelled nice and that she wanted the house more fun with it. It was such a silly thing but that stupid mat was a symbol of the home Muriel wanted to go back to. Her goal was to go back home and see that mat in person and now that wish had become true.
Walking slowly, she got out of the bathroom and walked to the closet in the next room. She had somehow done that automatically, because of a force of habit that came from years of doing so, but her true attire of the day was on the bed. Her father had gone to a special store were they specialized in pressing and cleaning uniforms. And hers now looked brand new, with every single detail in the right place. She removed the plastic and just left it there, on the bed.
That green, that shade of color on the uniform, had always symbolized so much to her. And now, she was trying to remember what it was that she had felt the first time she had seen it. And she did remembered but, again, she couldn’t feel it. She knew that the uniform had made her and her family happy and proud. She was one of the few people she knew that had decided to join the army. The reasons were many; include the benefits in education and even health but also because Muriel had been a patriot for a long time.
When she was just a little girl, she was the one that made her father built a small metal thing to put over the front door of the house in order to put the flag there every time there was a holiday. With time, she just left the flag there because she liked to see it move with the wind. She liked the colors and the shape and how it made her feel. Muriel liked to learn more and more about her country and her community and was really admired by many parents and teachers, not so much by her fellow students.
But now, all of that had left her. Her patriotism had been left for dead in a horrible battlefield filled with charred cars and corpses, were the only noise was the crying of a baby somewhere. Her flag was a rag with which she had cleaned all of the blood from her hands, as well as the blood dripping from her weapons.
Muriel put on the uniform and didn’t even look at herself at the mirror after putting it on. She just went downstairs where her parents waited for her in the car, to take her to the ceremony where she would be qualified, by all her brothers ands sisters in arms, as a “hero”.