Celebrating East African Writing!

A Soldier Prays

Written by Zack Omoro

And silence speaks and it always speaks loudly to me, a lonely soul struggling to stay awake, under a brooding night sky. Here the quest for prayer comes out on its own volition from the deep atavistic depth of the soul, it comes as natural as an unexplained emptiness which sweeps me above and beyond the realities of life and wipes out the need for the physical need of food or warmth or rest or worry. To me it becomes an application of mind to the divine, the soul, memory, imagination and will.

All great religions have been founded from such silences as the hunger for communing with the divine springs up, gnawing deep, persistent and sharp.

In a war theatre, you don’t have to be old. The experience ages you.  You find yourself learning so much, you learn the smell of blood, the sound of pain, the gasp of death, the anger of fighting and few other things that could never be taught in training.

And then you also learn how to pray.

Indeed confronted daily with the spectre of untimely death, one really has few choices whether to pray or not…It is the only choice. Prayer which with time had only posed itself in the limitless space of the soul has therefore come back to me so naturally, a familiar yearning and stirring once so embedded with my childhood experiences. It is the quest for God. It can’t be hidden; it leaps out and reveals itself under pressure bursting forth like water in a dry wadi.

The thirst of God always exists and daily the muezzin calls brings it to me so much to the fore- It cannot fail to do so, when the profoundest human questions always abound within me. How did humanity come into being?  Are we-human beings- all truly alone? What is the truth? How long is eternity? What is love?  Is there life after death? Is there a psychological backlash in playing God by killing a fellow human being?

You never forget your first love and you will never forget your first kill in combat. And my first killing in the field of battle disturbs me in a special way; something brewing deep down in my subconscious. It had been at an ambush set by the enemy and I had pumped in several bullets at an enemy who seemingly barely out of his teenage years who had made a suicidal dash in my direction with his weapon blazing.      He died open mouthed; probably without pain. The encounter brought some unexplained emotional euphoria.  I was thrilled with what I had done. No mistake about this, the euphoria had nothing to do with ending another this unknown person’s life, I felt euphoric because in the engagement, I had not panicked, I had subdued instinct, I had conquered my fears which the military  training and discipline had conditioned me to. I had not let down my platoon, my friends or my commander. I have never done hard drugs, but I am yet to believe that there is anything which would ever be equal to that first encounter in battle.

This feeling of exhilaration is particularly disturbing to me as I know that there is within most men –even soldiers in combat- an intense resistance to killing a fellow human being. My attempts to examine my emotions, self introspection, have been so blanketed by well …emptiness; As if my core has become numb. I still cling to the subconscious delusion that this state is temporary, that proper penance later would purge my pain and misery and make me whole again

My introspection persists in the handaki with some unexplained feelings that beyond the terror that am now experienced in the Al Shabab front, there is that special fullness that I am living now that no other experience in the remainder of my life would ever equal, that beyond doubt, the rest of my life would be spent remembering in flashes the agonizing episodes and fullness that was, that is Somalia.

It is evening; the darkness falls suddenly like a curtain as it always does. It is promising to be a black night, a cloaked moon appears as the sun dives deep to the west. And I tie down my shoe laces, grab my rifle and slither in the Handaki. But then, I pause as I feel that particular yearning to make my peace, to commune with that unexplained all powerful being.  The prayers then flow, not from the guts or the head or from the heart but deep from the soul. It is as meek as it is quietly liberating. The prayer for the soldier in the warfront does not bother to seize the moment; it lets it be.

My fox-hole comrade in a meditative silence nods, he finds himself also bowing reverently to that unknown powerful spirit– he fully understands and he too communes.

There are no atheists in fox holes.

© Zack Omoro 2013


2 comments on “A Soldier Prays

  1. Vincent de Paul
    November 7, 2013

    This is really wonderful. Great stuff, true what really happens out there, but I guess I fell from grace.


  2. Makena Onjerika
    November 12, 2013

    Writing introspective stories is difficult. At least to me. There is that tendency to fall into the self pity trap. I applaud the effort and success here. Have you ever read Tim Obrien’s The Things They Carried?


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