Clouds darkened the sky above. Orange leaves littered the air, swept across the city by the cold autumn breeze. It was early in the morning, and the city was as busy as always. Streets were filled with honking cars and many anxious drivers were yelling at each other. Furious businessmen shouted into their phones and mothers scolded their crying children. An old man holding a bouquet of flowers was sitting at a bus stop. He glanced at his watch. 10:15. Looking back up at the chaos, he sighed.
“What’s got you so upset?” a young boy asked, staring at the man with curious eyes.
“No one remembers,” he replied.
“Oh,” said the boy, glancing down at the man’s jacket. “ I like your poppy, mister.”
The bus arrived. Like a swarm of bees, people crowded around the entrance, fighting for a chance to get a seat. The old man and the boy got on last.
“Where are we going?” the boy wondered.
The man smiled, and checked his watch again. 10:24. “I want to show you something.”
The two got off at the city hall. The building was decorated with flowers, wreaths, and cards. The big banner hung up above the doors read “Lest we forget”. A young man holding a bugle was shivering in the cold, cursing his thin uniform and impatiently checking his phone. The mayor looked over his script and yawned. A crowd was gathered in the square outside the city hall. 10:50.
“What’s happening? Why are there so many people here?” the boy asked.
The man sighed and looked at the boy with a sad gaze, for he knew there were too many in the city that had forgotten.
10:57. The man noticed a woman dragging her son towards the square. She looked as if she had come reluctantly and had better places to be.
“Why are we here?” her son whined.
“Show some respect!” the woman snapped. “Be quiet for 10 minutes, and I’ll buy you a chocolate bar later, okay?”
11:00. The crowd went quiet. The cold wind whipped their faces until they turned red. No one cried. They just stood together in solemn silence with blank expressions on their faces as the first notes of The Last Post started to play.
“We are gathered here today to commemorate those who died fighting for our country in the First and Second World Wars, and the Korean War,” the mayor began the same speech he used every year.
“Please join me in a moment of silence as we remember those brave soldiers.”
Shaking, the old man held his bouquet tightly, blinking back tears. For him, it was not silent. He could hear explosions in the distance and cries of pain. The stench of flesh and smoke filled the air. A pile of bodies stained with red was lying on the ground in front of him. To him, they weren’t English, nor German, nor Korean. They were human, the same. Each had left home in honour of their country, and never returned.
There was a time when all his friends were still in high school. They had all been eager to enlist in the war, excited to defend their country in the big war. They trained hard, complained about the lieutenants and sergeants, ate stale bread, and fought in the trenches. Though they suffered through bombardments, shell attacks, mud, and poison gas, they had endured through it. But slowly, one by one, he had lost each of them.
The man recalled standing on the battlefield the day of the ceasefire, looking at the destruction that surrounded him. The terrain was muddy and lacked any hint of life due to the repeated explosions it had suffered. Instead, it was covered in bodies, empty corpses that were full of life moments ago. Each of them had families and friends, interests and aspirations. And just like that, they were gone. The body of his best friend lay next to him, their eyes meeting, but he was no longer there.
“Mister? It’s over.”
The man snapped back to reality.
“R-Right,” he stammered, “follow me.”
The boy followed the old man to a cemetery nearby. Names were etched into the rows of gravestones that stretched into the distance. Flowers and framed photos were placed by each. He watched the man place his bouquet on a stone that read, “In loving memory of Samuel Williams.” The man sniffled, staring at the grave in front of him.
“You were one of the best men I ever knew, Sam,” he said, his voice breaking. “I remember us back in high school, dreaming about enlisting in the war. Man, we had no idea what it was really like, huh? No one does. Everyone’s gone now.”
The boy looked on as the man broke down in tears. For a while, the two were silent. The boy walked up to the man.
“Thank you,” the boy said. “Even if no one else remembers, I know you do. So thank you. Thank you for remembering me.”
“But who will remember when I’m gone?” the man sobbed.
“There may not be people who remember you and I, but there are people who remember what we did. And I think that’s enough. This world is what we fought for.”
The man looked up, but the boy had disappeared. A little girl stood in front of a grave a couple rows down with her mother. He watched the girl light a candle and set it down in front of her. She was wearing a poppy.
“Hi Grandpa,” the girl said. “I never met you, but Mommy says you were really cool. She really misses you. Thank you for fighting in the war, Grandpa. Mommy says that because of you, we have freedom.”
The mother chuckled, and kissed the girl on her forehead. The man watched as they walked out of the cemetery. He left as well, and sat down at the bus stop.
Sunlight had begun to peak through the clouds. The laughter of children filled the air as they ran through the streets without a care in the world, excited to be dismissed from school. Their proud mothers lovingly followed, wishing them to never grow up. Couples walked together, hand in hand, smiling as they talked. Vendors advertised their new products, and street performers entertained the passing masses. Businessmen checked their phones and sipped their coffee, content with stocks. Fathers happily left work, eager to return home to their families for dinner. And as the old man watched his lively city, he smiled. This is what it was all for.