“Kien read and re-read the letter. His hands trembled, tears blurred his eyes. Can was no more. The military police had found his rotten corpse. Only his skeleton was complete, like that of a frog thrown into a mudpatch. Crows had pecked away Can’s face; his mouth was full of mud and rotting leaves.
‘That damned turncoat, he really stank,’ said the military policeman who had buried Can.
His eye-sockets were hollow, like trenches. in that short time moss and slime had already grown over him. The MP had gagged, spitting at the memory.
No one spoke of Can again. No one bothered to find out why he had died, whether he was killed, or had just exhausted himself in the jungle, or whether he’d committed suicide. No one accused him, either.
The name, age and image of someone who’d been every bit as brave under fire as his comrades, who had set a fine example, suddenly disappeared without trace.
Except within the mind of Kien. Can’s image haunted him every night, returning during the night to whisper to him by his hammock, repeating the final, gloomy lines he’d spoken by the stream. The whisper would turn to a suffocating gasp, like the sound of water blocking the throat of a drowning man.
‘…my soul swims away from my body…’
Kien recalled Can’s voice. And each time Kien knelt in prayer before the platoon’s altar to the war martyrs Kien would whisper a word for Can’s soul, the soul of a mate who had died in humiliation, uncared for and misunderstood, even by Kien”.
The sorrow of war
Vintage Classics 1998 (originalmente publicado por Martin Secker & Warburg, 1993. Publicado en España como El dolor de la guerra, Ediciones B, 2005)
Versión inglesa de Frank Palmos, de la traducción original del autor.