Their love transcends my lens. When two souls bind themselves together, as they do, the love that permeates is tangible. Even with the distance of a lens – the distance of distance – their love emerges as loud as bombs: bombs that, even now, blow apart the next city over. If only I could hear this elderly couple, their love, the way their gloved hands sweat inside leather to tighten the grip. How the same sweat drips from beneath his hat, her headscarf, but only from the exertion of being, of walking, hands embraced.
Through the lens I witness as their love explodes, sends shrapnel into the other.
A gesture as eloquent as a knowing smile is disarming. When he buys her flowers, the slow hobbled pace of his gait causes the blooms to wilt in the heat’s embrace. His silent smile in anticipation is still, like sky before airstrike. That moment when he gives them to her: there is vulnerability on both their faces.
And then the exchange causes her heart to rupture as if it has stepped on a landmine. It bullets and billows inside her ribcage. She becomes faint. But in a good way. She falls: into a smile; into hugging him. My breath, it runs away.
The might of the smile those flowers cause is lethal. It makes her skin un-sallow, wrinkles unfurrow. Youth bleeds across her face and remains in place until the flowers wilt in their vase. I can see the beauty he fell for, still falls for.
And then he repeats the gesture again, every several days, just to see her young again.
They exchange memories as if exchanging gun fire. They shoot straight for the smiles. Blow out the knees of each other’s needs and watch the feels fall between them, crippled. Affection bleeds out. It splatters the wall in the intense exchange of chatter. A chatter that makes the loneliness scatter, take cover, hide from the onslaught.
When they have spoken all the shared memories that they can remember, a silence scabs the wounds. It congeals between the pauses, clots unspoken their pregnant knowing. This ceasefire of shooting the shit is just as eloquent as the animation of their happiness. Their gleeful drone of digging up dead memories and remembering.
Their love is a minefield of mindfulness. Age shatters when they step on an incinerating instant of intense happiness. In the confines of adding year after year to the totality of their being, age becomes an irrelevance. They love the act of throwing themselves into these small acts of sharing shared love. It builds a sanctuary from the ruins of memory.
And this love does not occur just between this couple. There are others here, in this foreign city, who love each other and life itself just as much as these two do.
Through my lens I see children throw themselves into games. They have all the enthusiasm of a suicide bomber making an early grave. Through my lens I see families come together to eat with all the reverence of visiting the deceased. Like a gathering at a graveyard plot at the city’s hill top. Through my lens I see mothers hold babes close to their bosoms as if fleeing mortar shell explosions. They clutch as if the little life there were a corpse, being held so it can be buried with reverence after all this terror has gone. Through my lens I see these people live their life as if their lives have importance.
Which they do…but shan’t for much longer. Other than to haunt.
The Army Psychologist tells me my thoughts are not conducive to a war-zone. That humanising these humans is not my task at all. That my task is to survey, to be impartial. I am simply meant to purvey the comings and goings of these humans. I am to identify patterns of behaviour that might point to the presence of splinter cells.
To identify those who have been radicalised. Those we have caused to uprise and fight. Those we have weaponised.
And we do this through an extreme blight: our drones’ bomb landscape.
When the orders finally come, I become numb. We are trained to realise that it is not us who drop these bombs, but rather the drones we are operating. We are trained to comprehend that these orders are not our intentions. We are trained to follow the commands our commanding officers pass on. We are trained to press buttons.
So we press them.
What occurs next is greater than any documentary on war you will see on your Foxtel or Netflix or HBO or Vice. What occurs next we, the operators, only see as a blinding flash. But our drones hear the screams. What occurs next is the tear and mess of flesh from life undressed: their bodies are like clothes pulled from a wardrobe, unfolded from shelves. They are strewn across the rubble and ruin of their own lives.
What occurs next is the living hell that exists in every warzone.
Our drones come to raise rooves off their homes. We come, flying machines aloft, aloof. And bomb after bomb we drop.
What occurs next is carnage. And death. American carnage. America dies. It is there, before my eyes: innocent lives with family ties die.
Through the lens of my drone the world is black and white. This makes it easier to disassociate from the travesty our drones ignite. In grayscale, you can’t distinguish blood from dust. Nor whether dark patches burn vermillion, or with soot. Or worse, both.
The ruins smoke, chunks of discarded, torn flesh flushed of a horror that, in colour, might exist.
The only things this monochromatic veil cannot censor? Bodies thrashing, spewing blood, spilling screams which trickle out into puddles and dust.
Neither do bones lose their colour amid all this terror.
I drop more bombs. Each time I do, the screen explodes into a firestorm of bright white light. We keep the volume muted as the inferno scrolls out of view.
I stare at the screen. Their world of love and couples and children and family becomes a matrix of dots. A binary code of ones and zeroes just building up, if only I could step back enough.
Because then, at that distance, I could see the death count.
But this close to it all, I let my eyes blur: their world becomes fuzz and murmur. A dream so distant. As our commanding officers say, this is all happening so far away that it is of no real concern to us. Is of no relevance.
But to me, it is. With this, I must live.
And I can’t.
When I wake from night-terrors, my sheets are slick with wet. But it is not the blood of my victims. It is the blood of my sweat. I pant, gasp, shiver in the starless night. Inside my head, the drone of death bombs away. Inside my nightmares, the ghosts of victims weep.
They lament their death. They make me wish I was deaf. That I couldn’t hear them. Nor the commands of my commanding officers.