The Wall Between

By J. S. Smith

It was hotter today than it had been in a while. Parith wiped the sweat off his brow as he pedaled the last few feet to his station. The wall loomed in front of him just like it did every day. 

Parith had been stationed at the wall for almost five years.  In those five years, nothing really changed sure he and the other guards had bought a ping-pong table, and someone had added some graffiti to the wall one night (which he assumed had been one of the guards on the night shift), but other than that, nothing had changed.  

Parith parked his bike in its usual spot.   He stopped bothering to lock it after the first month of deployment.  Who would rob a military outpost anyway?  He had thought.  He stood and looked over the section of the wall he had been tasked with guarding.  

The building they called the barracks was just to his left. It was a small two-story house in a desperate need of attention. The military promised that they would fund the renovations they had promised them three years ago that had not materialized yet.  Parith had repaired one of the green window shutters that had been falling off with a couple of nails, but it needed more.  The shutter would rock when they tried to open it, so they just left it closed all the time.  Still, it was comfortable enough for the three of them that were always on duty.  

Vivaan’s voice carried through the open windows of the grey building.  Parith assumed Vivaan was probably watching the cricket match that Parith hadn’t bothered to care about like the rest of the country.  He knew that Arjun watched on as well, but Arjun kept one eye on the wall.  

Not like anything had happened at the wall.  

Parith had nothing but respect for his co-soldiers Arjun and Vivaan.  While he felt like Vivaan was a little loose with his convictions when he was at work.  Vivaan was the tallest and the strongest of the three of them that worked during the day.  Vivaan loved to workout, run, and watch sports.  His attention to the wall wasn’t what Parith would consider key.  Arjun, on the other hand, was dedicated to his job.  He like Parith spent their time at work observing and running the line of the wall.  

Another scream came from the room, excitement or anguish, Parith couldn’t tell.  He desired no part of it anyway.  

Parith continued his morning ritual.  He had performed this ritual every day since they assigned him to watch the wall. His first time at his station, he walked to the wall, since then he always heads straight to the wall when he arrives.  The size of the wall impressed him from the moment he laid eyes on it.  Since he had been born, he had been told of the wall that blocked out the hideous invaders that would kill him in an instant if the wall ever came down.  

The wall itself was massive.  It was taller than the building they called home.  The wall spanned the entire length of the country.  Parith wasn’t sure of how many kilometers the border spanned.  It rose nine meters off the ground and its concrete construction made it only a couple of meters thick.  Parith found it quite impressive to this day.  

It was a strong wall, stronger than the houses in his country.  In school, he had been taught about the wall, all the tattered textbooks had pictures of the wall being built, and just after the wall was completed.  The government had put posters that read “The Wall Will Keep You Safe” and “We Stand With The Wall” in an attempt to force their issues on the people.  Although not mentioned in the textbooks, his mother had told him that the wall wasn’t what the people had wanted.  Now, as the country got distance from the creation of the wall, the resistance to the wall had died.  The people had come to accept the wall for what it was.  

The posters the government had posted were still there; faded and falling off the walls now.  One of the posters was now covered in the dark crimson color of dried blood from when one of the Wall Guards had decided that he had enough with the wall.  He had taken a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

To the right of the splatter, a sliding door had been created.  Parith wasn’t sure how many of these sliding doors had been created, or even if there was another one.  He couldn’t see one on their section of the wall at all.  He had asked about the door when he got there, but his superiors had told him that no one had opened the door in so long, they weren’t sure what was on the other side of it.

As soon as they were gone, curiosity had gotten the better of him.  They hadn’t told him that he couldn’t open the door, so he made sure no one was watching and then slid the door open.  Behind the door, a viewport to the other side loomed.  It had been created as a one meter hollowed out square with bars to keep the sense of security.  

Like he did every day, Parith approached the sliding door and made sure that Vivaan and Arjun weren’t watching and slid the door open.  He looked through the viewport until he saw what he had been looking for.

The eyes of the man on the other side of the wall.

“Hello Reyansh,” Parith said as he slides the door open.  

“Good morning, Parith,” Reyansh responds as Parith searched through the window.  A silence fell over them as neither spoke for a moment.  They both seemed to be sizing up each other’s situation. 

“How’s your family?”  Parith broke the ice.

“My sister is struggling.  We think she is sick with whatever stomach flu is going around our country now.” Reyansh answered.  

Parith would look around to make sure that none of his other co-workers were watching.  He wasn’t sure how either of his companions would react if they knew that he was talking to someone from the other side of the wall.  Luckily, both of his companions were still glued to the television.   He scanned over his shoulder to make sure that no one was looking as he withdrew something from within his jacket.  

He had wrapped the something in plastic.  It filled more than his hand, in length and width, but was only a few centimeters thick.  Parith looked it over, making sure that nothing had damaged it on his travel to work.  Then he turned it on edge, looked over his shoulder again, then slid it through the grating that separated him from Reyansh.  “I’m sorry about your sister, but maybe this will make things better.”

Reyansh looked it over, his eyes larger than normal. “Tell me this is what I think it is,” the man silently cried as he started to unwrap it.  He too glanced over his shoulder to make sure that he wasn’t watched.

“It is, but be careful, it’s delicate,“ Parith whispered as he leaned into the wall.  Reyansh quickly and quietly finished unraveling the plastic.  “Mother baked them last night.  She doesn’t know that I took one.”

Reyansh held the chocolate chip cookie in his hand as if it was the holy grail.  Reyansh couldn’t seem to believe that he was holding something so special.  Parith couldn’t hide the smile that crossed his face.  He also couldn’t believe that the man hadn’t just inhaled the cookie.  He was glad he hadn’t because he probably would have choked on it.  If Reyansh choked on the cookie and died, Parith knew that it would probably start a war.  He chuckled as he thought about how stupid it would be to start a war over a cookie.  

“Happy birthday Rey,” he said.

Reyansh looked at him with a stare that seemed saved for special people in his life and bowed his head.  “Many thanks to you and your family,” Rey said as he took his first careful bite.

“I must go.  Be careful today.” 

Reyansh pivoted in place and started to walk off.  Parith could see him raise the cookie to his mouth again.  

“You as well,” Parith said as he began to slide the door closed. “And don’t eat it all at once.”

With the door close, he began to think about the history the two men shared.  He didn’t know how he and Rey had become friends.  By all accounts, they shouldn’t be friends at all since they were born on opposite sides of the wall.  But just like all pleasant things they aren’t held back by things as trivial as walls, they had formed a bond of friendship.  

He thought about the first day he had been assigned to the wall.  He had been shown the working quarters, where the weapons were stored, and how far the section of wall they covered.  They had also told them to find things to do to get from going insane.  Their superiors had shown them the blood splatter on the wall and explained what happened.  After his superiors left Parith, Arjun, and Vivaan explored the area.  

The first thing Parith did was find the sliding door.  He wasn’t sure if it could even be opened, so he was surprised when the door slid open with ease.  He stood to the side so that no one could see him, and looked to see where the two other men were.  He couldn’t see either of them, so he gambled and looked through the window.  

The other side of the wall looked just like his side of the wall.  

He had a tiny section by which to judge it, and he wasn’t sure what he had expected when he looked through the window, but he was shocked by how normal it was.  As he started to look around the window, he thought he noticed something moved.  With as much speed as he could muster, he slid the door shut and pressed his back to the wall.  

The next day, the sliding door seemed to be calling him.  He waited until Vivaan and Arjun were occupied and he went to the door again to examine.  Again, everything looked just like his side of the wall.  He couldn’t explain why he was so fascinated with it, but he enjoyed looking through the wall.  After a minute or two, he closed the door.  He never saw anyone move like the first time, but he felt like someone was watching him.  It was unnerving.

  He returned to the sliding door every day after that, it was almost like clockwork.  After a week of opening the door at the same time every day, he finally opened the sliding door to something other than open space. The barrel of a gun was just inches from his left eye.  

Parith reacted quickly.  Spinning away from the opening and sliding the door shut.  He waited for the explosion of the bullet from the barrel, but nothing came. 

It took him five minutes to realize that he was still clenching his eyes shut.  He finally willed his eyes to open.  He told himself that he didn’t need to open the door anymore.

The next day, he found himself at the door again. He needed to know if someone on the other side was waiting for him.  He stood to the side of the door and slide it open.  He didn’t hear the cocking of a gun, nor did he see anything.  He finally worked up the courage to look through the door again.

“Hi,” Reyansh said.  Of course, he didn’t know at the time that it was Reyansh, but that was the start of the friendship.

“Hello,” he said and nodded, keeping his eyes on the man from the other side of the fence.  

“Are you planning something?”  The man asked.

Parith shook his head.  “No.  I just wanted to see what the other side was like.”  

“I see,” the man said.  “Well, here it is.  Now what?” 

“I’m not sure,”  Parith said, truthfully unsure of what was next.   “My name is Parith.”

“Greetings Parith, my name is Reyansh.”  He bowed.  For the first time, one of them took their eyes off the other one.  “You should probably go now,” he said, nodding over Parith’s shoulder.

Arjun was starting to come through the front door of their bunker.  Parith nodded and mouthed the words “Thank you,” and slide the door closed, trying not to alert Arjun to what he was doing.    

The next day, he returned to the sliding door.  As he opened it, Reyansh was waiting there.  “Hello Parith,” Reyansh spoke as the door opened.

“Hello Reyansh,” he returned the greeting.  

“Have you come up with a plan?” Reyansh had asked him.  

“No.  I just wanted to see if you were still there.”  He admitted.

“I’m still here,” he smiled.  The two of them began to talk.  It had turned out that it was Rey’s gun that had been pointed at Parith’s eye, although Rey had said that he knew that he couldn’t pull the trigger.  He had just been curious about the man who had been opening the door every day.  It had never happened before and it scared him.  

At first, both men had been on edge, and any reckless move could have started a war.  But they both remained calm.  They spoke more every day and soon a friendship grew.  Each man began to know about the other’s family, likes and dislikes, and dreams.  

Reyansh became better than most of the friends that Parith had on this side of the wall.

  Some of his friends were proud of him for defending the wall, while others thought he was just a cog in the system that would never actually look for peace.  Parith wasn’t sure what he felt about the wall before he started guarding it, but he knew that he had a job, and that was more than many could say.  So he pledged to do his job as well as he could.  He would defend the wall with his life if he had to.  That was the type of man he was.  The type of man that he wanted to be.  

He just couldn’t imagine what he would do if the wall came down and he was supposed to kill those that came from the other side.  Luckily, the wall had remained standing for as long as it.

With the door shut, and Parith focused back on the here and now, he turned towards the guard-house.  Arjun had begun to yell now.  

Arjun wasn’t the type to yell at a cricket match.  He was a quiet man.    Arjun hadn’t even really cared about cricket before.  He started to shrug off the feeling of something wrong when he noticed that the hairs on his arms were starting to stand up.  

He stopped moving.   He wasn’t more than two steps away from the wall when he heard the whistling.  He looked over his shoulders but saw nothing.  Once he realized that the whistling was coming from above him, it was too late to really protect himself.

  

Parith craned his neck towards the sky.  He froze as the bomb descended.  The cylindrical device headed towards the ground with force.  Despite the impending doom, Parith chuckled at the red tip of the bomb.  He knew that bombs had to be cut so that they whistled as they dropped.  Whoever dropped this bomb had gone to the trouble of painting it red as well.

He knew that he needed to will his legs to move if he wanted to survive what was about to happen, but they wouldn’t move.  Luckily he felt the hands on his shoulders pull him away from his statue-like state.  

He watched as the bomb exploded next to the sliding door in the wall. He had just been standing by it.  If he had left just a second later he would for sure be dead.   He felt the searing blast on his face first before he was thrown sideways.  His feet and head wrestled with themselves as they fought over who would hit the ground first.  

They both lost.  He landed on his back, looking up at the sky.  Once again, he willed his body to move, but it refused his control.  

He gasped for air, his lungs also decided to rebel against him. He pleaded with them to work for what felt like hours, but only took seconds. Finally, the warm, burnt air-filled his lungs.  He took as deep a breath as he could, unsure when he’d get the chance to do such again.  He lifted his head off the ground and looked at the wall.

The wall was nothing but melted rock now.  The heavy concrete blocks at the top were all starting to tumble in like dominoes.  For the first time in his life or anyone around here’s life, the wall wasn’t blocking their view of the neighboring land.  

His mind changed focuses for the first time since he heard the whistle of the bomb.  If he had just been standing there, what had happened to Reyansh?  Fear was finally beaten out of his body by worry.  He managed to get to his feet before Arjun put an arm on him to stop him.  He knew that he couldn’t continue forward, but his mind raced towards Rey and what had become of him. 

Parith still had no idea what was happening as Arjun’s face filled his view.  He and Vivaan pulled him away from the blast, away from the wall at the last second.  They had saved his life.  

“Are you okay?” Vivaan asked him as they pulled.

Parith nodded, his brain felt like it was still rolling around in his skull.  

“What is happening?”  he croaked out, his throat pained with every word. Arjun and Vivaan looked at him as if he was missing something.

“Did you not listen to the news today?” Vivaan asked him, his eyes never focusing on one spot more than a few seconds. 

“No,”  Parith admitted as he started to move.  He swung his arms around testing his mobility.  He managed to glance towards the hole in the wall, hoping that he could steal a glance at his friend and that he would be just fine.  

He couldn’t see anything but the smoke and the crater that the bomb had left.  

“Are you serious right now?”  He looked at Arjun.  “They declared war on us Parith.”

“Who?”  He asked, knowing the answer to the question before the words even left his lips.

“Them,” he nodded towards the wall.  “They threatened our country, and the leaders told them that they will not back down.  ‘They believe in the wall’ they all say.  Well, they didn’t like it.  They said they would bring it down. Now look.”

Parith struggled to get his mind wrapped around what Vivaan had said.  They were at war.  They were at war with the other side.  They were enemies.  They always were.    

“What does that mean? Why would they bomb us?”  He asked, wanting a more logical answer that he knew that he wasn’t going to get.

“It means that we need to get out of here before the next bomb drops.  It means that we are at war, and we need to kill every one of them.”  Arjun said motioning towards the hole in the wall.  Arjun and Vivaan drew their weapons they had about them. 

Parith turned looked past Arjun, hoping that the smoke had cleared enough to allow him to see his friend. The smoke from the bomb started to clear.  Thin wisps of smoke still created a veil that kept him from seeing the other side. A crater formed from the wall that traveled to just a foot from his feet.  

“Do you hear me?”  Vivaan asked him again. “We need to get out of here.  We can’t hold this wall by ourselves.

“We can’t leave!“  Parith shouted.  Vivaan looked at him in shock, as if that was the last thing in the world that mattered right now.  

“Are you crazy?  You will die if we stay here.”

“What are our orders?” He asked, his eyes searching for structure, for order.  With the smoke clearing more by the second, he could start to make out the area on the other side.  He couldn’t see the ground, but he also couldn’t see soldiers standing over a body.  For the moment, his main concern was abated.

“Our orders are to defend the wall,” Arjun stated.  Vivaan looked at him as if he had just said the worst thing in the world.  Parith knew that Vivaan had expected Arjun to go along with him.  “We must hold the wall until reinforcements come.”

“You’re both crazy.  We have to get out of here.”  Vivaan said as he began to crawl away from the wall. “No one has radioed us.  We don’t even know if they are coming to save us.”

“Our orders are to defend the wall,”  Arjun said again.  

“I don’t care what our orders are.  We will die here, either by bomb or by solider.  I’m leaving now.  You can follow or you can stay here to meet your maker.”  He turned and took a handful of steps away from the wall.  He turned and looked at the two of them.  When neither of them moved, he swatted at the air, turned back away from them and ran off.

Arjun looked at Parith.  They both knew that their future was sealed by duty.  They couldn’t abandon their post.  It wasn’t within them to abandon their post.  Neither would turn their backs on what they had been ordered to do.

They hadn’t been ordered to be scared though.   Parith, having never seen real combat, didn’t know what he would do if soldiers from the other side started to come towards them.  He had no idea if it was within him to kill.  

A rustle from the other side of the wall caught both of their attention.  Neither of them sure if the should, or if they were able to move.  Arjun drew his rifle from his back and aimed it at the hole, while Parith withdrew his handgun.  Parith’s breath had stopped again, but he didn’t will himself to breathe this time.  

The two men stood there, weapons drawn, and watched as the soldiers started to pour through the hole in the wall.  To Arjun, it was like someone had kicked an ant hill. There were too many soldiers running through to even tell what was what.  Not a shot went off on either side.

While there were dozens of soldiers pouring through the hole, the first people from that side of the wall to set foot in his country for hundreds of years, all he could focus on was Reyansh. To Parith, it was a shock to his system.   He was the second guard through the hole, and he stood there and waited as the rest came through. Rey’s gun was drawn and pointed at Parith.

Neither Parith nor Arjun dared to move.  It didn’t matter if they move, they were outgunned and flanked on both sides.  They were outnumbered two to five.  

“Kill and toss them.  Leave no man alive.”  Reyansh said and began to move into their homeland.  “This is our homeland, which they have stolen from us.  They would do the same if the roles were reversed.”

Parith could feel words piercing his heart as if they had been shot from a rifle.  That was not who he was.  This was not the friendship he had created over the years.  He clenched his fist.  Had he been played for years?  He just couldn’t believe that.

“You know that’s not true, Reyansh,” he whispered.  One of the soldiers from his side was on him in an instant.  He felt the cold steel of the gun pressed into his neck.  He didn’t look at the man who might kill him, be the one that had given the order.  He hoped that Reyansh knew that the tears that were flowing out of him were not tears of fears, but betrayal.  

As the soldier cocked the gun, Parith thought of his mother and sister.  He didn’t think about all the happy or sad moments in his life, nor did he pray to any god.  He just thought about how much his family might miss him.  He worried that they too would be killed soon as well.  He didn’t know what else he could do.

“Hold,” Rey barked at the soldier holding him.  ” What did he say?”  He moved towards them and pushed the soldier off of him. “I will handle this.  You sweep the rest of the area south of here. There should be one more guard, be careful.  Kill anyone that is not from our side.“

“Yes sir,” he said and started to move.  

Rey waited behind with Parith and Arjun.  Parith kept his eyes on Rey, but the other two watched them leave. Rey didn’t speak. He didn’t give any indication that he was anyone other than the soldier that was there to kill them.

“Was it all a game?” Parith asked as they were marched to their death.

“Nothing is a game in this world,” Rey said with a cold voice.  

“Is it even really your birthday?”  He asked.  He could feel Arjun’s eyes on him, but he didn’t care.  They were both about to be dead.

“Do you know him?” Arjun asked Parith between sobs.  Parith glanced at the man who had stood the ground with him.  Arjun’s eyes looked just like Parith’s felt.  He could see the betrayal, this time the one that he had created by not telling anyone that he had spoken to someone from the other side for years.  

Parith opened his mouth to say something when the gun went off.  Parith clenched his eyes shut and braced himself for the gunshot, but it never came.  Once he realized that he was alive still, he opened his eyes and saw Arjun on the ground.  His eyes, still with the look of betrayal in them, were dead.

“It is my birthday, Parith.  What more could I have asked for?”  He said stopping in his tracks.  “A cookie and my homeland back.“  

“So all those years?  All those days?  What were they?”  

“Stop talking Parith,”  Reyansh whispered. 

“I thought we were friends,” Parith didn’t stop.  

“We are friends.  We were friends.”  Rey said.

“Did you know this was about to happen?”  He asked.  He focused his attention full on at Reyansh.

Rey shook his head.  “I knew that something was about to happen.  It is not my fault that you didn’t seem to know, nor is it my fault that this section of the wall was picked as the entry point, Parish.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”  He asked not sure if he even wanted to know the answer.  

“What?  Did you think that we would continue to be friends with this wall between us?  With your country thinking that they are that much better than us.  That they could use this wall to keep us from our homeland?”  He cried.  Parish could see the collection of tears starting in the corner of his eye.

For a moment, he began to think that maybe he was wrong about all this.  Maybe he had gotten through to Reyansh.  This might have all be a rouse.

“I don’t know,” Parish admitted.  His gaze dropped and he spied Arjun.  He knew that it wasn’t a game.  He knew that his life was about to come to an end.  

“Me either,” Reyansh claimed.  

“Do it.  Kill me.  Can you just promise me that Arjun will have a proper burial?  He has a family, kids.“ Arjun looked at Parish with caring eyes. “If our friendship meant anything, do this for me.”  

Rey looked at his friend in shock.  In this moment of death, this man, this friend was asking for someone else to be taken care of.    “You are a good man, Parish.  You will be looked after in the afterlife.”  He still hadn’t raised his gun.

“Maybe.  It’s not the afterlife that I’m thinking about right now.”

That seemed to cut Rey.  “No?  You think you will live?”  He raised the gun towards Parith, the barrel still smoking with the death of Arjun.

He shook his head.  “No.  I don’t plan on making it out of here alive.  I plan on dying, by my friend’s hands.  I plan on feeling pity for my friend until my death as well.  We could have been more than the wall made us become.”

Rey reached into his vest and withdrew the half eaten cookie.  “I do not want to do this Parish.  I am a dutiful man.  I have been ordered to do this.  My country wants me to do this.”

Parith nodded.  Rey took a bite of the cookie.  He extended it towards Parith, who shook his head.  “I too am a duty-bound man, but yet, I made friends with someone beyond the wall.  I guess I just hoped that if I could do it, that maybe one day, we all could.  That we could destroy the wall.”

“That sounds like a dream.”  

“Maybe, but it was my dream.”  Rey smiled at that.

“I wish we all had that infectious desire to be happy.”  He said as he bit the cookie again.  He looked at Parith and Arjun again as if he were weighing something heavy in his mind.  “This cookie is so perfect.  Your mother bakes well.”

“Please don’t speak of my family as if you are still my friend.  If you were my friend, you would not be doing this.”  Parith said.

Reyansh looked at him.  “Would you not do the same thing if you were ordered to by your country?  Would you be any different towards me?”

Parith had no answer.  He had never thought about what he would do if he were ordered to go beyond the wall.  He had just envisioned the wall standing forever.  He had imagined that he would always have this friend just beyond the wall.  

“I don’t know,”  Parith spoke.  “I would like to think that I would do differently if I were in your position, but I don’t know.”

Reyansh smiled at him.  For the first time since crossing the wall, the two were equals.  Since Parith had no answer other than what had happened, Rey felt like they were on equal footing, as they understood each other.  

Rey moved forward towards Parith.  The gun was held at Parith’s chest until they were inches away from each other.  Reyansh finally leaned towards his friend and whispered in his ear. “Stay low, and get out of here.”

Parith’s eyes went wide.  This was not how this moment was supposed to go.  “What?” he stammered with a glimmer of hope for the future.

  “Run! Spread the word that love can climb the wall.”

A smile crept across both faces.  Rey had dropped the muzzle of his weapon to the ground. Rey backed up and nodded at him. Parith turned to leave.

He thought to glance at his friend one last time, but he didn’t.  Duty bound by his friend, he moved away from the wall.

If he had looked back, he would have seen his friend crying as he aimed his gun and opened fire.  He might have seen Reyansh openly crying at killing his best friend.  The pain that filled Rey’s heart because he had been ordered too.  He would have been dead by the time Reyansh dropped to the ground gripped with guilt over his duty.  

But he didn’t look back.  The last image he had of his friend was one of peace and love.  The way he would remember his friend for the remained of his life.  The thirty seconds that it lasted.