A cup of tea

I knew better than to reveal my identity. It had been 4 years since the War and I had been faithful to the Allies ever since I joined the army. France had happily sacrificed some of its men to the greatest War humankind would witness, in the greed for power along with Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and many more. So it was obvious the Allies would win against Hitler.

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But what the French government didn’t see was that after the War, not only will there be a huge loss to property and men, but also that Britain and United States will try pulling more on their side what would be left of Germany, Italy and Japan, the only three countries in the Axis.

The War had cooled down and in the month of December 1943 I was to spy in the Roman city. I had my alibis and all that needed to get me out of the town if and when I was caught by the Axis. Till then, all I had to do was to observe the city and look out for strange activities.

The morning was unusually pleasant and cobbled stone roads quacking at the sound of wheels and footsteps.  I was sipping the tea I had been served by a fellow Italian. I have to say, there’s not much difference between France and Italy, and still we lie at the opposite sides of a great war. It was also easier for me to mould in the behavior and tongue of an Italian.

“Is that seat taken?” A man asked putting his hat down, pointing to the seat across mine.

“Of course not, please sit.” I did not mind as he would be a great subject for the insides of the Italians.

“Pardon me, it’s too sunny today. I work all night and now I’m drenched with my own sweat.” He was tugging at his shirt, almost as if he will unbutton it any time.

“That’s no problem. If I may ask, what were you working on at night? Most people I know work in the daylight. Are you a robber?” I only hoped he wouldn’t be offended with a little joke.

“Hahaha, no no. Sire, I am a small town farmer, and I need to sow in the seeds before the day turns in.” He leaned a little closer. “They’re exotic plants; no farmer other than me knows it.”

He had a satisfied smile on his face. A commoner, with little joys and little expectations. But the way he presented himself seemed much disciplined.

Almost as if… trained. I started doubting him as an Italian agent. I started noticing every action of his and giving keen focus on finding his background.

“What plants might they be?” I knew he can’t answer that if he wasn’t commoner.

“Caliente Mustards!” He said proudly.

“Only found in some regions of the world and a big hit around Italy. You know, with the revolution going on, people want to taste something different. They want to travel the world. So I make an effort to bring them the world to their doorsteps.”

“Not technically the world, but I’m sure your mustards are very popular.” I said, relaxing a bit at the fact that he is, in fact, a civilian.

Being a spy has changed the way I see the world. I doubt everyone and everything. I have to be careful as to not doubting and letting it go easy at times. The irony!

“So what business are you here for?” The farmer asked me, he ordered a black tea through which he was sipping peacefully. It smelled bad.

“Oh, I’m here on vacation. With the war in all places who knows when you will be blown up into pieces, right? Enjoy while you can.” It was my only excuse for every place I had spied on.

“Yes, the war. They say it is nearing the end, but who knows, eh? 4 years of brutal killing and there’s still no stopping them.” He said with a discontent on his face which was clearly visible.

“Are you personally disturbed by the war? Do you have any relatives as soldiers?” I asked; half to get information; and half to know the reason of his discontent.

“No, I do not have any relatives as soldiers but if I did, I would tell them to join the Allies.”

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This shocked a lot. A farmer belonging to an Axis country rather prefers his imaginary relatives to join the Allies?

“Why is that? I thought you would go for the Axis powers.”

“Everyone thinks so. They expect you to be faithful to a murderous government. Hitler may have taken Germany from nothing to a superpower in just 5 years, but his ways are cruel and personal. I have friends in the Italian army who have been sent to Germany. The way Hitler and Mussolini have laid the rules are only just barbarous.” He sighed and took another sip from his tea. “And that is the reason I no longer have friends or neighbors. Because I put my honest to God views upfront.”

I was surprised to hear this. This man growing Mustards was more educated about the politics going on around the world than most of the soldiers are. He had undoubtedly impressed me, and reminded me that the enemy might be cruel, but they’re humans too. The educated farmer had more than made me happy about that day, his views were totally understandable and were not bended by his country’s choice of taking side. Influence has no effect on this man, I thought.

“I agree with whatever you have to say. But Hitler had his opportunity and he grabbed it like a true man. He built an empire, ripped off the government and laid his own rules but nevertheless, Germany emerged strong again.” I preached Hitler, one of my dark secrets as an Allied soldier.

“Yes, but what about killing thousands of people for a personal reason? And that too in his own country?” He had a point. But every great person has a twisty side.

So did my leaders…

I ended up telling him about my commanding officer’s weird obsession for homosexuals. Naturally, I did not tell him he was my commanding officer.

“I’ve heard about this commanding officer for the Allies who spends a little too much time with his lieutenants.”  And the moment I told him, I felt a relief. Sharing a gossip, however silly it might be, with a person who has managed to impress you, without seeing his color, his nationality or in this case, his A side, truly gives a sense of freedom.

Why couldn’t the world be more like this? I wish one day we can sit down for a cup of tea with a stranger, without bothering which country he belongs to.

“Really?” He said with a giggle, he was particularly amused by this piece of unworthy gossip.

“Yes, and he manages to go every fortnight to this place outside the city. The stories I hear! And it is disrespectful for people spreading the stories even if they’re true. The image of the commanding officer changes in the eyes of his soldiers.” I knew it did for me. He is a good man, and my colleagues thinking less of him only because of his sexuality was totally dishonoring.

“Where do you hear such stories? Stories about French commanding officers, being an Italian yourself? Aren’t you going a little too far with your vacation trips?” He asked as if doubting me.

“Oh, don’t think ill of me. I’m a mere businessman. I hear stories from other businessmen while at trade. They may not be true.” I had to wrap my story up. It was too close for him to know I’m not a civilian.

“I hope they are.” He winked and gathered his coat to leave.

I sat there, watching the man walk into the blazing sun.

Months later:

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I had returned to my camp in France. It was a usual night and we lit a bonfire, around which were all our tents and ammunition, ready at the go if the enemy attacked. (Which hadn’t happened since three months)

It was good to be among the other spies again. All spies hardly get to spend time with each other. We either don’t know half of them, or are too competitive to talk with the other half because of them landing in a better country to spy on. The more the danger, the more the fun. I wasn’t much of a great spy, I did what I was told to. Feeding my family was important than winning another batch on my uniform.

We were lost in our thoughts, when suddenly there were gun shots just outside the city. We gathered our hand guns and rifles, marched towards the building where the shots were heard from.

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We broke down the door to find our commanding officer in his blood pool. Everyone marched around the building to search for the shooter and I held the officer’s head a little above the ground. He pointed at the cupboard lying in the distance and breathed his last.

That man did not deserve to die. Not like this. He was naked and other men from the building fled as soon as they heard the gun shots. There was no one we could ask for clues.

I went towards the cupboard and signaled the others to keep a look out. As I opened it, it dawned on me that the cupboard was a secret tunnel dug under the ground for the Axis army. Hundreds of men came pouring in from the door killing most of our people. The commanding officer’s body was being stamped on but the more important issue in hand was the Axis army.

Dressed in camouflage, the Axis army consisted of Germans, Japanese and Italians. All these diverse men marched in to surround us. We kneeled down and had our hands put on our head. No one bothered to cover the officer’s naked body.

And then I saw him. The farmer. The Italian who grew Caliente Mustards for a living. He stepped towards me in the Axis uniform and pointed his rifle. I looked dead  in his eyes. I knew it was hard for him. I could somehow sense it in my last moments.

“Seems like your commanding officer’s stories were true. But don’t be hard on yourself, it took us a long time to figure out his locations and dig this tunnel. And one more thing, we would have been friends if it wasn’t for this God forsaken war.” He smiled his Mustard smile and shot me through my head.

A shot from a Fusil Automatique Modele 1917 was all it took for him to kill me.

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The Allied may have won the World War II, but in that process many lives were taken before being born, many mothers were murdered before they became a mother, many sisters lost their brothers and in this case… A friendship died before existing.

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