As he’d found riding to the village, there wasn’t a soul about. Passing the shelled out post office, butcher and green grocer, he peddled around the round about which was barely recognisable for all the rubble that cluttered its circumference. Hearing the familiar tell tale sign of a puncture, he slowed and came to a stop outside the canola processing plant. Abandoning the bike, Amir walked on, along the deserted street, following the sound that promised perhaps the presence of another person. As he got closer to it, he noticed the sound was coming from the warehouse, at the end of the cul-de-sac named Fortune Drive.
The large roller doors of the warehouse were open. A shadow cast across the boom gate, ahead of its entrance, made him quicken his pace with excitement. Now in full view, it was clear that the sound was the screech of the rusty mechanisms driving a conveyer belt. The shadow at the boom gate moved and Amir heard a heavy breath that filled him with fear, forgetting for a moment that a breath and a sign of life was what he’d been seeking. The breathing shadow emerged slowly from behind the unmanned guard’s booth. A horse. Amir allowed himself a smile, for the relief that it wasn’t what he’d feared- a man, or worse still, an armed man. The horse whimpered, just as surprised to see Amir, it shook its head and widened its eyes. Amir reached out and stroked the horse’s neck, veins bulging and what was black hair ashened by the debris of war. The horse winced and shrunk away from Amir’s touch, revealing the sticky brown residue of congealed blood. It was only then that Amir noticed the opportunistic swarm of flies along the length of the horse’s torso.
“I should have listened,” he thought, not for the first time that day. Keen to see the planes flying overhead, he’d hitched a ride, unseen, on the back of one of the lorries that carted canola between the fields and the processing plant, a 30 mile journey from home. The yellow fields, flat for miles, ensured no obstruction to a view of planes from afar. Amir loved to lie in the fields and look up at the sky and the aerobatics of the planes, their beauty not tainted by their purpose. His parents had warned him of the dangers, but having grown up with the sound of shells, rockets and screams of mothers losing their sons and husbands to war, he didn’t have a sense for what was and wasn’t danger. The farmhouse and silos beside the field where he lay had been flattened, still smouldering when he chanced upon a bicycle, the only means to make the journey to the nearest village. He’d noted how the sky above the farmhouse seemed to have lowered, turning shades of black and red, hanging like a blood soaked veil. Fighting tears and the cough brought on by the heavy smoke, he’d peddled into the village, hoping to find a way back home, perhaps on another lorry. But now he stood in the empty street, the empty village. It was just him and the horse, with its thick coat of flies. No one else around, no lorry on which to hitch a ride, no way home.