Live Again— By Ariba Ali

I’m extremely excited to announce the Vault Writing Contest’s First Place Winner: “Live Again,” a beautifully written work of prose written by Ariba Ali. Thank you to everyone who participated! We are very grateful for your submissions.

Every man who has died and come back tells the same story: there is a price to be paid for resurrection.

These palms are yours, but the wrists no longer fit. These eyes are yours, but there is always someone grieving just outside your line of sight. In brief, you are put back together, but you are put back together by clumsy and uncaring hands.

And then, it is left to you to decide what you want to do with these mismatched pieces.

After war, most young men have the bones of their spine replaced with shrapnel. It is this column of jagged jigsaw pieces that will hold him together for the rest of his life, and as he lifts himself from his cot, he wonders if this spine of his is strong enough to hold the rage heaped onto his shoulders.

It is an ugly rage, but it is his, and he preserves it as dearly as a man does a match that has been lit in complete darkness. How is he to explain how cruel terror has made him, how rude he becomes when afraid, how he flinches whenever his name is called out. How is he to explain that when the war came to a close, he looked across bloodied battlefields and asked aloud if he had hurt anyone.

(Did I? Oh God, did I?)

The people around him speak of peace and he responds with violence. He no longer mistakes the eerie silence between gunshots for peace, instead harbouring a resentment towards the world, because what will it think of him now, once it has witness what he has become? Will his mother, with tears in her eyes, reach out to touch his face, and then recoil, wondering what monster has taken root in her son’s body?

(Am I more hideous than you remember?)

How is he to explain that, regardless of what has happened, he still holds onto some naive hope that mercy will arrive with time to spare. If he has been resurrected, who will he now become, and what hollow ghosts will haunt him? Between anger and regret, he still wants to be good, still wants to believe that he can be kind and loved. Above all, he wants to ask for forgiveness, so much so that his lips turn blue begging for it, but he is no longer sure who he wants to ask it from.

(Did you hear me? I want to be good. Still, I want to be good. Please let me be good, still.)

After war, most young men become resigned to the lives they could have led. Their names serve as footnotes within history to appeal to some grand ideal of glory, and their personal narratives are discarded. However, it is tragedy, and always tragedy, that proposes the most harrowing question from its participants.

It is during such tragic times where history asks, what type of a man are you?

He has replied to this question before, once when he was only a child, and another time with the taste of copper and iron in his mouth. He had muttered it once like a prayer, and another time where it tore through his throat. Despite it all, he was the type of man who wanted to live, and live, and live, until he no longer could, and so he fought back, and so he loaded his gun.

Now, once again, he is asked this question, and the reply remains the same, even if more bitter and weary than it had been before. There is a cavity in chest that is the shape of loss, which reminds him of his name. It is the only part of his past he wishes to hold on to.

The seasons change, the tide falls away, the memory of war recedes, and he prepares to live again.

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