‘Why do you only ever sing songs of loss,’ I asked her once.
Shelda looked at me through half-closed eyes. ‘Because that is all there is.’ She raised a weary hand from under the thin sheet covering us. She waved towards the window. ‘Look around.’
I nodded. I didn’t need to look around. The city was a ruin, the country was a ruin and the people who stumbled through the remains of the city’s streets were ruined too.
‘Loss is the only thing we have. We have all lost something, or someone,’ she said. ‘Loss is all we know for now.’ She turned away from me and lay on her back. ‘Maybe in the future… if there is a future… there will be other songs to sing.’
‘What about hope?’
She faced me, a cold look in her eyes. ‘When you have pulled what’s left of your family from the rubble after the bombs have stopped, you don’t have hope. Not even hope for your own survival.’
I rested my hand on hers under the sheets as the tears welled in her eyes. She made no effort to wipe them away with her free hand.
I’d seen it before in the eyes of those stumbling around the streets, or rather the memories of streets between the piled rubble, which was all they had left. All of them had tears in their eyes. If you allowed yourself to think about it, you blamed the dust, and the smoke that still lingered in the air. But down where you didn’t like to think about things, you knew they were tears and you knew why they were crying.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said, knowing I couldn’t formulate enough sympathy begin to encompass a fraction of what they were trying not to remember. When we’d arrived at the capital city, we’d passed through the lands Shelda’s people had taken as they’d fought back. We’d seen what they had done to the old ancient enemy. These two countries had been at way for as long as they’d had history, as long as they’d been countries. Some said the wars went back even further than that.
Two nomadic tribes that had given up wandering when the other prevented them going any further. There was a legend in the other country, Regonia, which said something about both countries only taking up farming until they built up an army big enough to destroy the other tribe. But neither side could ever wait long enough, so the young men died before either side could build an army.
The two countries have fought for as long as anyone could remember. There had been peace treaties and periods of stability, but they were few and far between.
The only thing the two countries had in common was their deep hatred of the other. Many said it was what kept them going even in the worst of times, the belief that they would be the victors eventually.
But neither side would ever win, and I think I saw that in those tear-filled eyes too.
It was then, lying in her bed together, when I really understood why Shelda only ever sang sad songs of loss.