The Babaji Wheelbarrow
by James Clark
It was a dry, dusty day when I saw the wheelbarrow, with long handles made of dark wood.
The wheel is struggling as it carries its burden, but it manages the job that it should. The man pushing appears to be crying, his eyes all puffy and red. It’s time to move on, but I wait, I wait for him to reach me instead. The wheelbarrow has a dark green cover, such a sickly, metallic sweet smell underneath, such a heavy lump in my throat, “don’t lift the cover!” but regardless, I pull it back to see.
The first thing to strike me, such a tiny hand, tiny fingers all bent into a fist, and an inch below there in my big gloved palm, the smallest most delicate wrist. Her face is held together by bright orange thread, her eyes are searching the stars. Her crown should still be there, on that beautiful head, where she lays crumpled up inside this fine cart. I put back the cover, swallow hard and just stand there, my head, Jesus Christ I can’t think, my pounding heart tearing itself apart inside my trained body, at this beautiful little angel in pink.
Her father, his eyes screaming toward me sobs gently, silent rage and yet deafening shock. Why can’t I bring myself to look into this man’s eyes, oh Lord, grant me some breath that I may talk. To say sorry, to ask why, to just speak in his tongue, to show him that I really care. I realise that I could never find words, I’ve no such tragedy to compare.
I walked away from the blue wheelbarrow, thinking that I could leave it behind. But every night as my daughter hugged me, that wheelbarrow crashed into my mind. Whenever she cried my stomach went tight, when she laughed those dark clouds disappeared, whenever she told me she loved me, I knew that I had nothing to fear, but yet so much. The wheelbarrow changed me forever, drank me to illness, and brought my whole life to the edge. I couldn’t switch off from that sweet smell, and I couldn’t explain that to friends.
I will never forget, such a small wrist in my hand, such beautiful soft lips kissing the sky. Such a pretty pink little dress, though stained red with blood, those clear and lifeless brown eyes. I wish that I had asked for her name, what to call that three year old victim of war, so small and so beautiful with those innocent eyes, my body aches that I can’t wish so any more.
If I could explain to people my demons, in one clear moment to make them understand. I’d draw that old wheelbarrow with the green cover, and that sweet delicate wrist in my hand. Two days after the wheelbarrow, I became a Father to my comfort for the rest of my life I will know. No matter how often the wheelbarrow returns, I have my daughter, here for me to hold.
It was a dry, dusty day when I saw the wheelbarrow.
James Clark is a Scottish Veteran of Afghanistan who served there in both 2009 and 2011 as a Reconnaissance operator and heavy weapons specialist. He was medically discharged with PTSD in 2013 and now volunteers as a Youth Mentor in Glasgow alongside his work as an Apprentice Gas Technician. His poetry is written as a way to communicate his experiences and to raise the awareness of conflict and its effect on soldiers.