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by Hema Nataraju

In the time they are together, he has only taken his shirt with the red British ensign off and stared at her bare breasts before dropping off to sleep.

She hates the sleepers. They’re a waste of time, especially when there’s a line of soldiers waiting outside. She wants to shake him awake and throw him out, but her aching body needs a little break. She lights a cigarette and looks at him. His skin is brown like the trenches he came from, a turban, scant fuzz on his upper lip, and a mosaic of baton lashings on his back.

If she could peek into his dreams, she would see the green fields of the Punjab clashing with the redcoats of the British Raj. She would see him shielding his father from an officer’s lashings with his own body, his mother’s tears when he is shipped off to a war that is not his to fight, and in the midst of it all, the angelic face of a young woman.

If she could peek into his dreams, she would know that his biggest fear is never seeing that face again.

“Pari!” he screams and wakes up. It takes him a few seconds to remember where he is. Rubbing the back of his neck, he brings a photo out of his wallet and shows it to her with an embarrassed smile. “Pari. In India,” he says, with his hand on his heart.

She doesn’t know why, but she thinks about the photograph of a baby boy that’s hidden at the bottom of her trunk. He cannot tip, but she dots her forehead with red lipstick and drapes a scarf over her head, like Pari, and pulls him close.

When he goes back to the trenches, he won’t die a virgin.

Hema Nataraju is an Indian-American writer living in Singapore with her husband and their two kids. Her work has appeared in The Sunlight Press, Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Aerogram, The Brown Orient, National Flash Fiction Day, and in a couple of print anthologies. She blogs at hemas-mixedbag.com and tweets @m_ixedbag.