For Day 22 we get to experience another remembered dream-memory from Kaim, but this time around the innocent sounding title of “Bright Rain” gives way to something much darker.
Like most of Kaim’s dream-memories, this one uses the theme of war to give some insight to the eternal warrior’s personality. It’s through Kaim’s reminiscing that we get to know how he views how certain groups, states and nations find the excuse to wage war on their neighbors. Whether it’s to continue feeding one’s greed or to gain more power, the reasons always ends up with one powerful nation warring against it’s weaker and poorer neighbors.
We see this illustrated in a most tragic way through the innocence of a young boy who believes the bright rain to be something extraordinary and magical. The brutal truth of the matter is that it’s neither of those things, but instead the ever-widening circle of war dragging in more and more parties until the reason for why the war began has been lost to the devastation and death all-around.
There’s a saying that the first casualty of war is the truth. But going by this tale of “Bright Rain” I believe the first casualty of war is innocence.
“The bright rain is going to start soon.” The boy says, pointing out to sea.
“The bright rain?” Kaim asks him.
“Uh-huh. It happens every night, way out there.” he says with a carefree smile.
“It’s so pretty!”
“Bright rain, huh?”
“Yeah. I want you to watch it with me tonight. It’s really pretty.”
The boy has never once left the island in the ten years since his birth.
The island is small and poor, and the only ways to make a living there are fishing from dugout boats and gathering forest fruits. One monotonous day follows another, the islanders waking at dawn and sleeping beneath the star-filled sky. The boy does not yet realize that this is the greatest happiness of all.
The boy begins speaking to Kaim, who turns to look in his direction.
Hunkered down on the beach in the moonlight, the boy in profile glows like a chocolate sculpture.
“Over there, where the bright rain falls, is a great, big island, right? I know all about it. That island is way bigger than this one and way more stuff goes on there and it’s just full of shiny things and pretty things and food that’s way better than I can even imagine, right? Don’t worry, I know all about it”
Kaim says nothing but gives the boy pained smile.
Beyond the horizon lies a big island, indeed – a vast continent. Kaim was there until four days ago. Then, rocked in the hold of a freighter for three days and nights, he crossed the sea to this island.
“I know about it, but I’ve never seen it.” the boy says, his voice dropping.
He hangs his head, diverting the moonlight from his face. His chocolate skin melts into the darkness.
“Would you like to go there?” Kaim asks.
“Sure I would.” the boy replies without hesitation. “All the kids here want to.”
“Everybody leaves the island, I suppose.”
“Sure they do! Boys and girls both. As soon as they’re old enough to work, they go to the ‘other country.’ Me, too, in another five years… I’ll be ready in three years. Then I’ll take the boat that you came here on and go to the other country and work hard and eat tons of yummy things.”
The boy raises his face again.
Locked on the ocean, his eyes are shining.
They are eyes full of hopes and dreams.
But they know nothing of the ‘other country’. He can never know a thing about it as long as he stays here.
Not one of the young people who crossed the sea, their eyes shining like the boy’s with hopes and dreams, ever came back.
“Of course not.” the boy would say. “The other country is so much more fun, there’s no point in coming back!”
The boy believes in the happiness awaiting him in the other country. about which he knows nothing.
Only when they leave the island do the brown-skinned people here learn that their skin is a different color from that of the people in the other country.
That the language of the island is of no use in the other country.
That the people of the other country look on the islanders with cold eyes.
That the only way for them to meet people with the same brown skin, the same language, and the same birthplace is to head for the island people’s ghetto in town.
The first words the boy was certain to learn in the other country’s language would be the ones the people of the other country used for people like him; illegal alien.
By the time he learned it, he would be tumbling down the hill in the ghetto.
The boy gallops away from the beach and returns a few minutes later with an overflowing armload of fruit. He says they grow where the wind from the ocean meets the wind from the mountains.
“They’re at their best on nights when the moon is full. Go ahead – have a taste.”
He wipes a piece of fruit against his worn-out shirt and hands it to Kaim.
“What do you call this?” Kaim asks.
“You’re going to laugh, they pinned such a fancy name on it: ‘Grain of Happiness’.”
“That’s a nice name.”
Kaim bites into a Grain of Happiness. It is shaped like an apple from the other country. But it is some two sizes smaller and just that much more packed with juicy sweetness.
“This is great.” Kaim says.
“You really like it? I’m glad.” the boy says with smile, but he is soon hanging his head again and sighing.
“I like them a lot too.” the boy says, “but I bet the other country has all kinds of stuff that’s way better than this, right?”
Kaim does not answer him but takes another bite of a Grain of Happiness.
The boy is right: there are lots of foods in the other country far more delicious than these Grains of Happiness.
Or, more precisely, there were.
Now, however, the other country has been transformed into a battlefield.
The war started six months ago.
That was when the boy began seeing the ‘bright rain’ every night.
The prosperity of the “other country” is extreme. The most glittering happiness is available there to anyone with enough money, and money is available there without restriction to anyone with enough power.
Might makes right.
Wealth makes goodness.
Those who are neither mighty nor wealthy obtain right and goodness by finding others who are both weaker and poorer than themselves and ridiculing, despising and persecuting them.
The island people, whose language and skin color are different from those in the other country, are seen as the other country’s shadow.
This is not a shadow, however, that forms because there is light.
The very existence of the shadow is what makes the light all the brighter.
This is the only way that inhabitants of the other country know how to think about things.
Eventually, however, strength reaches a saturation point, wealth that has run its course begins to stagnate, and expansion is the only course left open.
Desires can only be fulfilled through a continual bloating.
In order for the other country to remain strong and for the wealthy to stay wealthy, the leaders of the other country made war on a neighboring country.
“Any minute now.” the boy says, looking out to sea again with a carefree laugh.
“The bright rain is going to fall, way out over the sea.”
The war was supposed to have ended quickly. Everyone in the other country believed that with overwhelming wealth and strength, it would be easy for them to bring the neighboring country to its knees.
To be sure, at first war went according to plan. The occupied areas grew each day, and the entire populace of the other country became drunk with victory.
One after another, however, the surrounding countries took the side of the neighboring country. Which was only natural. For if the neighboring country fell, they themselves might be the other country’s next target.
The other country’s entire diplomatic strategy failed. Which was only natural. For no country on earth will make friends with a country that only knows how to flaunt its wealth and power.
An allied force was organized around the neighboring country. Together, the surrounding countries sought to encircle and seal off the other country.
From that point on, the war entered stalemate. Limited battle zones saw troops advancing and retreating again and again, in the course of which the other country’s wealth and power was consumed little by little. Disgust for war began to spread among the populace, and to obliterate that mood, the military circulated false propaganda:
The military situation is developeng in our favor.
Our army has again crushed the enemy’s troops.
The truth was that the occupied territories were being recaptured one after another, and the allied forces now were crossing the border to strike inside the other country’s territory.
I’n response to foolhardy attack by the enemy, our resolute fighting men launched a counterattack, annihilating their forces.
The day for our victory song is upon us.
Stopping war was out of the question. Admitting defeat was out of the question. The people had believed that wealth and power would enable them to rule everything, but now they knew the terror of having lost both.
The allied forces were joined by a powerful supporter. A mighty empire that wielded authority over the northern part of the continent joined the battle as if to say, “Let us finish job for you,” crushing the other country once and for all.
But the powerful empire was not satisfied just to destroy one upstart nation. It turned its overwhelming military might upon the allied forces. As it had so many times in its history, it seized the opportunity of its clash with the surrounding countries in order to further expand its own power.
Having lost its leaders and turned into a wasteland as far as the eye could see, the other country now became the new battlefield.
Outnumbered, the allied army hired mercenaries from other continents.
Kaim was one of those.
For many days he participated in losing battles in which there was no way to tell which side was fighting for the right.
After seeing his mercenary unit wiped out, Kaim headed for the harbor.
The boy’s island has maintained a position of neutrality in the war. It is simply too small to do otherwise. It lacks the war-making capacity to participate in battle, and it possesses no wealth to attract the attention of the countries engaged in the fighting.
But Kaim knows what will happen.
When the battle lines expand, this island will become valuable as a military foothold. One side or the other will occupy the island and it will do one of two things; it will construct a base, or it will reduce the entire island to ashes, thus preventing the enemy from using it as a military foothold. Nor is this a matter of the distant future. At the latest, it will happen a few weeks from now, and perhaps as soon as two or three days…
Kaim has come to island to convey this message.
To tell the people that as many of them as possible should board tomorrow morning’s regular ferry to the nearby island.
He wants them to start by sending away the children.
He wants never again to witness the spectacle of young lives being crushed like bugs.
“Oh, look! There it goes” the boy cries out happily, pointing toward the horizon.
“The bright rain!”
Far out to sea, a white glow suffuses the night sky. The powerful empire has begun its night bombing.
The boy has no idea what the bright rain really is. He can watch with sparkling eyes and murmur, “It’s so pretty, so pretty…”
To be sure, viewed from afar, the bright rain is genuinely beautiful, like a million shooting stars crossing the sky all at once.
But only when viewed from afar.
A dull thud resounds from the sky.
Another dull thud, and another and another.
“Thunder? Oh, no, if it rains we can’t go out fishing tomorrow.” the boy says with a smile and a shrug.
He’s such a friendly little fellow, thinks Kaim.
The boy had seen him on the shore and spoken to him without hesitation.
“Are you a traveller?” he had asked, and went on speaking to him like an old friend.
Kaim wants children like this to be the first aboard tomorrow’s ferry.
“I’m going home now.” says the boy. “What are you going to do?”
“Oh, I guess I’ll take a nap under a tree.”
“You can sleep in our barn. Why don’t you spend the night there?”
“Thanks,” Kaim says. “But I want to watch the ocean a little longer. Tomorrow, I thought, I’d like you to show me around.”
“I get it. You want to see the head of the village. I know a shortcut through the woods – right over there.” Kaim is hoping to convince the village head to evacuate the island. If they act right away, they can make it. They can save a lot of the islanders.
As the boy stands, sweeping the sand from the seat of his pants, he looks questioningly at the sky.
“Funny.” he says, “It sounds kind of different from thunder.”
The dull thuds keep coming without a break.
Little by little, they draw closer.
Kaim jerks his head up and yells at the boy, “The woods! Run to the woods!”
His voice is drowned out by the deafening roar of the machine guns.
The bright rain has started.
The island has been made a target far sooner than Kaim had imagined.
“Hurry!” Kaim yells, grabbing the boy’s hand.
The woods are the boy’s only hope.
“Hey, wait a minute!” the boy shouts, shaking free of Kaim’s grip and looking up at the sky.
“It’s the bright rain! It’s falling here now, too! Wow! Oh, wow!”
All but dancing for joy, the boy gallops down the beach – until he is bathed from head to toe in the bright rain.
A single night of bombing is all it takes to reduce the island to ashes.
Never realizing the value of the happiness they possessed, never even knowing that such happiness has been snatched away from them in one night’s passing, the people who filled the island with their lives until evening are gone in the morning, all dead except one: the immortal Kaim.
On the beach at dawn, the only sound is that of the waves.
Again today, no doubt, urban warfare will decimate the city streets, and tonight the bright rain will pour down on the town again.
The boy who called the rain beautiful will never again open his eyes wide with wonder.
Kaim lays the boy’s corpse in a small dugout canoe that survived the flames.
He places a ripe “Grain of Happiness” on the boy’s chest and folds his arm over it, hoping that it will sate his thirst on the long road to heaven.
He sets the dugout in the water and nudges it toward the open sea.
Caught by the receding tide, rocketed by the waves, the boat glides far out from the shore.
Such a friendly little fellow, the boy smiles even in death. Perhaps it is the one gift the gods were able to bestow on him.
The boy is setting out on a journey.
May it never take him to that other country, Kaim begs.
Or any other country, for that matter.
Kaim knows; there is no place forever free of that bright rain.
Because he knows this, he sheds tears for the boy.
The rain falls in his heart: cold, sad, silent rain.
Emptied of bombs, the sky is maddeningly blue, wide and beautiful.