On Michael’s last day morning, we make a quick visit to the War Remnants Museum. It is several floors of military equipment, varied propaganda and countless photographs. The photographs are graphic, they are gruesome. They present an era of untold suffering. As I walk through the exhibits, my stomach is in knots and my blood feels as though it is running cold. It is, in short, overwhelming.
I see photos of families begging for mercy, I see photos of them laying dead upon the floor. Photos of journalists, doctors, soldiers, all in different degrees of suffering. As I look at the photos, the faces of my friends flash before my eyes. As I look, Phyllis is on my mind. I find myself thinking of everything she must have seen. I look at a list of names of soldiers who were lost in the war and I am sick as I think of the possibility that there could have been a world in which her name would have been on there, a world in which we would not have met.
I could write pages and pages about the few hours I spent at the museum. I could write endless words about how it made (and still makes) me feel. But at the end of the day, how I truly feel can be boiled down to one simple statement.
In a war, nobody ever wins.
It’s a somber way to spend our last morning, together, really, but I am happy that we go. We are all quiet as we walk through the exhibits, and though there is more to see, time is not on our side. Soon enough it really is time to go. Time to get Michael to the airport.
We circle back to the hostel to pick up his backpack. Paul carries the bag on his bike while Michael and I ride together on Jackie one last time. We don’t speak much, save for a bit of cursing when we are unable to find the entrance ramp to the airport.
It’s a curious phenomenon, the way that time speeds up when you are secretly hoping for more. Before we know it we are at the check in counter, then Michael’s bag is gone and he is walking towards us, boarding pass in hand. We say our goodbyes, I insist that we take a photo. We hug our last big bear hugs, we promise we will meet again.
Michael turns and walks away, Paul and I do too. We take a step or two and stop, turning back to watch him go. Don’t turn around, don’t turn around, I think. He does. He looks at us and it is the same serious face he makes when we ride and he turns to check that we are still in formation. His eyes search for a moment, and when he finds us he nods. It all takes two seconds, maybe three.
It is a tiny nod, unnoticeable to someone who doesn’t know any better, but it’s a nod we’ve seen countless times now. It is a: okay, they’re still with me. And I am barely aware of it, but I nod my own imperceptible nod back. Yes. Yes, we are.
And just like that, we are down to two.