The platform was filled with men clad in green, hoping to say their last farewells to their loved ones before the train took them away to their very possible end. Some were crying, others clung on to their family members in a hopeless embrace, refusing to let go. Nobody knew what was in store for these war-bound soldiers, and none had even the faintest idea if they would ever see them again.
Somewhere within the crowd, a boy wrapped his arms around his little sister. The girl, Laura, pressed the blue wooden rabbit that she had carved and painted the night before, into her brother’s palm. ‘This is for you,’ she whispered. ‘Keep it safe.’
Her brother smiled. ‘I will, little rabbit.’
Soon, the train whistle blew. Her brother drew away from her, waving as he joined the sea of men squeezing onto the train which was about to leave. Laura stood on the platform, watching as it started up with a puff, gaining speed and pulling away. Even as the train disappeared slowly and became but a mere speck in the horizon, still Laura stood staring, as though willing it to come back, hoping to save the only family she had left from this inevitable fate.
Life was not the same without her brother’s comforting presence, his absence almost tangible. Hours turned into days, and days into weeks. When Luke’s first letter finally arrived, Laura did not even wait to fetch the letter opener, she tore it open with her bare hands:
After the train left the station, we reached the docks. The voyage lasted about two weeks, and the boat has finally met the shore!
The sea is a lovely wild thing with a mind of its own. I promise to take you to see it when I return. I believe you will love it just as much as I do.
Soon, I’ll have to report for battle. The blue wooden rabbit is still tucked safely in my pocket, watching over me.
Laura slipped the letter under her table when she finished reading it. She took out her paints, brushes and a piece of paper and begun to paint. The brush danced on the surface of the paper, her strokes so calculated and precise that it created the illusion that the colours were mixing and spreading by themselves to create the final masterpiece. When the painting was finished, Laura sealed her work in an envelope, leaving it at her bedside to send to her brother later in the evening.
As the days passed, Laura and Luke continued exchanging letters. Luke told her of his life at war and, even though he made it sound like a great adventure, Laura knew that he hated it. He was a person full of compassion, and he never liked violence. For each letter that Luke sent, Laura would send a painting back. Since her brother could not come home, she decided to bring a piece of home to him.
As the year drew to an end, Laura started counting down the days to Luke’s return home. His last letter came three weeks before his estimated arrival:
Dear Little Rabbit,
You have no idea how much I miss the smell of home and the blonde in your hair. I am fortunate to be one of the few who have made it this far.
Tomorrow is my last day on the battlefield, and I’ll be all set for home. Alas, my great adventure is coming to an end.
See you in three week’s time. I can’t wait!
A week passed, then two, then three. Saturday marked the end of the fourth week, and there was no word from Luke.
The month that followed felt like the longest month in Laura’s life. She was painting everyday now, as a distraction from her constant worrying about her brother. She would often fall into a restless sleep, brush in hand, her palms streaked with paint.
For two months, there was silence. Finally, on the night of the ninth week, there was a knock on the door. Laura tore to the doorstep, gratefully receiving the package that the postman handed her and ripping it open with shaking, paint covered hands. Inside were all the paintings that she had sent to Luke, the colours smudged with dry tears. There was a small red envelope with a seal on it from Luke’s commander, and written on it was that dreaded word, ‘condolences’. Sitting on top of it all was the blue wooden rabbit, one of its ears missing and its nose slightly chipped. As Laura cupped the rabbit within her palms, tears streaming down her cheeks, she hardly noticed the splatters of red on its azure pelt, blood and paint mixing to form a deep, royal purple…