He was there, on the raised dais. He looked so handsome, that calm, serene look on his face. A soft smile played on his lips. His favourite perfume was scenting the whole area. The suit was made-to-order, it looked so perfect on him. The black Tuxedo. He had ordered it just last month. Had made special demands to keep the coat a bit short, he hated long coats. His wedding ring glinted on his left hand. She had pinned the red rose in his buttonhole, added the golden pin on the tie, kissing his forehead again and again. She still remembered how proudly she had looked down on him the day he had been chosen to be a Pilot for Air Force. She had saluted him.

His face had radiated with happiness and eyes shone with pride. She could never forget that high five he gave his younger sister, hugging her, punching the air. She was his mother; everybody referred to her as “Alec’s Mum”, she could feel everything he felt in her heart. She brushed the fond memory from her mind and the tear that rolled from her cheek. She gave him a flying kiss from down there. Alec was her firstborn, her perfect son.

People went on the stage one by one, giving him flowers, kissing his forehead. Every mother dreams of this day when her son would get married. His bride stood next to him; they got married this morning in the church. His friend Ravi, who was also his best man stood on the right. Shirley was such a lovely girl. Such love radiated from her as she stood to his left. She was fiddling with her wedding ring, rolling it over and over.

And down in a perfect line were all his friends, from school, from NDA, from Air Force. They were such thick friends. He used to be the life of parties, and his friends counted on Akshay to make the party go on all night long. She scolded him badly when he came back home drunk; he would always apologise the next morning, hugging her and lifting her up till she forgave him.

He was a forgetful one. “Ma, my wallet? Ma, my file? Ma, my shoes?”, He needed her all the time, but not from today. From today he would be no more dependent on her. She heard his best friend make a speech for him; there was pin drop silence. His picture, one taken in the morning after they exchanged rings was sitting on a huge easel. The hall was packed to full. Each one who knew Alec was there. No one missed this chance. His friends would go with him to the very last.

After the speeches were done it was silence. It was time. She walked up on the dais and ran a hand over Alec’s forehead pushing his hair back; they always fell into his eyes, she kissed his cheek softly once before he was gone. Shirley hugged him and kissed his lips, resting her head on his chest. Four of his friends came forward; they were in uniform. They carried the folded flag, they closed his casket and covered it in India’s flag. She felt proud, without shedding a tear, she looked straight up. They lifted his coffin and walked out carrying him. Each one stood, saluted him. She saw her son leave; his last flight was waiting for him, his last journey.

The morning after his wedding, in his reception hall, few terrorists came into the lobby and took all the guests hostage. Police and armed forces surrounded the building, but none could rescue them. The rebels made demands and threatened to kill the hostages if those demands weren’t met with. Alec and his friends couldn’t do much without any weapons, but they fought back valiantly. Alec managed to sneak into the kitchens and got some knives from the kitchen. He and his friends tackled the terrorists brilliantly, wounding them enough to have them under control. Alec was getting the guests out from the back window when he saw one the terrorist take out a hidden gun from his boot and he opened fire on the guests.

Alec got to him, before any of his friends could act and was shot multiple times as he gave cover to the guests. He died on the spot. She saw it with her own eyes. She held him in his lap, soaked in his blood, crying her heart out. This was his funeral. Her son was a hero. He gave his life for his country and saved each one. Each man and woman present felt indebted to her beloved son. She wiped her eyes for the last time and gave her last salute to Lieutenant Alec McGraw.

Salute to the Unknown Soldier…