by Gaius Marius
Six months on a tour of duty in a war zone. I'm changed forever and heading home
| It's easy to understand the sensation.
You know, just picture that old cliché movie scene where the couple have just finished having strong sex and they are sharing a cigarette. It's the closest comparison I describe regarding my state of mind, pure relief, satisfaction, weird actually because I don't smoke! But you know what I'm saying.
It's finally over, six months of applying my trade, a soldier, more specifically a peacekeeper and for the most part, tedious repetitive observing, yup just boring old observing. But not today! It's here and my little dairy has a multitude of large childlike "x's" scrawled on every damn page as evidence. I just finished marking the last one.
Its worn, my dairy that is. Kids stickers cover its black hard cover, "1995" is still legible in what was once clear bright gold coloured lettering. Its faded now, more like chipped at the edges, reminds me of my granddads books back home, this little treasure of memories has done the hard yards for sure. I haven't given it too much respect these last few months, tossed in tight places, stuffed in cavities it clearly didn't belong just to make sure it remained with me. Space is such a luxury when you carry your home on your back, the curse of an infantryman.
But written in this little book are memories of the moments that were not so boring, far from it. I will turn those pages another time but not today.
This day is a little surreal, like I mentioned before regarding the sex thing, you just want to soak it all in. It's summer and just hit five in the morning, the sun is rising behind the hills. All around me is that creepy floating blanket of mist. The upper levels of the taller buildings are still visible but not the streets. A buddy of mine, a fellow soldier is pulling sentry duty on the ground in front of me. Me? I'm in the turret of the "Tin Coffin", our armoured personal carrier, we both are situated on a small rise overlooking the centre of this village. Smack in the middle of no man's land, the old confrontation line between the once warring Bosnian - Muslim and Croatian factions. Peaceful now as they decided to create an alliance against the Bosnian Serbs.
Its damn cold at night here, the fine layer of dew surrounds me so I'm half asleep as the sun's rays hit the white paint-work on the turret. I'm just dozing because I can see the shadow being pushed along as the light makes its way toward me. My helmet is on and the squelch button is off, I've got that soft, faint static radio hiss going on in my ears. With my glove off I can place my hand down on the side of the turret where the darkness and light fight for control. The tiny wisps of steam are starting to rise. It's so damn warm and the goose bumps make me shiver, god that's great, someone give me a cigarette!
The buildings are a mixture of the old and the new. Ruined and abandoned, across the road is evidence of the history of violence and war for this part of central Bosnia. Vitez, my final day. Across the valley floor I can see the minaret of the local Mosque, the only sound is coming from there. The Imam is calling worshipers to prayer, it's quite beautiful to be honest. Looking at the scene with just the minaret peaking above the mist, it has a very real ancient mood to it all. I can just make out the balcony toward the top of the tower, there he is, wrapped in white with a turban on. That scene must have been repeating every morning for hundreds of years in these parts.
My friend on the ground in front has grabbed a folding chair to relax. The local police across the road haven't stirred from the little caravan office they share, god I'm dying for one of their brilliant Turkish coffees! No kids yet thank Christ! Little buggers start climbing over the perimeter wire trying to get whatever they can that's not tied down.
Nothing on the radio so far, I've been on duty here in the turret since three am. It's that uncomfortable time in the morning when the temperature changes and all things metal begin to drip dew. It leaks onto everything, if I stay in the one spot and don't move, I stay warm. The sun is hitting my face now and it's pure gold.
'Bro? grab the speakers out and I will plug in the disc-man". He doesn't even bother to look up at me as he calls out. He's seated, leaning right back, stretched out, eyes closed and letting the sun hit his face just like me.
Fuck! I've just got into the one spot where its so comfortable, you wouldn't even move to piss! He's cocked an eye slightly open towards me and his mouth is cracking that cheesy smirk we all know when you've pissed someone off....shit-head.
Right then as Im looking down inside the turret to see where the disc-man is, neck exposed, i get that shock! the shock of cold water running down the back of my neck. Condensation has dripped from the turret hatch as the sun has begun to heat the dew.
"Fuck! fuck you bro!" My moment of relaxed drowsiness is shattered in a split second. In my shock I bang my face on the steel plate at the end of the .50 calibre machine gun. I'm wedged between that and the turret controls " Awww fuck!". Almost instantly I begin to taste something metallic on my upper lip, yup as i thought, blood.
"Chill bro, don't loose your mojo on the last day", that's the muffled response I hear while I'm groping around inside the belly of the tin coffin, trying to reach for the disc-man and it's power cord. Found it, cant fucking see it but it feels like it.
"You could have come in the back and grabbed it yourself!". It's the only thing i can say as I'm having a giggle myself due to the dumb-arse bleeding lip wound.
"Browny, seriously bro, this moment calls for special attention man. It's our last day in this shit hole of a war zone and we made it. bro we made it, you understand?"
My dairy is sitting between the machine gun ammo and the radio controls in the turret, I'm staring at it. My friends words make me sit for a second as I'm slowly winding up the cord for the disc-man. "What do you wanna hear bro?" , I'm opening the cover and smiling as I see the perfect music for the perfect moment.
"Anything except fucking country bro!".
"Ok, but don't blame me if it's shit"
Next to the radio inlet plug for my helmet is another power socket, with a flick of a switch I can transfer the disc-man sound to the loud speakers inside the tin coffin. Getting comfortable in the turret seat again is not easy but i wedge in and check my gauges again. The dairy is still there and I'm staring at it, just looking. I suddenly jump in fright as I'm tapped on the shoulder. His face was just leaning over the open hatch, looking down at me.
"Hey bro, just take a moment and think about what we have done and what we have witnessed. It's going to stay with you for a lifetime, serious shit buddy. A couple of times I didn't think we were going to get home in one piece. Put our flag up on the radio antenna and let them know who we are. Remember this moment, you and me, just be in the moment. Can you hear that Imam over there, fuck! it's creepy right now but I'm loving it".
I don't remember names over the last six months but right now, some of the faces come back to me, faces that remain hidden in my diary. How am I going to explain what I've seen and done to my daughter, my family, no that's for another day. Like i said, to be opened another time but not today
My friend has sat himself down next to the turret on the roof of the tin coffin, I'm looking where he is, at the minaret. The play button on the disc-man is well worn but i can feel it easy enough with my finger and gently push down.....
"Sooo, so you think you can tell...."
I turn and look at my friend and fellow soldier, he is slowly nodding his head with his eyes closed, and mumbles;