tagRomanceHomeward Bound Ch. 02

Homeward Bound Ch. 02


They walked for an hour without stopping, without talking, one behind the other. The medic was thinking about the sentinel. Was it really necessary? Sure, either him, or them. He had stopped them, and the medic has greeted him and told the story of the "last visit" of the next "aul", but he didn't buy it. And the soldier had prevented him from beating quarter, from shouting to the village. The only possible way. Fast and silent.

"I didn't expect you were so clever, with a dagger," the medic said.

"It was not my first killing," the soldier said, flatly.

"I had gotten the picture... But was it not the first with a dagger?"

"Well, it was. Let's say it was beginner's luck," the soldier snorted. He walked silently for a while, then looked at the medic. "Do you think it was wrong to kill him?"

"Probably no... maybe it was the only thing to do," the medic mused. "But... the man in the house?"

"No... You have said it was not necessary, and you were right... we just had to run... If they get us, there is no difference if he is alive or not... "

"Yeah... "the medic said. Right, no difference. In the shit without a paddle, anyway... And that doughboy was not the kind of man who kills for the sake of it... Good...

"Don't you want to know how many people I have killed?" the doughboy asked.

"I know it," the medic said.

"How many?"

"How much it takes to be still alive."

"Hmm... yeah... Maybe some more..."

"Better more than less... "

"Hm... yeah," that doughboy said. "Yeah..."

Five minutes later, the medic stopped and put the backpack down.

"Ten minute break. We are not obliged to go all the way in a breath..."

He took some "nan" from the backpack and gave it to the soldier and gave it him. Then he took another tat for himself, sat down and started eating. It had been a good idea to fill the backpack with non perishable food only. There was no use for a change of dress, from there to the boundary, and beyond: no social events of any kind, he snorted. He wanted to travel on his own, if possible, without following the rhythm, the roads and the rules of any caravan or convoy. In 1986, his convoy had been hit and almost busted by Russian helicopters. Nothing personal against him, of course, they just wanted to choke the supplies from Pakistan, and they had their reason why. But since then, having the possibility, he followed the rule of Kipling: travels faster (and safer) who travels alone...

The soldier chewed a bit of "nan", then he asked.

"Talking about roads... Where do we go?"

"Well... let's see... " the medic said. He took a map from his backpack and spread it on the ground. "There should be a road not far from here... To the west," he said. Then he stood up and looked where the sun had started to decline. "There it is!"

The soldier looked in that direction. And there was a road. A mountain road, no asphalt, no macadam, just a wide dirt track. But in that country, that was a road. And it led to the North and to the South.

"To the North, it goes to Kabul, and then your home. To the south... Pakistan. And the West."

"Then... I go to the north, you go to the south. Right?"

"Wrong. If we part and go each one on his own, then we are weaker. If we stay together, then I can fool the mujahedeen and you can explain my position to your friends. If we find villages, I can get food for both. A doctor is always useful. And if we ever have to shoot, thenan AK47 and a gun shoot better than a soloist. Right?"

"Right. So we will go together. And what direction is safer?"

"None. We can find "mujahedin", government soldiers or your friends, in both directions. We just have to decide what to risk for."

"What to risk for?" the soldier said. The medic looked at him.

"Where would you like to go? In America? This could be the right moment to do it."

"Well... I've been told that New York has a bad weather and a bad smell... Worse than Moscow... "

"It's not a smell, it's "THE New York's Smell"!" the medic snorted. "And is not so good, indeed!"

"But, I would like to see Hollywood... "

"I would like it too... But, Hollywood is just a place in Los Angeles... "

"So what?"

"So... do you know how much is an average rent in Los Angeles?"

"How much?"

"A thousand dollars."

The soldier pondered the point. A thousand dollars in rubles, at the real street change, was a lot of money.

"Per year?"

The medic turned his head to look at him. Holy simpleness...

"Per month."

The soldier thought about it: could he earn a thousand dollars per month, in a place he did not know, with no skill besides a basic knowledge of the language? What was the wage at Mc Donald or the like? And there was not only the rent to care of: electricity, water... if the rent was so higher than in Moscow half periphery when he lived, what could be the price of the other utilities? And the food, the clothes, the taxes, the health care? Yes, maybe the CIA would have helped him for a while, using him for propaganda, or to get information. But then? Lost in space...

"Do you know what? Suddenly I'm homesick... "

The medic snorted, and laughed a bit...

"But hey," the soldier said. "If we go to Kabul... what do you do? How do you go back home?"

"Don't worry for me. I will find the way. Italians get away with everything!"

They walked for another hour without meeting anyone. It was not strange, the medic thought. Afghanistan was quite a depopulated country before the war. Then, a lot of people had kicked the bucket, and another lot of people had left the square, for Pakistan or Iran. It was a pure chance to meet people, not the other way. A lucky chance? Who could say? Good luck, bad luck, who knows? And for wo?

When the sun went down, they stopped near a creek. The medic took his shoes and socks off and put his feet in the water, and the soldier did the same. Even if they were not exhausted, thanks to the breaks during the journey, their feet were starting to hurt. The Afghans did not suffer from bladders to the feet, or so was the legend, but they were not Afghans... The water was icy: it came from the melting snow, up in the mountains. Even the dancers put their feet in the ice, the medic thought...

After a while, both of them were feeling better. The medic wore his socks and shoes, went a bit upstream from where they had put their feet in the creek and filled the bumpers they had.

"You are very clever in Italian language!" he told the soldier, giving him a bumper.

"Yes. I had good marks. And I like it... "

"But... I've heard that, in Russia, only the son of the fat cats of the party learn the foreign language... "

"Well... If you are a good student, with good marks at the high school, and there are places in the faculties you wish to get in, you can get in there. If you are the son of the daughter of a "nachalnik", you just get in wherever you want... How about you?"

"The university now is quite open, there is no filter, no entry test, you can go wherever you want... but to find a work after the university, yes, it's better to be a relative of a... "nachalnik"..." the medic snorted.

"Yeah... "the soldier said. He drank a bit of water, then said: "Listen, let's make a plan... If we meet someone... What do we do?"

"Well, if we meet Russians, you are at home... I don't know what about me... "

"No worry. Chances are they will want to turn you into a case for propaganda. The progressist, peace-loving doctor, you know... "

The medic had a swig of water. It was cold, but good. And fresh. Some hours before, it was snow still. So there was no need to boil it. Better off that way: they cannot boil anything, anyway. With any other water, the choice was simple: better the thirst now, or the cholera tomorrow?

"I would rather not..." he said, "But if the other choice is to visit Siberia, or Pul I Charki... "

"Right." mused the soldier. Pul I Charki was the Kabul Jailhouse. Worse than a Russian Jailhouse, and that's all said. All in all, down there, all was very worse than in Russia.

Those "pidjòni" those swells, who said that Moscow was the arse hole of the world should have had a trip down there...

"And if we meet governative Afghan soldiers?" the medic asked. " It's the same? Or not?"

"And who can say?" the soldier shrugged. He had a not so positive opinion of the Afghan brothers in arms: they had the bad habit to disappear in the less proper moment.

"But what if we find some OTHER fighters?"

"We waste them," the medic said, without thinking so much. "That is... if they get the picture, if they create problems... we waste them."The soldier nodded. What else could they do?

"And what if they are too many? We cannot waste a whole caravan... "

Right. They had an AK 47, a gun, some grenades and a dagger. And each firearm had just two magazines. Total, less than 40 bullets for the gun, 60 for the Ak47. There was nothing to lavish.

The man thought about it, and then he recalled a quote from a movie. "S*P*Y*S", with Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland. If the situation is impossible, just bluff.

It was a more than impossible situation, then...

"Then... we will fool them around. I am a doctor... and I speak Pashtun and Dari, their major languages..."

"And what about me?"

Right again. He was not a doctor, apparently he did not speak any local language, and he was even blonde...

"Well... " the medic said. "You keep mum, no matter what. And be ready to fire. Tomorrow I will explain you the details!"

"Right. We are tired now," the soldier said, yawning. "Good night!"

"Good night..."

The morning after, the medic explained the technicalities. A dumb person is not a person who does not speak: he tries to speak, but he cannot say what he want. He move the hand and the body to be clearer, but usually, nobody bears with him too much: it's not something nice to see. He played the dumb to put it clearly. Then, just to see, whether the soldier had understood the lesson, he told him to play the dumb.

And he did. And the medic had to force himself not to laugh. That guy had gotten the picture all right. He spoke as if someone was choking him, mincing and chewing the few Afghan words he knew, with the typical, desperate attitude of someone who struggles to communicate, but is doomed to fail. Stanislawsky method, he thought. THEY had invented it...

And that same day, against all odds, they met a whole caravan. The medic played his role, speaking all the truth about himself, and not an ounce of truth about the "dumb", with the same tranquil tone. He presented him as a young boy from Nuristan, a region where there was an ancient lineage of blond people, rumored to be the offsprings of the soldiers of Alexander the Great, who passed by there on the road to India. He had found him in a refugee camp in Pakistan, and now he was accompanying him to Panjishir, since the boy just wanted to join the famous guerrilla commander Ahmad Shah Massud, and fight for him.

The men of the caravan were very impressed by the tale, and took it at face value. One of them put a hand on the shoulder of the "dumb", and said something glowing about him. The "dumb" answered as he was so well prepared do, and all the men looked at the medic. He was motionless.

"Bombaru," he said.

The men looked back to the "dumb", shaking their heads, with sorry faces. The caravan man put again his hand on the "dumb" shoulder and said something about Allah. All the other men nodded, and left the "dumb" alone.

Then a car who traveled with the caravan came to where the medic was. It was driven by a boy, almost a kid, on the lap of a woman. The women could not drive a car, in accord with the strict Islamic tradition of the countryside. And it was the boy who spoke to the medic, on behalf of his mother. On the backseats of the car laid a man, his father, wounded by a mine, or something like that. He had some bandages, but they were dirty and it was necessary to change them, the medic said.

And he did it, using the sleeves of his shirt and a part of the sanitary material he had in his backpack. The woman gave his son some money and the boy tried to give it to the medic, but he refused. He could not grant that the man could arrive in Pakistan alive, so he could not take the money. Al the men around approved, someone said something else about Allah, and the medic nodded too.

The man who had complimented the "dumb" (the chief of the caravan, it seemed), said farewell to the medic, put a hand again on the shoulders of the "dumb", and the caravan went away, leaving the medic and the "dumb" free to go in the other direction.

Some minutes later, when the caravan was far enough, the "dumb" burst out laughing.

"Hey, you are right! The Italians always get away with everything! "Maladièz"! "Klassno"! "Kruto"!"

"When I say something, I mean it!"

"For sure! And what have you put in the wound of that man in the car?"

"Penicillin. Why?"

"Penicillin?" said the soldier. He seemed shocked. "Have you REALLY treated him?"

"Treated!" the man shrugged. "I have wasted some microbes... If I could, I would have done an injection, but... You do what you can..." he shrugged again. Then he looked at the soldier. "I am a doctor, you know?"

"Oh... well, that's true..." the soldier said. They walked silently for a while. "Did you do it for the woman?"

"For the woman, for the kid... When you kill someone, you always kill the father, the son, the brother or the husband of someone else... And THAT's the real bad thing. If not, it would be just lawful defense. Either him, or you... "

"Yeah... Well, I have a mother too, at home... "

"Of course... Nobody is telling you have to let them kill you... If you have to shoot, then shoot! But only if you HAVE to... "

"Right... " the soldier said.

At night, they found another creek to camp by. The thaw was going on. It was the right season to do that madness, the medic thought. In winter, with the cold and the snow storms, it would have been even madder. And in the summer... "But the worst o' your foes is the sun over'ead. You must wear your 'Elmet for all that is said. If 'e finds you uncovered 'e'll knock you down dead. An' you'll die like a fool of a soldier"... And they had no colonial helmets too.

And there was not just the sun to care of... "When the cholera comes - as it will past a doubt - keep out of the wet and don't go on the shout. For the sickness gets in as the liquor dies out. An' it crumples the young British soldier..." and not only him. And if the "sickness" was not cholera there was some other one, equally unsympathetic...

"Sorry," the boy said. "What had that man said, about Allah?"


"When you have stopped treating that man in the car, and you have refused the money..."

"Oh... He had said... "Only Allah can heal"... Or something alike..."

"Ah... And what had you said, before? To explain why I was dumb... They all looked at me with such eyes... "

"I have told "bombaru". I had to be convincing, you don't look as a weak person with any ill. So I have told "bombaru"..." the medic said, chewing his "nan". The people of the caravan had insisted to give him some tats.

"I have heard it. But what does it mean?"

"It means "bombing"," the medic said, continuing his Spartan dinner. There was a silence, for a while.

"Bombing shock?" the boy asked. The medic showed him a tat, but he shook his head. The man shrugged.

"Yes... In the first world war, they called it "grenade shock", because they're quite a few bombers, besides the dirigibles, but the artillery had calibers that you can see no more: howitzers, 380, 420, almost half a meter... If some of those grenade fell too close to you, maybe you survived, but you could forget even your name... And a bombing now do the same work..."

"You mean... you can become dumb?"

"Oh! Dumb, deaf, mad... You can choose... If you survive..."

"And... there have been many bombing in this war... "

"Yes, quite," the medic said. They exchanged a glance. "Yes, even on civilians... sometimes... "

"And then why are you helping me?" the soldier said, gloomily, looking down.

"What about you? That is the air force stuff, you are a foot soldier... What have you done against civilians?"

"That doesn't matter..." the soldiers muttered.

"It does," the medic nodded. "You are responsible of all that you do, but ONLY of the things that YOU do. The collective fault is a crap. If not, Germans should not exist. And I should have... "

"It's a dirty war... " the soldiers said. The medic shrugged.

"Call me when you see a CLEAN war..." he said. Then he turned his head and look in front. "Yes, it's a dirty war, from both sides. And it's not OUR war. It's an ISLAMIC war. What's it to us? Even when you leave the square, democracy will have no chance here. I've come here for three years. I KNOW about that. So... What's it to us?"

The soldier thought that he maybe had to say that the Government in Kabul was NOT Islamic. But he understood that the medic was not talking about them. He was talking about himself. But the soldier could not know that the medic had said the same thing to his nurse, the one he loved, before they went there for the second time and she got killed. And he had told the same to the other nurse too, before she too got killed, but in a very more silly way...

And, maybe thinking about that way to die, the medic smiled. A strange, weird smile, in the full moonlight...

"Maybe now it's time to sleep," the soldier said.

The medic nodded.

Ahmad Dekhtah was still thinking about the story they had told him at the "aul".

They were burying a man. Nothing strange, especially during a war. The strange thing was WHY that man had died. A medic who helps a Russian to escape from the village, and run with him.

Why was it so strange? Because that medic was NOT a spy. He went to the "aul" for the third year, and the village had had no suspect losses in those years. No "strange" Russian air raid when the village was full of warriors, or something alike. And he was a good medic: experienced, competent, honest. He never created problems with the women of the "aul": always as respectful as a "believer". A very good person. Nothing bad to say about him. Till that day...

Why such a man had done such a thing? Maybe someone in the village had wronged him somehow? They did not answer this question.

Ali knew that the Russian and the medic could go only North or South. And he had to go North. Only North.

If they went south, then he could do nothing about them: Insh Allah. But if they went North and he met them... then he knew what he had to do...

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