Vignettes: War #2
Longing for Baghdad
There was an American soldier who had been deployed so often to Iraq he had taught himself Arabic and loved Baghdad as a lover. When the sun began its red descent and the birds chirped their chorus in the cool of the evening he would smoke a cigarette on the roof of the bombed out ministry building and regard her veiled in dust, the daughter of Babylon, bangled in lights from the windows of shabby high rises and the softer glow of orange street lights that were just beginning to come on. How lovely she was, with her scent of danger and the promise of battle in those labyrinthine streets.
Then he would go down and prepare his men: gas, weapons, lubricant, ammunition, radio fills, batteries and water, lists of coordinates and frequencies, maps. His truck and his men would be squared away. Everything checked. To these preparations he always brought a particular intensity characteristic of Puerto Rican NCOs. He was a dick. He was the best. And as his preparations fell into place his mood would shift from ass kicking mode into almost giddy anticipation. Soon they would be out, weapons red, loose in the streets of his beloved, his Baghdad.
On patrol he was legendary. He had a sixth sense for pathfinding. He could not be denied by any obstacle of the narrow city streets: shifting barricades, low wires, clogged traffic; all melted before him. The crack of gunfire was his stimulant, in those heated moments he grew to be ten feet tall, acquiring the aura of a much taller man, and it was many times that his power of decision saved the day.
On quiet days he was playful, even recklessly so. He would sometimes strike up conversation with young men riding motorcycles and within moments he’d be whipping a bike up and down the block popping wheelies. While the Yale-educated linguists in their ill-fitting helmets would stumble through their Arabic, he could speak to anyone on anything and make young girls smile, or he would learn bits of rumor over a few quick pulls of shisha outside a cafe. When his turn came for mid-tour leave he made a request to go into Baghdad. He was very serious about this, and earnestly explained that he would stay with friends in the Rusafa district, a request that was summarily denied. It was rumored that somehow he had an Iraqi girlfriend.
Upon redeploying to the United States he fell into a kind of indolence. The monotonies of garrison life weighed heavily on him. The “gangster way” versus the “Army way” of doing things would no longer be tolerated, so soldiering lost his interest. There was the plan to become a pilot, then a repo agent, then he mounted an uninsured 4x4 rental business. Once, when taking his wife to dinner for their anniversary he smashed his Dodge Charger into a deer on the highway. Against her screams, he wrapped the deer in a tarp and turned the car around to go home and skin it. Some men are just not suited for peace.
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