Methven - Day Six - Part One
Hard to believe it's been four days since my last journal entry. We've been so busy (and I've been so exhausted) that there just hasn't been time until now.
Heck, I wouldn't have time now, if Læ hadn't given us the day off to lick our wounds and recover from the events of last night.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
. . .
That first evening's watch with Tong and Carleton went pretty slowly, at first. After Mantami, Pith and Bruno hit the sack, we each took turns patrolling the perimeter of the camp, while the other two sentries tended the fire and chatted or loafed.
I spent most of my fireside time catching up on the day's occurrences and doing a few sketches. I'd finished the former task and was occupied with the latter when Tong asked me what I was doing.
"Working on my journal."
"Yo! You keepin' a diary, Wildman? Tha's trick shit, you know whut I mean?"
"Tell it to Pepys."
"Never mind. Let's just say it's a hobby and let it go at that."
"Whutevuh. What kinda' hype you puttin' in dat thang?"
It was my turn to shrug.
"I'm just describing what happened during the day. Sort of like Joe Friday, y'know? 'Just the facts, Ma'am.'"
"Yep. For instance, let me read you what I said about your little confrontation with Carleton.."
I did that. When I was done, Tong snorted.
"Yo! That 'I started to breathe again' shit's bunk, Wildman. You be soundin' like some romance novel-readin' bitch."
I shook my head.
"Tong, honest to God, I thought Carleton was a dead duck, right up until Bill stepped in front of you..and then I thought he was a goner."
"Yo, man! Whussup wid dat? You think I'm schizin'? I wouldn' put no point in my homeslice, Bilson!"
"Well, you had me fooled."
"Shit, that ain't no wreck, you know?"
"I love you, too, Tong."
"Yeah, yo momma loves me."
"And you love Blandy."
"You callin' me a fag, Wildman?"
"No. I'm not talking about sex. I'm talking about..I dunno. You guys are pretty tight, though. That's obvious. I'd say it goes a ways beyond just friendship, too."
"Fuck you, bitch. We ain't no butt-buddies."
"I said I wasn't talking about sex, Tong. It's more like you're blood brothers or..hell, I don't know. It's almost like you're joined at the hip.."
"Blandy's my partna', you know?"
"Yeah, well, like I said, 'That's obvious.' What isn't so obvious is 'How come?' I mean, let's face it, you two aren't exactly fraternal twins, if you catch my meaning."
"Yeah, I catch you, Wildman. You sayin' I'm black."
"And Blandy's white. Yeah, that's part of it. But, it goes deeper than that. You're obviously a homeboy and Blandy's, like, this spoiled rich kid."
"Don' you be dissin' my homey, Wildman. Blandy's all that."
"See, that's what I don't get, Tong. It's pretty clear you think he's the Second Coming, but I don't see it. To me, Blandy comes across as some kind of overprivileged surfer dude with an oversized ego and a wallet to match. What's the big attraction? Other than him picking up the check, I mean."
"Oughta' be kickin' yo ass fo' that, Wildman."
I held up my hands in a placating gesture.
"No offense meant, Tong. I'm just telling you what it looks like to me. If I'm wrong, you're welcome to enlighten me."
He gave me a penetrating look. I kept my hands open and a quizzical expression on my face. Eventually, he looked away, off into the dancing shadows the firelight threw out toward the darkness surrounding us.
It might have been as long as a couple of minutes before, without turning to look at me, he began to speak in a low voice.
"You ever hear about a place called Umm Hajul, Wildman?" It in Iraq, out tha middle of nowhere. Blandy an' me, we lost out in tha middle of tha desert an' it be pourin' rain, like some kinda' El Nino shit or somethin'. We just wanderin' around in tha rain, looin' fo' our unit, when we come across a M548 ammo carrier broke down outside a' Al Busayyah airfield at Umm Hajul. They's a SEE an' a Humvee there, keepin' 'em company, sittin' out there in tha rain. Jus' mindin' they own business, waitin' fo' tha tow."
"Blandy an' me, we shot tha shit wid' 'em, you know? Nice guys, too. Then we decided ta' get out tha rain, you know? We go over to tha control tower..ain't no Republican Guards or nothin' in tha way..an' set us up a little camp. It be warm an' dry an' we chucklin' about tha combat engineer dudes sittin' out in tha rain. We rustle up some chow an' we play some cards an' then it get dark, so we nod off."
He looked up at the alien stars twinkling overhead, then turned to stare into the fire.
"Long about this time a' night..two-thirty, maybe..we gets waked up by tha sound a' tanks movin' in on us. It be dark as hell..still got them heavy clouds an' no lights on nowhere. We be thinkin', 'Fuck! We gonna' get our asses toasted by tha muthafuckin' Republican Guards! Ain't that tha shits?'"
He tossed a piece of bark into the fire and watched it flare before continuing.
"Wasn't no Republican Guard, though. It wuz a squadron a' Abrams an' some Humvees from tha 3rd Armored Cav. We figgered that out, we some happy dudes, I tell you. We thinkin', 'Shee- it! We gonna' be ridin' out a' here in style!' You know?"
He shook his head and looked away into the darkness again.
"We's scramblin' around in tha dark, gettin' our shit together, you know? Gettin' our LBEs together an' shit. Then we hear tha Abrams open up wit' 50 calibers."
He ran his hand over his face, then drew his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them.
"They's like, three bursts. Ba-da-da-dow, ba-da-da-dow, ba- da-da-dow! Then we hear these voices, all faint an' shit, yellin', 'Cease fire! Cease fire!"
There was a long pause.
"We figger it's over, you know? Then, just as we thinkin' about walkin' out there our own selves, tha M548 starts burnin'. We hear this bunch a' Bradleys an' a Humvee an' a FOX come roarin' up an' we see two grunts jump offa' one a' tha Bradleys. They's between us an' tha M548, so they's silhouetted, like. Then they's this long burst a' fire from one a' tha Bradleys, an' we figger we bettah keep our asses on tha inside, you know whut I mean?"
I made a noncommittal noise.
He sighed and looked off into the night again.
"They's runnin' aroun' an' shoutin' an, after a while, tha ammo in tha M548 cooks off an' they's this muthafuckin' big-ass explosion.."
"They done capped one a' tha engineers from Charlie Company. Guy named Fielder. Put a big-ass hole in this otha' cat..sargeant name a' Napier. Nice guys, both of 'em."
"I guess they call that 'friendly fire'?"
He spat into the fire.
"'Fren'ly fire' my hairy, black ass."
He turned to look square at me.
"It wuz murder, Wildman. Pure, col'-blood murder."
"'But,' bull-fuckin'-shit. Them grunts didn' fire no shots at them Abrams', didn' do nuthin', 'cept try an' surrender. An' them assholes in tha Bradley shot they ass down in col' blood."
"I..ah..so..did you report what you saw to the authorities?"
"Fuck no! You think we crazy? Shit, Wildman, we high- tailed it outta' there at first light an' didn' never look back, no how. Think tha fuckin' Army gonna' take tha word a' two lost- ass grunts against some fancy-ass Armored Cav brass? Ain't no way. Ain't no fuckin' way.."
He looked away, into the darkness again.
"Anyway, me an' Blandy, we been money evuh since."
"Yeah, well, fuck you."
"Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't know what else to say. I mean, it's a pretty sad story and I can see where it might create a helluva bond between you guys."
"Got that right."
"It doesn't do a thing to explain why you think so highly of Blandy, though."
He looked back at me.
"You don' know shit 'bout Blandy, Wildman. Thas' why."
"So tell me shit about Blandy, Tong."
He stuck his jaw out and nodded.
"Word. First, you gotta' know 'bout Blandy's fam'ly. His daddy be ownin' stock in oil companies, timber companies, mines..all kinda' companies be rapin' tha Earth. Blandy, he don' go fo that. He like bein' rich, but he hate where tha money come from, you know whut I mean?"
"His daddy, he want Blandy ta' go ta' college, join tha country club, be like him, you know? Blandy, he an only chile. His daddy, he want Blandy ta' carry on tha dynasty."
He shook his head.
"Blandy, he don' go fo that, neither. Thas' why he join tha Army. Thas' why he go to tha ex-treme. Hell, thas' part a' why he hang wit' me, you know?"
"I'm beginning to see."
Tong shook his head again.
"Yeah, but you don' see how Blandy do fo his frens. He done foun' my daddy fo me--not that tha no-account sumbitch be worth a fuck. He done set up a trus' fund fo my momma. An' he be doin' that shit all tha time fo lots a' people. Mos'ly black people, too."
"Sounds to me like he's just found another way to piss off his old man."
He shook his head more firmly.
"Uh-uh. See, thas' where you wrong, Wildman. His daddy, he don' know nuthin' about that shit."
He held up a hand to forestall my response.
"Oh, he know about me, all right. But, he don' know shit about whut Blandy done fo my momma. He think Blandy got him a habit, see. But Blandy, he jus' smoke a little herb. Nothin' serious, you know whut I mean?"
"I have to admit I wouldn't have guessed any of that."
"So, what you're telling me is that Blandy is the Magic Christian..and he digs extreme sports because it scares the hell out of his old man?"
"Thas' mosta it."
"And the rest of it is?"
"Blandy, he done got asthma as a chile."
"Word. Thas' why he done got in shape, you know? He be determined it ain't gonna' beat him."
I thought about what he'd told me. It definitely put a whole new complexion on my picture of Blandy. And Tong, too.
"You welcome, Wildman."
(Copyright© 1997 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)