A sailor writing about a soldier…


We’d shared pork and beans a few short hours ago. Pork and beans and powdered lemonade, drunk warm and gritty from my water-bottle. The pork and beans were cold, the congealed fat slick and glistening across Jimmy’s upper lip. My brother-in-arms grinned at nothing in particular. At the simple pleasure in a moment’s respite from the interior of the Hog maybe; or the feel of the sun on the skin of his forearms. I’d seen the same smile in a bar in Aldershot, on a beach in Athens, and here under canvas in Afghanistan. We were best mates. We had been since a benevolent Corporal back in basic training, had given us both a pair of boxing gloves, and urged us to settle our differences. Jimmy’s an Ulsterman, if you get my drift. I’m Scots Catholic. We had differences.

Two hours later, locked under the fierce heat of the Hog, we reached the head of the valley. The salt pan was flat and devoid of shelter. More importantly, it had a brittle crust which meant the pursuit would be on foot. Jimmy called the insurgents “Taliban Taigues”, or for you Southerners, “Afghan Catholics”. Though I realise it doesn’t translate the same. We had no real idea of numbers, but we knew they were out on the salt flat to the South.

We carried minimal assault kit and double-timed the first mile. Jimmy’s broad grin, still intact, spoke of the joys of invigorated youth. We all felt it, even Staff sergeant Brewster. Like unleashed hounds. Right about then things started to get a bit iffy.

Tendrils of mist began to rise from the salt bed. Our ‘Rupert’, Lieutenant Coleridge said it was the salt evaporation. Jimmy’s grin slowly disappeared, then he did as the white fog swallowed both sections. Automatic fire ripped at the thick white silence.

“Rab. Rab, are ye there? I don’t feel my legs.”

“Jimmy, please stay quiet. They bastards are oot there tae.”

He’s done really well. I haven’t heard him for ages. Brewster and Coleridge must be dead, or unconscious.

It’s just so quiet.


© franciman 2023
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