Sunday, 24 August 2008

The motion of the train feels strange to him, evoking the feeling of memories he cannot translate to more than a blur. Looking through the window at the rushing countryside, with its hedges and green hills, he feels that his mind should be like this view, the parallax motion of the past should be slow and solid while the present rushes by without an indication of what will yet be remembered. His perspective seems somehow reversed, with only the present offering a sense of reality while internally there is nothing. The past slips by without any chance to examine or hold on to it, like eating peas with a knife.

He reaches down to the floor, picking up the rough canvas bag he has been carrying and opens its buckles with narrow, pale fingers. Inside there is little. A bottle of water with the seal still intact and a sandwich wrapped in plastic. He draws the sandwich out, again. He cannot quite being himself to eat it. He examines it. There is something wrong with it, something not real that he feels is at the edge of his vision. He tilts his head away from it to see if a different view offers any light. It still appears to him as two slices of foamy, tasteless bread enclosing slowly hardening cheese and ham. A girl is sat watching him from the seats on the other side of the carriage. Her mother, who is travelling with her, has momentarily disappeared.

-Is this really a sandwich? He asks her, holding it up.

She looks at him with a mixture of suspicion and precociousness. -Sort of, she says and then she smiles and looks away.

The man continues to stare at it for a short time and then twists himself in his seat to look for a bin. There is one tucked behind his chair. He pushes the sandwich inside. He doesn't want to take the risk.

Sunday, 17 August 2008


The sweat beads down his jaw, mixed with dust, pooling with an itch at his chin. He feels the sun hot with the dying afternoon. The air is thick with the smell of gunpowder and burning flesh. The woollen rag tied over his eyes is too tight. His arms ache with the pressure of the ropes holding them at his back. He is tired of waiting, listening to the sounds of other men being ordered around and adjusting their equipment, reloading their rifles. The knot in his stomach is filled with frustration and fear. He feels his legs shake and wants nothing more than to fall down and lie on the ground. If he dies like a dog he is still dead.

Monday, 4 August 2008

shiny new thing

The scrape of my shovel against soil is reassuring. I tilt the assorted garbage; sticky, old rice, torn cardboard, some faded scraps of cloth and rotten fruits into the back of the truck. I stop to adjust the handkerchief tied over my face as inadequate protection against the dust and the smell. Despite the morning cool my forehead is already beaded with sweat and I grab the corner of my flourescent vest to wipe my forehead.

As I lean forward again, shovel extended, I see it. Panic hits me quick, the fear that this is the time. It has been months since one of us last encountered something and the tension had almost gone. Sensing my fear my team also suddenly stop and turn to face me, I am stuck in a tableau, bent forwards, muscles straining as though i am posing for one of the Dictator's celebrations of the workers.

My team assemble in a semi-circle of orange jackets around me to inspect it. Many start to exchange and light cigarettes, their smell bitter over the acrid, rotting food.

Pretty quickly there are two major opinions. The first quickly concludes that it is a militia IED, like the one that claimed Hassan a couple of months back. But the second faction quickly weighs in pointing out how shiny, how manufactured and secretive its design is. American, they say.

I look at it. It is oval, like a pebble worn by a river, with a quicksilver glow marred only by a little fleck of egg stuck to its side. It looks like a bomb but it doesn't feel like one. I stretch upwards, relieving the growing pains in my back and reach out for it. As one the semi-circle take a couple of steps back. I pick it up. It feels cold and heavy. It doesn't explode. Somewhere deep inside my chest my heart picks up its rhythm again.