Talking Shit (3)

Lukas nudged his friend and indicated the writing by pointing at it with one of the fingers not crucial to holding his beer glass. Duke noticed and demanded answers with an angry red look on his face. “Oh, that’s a nice lighter … um, mate,” said Lukas, and the look was gone.

“Mum gave it to me,” said Duke. “She sent it to me over there.”

“Oh, really? It looks familiar.” Lukas had said too much. He had consumed several beers and really needed to go to the toilet, and now he had challenged the stranger with the familiar face, and he wished he hadn’t said what he’d said and hadn’t had the drinks he’d had and he wished he’d been to the toilet as he was busting now, but that was the least of his problems.

“What!” growled the older man. “My mum sent that to me. Over there. Like I said. It’s mine. My mum sent that to me!” He grew louder and his eyes wilder. “It’s mine. Mine!”

“Oh OK. Sorry, Stephen. I’m mistaken. It’s yours. It’s your very nice lighter.” Lukas was squirming. Juan took a back seat for once and let his mate talk.

“The villagers gave that to me,” Duke said. “From mum. The villagers in the village, where I saved the girl, where the girl lived. The girl with the baby. I had to stop them. Had to help the girl and protect the baby and I used to go to the village and knew the people and brought them dates and brown sugar from the mess. Taught the kids to play cricket inside the walls when there was gunfire outside. Safe playing cricket inside the walls. Safe with sergeant Stepan. Stepan they called me. Sergeant Stepan. And there was a bomb. We heard there was a bomb, and we went to the village to ask questions, and they wouldn’t answer. The men were scared and they wouldn’t talk. The girl with the baby said there was a bomb buried near the gates and the men told her to shut up. They threatened her. They pushed her and hit her. Hit her on the back of the head and they kicked her and told her to get out. They shouted at her to leave and they surrounded her and I tried to help, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. They kept hitting her and hitting her, and I fired my weapon into the air and they all scattered. She ran. She ran and she ran and she ran. The baby was under one arm and she ran. She ran to get away. I tried to run after her. And then it happened. So fast you couldn’t see it. You just saw the result. A bloody big crater and the girl lying on the ground with a hole in her, and inside the hole there was nothing. Just a hole. A hole right through her. And nothing left of the baby. Nothing.”

There was nothing to say.

They didn’t want to interrupt if there was more. Duke stared at his drink and looked at his lighter, and resumed: “And that’s when I got this.” He picked it up again off the bar. “It took me weeks to recover in the hospital. Shrapnel fucked my leg right up. Some of the villagers would come to see me. They brought me food and other presents. The girl was dead.  Nobody could explain what happened. They didn’t want to talk about it. And I found out that I was going to be blamed for the incident. That’s what the Americans called it: the incident. They blamed me. And I suppose it was my fault, too, in a way. I wish I never went there, to the village, and never saw those people. But I did go and I did see and I couldn’t get the images out of my head. I couldn’t sleep and it felt like I was going crazy. And that’s when the parcel from mum arrived. She sent some photos of me in my school uniform and this lighter and a medal my granddad won in North Africa. And that’s when I started calling myself Stephen.”

But there friends were still confused.

“But …” they seemed to say in unison.

“It’s all very simple. Mum sent me my half-brother’s lighter when he gave up smoking. His name is Stephen. You knew that. My surname is Stephens, mum divorced my dad after I was born, and people in Afghanistan called me Stevo, like you dickheads called my brother back at school. Stephen was a kind of nickname that stuck.” He emitted a somewhat childish giggle at the silliness of this explanation.

Lukas and Juan looked confused.

“But …”

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Published in: on May 3, 2012 at 8:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

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