Student or Learner
This is the third part of my short story, Lieutenant. Is there any native English speaker who could proofread it.
In the evening after the trumpet sounded taps, silence fell over the barracks. Solders made their final preparations for sleep. Some of them were reading their letters for the umpteenth time just before the lights were turned off. The others lay in their beds, telling jokes and exchanging news from their homes.
I was ready to climb into my bed when the soldier who told me about Lieutenant before, patted me on the shoulder.
“Come with me, you’ll see something interesting.”
I was already dressed in my blue pyjamas and I shuffled with him into the corridor. He stopped beside the large window and said, “Look down.”
The scene was surreal. It was a full moon in the dark sky throwing its light on the parade ground. There stood the Lieutenant with his legs apart and his cap askew.
Beside him was a hand-operated alarm mounted on a tripod. The Lieutenant smoked a cigarette and paced around. He looked more like a character from a cartoon than an officer. I was about to laugh, but the soldier said, “He does the same thing every time when he is the duty officer. There will be an alarm tonight!”
I returned to the dormitory and fell into sleep. We had a hard day with another long march in the hills, and I my body hurt all the day. I did not know how long I had been sleeping before I was awaken by the terrible noise and mayhem. Our sergeant shouted, “Get up, the alarm! Take your stuff and direction the depots!”
It was completely dark but for a little blue lamp above the door, which weak light made objects and people hardly discernible. From the outside there was a sound of the alarm wailing into the night. I jumped up and dressed myself still sleepy and exhausted. I was putting my uniform on and all other equipment, which was very heavy, at the same time cursing the military service and those who sent me here and doomed me to suffering.
In the corridor, I set my helmet on my head, grabbed my AK-47 and rushed outside into the cold night. Solders were pouring from all doors and rushing towards the depots and garage, which must have been at least two kilometres away. I glanced to the right and saw the Lieutenant bent over the alarm, his hand cranking the handle vigorously. It was raining the previous day and the path was slippery and uneven making it more difficult in the darkness, which covered holes and stones.
Someone before me tripped and fell into the mud. I heard him swearing and moaning but I did not stop. My mind was thinking of the stupidity of the situation. We all depended on the capriciousness of the Lieutenant who had the absolute power tonight.
Upon arrival, the soldiers went off in all directions, some to the vehicles, some to the tanks, some to the anti-aircraft batteries and rocket launchers. In all this pandemonium
I had forgotten my exhaustion. I behaved like an automaton, the voice of the sergeant booming into my head and forcing me to rush. I did not have my voice neither my own thoughts, and I would have done anything which was ordered to me.
We stood beside our weapons for at least one hour, waiting for the imaginary enemy to come. However, instead of it, there was a lonely figure of the Lieutenant trudging the path. His cigarette was dangling from his mouth; his unsteady legs could hardly support him. He gave us a perfunctory look and when he came close to me I could smell the plum brandy wafting from him. The soldiers stood like statues while he paced up and down like a great commander before the decisive battle.
And just when everyone was thinking that he was going to send us back to our beds, his eyes riveted on a young soldier, who had the face of a ferret. He started to blush when he noticed the Lieutenant’s steady gaze, which could make the most innocent person feel guilty. The Lieutenant came up close to the soldier, puffed on his cigarette and said, “Where is your gas mask?”
Now the soldier’s face became crimson. He had understood that in this moment he was at the mercy of the fickle officer. He said in his effeminate voice that he had forgotten it in the barracks.
“My young man,” said the Lieutenant, “imagine if this was a war and our enemy had used a chemical weapon. You’ll be writhing in pain, and you’ll be dead within minutes. Now, run back to the barracks and fetch your gas mask.”
The soldier saluted and scurried away, afraid that the Lieutenant could change his mind and hand him out more severe punishment. Everyone hated the young soldier at this moment, although he certainly had not forgotten his gas mask deliberately. But because of him we had to stand like idiots when we could have been returning to our beds. The Lieutenant paced up and down and said, “Your fathers and mothers have sent you to me to make of you soldiers and men. I’m going to do that, and I want to sent you back fit and healthy. Don’t tell me that you feel tired, that you can’t. You’re spoilt. You have lived your lives protected like exotic flowers. I simply teach you to understand the real life...” The Lieutenant was rambling on, his hoarse voice enfolded in the vapours of alcohol.
When we finally arrived back in the barracks it started to dawn and there was not much time over for sleep. There was no point in taking the clothes off only to take them on an hour later. So I took the boot-brush and the polish, sat on bank on the parade ground and cleaned the mud and dirt from my boots. I did not know if I should hate the Lieutenant or pity him.
TO BE CONTINUED