You are doing quite well, but you still give me stuff to do.
I think "before an important battle" would be better there, but that's just my opinion.I wished some imaginary enemy would turn up sand shoot at us, causing mayhem and forcing everyone to hide behind the cover. Minutes passed and nothing happened. We stood in silence until someone pointed towards the path leading to the barracks. A squat figure was trudging along the path, a cigarette in his mouth glowing like a firefly in the night. It took him what seemed an eternity to come to us. We were ordered “attention” and the lieutenant, his hands behind his back, walked in front of the lined-up soldiers. When he approached me, I noticed that his legs were unsteady. His eyes were bloodshot, and from his mouth wafted the unmistakable smell of slivovitz. Now that I knew he was drunk, I could forgive him his erratic behaviour. This was for the poor man the only occasion when he could have some fun, albeit at our expense. He paced up and down, puffing at his cigarette and scrutinising our equipment like a general before the final battle.
Suddenly he scrunched up his grey eyes and came up to a solder with a weasel face. “Soldier, where is your gas mask,” he asked in a thick voice. The weasel face turned crimson and answered in an effeminate voice that he had left it in the the barracks.
“My young man,” the lieutenant slurred, “if we had a war and our enemy had used chemical weapons, you’d be writhing in pain, and you’d be probably dead within minutes. Now go back and fetch your mask before I come up with something ugly.”
The soldier saluted and hurried away on his short legs. At that moment, he must have been the most hated person in the barracks. If he had ever made any friends, he had probably lost them all tonight, and would never make new ones again. In the meantime, the lieutenant had lit another cigarette, and the smoke from it swirled around his face and dissolved above his tilted cap. He was not only unable to walk and speak properly, but his eye muscles played with his eyes, pulling them upwards while he strained to look straight.
He rambled on about us being spoilt, about our parents who had sent us to him to make men of us, about our enemies who plotted against our beautiful homeland all the time, and wished us to fail. I was unable to concentrate on his speech because my legs were swelling and aching. The smell of alcohol from his breath made me nauseous and dizzy. When we finally returned to the barracks, the day was dawning and I knew there was no point in going to sleep. Instead, I took a brush and a shoe cream and worked on my boots until they gleamed and shone as never before. In my rage, I cursed my bad luck. How on earth I could have ended in this godforsaken place and in these barracks, which the drunkard used as his playground. I had months of this torture before me, and I did not dare to think what could happen if someone of my fellow soldiers or I one day flipped and hit him. Of course, I could have gone to the captain and complained, but I knew what the lieutenant did was not against the rules. It was not forbidden to sound alarm, test the ability of soldiers and demand from them that their equipment is complete. As for the lieutenant’s drinking, he was not alone in indulging in alcohol. I saw soldiers climbing the fence and returning with bottles of slivovitz and wine bought from the local farmers. Without alcohol, they would probably succumb to depression and desperation. They would cut their veins, shoot or strangle themselves.
I used to have
asentry duty at the main entrance a few days a week. My job was to salute and open the gate for the officers, keep the space in front the main entrance clear all the time, report (To whom?) if I noticed something suspicious, and write down the number plates of the diplomatic vehicles. This last task I never bothered to carry out. In my sentry box, there was a notebook where the numbers and exact time should have been jotted down, but I would not even bother to step inside the narrow box, when outside just a few meters in front of me, I could watch a great spectacle. A steady stream of cars was never going to stop. I could not take my eyes off all kinds of vehicles and their passengers. They were coming from the rich West and were travelling to our beautiful seaside to spend some weeks there, to enjoy brilliant sun and beaches, crystal clean water, and wonderful evenings in our hotels and restaurants. I stood there in my uniform under the scorching sun and felt a strong desire to kiss and hug those women who were almost all beautiful in my eyes. Their hair was different in colour and style, but they wore the same light dresses, and many had just bikinis on their suntanned bodies. The windows were open, the music blaring out of car radios, the motors humming, and the women glanced at me for a second or two before disappearing down the road. Sometimes I saw a pair of shapely legs jutting over the sill and my desire became even stronger. I pictured that beautiful woman lying in the fine, soft sand and then walking to the sea and plunging into the waves. How beautiful that must have been! Occasionally a cabriolet would pass by, a woman with long hair in the passenger seat. Her hair would fly behind her, and I would watch the scene with fascination. I felt envy and jealousy knowing that as long as I live I would never be able to afford such a beautiful, expensive car, nor would my girlfriend would be such an attractive woman.
To be continued
Student or Learner