Student or Learner
Please would you take a look at the sixth part of my short story, "The lieutenant", and correct my mistakes.
One morning a German registered red Audi parked about twenty meters from me down the street. Outside the barracks wall, there were trees that gave nice shade. The parking was strictly forbidden for the civilians and we were told to drive off anyone who stopped. I walked to the car and looked through the open window. A young woman was holding her baby that was in distress. It was crying shrilly, its cheeks were red; its small hands clawed the hot air. A young man in his twenties sat in the driver seat. He gave me a pleading look. My German was good enough for conversation. I learnt it in school and could practice it with my neighbour’s children who would spend their holidays regularly in their home, which their father had built working hard on German building sites. I told the driver it was strictly forbidden to park here and they should move away. He held up his hands in exasperation and pointed at the baby. “My child is sick. It is so hot. We just need a little shade.” The woman rocked the baby vigorously, but it continued to cry. She gave me a pleading look with her blue eyes. “Please, sir,” she said in German. “It is just eight months old.”
I was in a dilemma about what to do. I had to follow the rules and orders, but I am a human being and I could not ignore another human being in pain. And what harm could they have caused facing the grey and thick barracks wall? My mind was racing with ethical questions, when suddenly I heard a roar, “Soldier! What are you doing?” I turned my head and saw the lieutenant striding like a steam locomotive towards me. He stopped a few meters away and asked why I had not chased the car away. I told him the baby was very sick and needed shade. He did not even bother to look inside the car and shouted that they had to leave immediately or he was going to arrest them. “I don’t care about their sick child. This is the military zone. They can park at the hotel a few hundred meters from here.” He did not wait for my response but turned away and paced to the main entrance, where he stood with his legs apart, smoking his cigarette and observing the passing vehicles. I urged the couple to leave, and translated what the lieutenant had just said. The man became angry and swore in German, but nonetheless, he switched on the engine and put the car in reverse. Before they pulled away the man said, “You are a kind man, but your officer is a swine.” I nodded, adding in German, “He is really a swine.”
I paced back to main entrance, and when I came up to the lieutenant, he was smoking the end of his cigarette. He drew on it one last time and extinguished it under his shoes.
“Don’t let them park here,” he said in a calm voice.
“Comrade lieutenant, they’ve a very sick baby.”
“You’re naive. They could have parked in dozens of other places. They’re all spies.”
He returned inside and I was left alone with my thoughts. I have lost interest in watching the expensive cars with beautiful women pass by, and I could not care less that their attractive bodies made my head spinning a few minutes before. I could not forget the sick child and my reaction when the lieutenant appeared. I felt defeated again. Would I ever dare to disobey his orders? If he had told me to beat the family up, would I have behaved like a merciless thug and punched and kicked the parents, or even strangled the crying baby? This is how ordinary soldiers become war criminals, I told myself. One madman is enough to turn them into brutal killers. And then another voice was telling me that even this time the lieutenant did nothing wrong. He only followed the rules, written by some anonymous and stolid bureaucrats who could not have foreseen or cared about the needs of passing tourists.
One late afternoon I walked from the building with a TV room where I had watched a Russian war film over the parade ground to the barracks. “Soldier!” The voice startled me. I turned my head and saw the lieutenant. I snapped to attention and felt my legs buckle. I was dishevelled. My uniform was unbuttoned, cap shoved in my pocket, belt loosely fastened and boots unlaced. I expected severe punishment for my lack of discipline, but the Lieutenant was calm and told me to go to the kitchen and fetch some snacks. I heaved a sigh of relief and hurried before he could come up with something sinister.
“The old fart is drinking again.” said the cook and chuckled. “We’ll have the party tonight.” He took out of a refrigerator a large chunk of cheese, cut it into thin slices with a long knife, and spread them onto the large plate. He then cut a sausage into slices and added them to the cheese. He also added some bacon rashes and two garlic heads. I picked up the plate and carried it carefully to the commandant’s office, just opposite our barracks.
To be continued
They spoke Serbo-croatian, which today officially does not exists. Now there are Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian, which are actually similar languages with such small differences that people understand each other without difficulties. The difference is even less than between American and British English, but still the nationalists do everything to make them sound different.
No Tarheel, I did not mention Serbo-croatian before, maybe I mentioned Yugoslavia somewhere in the text, but honestly I am not sure. The problem is that in 1990s when the nationalistic parties won the elections in all three Republics, which before had been part of Yugoslavia, they immediately started to emphasise the differences between people and between languages. So at that time, you could see how a language could be used in propaganda, just as Orwell described it decades before.
One late afternoon as I was walking over the parade ground towards the barracks I heard a loud voice. "Soldier!" The voice startled me. I turned my head and saw the lieutenant.
I am beginning to hate that man (the lieutenant). I imagine that many of the troops under his command feel the same way. Perhaps they fantasize about how they would like to kill him.
Thank you, your version of that sentence is much better. When I wrote it, I felt that something is wrong with it, and that it was cumbersome, but I did not know how to rephrase it into a better sentence.
Regarding the lieutenant, you will see from the part seven of the story, that actually he is a victim of his failed marriage.
Yes, you are right, "lack of discipline" is not the right phrase, but I did not know any better phrase. "Being out of uniform" is much better.