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    #1

    The lieutenant, part eight

    Please would you take a look at the eighth part of my short story, "The lieutenant"and correct my mistakes.

    The lieutenant sank back to the sofa and lay down. His voice trailed off and his eyes dropped. Soon he drifted into sleep. I got up and carefully walked out of the room. The evening sunlight glittered over the crest of the hill while warm breeze caressed my face. I could hear birds chirping and fluttering in the trees outside the walls, preparing for sleep. They were freer than anyone of us was behind the walls. They were not burdened with the past; they did not abuse or manipulate each other, they did not play games. They lived while we humans struggled to learn how to live. My encounter with the lieutenant had opened a hidden sluice, and a flood of thoughts rushed through my head. Even if he was drunk, I had no reason to doubt his story. His drinking was not an act of pleasure, but a desperate cry of a deeply wounded man. I was probably the first person he was talking to about his painful memories in years, without constraint. For me he was the first person who talked about such personal matters as marriage, infidelity and game playing. I had never heard my parents quarrel, and I had always believed they were the happiest couple on earth, but now I asked myself what actually had been happening between them when they were alone. After twenty years of their marriage, did they feel the same love as before, or did they just pretend because of me? Until today I had a romantic view of love and marriage, I believed there could be no secrets between lovers; they should share the good and the bad until the end of their lives. Now I understood how naive I had been.

    I had not seen the lieutenant for a week or two, although he would come up in my mind occasionally, especially when I was on sentry duty in the woods, and my only company were tall trees and a solitary deer or a hare, who would stand still like hypnotised and watch me for a few seconds before running away. I promised myself if I ever went on leave, I was going to return with two bottles of our slivovitz and give them to the lieutenant as a present. I was going to tell my father about his failed marriage and his nightly antics, and I knew that my father was going to fetch his more than twenty years double distilled slivovitz and say, “Give me greetings to the lieutenant, may he drink it in good health.”
    In the morning, after breakfast Niko, the corporal, ordered me and five other soldiers to follow him to the truck, which was waiting at the entrance. The door of the cabin opened and the lieutenant alighted, a burning cigarette in the corner of his mouth. I saw that my comrades were disappointed to see him, expecting some kind of harassment and mischief, but I was pleased. I hoped he was going to recognise me, but he seemed not to remember anything from that evening.

    He had a frown on his face, which like his tilted cap had become his distinctive feature. He told us that we were going to transport ammunition boxes, and other equipment, which had arrived with the train. He warned us to fasten our belts properly so we would not get a hernia, and be careful how we carry them so as not to crush our feet.
    After a short ride, the truck pulled up close to a goods wagon, and soon we started to unload its contents into the truck. The boxes were very heavy, but at least they had the handles, which made them easy to carry. The worst part was carrying the Russian made boxes, which had no handles at all, and were cumbersome and extremely difficult to carry. How the Russian military could punish its own soldiers by supplying them with such boxes, I asked myself. It must have felt like a torture to carry them in Siberia in winter when the temperature fell to -40C or more.
    About twenty meters from the tracks there was a kiosk that sold bread, pastries and pies. The wonderful scent of newly baked products drifted towards us. After months of unremarkable, bland meals, our senses were suddenly assaulted with something that was more than food. It was an indelible part of us since our childhood. We had to taste it at any price.

    It was forbidden to smoke during the ammunition transport, and the lieutenant was walking nervously up and down the rails, engrossed in his thoughts. We persuaded Niko to ask him to allow us to buy pies at the kiosk, although we doubted if he was going to show us good will. To our surprise, the lieutenant not only acquiesced, but gave Niko money telling him to buy one for him, too. Niko ran like a gazelle, and a few minutes later returned carrying a plastic bag with the pies. I held my pie in greaseproof paper and felt its warmth as if holding a sacred object. I removed the paper and the aroma, I had not savoured for months, now filled my nostrils like a drug. I bit into it, and let my teeth slowly grind the thin pieces of pastry and a filling of soft cheese. In my mind’s eye, I saw my mother as I had seen her hundreds of times rolling out the dough into the size of a tablecloth, dividing it with a knife and filling it with meat, cheese or vegetables. When the pie was done, as a child I never waited for it to cool down but ate it impatiently as if I was never going to taste it again. No other food could have competed with my mother’s pies, but this pie in my hands was something special. It evoked associations of freedom, love, and ordinary life where a man could take his fate in his hands and use his mind to know what was right or wrong without being ordered by a person in authority.

    The lieutenant sat alone and ate his pie in the truck cabin, as if not wanting to share any feelings with us. We sat on the grass in a ring close to the rails, and looked at each other, each one knowing what the other was thinking. We all had families and homes where people were waiting for us, counted days and nights and prepared packages to send them to us. Only our lieutenant seemed to have nobody. I wished I had been brave enough to ask him to join us and not eat alone, but I was shy and, certainly, I would have stammered and embarrassed myself.
    To be continued

  1. Tarheel's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: The lieutenant, part eight

    Quote Originally Posted by Bassim View Post
    The lieutenant sank back into the sofa and lay down. His voice trailed off and his eyes dropped. Soon he drifted into sleep. I got up and carefully walked out of the room. The evening sunlight glittered over the crest of the hill while a warm breeze caressed my face. I could hear birds chirping and fluttering in the trees outside the walls, preparing for sleep. They were freer than anyone of us was behind the walls. They were not burdened with the past; they did not abuse or manipulate each other, they did not play games. They lived while we humans struggled to learn how to live. My encounter with the lieutenant had opened a hidden sluice, and a flood of thoughts rushed through my head. Even if he was drunk, I had no reason to doubt his story. His drinking was not an act of pleasure, but a desperate cry of a deeply wounded man. I was probably the first person he had talked to about his painful memories in years, without constraint. For me he was the first person who talked about such personal matters as marriage, infidelity and game playing. I had never heard my parents quarrel, and I had always believed they were the happiest couple on earth, but now I asked myself what actually had been happening between them when they were alone. After twenty years of their marriage, did they feel the same love as before, or did they just pretend because of me? Until today I had a romantic view of love and marriage, I believed there could be no secrets between lovers; they should share the good and the bad until the end of their lives. Now I understood how naive I had been.
    More later.


  2. Tarheel's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: The lieutenant, part eight

    Quote Originally Posted by Bassim View Post

    I had not seen the lieutenant for a week or two, although he would come up in my mind occasionally, especially when I was on sentry duty in the woods, and my only company were tall trees and a solitary deer or a hare, who would stand still like they were hypnotised and watch me for a few seconds before running away. I promised myself that if I ever went on leave, I was going to return with two bottles of our slivovitz and give them to the lieutenant as a present. I was going to tell my father about his failed marriage and his nightly antics, and I knew that my father was going to fetch his more than twenty years double distilled slivovitz and say, “Give me greetings to the lieutenant, may he drink it in good health.”
    In the morning, after breakfast, Niko, the corporal, ordered me and five other soldiers to follow him to the truck, which was waiting at the entrance. The door of the cabin opened and the lieutenant alighted, a burning cigarette in the corner of his mouth. I saw that my comrades were disappointed to see him, expecting some kind of harassment and mischief, but I was pleased. I hoped he was going to recognise me, but he seemed not to remember anything from that evening.

    He had a frown on his face, which like his tilted cap had become his distinctive feature. He told us that we were going to transport ammunition boxes, and other equipment, which had arrived with the train. He warned us to fasten our belts properly so we would not get a hernia, and be careful how we carry them so as so we wouldn't drop them on our feet. After a short ride, the truck pulled up close to a goods wagon, and soon we started to unload its contents into the truck. The boxes were very heavy, but at least they had the handles, which made them easy to carry. The worst part was carrying the Russian made boxes, which had no handles at all, and were cumbersome and extremely difficult to carry. How could the Russian military punish its own soldiers by supplying them with such boxes, I asked myself. It must have felt like a torture to carry them in Siberia in winter when the temperature fell to -40C or more.

    About twenty meters from the tracks there was a kiosk that sold bread, pastries and pies. The wonderful scent of newly baked products drifted towards us. After months of unremarkable, bland meals, our senses were suddenly assaulted with something that was more than food. It was an indelible part of us since our childhood. We had to taste it at any price.

    It was forbidden to smoke during the ammunition transport, and the lieutenant was walking nervously up and down the rails, engrossed in his thoughts. We persuaded Niko to ask him to allow us to buy pies at the kiosk, although we doubted if he was going to show us good will. To our surprise, the lieutenant not only acquiesced, but gave Niko money telling him to buy one for him, too. Niko ran like a gazelle, and a few minutes later returned carrying a plastic bag with the pies. I held my pie in greaseproof paper and felt its warmth as if holding a sacred object. I removed the paper, and the aroma, which I had not had the pleasure of for months, now filled my nostrils like a drug. I bit into it, and let my teeth slowly grind the thin pieces of pastry and a filling of soft cheese. In my mind’s eye, I saw my mother as I had seen her hundreds of times rolling out the dough into the size of a tablecloth, dividing it with a knife and filling it with meat, cheese or vegetables. When the pie was done, as a child I never waited for it to cool down but ate it impatiently as if I was never going to taste it again. No other food could have competed with my mother’s pies, but this pie in my hands was something special. It evoked associations of freedom, love, and ordinary life where a man could take his fate in his hands and use his mind to know what was right or wrong without being ordered by a person in authority.

    The lieutenant sat alone and ate his pie in the truck cabin, as if not wanting to share any feelings with us. We sat on the grass in a ring close to the rails, and looked at each other, each one knowing what the other was thinking. We all had families and homes where people were waiting for us, where they counted the days and nights and prepared packages to send them to us. Only our lieutenant seemed to have nobody. I wished I had been brave enough to ask him to join us and not eat alone, but I was shy and, certainly, I would have stammered and embarrassed myself.
    To be continued

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