The boy cannot see his older brother’s face in the gloom, and neither can his forgetful toy bear. On any given day, during each endless hour and restless night, the single candle they afford themselves silhouettes the pretence of confidence. It has become a circus puppet show they take turns to perform.
There are two types of nurses: the ones who believe in ghosts, and the ones who are lying.
We don’t talk about it much, especially now that the war is over. You can feel it more than see it when we’re together—a collective haunting, invisible guests at the dinner table. The conversations lulls and our gazes drift and we stare at strangers we’ve seen somewhere before. Was it the operating table? A hospital bed? The morgue?
You do this kind of thing for years and eventually everyone becomes a ghost of someone, somewhere. We don’t talk about it much.
The old woman would still be alive if she had just stayed inside.
Stefan clawed at his sweat-soaked blanket. She haunted him every night. Damned locals. It was their own fault. If they didn’t sabotage the supply lines, the soldiers wouldn’t need to requisition food from the villagers. Requisition. Steal. Stefan didn’t care. He was hungry. Her farm looked abandoned. The doors on the dilapidated barn came off the hinges with little more than a pull. Inside there were an emaciated cow, two goats and a few chickens. Pathetic. Stefan balked when Ivan ordered him to search the attic—he was sure to break his neck if the stairs collapsed. But orders were orders. One bag of wormy grain. Wasted effort.
Crossing the curved wooden bridge over a small river, I reached the Kutupalong Refugee camp. The temporary tarp and bamboo dwellings of the refugees stretched endlessly over the deforested undulating hills. The morning humidity settled, a cloak of haze, making breathing heavy and labored. Smoke from outdoor cooking curved and lingered in the air.
Swarms of children quickly surrounded me, holding my hands, skipping alongside me. My guide and I climbed up the dirt steps carved into the slopes. In the monsoon rain, these would all be washed away. It had already left its legacy; deep cavernous grooves furrowed the fragile slopes.
Ahmed falls from the steel deck thick with diesel oil and malice, through a rain unlike anything he’s known, and he glimpses an almost touchable shore, shameless, sharp and cruel, unreal and foreign, rich with waste and electricity, though the air’s not a thing to loiter in.
For these past 70 years, since 1951 in Korea, I have carried a 1000 Won Korean Banknote in my wallet with the signatures of all my squad members on the face of that banknote, our unit being Headquarters section, First Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment of the 7th Infantry Division, when we were deployed on the far side of Lake Hwachon, and when squad members put their signatures on that bank note, given to me by a Korean worker assigned to our unit, Lee Bong Ha. He was a chief figurehead in his own right when he made a replacement crystal for a comrade’s broken watch crystal out of a plastic spoon, which was carried in many military papers under the title of “Time to Spoon.” Lee Bong Ha had been paid off from his government contract with a basketful of such banknotes, and passed them out like the near-useless paper that they were (some of them used for the most unlikely reasons you might think of.)
Joe’s body twitched in his bed, as he knew it would. He hadn’t slept since he left the war zone in Macedonia. Violent dreams with buckets of blood, screams in the night, these had been predicted in the article he had read. Now, safe in Amsterdam, he was living the symptoms.
There are forces in the city greater than the stream of cars and buses charging through the streets day and night, greater than the parades of pedestrians and rows of skyscrapers towering like giant chess pieces at war, and these forces combined are nothing less than the world wrapped into a fist, lodged just beneath the surface of the earth, ready to explode.