He was glad he had a Thai-Indian girlfriend. On military leaves he didn’t have to go back to the States anymore where the war followed him everywhere. Daily, you could see something about Iraq. It was all around. Americans protesting on the streets, politicians debating on the television, columnists writing in newspapers, the president giving speeches from the White House, people talking about it while doing their weekly shopping. He didn’t hate the war he was fighting in, he just hated the people he was fighting for.
As a matter of fact he convinced himself that he liked his job. It was what he had dreamed about as a young African-American on the poor streets of his neighbourhood, it was what he was trained for, it was all he could do. But when he returned home on leave he wanted to forget about the killings and the fighting. He wanted to live a normal life, he wanted to forget the feel of the trigger on his finger, the sand on his face, the constant adrenaline rush caused by the thought that his convoy might be the target of another bomb attack. He wanted to forget all that, but his own country wouldn’t let him. After two consecutive leaves spent in his hometown, he went for his third leave in Thailand where he met and fell in love with a girl of Indian origins.
He hadn’t seen her for more than five months, and was dying to feel her again in his arms, to spend quality time with her, and forget about the war during the three weeks he was given permission to stay in Bangkok. She always arranged different activities for them to do together, and he was looking forward to that. Money was not a problem. They could spend as much as they wanted because they were both aware that maybe there wouldn’t be another time. Maybe, instead of the notice that he was coming to see her, she would receive an official letter informing her that Brian died bravely for his country.
This time she had something special for him. In fact she always had something special for him. While she was hiding behind her back the two tickets, as a gift, while waiting for him to finish his shower, she was sure that he would utterly love her surprise.
“Are your hands dry, darling?” she asked with the smile of a conspirator on her face.
“What is it this time?” he replied anxiously.
“Show me your hands first!”
He hurriedly wiped his hands dry on the towel wrapped around his waist and, like a child waiting for a gift, extended both his hands.
“Close your eyes.”
He obeyed. In his other life he gave the orders, but here, he let her take complete control of the situation. He felt something very light being placed on his open palms. He didn’t open his eyes immediately. He felt with his fingers, hands still extended, the texture of the piece of hard paper she had given him.
“It’s a ticket!”
As he opened his eyes, she jumped in his arms, legs wrapped around his waist. Supporting her with his muscular right arm, she kissed him passionately.
“Wait! Let me have a look at the ticket. Where are we going?”
“Today is the last day of the Bangkok International Summer Fashion Week, and they will stage the greatest cat walk Asia has ever seen.”
“And let me guess. We have front row seats!”
From the outskirts of Bangkok, where they were living in Salaya, a taxi took them to Surasak BTS* station, the second to last station of the Silom line, and then the sky train dropped them off right in front of Central Chitlom, the trendiest place in Bangkok at that time. Hundreds of people were roaming the entire shopping mall, some of them hoping that they would be able to procure a ticket to the fashion parade. They hoped in vain.
All the tickets had been sold even before the first day of the Summer Fashion Week had started. La crème de la crème of this cosmopolitan city made sure they would be recognized by mass-media next to the sexiest models Thailand had ever seen. The reception party which would end the event would be a great chance of getting their photo taken with one of the models, and then having it published in one of the many gossip magazines.
Such an exhilarating atmosphere was exactly what Sunisa had set in mind for him. She thought that tonight Brian would forget all about the war, the wounded, and the killed that haunted his dreams every night. It was only on the previous night that she had to wake him up from one of his nightmares, and wrap herself around his naked sweating body, waiting for every one of his muscles to relax. She was sure that after the show, all he would want to do was make love to her all night long.
By the time they entered the hall, most of the seats had already been occupied, while at the end of the long stage heaps of photographers were installing their tripods, or were taking shots of the crowd. The spectators were spared of the usual thank-you-speech delivered by the organizers, which was probably being saved for the good-bye party. Brian and Sunisa would never have to hear it.
The lights were turned off, and for a moment they were engulfed in total darkness. Then a strong bright light at the end of the stage started blinking. The loudspeakers began playing a heroic march, and in no time the stage was invaded by silhouettes dressed in the most outrageous outfits the Bangkokians had ever seen. The audience was screaming and applauding in delight, while the photographers were taking shot after shot.
Then the music changed, and greenish light was being projected in all directions. The sound of the audience also seemed to transform and he thought he heard someone shouting, “Stop that! Go! Take cover! Go! Go! Go! Go!” And then gunshots. From everywhere. Now he clearly heard that voice shouting again, “Go! Go!” He looked around, his hand gripping tightly at Sunisa’s hand, but could only see darkness and the phosphorescent green light. He picked up the distant sound of a helicopter. Around him shadows were moving. The helicopter was getting closer and closer. A loud blast deafened him for a second or two.
“Go! Go!” he started shouting, and hit the top of the car with his clenched fist.
The driver jerked the car forward and the entire convoy started moving. The driver ran over the wreck left by the bomb that had exploded inside the parked car by the side of the street. Immediately after the blast, heavy fire was brought down on them from the windows overlooking the road.
“It’s an ambush, sergeant!” Brian heard the voice of his men on the radio. “They’re blocking the street behind us!”
“Drive faster!” he heard himself shouting at the driver.
The driver followed the order without hesitation. They were reaching some speed when another car-bomb exploded just as they were passing it. The blast shook the car, and the window by the driver was smashed to pieces. Fragments of the broken window became stuck into the driver’s face and neck. He lost control of the car and then the car rolled over on its right side. The convoy stopped behind the accident. From all the windows shots were being fired at the two trucks carrying money with Saddam’s head on them on their way to the company base for destruction.
“They knew we were coming,” shouted Sergeant Brian as he was helping one of his men get out of the ruined armoured vehicle through the shattered windshield.
From the first truck two soldiers approached the accident.
“Help out the corporal, he’s wounded,” he barked at the two soldiers. “The rest of you open fire. We leave when we get the corporal out.”
The three soldiers assumed shooting positions and started firing. Now the whole convoy was firing at the windows. The enemy’s fire reduced substantially, while bits and pieces of the buildings surrounding the convoy fell to the ground under the marines’ heavy fire.
“Sir, the corporal is dead.”
“Take him out!”
“I can’t! He’s stuck!”
“I said, take him out! We ain’t leaving nobody behind!”
Sergeant Brian put his weapon to his shoulder and started shooting at the windows again.
“Sir, his left foot is stuck between the steering wheel, the door and the seat. And we can’t open the door!”
“Do whatever you have to do, but get him out of there! We don’t leave without him!”
The enemy fire almost ceased. Random shots were being fired at the convoy from the roof tops. Grabbing the radio, Sergeant Brian ordered his men to hold their positions. In the meantime the private in charge of getting the corporal out ran to his truck, and returned with a long knife.
“Sir, it is done,” he informed his sergeant after a couple of minutes. Sergeant Brian stopped firing and turned to the soldier.
He noticed the bloody knife in the soldier’s hand and said, “Move your asses to the trucks! We’re out of here!”
The five soldiers carried the driver’s body and his severed leg to the truck, closely followed by Sergeant Brian who wasn’t firing anymore, just inspecting the windows with his finger gently placed on the trigger.
After the corporal’s body had been loaded onto the truck, at Sergeant Brian’s order, the convoy started moving again.
“Go! Go!” he shouted from the top of his lungs.
They passed their old armoured vehicle. The shooting stopped.
“Brian, you’re hurting me!”
He heard Sunisa’s voice like in a dream.
“Let go of me! Brian!”
He looked to his left but there was no driver. On the stage the models were posing for the photographers. There was more light in the hall now. He saw Sunisa’s face contorted in pain, with tears falling down her cheeks. Only then he realized he was squeezing her hand in his. He let it go. But she didn’t pull her hand away. She let it rest on his thigh. He stared at her in bewilderment and said nothing. Not a word.
The models were exiting the stage. The fashion parade was over. All the lights in the hall were turned on, and the spectators got up and went to the door, noisily chatting among themselves.
“Let’s go home.”
Sunisa stood up, touched Brian’s shoulder, and smiled a painful smile.
*BTS – Bangkok Transit System (sky train)
Voicu Mihnea Simandan is a Romanian writer, freelance journalist and educator who has been living in Thailand since 2002. He has published three books of non-fiction and one play for children. Also, three of his short stories have been published in Bangkok Trader, Asian Journal of Literature, Culture and Society, and the 2010 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology. He can be contacted via his website www.simandan.com.