Thursday, 29 October 2009

Armed solitude

Panikkos carefully put out his cigarette by stepping on it with the heel of his boot. He picked up the cigarette butt and put it in his magazine pouch. There was no point flicking it away, as Captain Kitsis would only make them collect cigarette butts as a punishment. He was in full gear, standing watch in the outpost's detached watchtower, which was about 1/2 a mile from the main buildings. Ever since the order came from HQ to be on alert, everyone was doing double shifts. His turn had come to keep watch at the dreaded detached post. Dreaded because it was in the middle of nowhere, so far from any visual stimulation that could keep him from being bored. At the same time it was well within the visual range of the Captain, so taking a nap was out of the question.

Since the alert orders came in, the company had set up a .50 caliber machine gun as defence to potential air attack. Panikkos knew that there was as much chance of the attack happening as there was of that old piece of junk being of any use. He had no ammo for the .50 cal, and the ammo for his G3 rifle came with the guard post. It was securely sealed in a magazine holder made of leather, heavily stitched so that the soldiers wouldn't steal bullets. He was not allowed to open fire without permission from the officer on duty. But the guard post phone didn't work. He knew that his best chance was to make a run for it if the worst was to happen. But it wouldn't. This was just an exercise in exercising power. HQ made up a stupid order, Panikkos and his mates had to stand by the .50 cal for hours. Somebody somewhere was having a laugh.

His watch started at 6 in the morning and was to end at noon. It was only 8.30 and he was already bored out of his mind. He tried to divide his time into smokes, pacing himself so he wouldn't run out of cigarettes before the end of his watch. He had a whole pack of Craven A's he'd bought the evening before. He smoked Craven A's because they were so heavy nobody wanted to pinch one off him, they kept away. He'd planned to smoke 3 cigarettes per hour, roughly one every 20 minutes, that would bring him to the end of his watch fine. But it was only 8.30 and he'd already smoked half the pack.

His little radio, hidden in the other magazine pouch, was playing music, frequently interrupted by the musings of the DJ. He liked that one , she had a warm, fuzzy voice, which made him think of nice, comforting things. Her name was Joanna , and he imagined her to be beautiful, with long blond hair and blue eyes. Her voice gave him some comfort in the long hours.

By 10.00 he was really bored. Thankfully the patrol dropped by, sneaking him a halloumi sandwich and the football newspaper, Kosmos ton Spor. He ate the sandwich very slowly, savouring every bite, making it last as long as possible. The newspaper headlines were just commenting on the results from the day before. His team, Nea Salamis, was thrashed 4-0 and was lingering at the bottom of the table. Pushing the newspaper aside, his thoughts drifted to the coming evening. He was due for a pass, his first one in six weeks, and couldn't wait to see Andri, his girlfriend. He'd have a nice, home-cooked meal, his clothes washed, go out for a drink and get back the following morning with his batteries charged.

It didn't help the time pass. If anything, it made him more impatient. He stood his rifle (bayonet fixed during the alert) against the wall, took his helmet off and started kicking the pebbles around the guard post. He picked up a handful and started tossing them, one by one, trying to hit one of the many crows that flew around. He quickly went to the dirty toilet at the base of the guard post for a piss and came back up, in case Captain Kitsis was looking at him through his binoculars. He was really strict, one of those officers with a real chip on their shoulders, always giving the boys a hard time. Panikkos thought Kitsis was in some kind of ego-trip, fancying himself as one of those hard American officers from the movies, perhaps just like the sergeant from Full Metal Jacket. They were not all like that. Captain Ektoros, for example, sometimes came to the outpost with a bottle of brandy and some food and sat with the lads around a game of poker. He was all right, one who understood the futility of it all and had decided to have as little aggravation as possible.

By 11 o'clock his spirits were good. He had two cigarettes left but was less than an hour away from being replaced. He hoped that his replacement wouldn't be late. As the phone was broken he had no way of contacting the rest. The patrol was not due again until about 1. He tried to keep himself busy by thinking ahead, what he'd do in the evening, if his mate Yorkos would be around, if his mum would cook his favourite food, keftedes.

"8.28: Turkish Land Rover sighted". He updated the log, even though there was no land rover. He didn't want the Captain to think he wasn't watchful. "9.44: Turkish patrol". "10.36: Turkish guard replacement". He made sure the things he 'observed' were simple routine, nothing that would cause an investigation or further paperwork, such as reported gunfire. The logbook was full of such observations, as each guard ensured that they left no room for anyone to doubt whether they were watchful, or even awake.

By 11.45 he was really happy. He was sure the replacement would come soon. He was getting hungry and was ready for a quick nap before he scrubbed up and got his pass in the afternoon. He had a hitch hike journey home ahead of him, but he didn't mind. He usually met interesting people while hitch hiking, and drivers always stopped for a soldier.

12.01. There was no sign yet of the replacement, but Panikkos was sure it was on its way; being 5 minutes late was not uncommon. Perhaps whoever it was took the path through the orchards to gather some plums and peaches on his way. He hoped that his replacement wasn't that new guy from England. He was only serving six months and was really lax about such things. Everybody hated the 'Charlie', because they were envious, but also because he was culturally alien to them. And he was usually late for his guard duties.

By 12.15 he'd started getting a bit anxious. "Where the fuck is the damn replacement?" he thought, now kicking pebbles around in fury. He was not pleased, that Charlie, or whoever, was eating into his rest time. Another half an hour passed, it was a quarter to one. He started contemplating walking down to the outpost but was sure the Captain would see him and so he stayed. He tried not to think of it, something must have happened-his replacement would be there soon, definitely. By 1.30 he was out of his mind. He hadn't smoked in over an hour, out of cigarettes, out of patience, hungry and furious. He thought that if he took the orchard path he wouldn't be seen walking back for most of the way, and if the Captain happened to check the guard post through his binoculars, he could always claim he was in the toilet with the runs.

He took the ammo, his rifle and everything else and started walking cautiously back. It was almost 2 o'clock and he'd been guard since 8. Inside him the possibilities were projected, like a black and white film against the screen of his mind. If he was lucky nobody would see him and he'd get the replacement to quickly run back to the post. But if the Captain saw him he was as good as dead and buried. He'd definitely get a 20-day punishment, no leave or pass, plus he'd have to serve it at the end of his national service as an extension. In the worst case he could even be court-martialled for deserting his post and abandoning his duties. This was no joke, he could end up in jail, probably serving another six months at the end of his service. But he had to rest, eat, get ready for his pass. The whole thing tormented him. He couldn't face the wrath of the Captain, it could crush him. He thought of going straight home, at least he'd get a night's enjoyment before he was severely punished. Perhaps it was a gamble worth taking.

He approached the outpost very cautiously, as if on a stealth mission against the enemy. The Captain was the enemy. He saw the Captain's car parked outside and his heart sank. He knew he was in trouble. No pass, nothing for weeks. He approached the gate and saw there was no guard. Panikkos entered the compound, making for the entrance. Entering the main building, he saw Kyriakos, in full gear, sitting on a chair and keeping one eye on the road and one eye on the TV. He was on guard duty at the gate but knew there was no danger. Panikkos was relieved. He saw his mates sitting around the table playing cards. They told him that the Captain's car broke down and he went to HQ in a service jeep. He asked Andreas, the sergeant, who was supposed to replace him. They all turned and looked at him first, and then looked at Yiannis who was sleeping in his bed. He'd returned drunk just that morning from his pass and had struggled to keep his eyes open. As soon as the Captain left, he collapsed. Panikkos went outside, came back in and emptied a bucket of water in Yiannis' bed. "Get up you bastard" he shouted, as he landed a kick in his ribs. Yiannis jumped amidst the roar of laughter from the rest. He sheepishly picked up the ammo and his gear and started to make his way to the outpost. Panikkos took his boots off, grabbed a piece of bread with cheese and sat in a chair to watch some TV. His mind was already hitch hiking home.

Part of the Army Tales series
Inspired by AH's story.


Ωραία Ελένη said...

Nice :) You know, one thing I am really grateful about in my life is that I did not have to be part of all this military issue… Although I know that you ended up having all these great memories, is not enough reason to think that it really worth it. The scene you describe just proves my point. Something tells me you are Panicos :p

Blackbeard said...

Well, I wouldn't want to expose Panikkos' true identity, but let's just say he's more real than fiction, as are the other characters ;-)

You are right about military service, you do have memories but it's largely a waste of time.