The Black Mountains of Afghanistan He woke up in the morning. The mountains towered above him.
The Black Mountains of Afghanistan
He woke up in the morning. The mountains towered above him. He had lost
two of his friends yesterday. He wondered how long it would keep going like
this. Would it happen again tomorrow? Maybe. Maybe it would. Maybe it would
be him. Maybe he’d never know it. It was almost comforting. He knew it was.
He could go with that. He could go with that each day. Sure that’d work. It’s not
like he hadn’t had to find those kinds of things before. Maybe they all had one.
Maybe what he was thinking was what they had thought. That was disturbing.
He was in no frame of mind to do the logic of it. He could have stayed home
after all. It had been his choice. Whatever anyone might say, it had been his
choice and his alone. No matter anything. It was what it was now. No matter
anything. It was another thing to keep him going. Did it keep them going? Did
they know about it? More disturbing thoughts. Comfortingly they weren’t more
than they were. They didn’t have a further logic. What would it be like, though?
No, better not go there. He knew he was good for it but all of this death. Kids
dead. Faces upturned. Auww, the hell. Death came to everyone. Whatever side
you might be on, he’d be dead like they were either here or somewhere else.
Those mountains were really tall. Afghanistan. What a place. The poor people.
And they were really poor too. Poorer than he knew he’d ever see again. It was
even poorer. There weren’t words for what it was. It was like a big nothing and
the nothing had swallowed up all these people and then that was how they lived
and they got used to it. What a place. Maybe he’d come back some day when
this was all over. But he couldn’t conceive of it being over. Maybe it would end,
but he didn’t know what that would mean on the ground, ‘cause that doesn’t
mean it’d be over. And then something would be over but what was it? It seemed
like permanent war. Not because the military, well not just because of them, but
because of how it was here. It’d always be war here. The nothing wasn’t going
away and that’s what these people knew. Knew it and it was their environment.
He thought it must have been that way for centuries. War lords going away?
The people? That religion? No. So what the heck. The mountains were beautiful
here though. They were dark mountains even in the day time. The rock was
a black kind of rock. Those tall slabs all broken up. He wondered where that
came from. The kids too, they had beautiful faces, different from ours but just
the same as ours. He felt a tear in his eye. He stopped it sort of. He lay on his
back on his cot and looked up at the mountains. They were so beautiful. He
wondered whether the generals ever looked at them like that. Just that they
might be a little beautiful sometimes. He knew other people who did. It wasn’t
really the kind of thing people would think they’d talk about. The generals said
they were all hiding up there in those mountains. They said that’s where they’d
have to go if they wanted to fight them. It made him curious when they used
the ‘want’ and ‘if’, he wasn’t an intellectual type but it seemed clear to him that
there was a lot of subjectivity in those want-if-conditions. It seemed to him that
it wasn’t consistent with the objective and the desires to get it done. He thought
in the beginning that that was a basic formality that didn’t need to be tested by
watching how people actually talked and also seemed to plan on the ground.
He’d gotten used to it though. It was that nothingness that he thought swallowed
up the people who lived here and they got used to it and they didn’t know really
anything else. It could be like that with how his people talked and seemed to
base their plans on things, when on the ground they were different from the
formalities of all of the stated objectives by the generals and the politicians. He
didn’t know very much about the politicians, but he knew enough to know that
their mission ideas were like the mission ideas of the generals, a degree away
maybe but that was natural. There was a reason he felt happy about some of
this. He understood a lot of things that he thought his friends probably did not
and he thought probably never would. He felt good to have perspective. He
knew they had perspectives though just as based on thinking logic as his. When
they went out none of it mattered. It didn’t matter what it was. If it played out
in any way when they were out no one would notice how it did or they’d be
too busy trying to keep their senses and minds on the ground and measuring
distances and poking around their guns usually laying them in harness across
their stomachs. Some of the patrols were not really planned in a serious way,
but he didn’t think any other kind of planning was possible here. That’s why
it happened. It was just a little logic. It meant something to him to get some
of this stuff right. It didn’t stop people from dying or getting hurt though. But
he thought that it might keep some other things from dying. Like being able
to go home and think the same. Same but different. There hadn’t been a need
before. That would hardly have been possible. Still it was something he would
have missed out on. Missing out on something that helped nobody the way he
thought people were normally helped. He turned his head to look at those black
slabs pouring down from the sky and he wondered whether it was really true
that it would help nothing or nobody. Maybe it could help somehow. Who knew?
Everything was possible. It didn’t create an immediate dilemma. It was fine. And
it made him feel good. That was help enough. There were things though that he
knew he was keeping from himself as he kept looking up at the black slabs in
the sky, how was it possible they didn’t ever fall down, wasn’t it like a cake-rock?
He knew he was just an example, that there were many, that they all had it. Not
an example because nobody who mattered cared enough, maybe they didn’t see
it. They all had it. How’w’d they bring it home? Would anybody get it? Maybe
some. It was possible. Why not? Would he try? He wasn’t even trying here. He
was just testing. Maybe it wouldn’t be a good idea to test further or again. Maybe
he had a good comfort zone now. Maybe it was fine the way it was. Yeah, it must
have been. It was fine the way it was. There was no reason to tempt the devil.
Damn the mountains were beautiful. God how long ‘r’we gonna do this?
He closed his eyes. He fell asleep. The water in the air settled on him as his
body stilled. It rolled off the bag. The black mountains towered above him. Caked
layers of mountain rock slab. Teetering and steadfast watchers of the keep.
He could feel the dust settling on his face. He kept his eyes shut while he dug
his fingers into his skin to wipe the unharmful dew-lit beige grime from his
eyelids, nose, across his cheeks, in the cavities, in the ravines, and up onto his
forehead where he stopped before he reached the hairline. Without complaint.
He sat part-up with his elbows behind him and looked around. Then he sat back
and went back to sleep.
Later in the early day he was walking up front in the line. Bursts came from
the rocks across from them at the foot of the mountains. He reflexively bent
down and held his gun calmly with his eyes already focusing in the direction
of the bursts of the AK47s. The MK19 PG tripod was mounted onto the ground
and they launched three PGs into the front area and two into the back where he
had estimated their location to have been and had told the operator of the tripod
and machine. Dust and rock rose into the air and flew over at them. He had
already started to walk across the field off in the direction of the exploded PGs
so he just ducked a little and turned the side of his body to the flying debris. He
had done this before. For that distance though the ones who had fired on them
would unlikely be wounded so they’d either be gone or dead on the spot. They
were gone. It was almost always like that, and when it wasn’t it was just written
up and didn’t make a difference to anything or to the way they felt throughout
the rest of the day. He turned his head and he was waved back. He completed
the movement with the rest of his body with a quick radius of visual checking
and then walked back in the direction from which he had come. When they had
the chance all of them each at their own time would snatch a prolonged glance,
a short gaze, up at the black mountains. Sometimes by sheer coincidence they’d
all do it at the same time, but it was unselfconscious like the hair on their chests,
they just looked around at each other and that was that and they went on, never
really having stopped. He turned his head up to cake-splintered black slabs and
gazed up to the tops of them, the very mountain tops where the tips of them
went into the sky: the sky always seemed black in Afghanistan, like it was one
with the mountain tops and the nipple-like crests of their eventual tips into the
sky, even when the sky was blue and the sun was out, the sky seemed black with
the mountains, and he thought that that was what made them so beautiful. He
could look at them forever, but there wasn’t time. But being with him as they
were day to day was enough and probably more than if he just sat in a spot
and watched them forever. On this one he was alone. The men in front turned
their heads back to him as he was taking up the tail and he smiled because they
smiled, they knew he had caught a glimpse for himself. He felt happy and smiled
to himself looking down at the ground passing under him while he walked. If
he could communicate this when he went home he knew that he’d be able to
be normal for the rest of his life, unless something horrible intervened between
now and then. But even with that he felt that it would only be with the approval
of the mountains. Before they found out that he had exquisite natural distance gauging abilities
in some later tests for war aptitudes, they had placed him in the information
unit where he started to learn the military home-grown computer code for the
computerized field instruments. He would be able to add code as was necessary
with the cooperation of the manufacturer of the devices, but the code was
essentially military property, and the military insisted on at least maintaining
the upgrades and the new patches themselves. The mountains in Afghanistan
were ancient and sturdy but he thought they were like giant blocks of computer code.
One small block falls and the rest falls. Not on the people who live there
and who die more than he and his people do, but on them, on he and his people,
on the military might. But he didn’t mind if they fell on him alone one day, he
thought they were beautiful. He’d get up and walk out of the rubble anyway. So
would the rest of them. And they’d all look at each other and walk out, but this
time they’d look at each other with a different knowledge. Maybe a knowledge
that they’d go home or that they’d go on here. So would the people who lived
there. He knew the mountains wouldn’t hurt the people who thought they were
beautiful, no it was the total machine that would be destroyed.
He slept. They’d returned to camp at around 16:00. He slept dreaming just
lightly able to just feel the sweetness of getting needed and desired sleep. Things
were white. The air was white. It was like three dimensional space had been
painted white. Soldiers passed through the air in their whited green and black
camos. They strode. They were his people. They didn’t sing they didn’t dance.
They were soldiers. They were professionals. They had jobs to do each day, tasks,
they all built up their set of rituals to conform to the tasks. Outside of patrols and
He woke up and stared up at the black of the blue sky. He thought about
his mother and father. Had the divorce been necessary? He looked around him
getting up on his elbows. Three years. He looked at the brown dirt on the ground
in the distance near the rocks at the base of the mountains. It didn’t really matter,
the divorce. All things were necessary. He lay back down. Birth, marriage,
divorce. But all things. But he had not been blooded. Not in these mountains.
With all the death and children’s bodies, their dead small feet still shoed covered
over with blankets, he had still not been blooded. It was a paradox. They the
mountains were healing the divorce. In a new divorce. In the continuum of
divorce. Of conflict. These people deserved better. All of the people here. His
and theirs. They belonged to each other, these people. He belonged to his. His
and theirs’ could belong to each other only in the polite and respectful nod of
their departure from this country.
They needed to get down the valley that day. He had been asked by the Captain
to do the job that day. They were to return to where they had been yesterday.
To pick up tracks, to tempt death. He knew that. He knew that in this war that
was the game. They had to go out and make sure that they would tempt death.
Death’s temptations had a chance of working through them to tempt the enemy.
They were way up the valley he thought it had been far enough. He had been
a Zappa fan since he was a kid. Some were some weren’t. There was nothing in
between. Most people never had to worry about it since they never got exposed
to his music. But now he thought of the song A Little Green Rosetta. The Captain
slowed down then completely stopped. The man was trying to listen. He looked
back at him and waved him to come forward to him. He went forward and stood
in a half-squatting position next to the Captain who was just a little higher than
him. He was trying to listen to what the Captain was listening to or thought he
was listening to. He thought he might have to listen to the Captain’s mind to hear
whatever the man was listening to. Then he’d hear it like him whether it was
solid or not. A scream of MIGs killed the sky with an evil terror roar in the split
second before he knew that he could never get into the Captain’s mind. They
were both the same now. Charred and no longer listening. He could not hear. He
saw the Captain’s corpse his head was both decapitated and not decapitated. It
was like a burnt mummy’s face crumbling into the dirt separately. The last in the
line of Little Green Rosettas in that country. Some of the guys were moaning and
calling. Before he could give some more effort at movement he saw a movement
of black bodies in the distance over at the lower rocks of the mountains. White
terrestrial flocks flew around them in a dance. They were moving fast. He knew
they’d be there within fifty or sixty seconds maximum. He could see them in
his mind butchering all of them. He knew they’d butcher the dead also. So he
crossed himself and put himself on his side and twisted his neck around so that
the back of his head was on the ground and his face was facing the sky. He
looked up at the sky. He turned his eyes a few degrees and looked up at the black
mountains of Afghanistan. He thought it was a beautiful word: Afghanistan. He
knew the mountains would approve. He closed his eyes and knew that he would
be normal for the rest of his life.
W.A. Patterson's Amazon Author's Page