Brooks Wright

​- excerpts from

SOLDIERS

       He had planned to tell her when they reached the top that he had to go back, that he could not stay here, anymore, in this little town looking at the mountain every day, and that she could come with him if she wanted, but that he didn’t know if he loved her. He was thinking this as he looked at the buildings and the roads and the land as they retreated backwards toward the sky, beyond everything, beyond where there were no mountains, only the invisible line of the horizon. She turned then and looked back at the valley with him and took his hand and stood a little closer. He could feel her looking at him. He turned to look at her. If those were tears on her face he could not tell because of all the rain but she seemed, somehow, to know what was coming.
            “Everything looks so different from up here,” she said. “Like it’s not even real.”
            “Yes,” he said. “It does, doesn’t it?” And he pulled her toward him and kissed her once, lightly on her cheek, and held her in his arms. And then she did begin to cry, and he told her not to, and tried to comfort her. He would leave soon and go back.   

         The one named Kaloko put down his rifle, the RPG he was carrying, the bottle of water, pulled his sandals from his feet, and looked them over. It was hot; the air, a damp clammy vapor, clung to his skin. They had been walking for hours. And even under the dense jungle canopy, sweat soaked the boy’s clothing. In spite of massive calluses on his feet, Kaloko still got blisters where the leather rubbed the tender spots. There was nothing to be done. He tried to ignore it. When he was very young he would think of other things to distract himself from cuts and bee stings. Now he tried to think of nothing. This was the way. But nothing is hard to think of. It takes great concentration, and a bit of courage, and is impossible. The best way is to find a distraction, think about your breathing, or count your footsteps. Sometimes it helps to think about a lesser pain, such as the heat on your skin, or the straps digging into your shoulder. A bee sting would be a welcome distraction, he thought. And then the men came and yelled at them to get up. He hurried to put his sandals back on. The men pushed him to go faster. They marched, again, tired, needing more of the pills they were always given to keep them going.

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