This is a contest entry. Only judges are asked to rate this story until after January 4th. Judges, please make Nick's job easier by remembering to leave a comment alongside your rating. Only rate the story as a whole, and not individual chapters.Thank you.
Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others, cannot keep it from themselves
‘Hmmm? Yeah, what?’ I turned round to see Robbie glaring at me. He pointed the barrel of his rifle at me.
‘Mate, are you actually gonna do anything, or are you just gonna carry on sitting there? Have you finished cleaning your rifle yet?’ He withdrew the barrel and pushed the cleaning rod towards the butt of the gun.
‘Yeah, forgot about that…pass me mine, will you.’ I snapped out of my reverie, and began to soak the cleaning pads with solvent.
My long term girlfriend, now fiancé, was 8 months pregnant with our first child. Jessica had given me a teary goodbye a month ago, before I made my way towards the plane - destination: Afghanistan.
‘Honey…be careful out there, ok? For me and… for her.’ She took my hand and placed it on her well rounded stomach.
I drew her close to me, and gently wiped the droplets from her eyes, as she flung her arms around my neck.
‘Darling, you know I will. Watch how time flies - before you know it, I’ll be back in December to see you and our baby daughter! You’re the one that will have to be careful… No binge drinking, no clubbing till 4am-’
She laughed and punched me playfully on the shoulder, then burst into tears again.
‘Shhh…baby be strong ok? No more crying allowed - come here my love.’
I clutched her to me again, and stroked her delicate cheek. I bent down and breathed in the scent of her peachy shampoo, and kissed her again.
‘Ok Jess…I have to go now. Write to me, and tell me how our baby is doing - and how you’re doing. I love you so much.’
She clung to me, and embraced me in a fierce hug. ‘I love you James. Stay safe, ok?’
I had boarded the plane, to the jeering ( I call it jealousy) of the rest of the lads. Playful banter erupted in the cabin, as we finally took off.
‘For gods sake James, you’re so out of it today! What’s up?’ Robbie poked me in the ribs, and I jumped violently.
‘Nothing - just thinking bout Jess, ya know? Haven’t heard from her in a while - hope she’s doing ok.’
‘Yeah she’ll be fine, I’ve heard that the post ain’t too great up here, so don’t be expectin’ much…’
‘Uhuh. You finished yet? I’m gonna go up and get some grub - I think Sean and Josh are already at the mess. Wanna come with? ’
‘Sure, gimme a sec…’ I assembled my rifle together, and put it back in the weapon store.
We made our way towards the central canteen, and I put on my sunglasses to stop the dazzling glare of the midday sun from penetrating my eyes. The climate here compared to rainy England was crazy hot - the days were swelteringly boiling in the summer - and in the winter depending on whereabouts you were, were below freezing. I was definitely going to get a tan - no doubt about it, but most likely an uneven tan due to our uniform. I spent the most part of my days topless, but my thighs were a stunning white, unexposed to the sunrays.
Robbie and I grabbed a tray each, and wandered around the assortments of food - Indian, Chinese, Arabic, English, American - there was a wide variety buffet available, and if anyone wanted or needed anything in particular, that was provided as well. I spooned up a plateful of spicy rice, curried chicken and vegetables, and grabbed a few cookies for dessert. I sat down next to Sean, across the table from Josh and Robbie.
‘Hey James, guess what?’ Josh spoke through a mouthful of fried noodles. ‘I heard Sergeant said we’re-’ he gestured at himself, Robbie and I. ‘- gonna get posted to Helmand’s in a couple of days…what do you think about that eh?’
‘What?!’ I gulped my food down to stop it spraying across the table. ‘What do you mean? Who did you hear it from?’
‘Woah…chill…just a rumour. But I think it’s pretty sound - they’re sending patrols out in small groups, less intimidating and all that. We‘re the ones that got picked…and Sean’s just not good enough.’ With that remark, he flicked a piece of red pepper towards Sean.
Sean narrowed his eyes. ‘What was that?’
Josh smirked. ‘Need to clean out your ears mate…I said- You. Are. Not. Good. Enough.’
Sean stood up. He glared at Josh, and went calmly over to the buffet table. Robbie gave Josh a high five, and I tried not to grin as I saw Sean pick up a bowl of custard. He came up behind Josh, and dumped the contents on his head. Josh spluttered profanities at Sean, and Robbie and I laughed as yellow oozed down his forehead.
Later that evening, I scrawled a quick letter to Jessica, spilling out my fears and doubts about the post to Helmand’s. It wasn’t official yet, but I wanted her to know as quickly as possible, just in case it was true. Hundreds of soldiers were posted to Afghanistan all the time, but few were actually involved directly with the action. I’ve heard stories about soldiers doing absolutely nothing on their tours, but then I’ve also heard stories about soldiers dying. What was the death toll now? I wasn’t about to deny my fears - this was a reality for all of us, but we all hid it beneath jokes and laughter. But I couldn’t let my uncertainties cloud my professional judgement - after all, the blood, sweat and tears from my year of training was bound to pay off in the end. I wasn’t concerned about myself - this was my job, this was something I had chosen to do. A soldier fights, that’s what he’s meant to do. I was just worried about Jess. And our baby.