Tomorrow the war starts
[ fiction - february 07 ]
Tomorrow the war starts. We're all quite excited. Quite, quite thrilled. Where we'll be or who when it's over is anybody's guess, and that's the charm of it. As I complete the first round of my morning rituals, the coverage will be beginning its slow and certain journey. Climax will be ours! Gently, as I eat my breakfast I'll absorb the requisite facts, humming in my ears and flickering through the water glass. Folding my jacket if it is sunny, as likely it will be, I will turn and lock the apartment door as the newscaterers chatter on; cat, walls and video receiving. Down the stairs, around the corner and to the bus: this time I will use to mull over the situation as known, to find my own, thoughtful angle. Sitting among familiars, I will test my theses through their eyes, articulating stronger positions and drawing deeper parallels. At the office, we'll blunt the dullness and drudgery with our dizzy talk.
Thoughts of the way home will be spiced with this pointed chatter. Spiced also, as always, with distracted wanderings into the lives of my silent bus companions. Dinner will be dry and tasteless, but I will share it quietly with posterity. Remote in hand, I will partake in the moment, immerse myself in the making. Historical fact.
When the sun finally rises on this dull and humid day, I feel not the glorious sense of withness I had anticipated, but rather a dim veil of unwell. I doubt, I wonder. I notice that they're spending as much, if not more time discussing the finals of Temptation Day as our boys' grim efforts. This should come as no surprise and yet I feel unsettlingly irritated by it. I glance at the paper, I see that they have missed the 8am start of war. The front page is a mosaic of warring predictions, deadly threats and one huge photo of a handsome boy, maybe 18, who's grinning generously at the camera, ready to go off and fight for king and country. This image somehow cheers me up. I read the caption: 17-year-old Chuck X of blah, blah, USA. Being an outsider in this country isn't always easy, but in this moment, with my eye on the ruddy Saxon glow of this young man, I feel it all settled. Home, I am unruffled. So I get up more sprightly than I sat down, and I pluck my coat from the door, and I'm juggling the competing theorems in my brain as I reach the bus stop. And the journey is sprinkled with small pleasures, I catch the eye of the serious young man who slouches near the front, and receive a smile so radiant that I have to wonder whether really it was directed at me.
I greet my colleagues with the requisite distance, a quick mention of things current, and am seated. Aridity yawns and has surfaced for its eight-hour shift, envelops me gently. I sit, perform the appropriate tasks, speak in the mandated voice, type at the correct speed. Lunch I eat, as on most days, with two fellow workers, one below and one above me in the order. And of course, there is war talk. They are faintly surprised by the firmness of my convictions - at this stage? - and the details that I share with them as to strategy, position and roads to victory. I for my part am not moved by their inadequacy here, I have a far greater command on world affairs than either.
At the supermarket on the way home, I stand paralyzed in the frozen foods aisle. I am feeling a certain terror at this orgy of choices. This is very much out of keeping with my usually fleeting, efficient shops here. I trudge home, ready meal in hand, through the sweaty darkening streets.
From my old and green velveteen couch I watch the day's events. I find that I've not missed a great deal. Troops disembarked in orderly fashion, no obstacles and few natives on the ground to greet them. At the ports more ships carrying more troops were stationed until further notice. But, as I had known and as they had told us, the major arena of battle was the air: 10,000 bombs were dropped, with precision-guided technology, on their predetermined targets. No hiccups, no errors, just the mechanical cleanliness of modern warfare. Power grids, communications infrastructures and roads are all part of this first wave of disarmament. Also commercial centers, hospitals and palaces. An eminently sensible strategy: inconvenience and disable first, then in with the boys to finish things off.
On day two, I wake early to screaming child and maternal distress. I carry on as usual. I've slept well, and humming in the shower, I feel an innocence, a freshness. I devour my breakfast with my first appetite, racing through the headlines, bylines, adlines. I desire focus but nothing yet pulls me to it. The front page graphic is a photo, an aerial view depicting, rather mysteriously, a shack. We are told in the caption that it is indeed a shack, of the nuclear weapons developing variety. No mean find, I'm impressed.
John thinks it's a scam, the shack the photo, "the war and all", he adds in his Yorkshire broad. I'm surprised. John has been a soldier, albeit in a different army, he has actually fought in a war. Our discussions of strategy are always a delight, whether they center on war and peace or the ideal workings of an efficient photocopier protocol. John has a keen wit about him, and is not to be confused by emotion or convention. Together we develop elaborate theories, which, on occasion we will test on Brian who is a man of action with little time for thought.
It is very clean in this city, it is not like the urban spaces of home. I'm reflecting now, as I sit on the evening bus, on the making of this place. I wonder at the taming of nature and native, at the promise of technology and culture. It is truly a beautiful thing - this land of mountains and plains, of cities and industry, of freedom and ordered suburban living. With my ancestors I crossed a vast ocean to find peace in a civilization of order, law and reason. It is to this flag that I pay homage. The rain is starting now as I dismount, it is a tepid rain and I embrace it.
The war has been going for six months now, and there are no signs of it abating. On the contrary, we're seeing an escalation of unprecedented scale. The first country invaded was defeated, we've occupied it and are busy restoring services, building for it a rational order such as ours on which it will prosper in years to come. There is still some resistance, but it is fractured and fanatical, it won't prevail. The action has moved eastwards to two neighboring countries who we're in the process of subduing.
In memory of his mother, John has started a collection for the widows of those killed in combat, whose numbers continue to grow. Yesterday the bucket clinked almost full. On the home front, the peace is being perturbed. Of late, in urinals, during lunch and coffee breaks, talk has centered on one thing only: what has been labelled a growing 'resistance movement ' in parts of the nation. It is a source of little controversy, we are all quite certain that it will fail. We know that such childish impertinence has neither merit nor use in our ordered universe.
My wife too has perfected the art of complaint - a ceaseless, jagged whine. It has become the soundtrack to my life, as they say. The precious space I'd carved for myself she no longer respects. It's all talk of the child's "emotional stability", his flailing test scores, his friendless afternoons at home. I've married a compulsive worrier, a good old fashioned nag. I am, she tells me, screams rather, like a pre-pubescent boy, no more useful, only smugger, and with a penis that has lived a little, before giving up. She has many rebukes, this being the harshest, she lets me know.
Last night she also announced that she was no longer interested in playing mother to me, from now on I'd be washing and ironing my own clothes. I have to wonder at this woman's myopic obsessions in this time of war and strife. Being a man of the world, I am naturally grounded in history. But this, apparently, is to be condemned. At any rate, I'll get up a little earlier now so I can stop at the dry cleaner's on the way to work.
It is a frosty January morning, a few weeks into my new routine. As I convert the numbers from the format of Company A to the format of Company B, copying and pasting with rhythmic surety, I am interrupted. The main database has crashed, leaving me stranded. Slowly I uncoil, my body loosens, I open my hand, it comes to rest on my lap. Staring at the ceiling, into the distance, I can see all the way to the other end of the hall. In the mirrored tiles, hundreds of ants decontracting, leaning back as I do, waiting for the machines to reboot. We are silent, and listen together as the system whines to a halt. It will be approximately a minute and a half till the buzzing resumes. We are still and tired in the dry office air. Outside we hear a faint chorus of excited chanting. I remember that a widely publicized 'peace march' was due to pass in front of our building today.
Indeed protest has flared in several cities and laws are changing to keep up as the body bags multiply. The media coverage is almost uniformly atrocious - I need to look harder and harder to find a story that gives a complete account of affairs, rather than a hysterical stream of bombings, terror and mutilation. The revenge of the Uncivil has begun. Sewn into the counter-nationalists' rhetoric, the deeds of the Avengers of The Outside (ATO), and the countless other terror networks that infect this sorry planet. Our work now is more urgent than ever. This sentiment our employer has communicated to us via email. We all received a brief note exhorting us to labor on through the hard times, that our work is vital to the war effort and the advancement of freedom for all, that we must love our wives and families. I'm reassured by the words of solidarity, though I'm not certain about the relevance of its parting clause.
I was wearing a frown when it happened. Deep into a comparison of the implications of family versus national allegiance as I walked home. They took me completely by surprise, hurled my dinner from its plastic bag, cracked open it splatted all over the sidewalk. Merciless, they beat me, smashed my head into the curb, kicked and punched me. Didn't touch my briefcase or wallet. Their hideous faces screamed insults the likes of which I have never heard. Not relevant. Not in the least bit relevant. I am trying to control this thought as it spirals, furious, round my head. Blurred into the attack, the chaos, shock, that sullen boy on the bus, I've retracted his smile, oh yes! "My mother doesn't matter at all," I mutter as I lie, bloodied on the hospital bed. I tell the nurse that she died years ago, we barely knew each other. I yelp so they hear: "Look at me! A loyal subject, an upstanding citizen! And look at my father, not a trace of the sandnigger in him!" I sink into the bed exhausted, weary. Doubt stirs, hisses in the background. With all my force I crush all panic.
Now I'm home and resting. I've been here almost a week and I'm at my wit's end. I have been given back my space though. This morning, I just saw on TV, an ATO bomb exploded on home soil, the first such known attack. There have been others, though they went unclaimed, and were attributed to foreign groups. It is only a matter of time before they are caught and the problem curbed. These chinks will be resolved, smoothed out I know. Tomorrow I go back to work. I'm looking forward to it, back to busyness, productivity, a sense of meaning.