by Steven Edwards
We’d been walking all day. One of those walks where every movement increases the tension in your body, where every step only results in relief that you haven’t hit a tripwire or triggered a mine, and where every movement results in the dread of the next step. Eyes out front, sweep side to side, nothing out of the ordinary, eyes down watching one foot move in front of the other, eyes up, sweep, down, booted foot laid on the ground heel first, eyes up, sweep, eyes down. Have you ever been afraid to swallow because the noise that your throat makes within your own ears might mask a noise that will cost you an arm, leg, or life?
Well, the day was typically hot and wet. Not just humid, not damp, it was wet! Every piece of cloth on our bodies was soaked. Everything that touched skin rubbed it raw. It was days like this that had me give up wearing underwear and socks. They were slow to dry and resulted in every fold of skin developing it’s own growth culture of one jungle organism or another. I turned and looked over my right shoulder trying to get a glimpse of everyone else.
I waited till he had his back to me before I stepped into the clearing. The old Vietnamese man had spent five minutes getting undressed and relieving himself before he stepped under the bamboo shower. Roxbury had been whispering, “Damned hairless slope. We ought to pop him right where he’s squattin’.”
I stepped into the open and motioned for the other eight to move past me. Half of us wore sweat stained t-shirts, a couple wore flak jackets and the rest were stripped to the waist.
Roxbury fell into step next to me. “Dirty little shit. We oughta just kick his ass down the hill. Gooks don’t know how to get clean no way. Hell, get a woman here, you get the clap, too. Don’t live in nothin’ but dirt-floor shacks.”
The old man rubbed his hands over his eyes and turned. That’s when he saw us. His eyes got big and his hands dropped, trying to provide himself some privacy. Slowly he lowered his head and turned his back to us.
Roxbury stopped near the shower. “Hey, papa-san, your mama-san boom-boom for five hundred pee?” I kicked Roxbury and shoved him down the path.
I wanted to say something, to tell the old man that I was sorry, but he kept his eyes on his feet and his hands folded in front of him. A sliver of soap slipped from his hand.
I turned and followed everyone else down the path.