The Girl Who Cried War
Author: coritherien

Chapter 16

May 10th, 2008

I was woken by a cascade of pomegranates as they landed on my face. 

“Ah, what the—Billy!”

Billy paused in shaking one of the tree branches and erupted into a fit of giggles.  “Sorry, Bucko,” he wheezed between guffaws.

I sat up, swiped the fruit away and ground the sleep from my eyes.  I dreamt all night of the girl in the red socks, interrupted only by visions of rifles and bunk beds.  Those were new, and I was clueless as to their origins, but I chose to keep it from Billy.  He made such a big deal out of my dreams.   

Ahead of us, the market strip was once again abuzz with business, and I had the sneaking suspicion that it had run all night.  Men and young boys, most of whom wore turbans, sat behind tables laden with goods just inside each of the tents.  More Humvees passed behind the strip.  Not a think had changed while we slept.

“Here,” Billy called, and a ripe, heavy pomegranate landed in my lap.  Bully sunk his teeth into one, and juice the color of blood trickled down the sides of his mouth.  

The fruit was sweet, and surprisingly cool, and was so unfamiliar to me that I was sure I’d never before tasted a pomegranate.  We each consumed two more before slumping back against the gnarled tree trunk.

“What do we do now, Billy?” I muttered somewhat desperately.

“What do you mean?” he murmured, picking pomegranate skin from between his teeth.  The man didn’t have a care in the world.

“I’ve got to get back to where I come from,” I said, “but first, I’ve got to figure out where that is.  But how can we do anything without any money?”  I started to laugh.  “Hell, we’re even running out of shoes!”

“Maybe we can get jobs, Bucko,” Billy suggested innocently.

I scoffed.  “What kind of Iraqi is going to hire a couple of Americans?”

I was harsher than I intended, and Billy flinched away, lowering his head.  I could’ve kicked myself. 

“Hey, I’m sorry,” I said softly.  “I’m just frustrated.  It’s got nothing to do with you.”

He nodded and, slowly, his goofy grin returned.  From his pocket, he withdrew his whiskey flask and sucked down the last few chugs.  He offered me a go before he downed the last drop and this time, I accepted.  The whiskey burned my throat and sort of fizzled in my stomach.  I was quite sure I’d never tasted whiskey, either. 

Then, we meandered down the length of the market strip without really stopping to look at anything.  Towards the end of it, we neared what appeared to be some sort of army barrack.  A handful of soldiers were gathered at the opposite end.  One, a black man with glasses and tags around his neck, peered in the direction of the market strip.  His roving eyes stopped on us. 

He took us in for a moment, and I thought we’d be told off for snooping, but he nodded slightly, a greeting.  We mustn’t have posed much of a threat.  He was talking to a man who might’ve been around thirty, but looked a whole lot older.  Beside the man was a much younger girl with dark hair pulled up in a bun, wearing a navy blue tank top.  Her back was to us.

I continued walking a few steps before I realized that I was walking alone.  “Billy?”

“Bucko, you’ve got to see this!”

He had come to a halt around the back of the barrack.  I followed his eyes and found a patch of grass, the only patch I had seen in Iraq so far.  It couldn’t have been more than 5ft across, but it looked well maintained.

That wasn’t what caught his eye.

I drew closer, and saw three framed portraits perched atop the grass.  The one farthest to the left showed a burly looking man in uniform.  The name Mark Sweeney was scrawled beneath him.  The photo farthest to the right was of a man in his late 30’s/early 40’s, with sand colored buzz cut, a stern mouth but laugh lines around his eyes.  Beneath him, Christopher Fournier was written in gold lettering. 

It was the center photo that peaked our interest.  A boy of about eighteen with short black hair peered at us through dark, maybe black, eyes.  Beneath his photo, in the same brazen gold, was the name Nathaniel Richardson.

“Bucko…that’s you.”


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