108 - Baghdad
SEVERAL YEARS AGO I took a gun.
In hindsight–which is of course 20/20–that may not have been the best idea I’d ever had.
I knew how to use a gun at least, that much was true. I couldn’t have made it through my training if I hadn’t. I knew how to clean them, assemble them, even fire them. But I’d never once fired a gun at a living target with the intention of killing them. In the parlance of my fellow soldiers, I had yet to be truly tested in battle.
Barring extreme circumstances, as a chaplain, I wasn’t even permitted to carry one of my own. Even medics could carry a small personal firearm and still receive some protection under the Geneva Convention–although that little protection didn’t matter much when it came right down to the action–but not chaplains. Something about religious convictions I supposed.
But I was sick of the situation being out of my control.
My training as a priest was telling me that I had to back off and trust that God had a plan for the whole situation. That everything would work out in the end. But I knew better than that. I knew that sometimes God’s plan was for you to take action. Sometimes you had to be the hand of God in the world. The hard part was telling the difference.
My training as a soldier was telling me that I should obey orders. But that would mean abandoning Amira to whatever fate those men that had taken her from me had in mind. It wasn’t a possibility that I could in good conscious choose, despite all of the conditioning I’d undergone during my training.
And a lifetime of training as a decent human being was telling me that I had to go and find her. I hadn’t known her long, but in that time, I would say that we’d become good friends. We’d trusted each other enough to talk about our life stories–and even more, some of my own blood now flowed through her veins. I knew that wasn’t a particularly good reason, but I couldn’t get her out of my head. I had to help her.
In the end, I went with the first and last options. I could only pray that I was doing the right thing and that God would support me in my madness and forgive me after.
So I grabbed my spare uniform and a few supplies. And then I stole a gun. I paused for a moment to ask God for forgiveness for what I was about to do, although I hoped that stealing it was going to be
Luckily I knew where all of the men that I generally bunked with kept their guns while they were asleep. Not many were actually in bed, despite the hour–the attack had seen to that–but there were at least two. But I got hold of a small handgun. It didn’t have much stopping power, but it was already more than I was really comfortable with. Perhaps I could at least hold someone off for a precious few seconds if it came down to it.
Honestly, I felt a little bad about taking it, beyond the obvious sin of stealing. I knew that they were going to be in almost as much trouble as I was when they woke up and found the gun missing. Perhaps I would get it back before he did. That would be something at least.
I tucked the gun into the back of my pants, hoping that the rest of my uniform would be enough to hide it–and that it wouldn’t accidentally go off; that would be awkward to explain. Better that than walking out into the night with it in my hands though. If anyone saw that, they’d be sure to raise the alarm.
As ready as I was ever going to be, I set off into the night. Of course, it didn’t take long for trouble to find me. It never does.
109 - Baghdad
SEVERAL YEARS AGO I made it only as far as the entrance to the compound when I was stopped by two men that I recognized all too well. It was Lee and Rush, the men that had gone with me the last time I’d gone to the museum.
On one hand, I was glad that they had survived. I was ashamed to admit that I’d been to busy to really give them more than a passing thought since I’d gotten back.
On the other, they were standing between me and my mission–and they didn’t look like they wanted to let me through. They hadn’t noticed the gun, but I was sure there were orders not to let anyone out.
“Good evening,” I said as neutrally as I could. Perhaps I was all worked out for nothing.
But Lee just shook his head and Rush actually spit on the ground. “Not that good,” Lee said, “or did you manage to miss that whole mess?”
Mentally, I winced. Perhaps ‘good evening’ hadn’t been the best way to word it. Still, nothing about not leaving just yet. “Yeah, I saw all of that. Crazy, wasn’t it?”
The two men looked at each other for a moment. It was Rush that responded this time. “That’s one way of looking at it.”
“What do you think they were after?”
“I heard they took the girl,” Lee said a heartbeat before Rush realized what he was saying and seemed to hiss at him. Lee shut his mouth.
“Amira?” I asked, half playing dumb. My heart was already sinking though. They knew more than enough about our friendship to be dangerous. If they’d been given orders to keep people from leaving the base, they’d surely know that those orders had to have been meant specifically for me.
Neither of the men said a word about her though, although I thought I saw Lee start to nod. The movement was slight though and cut off at a glance at Rush.
After a perfectly awkward pause, I decided to just go for it. “So I was thinking about heading out for a walk.”
Perhaps they hadn’t figured out why I was there. The looks on their faces would have been comical had I not been on something of a limited time frame.
“You can’t…” Lee started to say, but he was interrupted by Rush, “we have orders…”
Both of them stopped talking, but after a moment, Lee nodded, acquiescing to Rush’s seniority, slight as it was. “Not this evening, you can’t. Orders are that everyone stays on base.” He didn’t look particularly suspicious at least, but rather guarded.
“I won’t go far,” I said, but I was already thinking about other ways out. Perhaps I could sneak up to the rooftops and go over? They’d been secured–otherwise enemy forces could surely have done exactly that–but surely that would have been to keep people out, not in.
Rush was shaking his head, but Lee seemed to be softening. “Come on, just for a bit,” he was saying to Rush. “You know what they said he went though.”
Rush turned to me though, and after a moment, Lee’s attention followed. “No,” Rush said. “I don’t actually know what happened to you. I’ve heard all sorts of rumors, but they can’t all be true. After all, you can’t be both for us and against us, now can you?”
Just what sort of rumors had there been while I’d been away? Or worse yet, since I’d come back? I hadn’t really considered it. I was still having trouble believing that it wasn’t all just a giant hoax, that it really could possibly have been so much later.
It wasn’t particularly a conversation that I wanted to have though. Not now. I didn’t have the time to convince these men that I was innocent. Particularly if even they were doubting my story. After all, they’d been there when I’d been shot. They must have known that I couldn’t have faked that much at least.
I half turned away from them. “I guess I don’t need that walk after all.” I knew that was only going to bring the worse rumors to the forefront in their minds, but I didn’t have time. Tomorrow would be time enough for damage control.
I could already see the doubt darkening their eyes, but I continued to turn away, heading back into the center of the base.
Only to run almost directly into the Sergent who apparently had been standing right behind for who knew how long.