When he came back from the army, from the war, he was a bit crazy. If you weren't polite, he might kick you in the teeth or throw you over a fence, although he wasn't tall. He listened to music almost all day long and in the evening got drunk. He also smoked weed, but I didn't know about that then. He grew it in his garden. At first I was amazed at how talkative he'd get. And why wouldn't he? After a few tokes you can't stop talking.
Afganu used to say it was cool in Afghanistan. He never really uttered the word 'war.' 'We used to eat nothing but mutton,' he said. 'The locals brought it to us or we'd exchange an aluminium spoon for some.'
They also got their weed from the locals. But not only from them. Before a battle they were given weed for courage. He said that the weed there was cool. They'd smoke it and after that they didn't know the meaning of the word fear. They'd just keep fighting and shooting. He'd been wounded a few times, but it didn't pain him to talk about it, he didn't talk about it like it was something unusual, but like it was some story he'd heard as a child.
It wasn't his war. He fought because he was in the army. It was the state that made him a drug addict. The Soviet Union. It doesn't even exist any more. What did he fight for? For weed. For the tulips in the mountains of Afghanistan. Afganu has a motorbike. When you see him perched on it, you'd think he was a madman. He couldn't have done stuff like that in Afghanistan. There was too much sand. You ought to sunbathe there, rather than go around wearing all kinds of camouflage, like in his photographs. The clothes were cool; I think they were made of hemp. Hippie gear. I'd have liked to have clothes like that. But not in Afghanistan.
He used to talk about how the Soviet planes flew over and dropped bombs, and after that they had to advance. But it wasn't easy. Then the basmaci would appear and all hell would break loose. All you could see in front of you was kilometre after kilometre of sand, not a sign of life, and then one of them would pop up with his Kalashnikov. You'd find yourself riddled with bullets. Not to mention the mountains. It didn't do any good bombing the mountains. That was where they were really at home. For us it was a trap. If it hadn't been for grass, it would have been impossible to get us to go in. But as it was, we were calm, we moved like we were in a film, shooting right and left, with the feeling that none of it was real.
When I got wounded I didn't feel a thing, because that was how it had to be, that was how the screenwriter wanted it. I'd lost around fifteen kilos in one year. Not that I was fat when I left. The sun melted us away. Without clothes, it burnt your skin; with clothes on, you were sweating all the time. There was every different nationality there: Moldavians, Uzbeks, Jews, Germans, Russians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, all the nationalities of the U.S.S.R. We knew who the enemy was, but we didn't really know why we were fighting. We smoked some grass, we picked up our automatics, and we ran forward like blind men. I knew that it would end, if I wasn't killed, that in one and a half years, in a year, in a month, I would go home. I was waiting for my national service to finish, not the war. The war would always be there; it didn't seem like it would ever end.
Apart from the drugs that our superiors gave us, we also got hold of our own stuff". For one of those coloured bullets, for fireworks, the Afghans would give us a hard green lump, about the size of a brick. You cut off a small piece and put it under your tongue. And then it would be: bye, comrades, I'm off home! A brick like that would last the whole battalion about a week. We were all like sleepwalkers, each of us talking in our own language. You couldn't understand anything of what was going on. So many languages, so many different occupations in the same camp. Nobody got angry with us. We were at war. We didn't really know why we were fighting, the only thing we were all waiting for was to go home already, to have done with the army.
One of the other things that happened was that one or other of your friends would die. It was very strange. Once, a Lithuanian died in my arms. We had been friends from the very start. In one of my first battles he pulled a sliver of shrapnel out of my scalp using his teeth. When we smoked weed together, he would tell me about home, about how much he liked basketball, about how he couldn't wait to finish his army service so that he could hold a basketball again. He stepped on a mine. He had been two metres tall and there was only about one and a half metres left of him. He was laughing when I lifted him up from the sand. I don't know whether he realised he was dying. He said something to me in Lithuanian. He looked in my eyes and stopped trembling. Forever.
Afganu is an easy-going lad. He married the first chick that crossed his path after his girlfriend left him. He's got children. He doesn't beat either his kids or his wife. Maybe that's why everybody thinks he's a bit weird. I think he's happy. But sometimes, when he's smoking weed, he looks perplexed. Probably he wants to erase something from his hard disk. Or maybe there's something he doesn't understand. Even though sometimes he talks a lot, you don't know what's happening inside him. Sometimes he looks like he did when he turned up with his throat covered in blood and his motorbike crumpled. Somebody had stretched a piece of wire across the road, at throat level.
I can remember him crying. After he came back from Afghanistan and got married. He'd had an argument with his dad. 'What the fuck,' he was saying. Or when he was playing with that dopey dog of his, which kept running in front of the cars. Or when he got blind drunk, after he found out he had a son: he bought everybody drinks and then went to look for some flowers to take his wife in hospital.
Afganu had a friend: Seryj. Seryj had been in Afghanistan too. But unlike Afganu, Seryj hadn't been able to adapt to the life he'd led before the war. He was friendly, but drunk all the time. Because of that he was always quarrelling with his parents. In fact it was his parents who quarrelled with him. Then he would climb on his motorbike and leave. Everybody was scared when they saw him on his motorbike. He used to ride like a madman. And he always used to wear the clothes he'd come back with from Afghanistan.
Afganu had had long hair when he went off to war. And he'd been a bit crazy. When he came back, he'd calmed down. With Seryj it was the opposite. He stopped having his hair cut; he stopped shaving. He listened to music and rode his motorbike like a madman. Those were the only things he liked doing. Maybe drinking too. But I don't know whether he drank because he liked it or for some other reason.
One day Seryj's parents didn't want to let him get on his motorbike. They said he was drunk, that he should sober up if he wanted to ride it and that they shouldn't let him on it anyway, that they ought to burn it, because he only used it to get up to no good. 'All right,' said Seryj, 'you're not going to see it ever again.' He pushed them out of the way, got on his motorbike and rode off.
He picked up speed, hit a bump in front of his parents' house and about two metres up in the air he turned the front wheel. There was no point in calling an ambulance. His brains were splattered everywhere. A lot of cars had to drive past before the bloodstains finally rubbed off the road. His parents put up a cross next to the place where he died. Under it they buried the cassette player that Seryj had taken with him on his final journey. His father rides the motorbike now, I think. But he takes the corners slow.
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|Publication:||The Review of Contemporary Fiction|
|Article Type:||Short story|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2014|
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