Dec 10, 2023
Dec 10, 2023
The Sentimental Terrorist - 9
James, Aram guesthouse
I now understand what they mean when they say that the way to hell is paved with good intentions.
I was sitting in the Aram guesthouse lounge reading a file one evening when I heard a familiar voice.
It was K-Jim. I needed to finish my report, but he’d been away for a few weeks, and it would have been rude to simply return his ‘Hi’ and get back to work, so I beckoned him across.
‘Take it you’re just back from Kandahar?’ I said.
‘Yeah, been there all the while.’
‘Will you be here for long?’
‘Nah, just a couple of days.’
I was very pleased to hear that.
‘And then I’m heading off to Helmand.’
I felt sorry for him. After a stint in Kandahar, one of Afghanistan’s roughest neighbourhoods, he had earned a respite. Instead, he was being sent to one of the few places that are worse than Kandahar, where scores of my countrymen have died and continue to be killed. According to Barry, ‘Helmand was simply Hell, and never mind the mand.’
K-Jim said: ‘How’s Amala?’
‘Okay, I guess,’ I said, noncommittally.
‘Where is she staying?’
‘A guesthouse by the name of Iftar,’ I mumbled.
Following our meeting with her two weeks previously, K-Jim had gone away to Kandahar. During this time I had helped her move into the guesthouse where her employers wished her to stay, and was seeing her almost every other day.
As an older man, someone with a prosthetic leg additionally, I didn’t want any competition, especially from someone ten years younger.
‘So how was Kandahar?’ I steered the conversation away from my beloved Amala.
‘Last day in the place, I got rid of a hundred Taliban.’ Pride inflected his voice.
‘Really? But I thought you were just flying civilian helicopters.’
‘Yeah, I was, but I still managed to get a large number of the bastards killed. Only last evening actually.’
‘How the hell was that?’
‘When the Taliban hire young recruits, they send them over to the mountainside to give them target practice.’
‘Of course.’ Had I misread K-Jim, and had he really done what he claimed? I might have to correct my impressions of him. ‘So you came across a training camp.’
‘More or less. I was cruising my bird away from one camp towards the other with some supplies when I heard this tap-tap sound on the machine.’
‘Exactly, so I just sped off from there like a bat out of hell.’
‘Did you see who was firing?’
‘Not a chance, bro. If you wait to watch what’s happening or who’s doing what you’re going to get yourself killed. That’s what all my pals at the military base tell me. So I just flew the bird out of the danger-zone, and when I was far enough I turned to see what was there.’
‘I saw the Taliban gathered at a distance. I took out my field glasses and trained them on the group. And then I saw them jumping up and down as if they were gloating that they’d chased me away. But I wasn’t going to let them get off. I reached over for the GPS to record their location.’ He sounded like a kid now, someone who’d done a home run against the rival team. That was how I thought of him anyway.
‘And you sent their co-ordinates over with a message to your pals in the American military?’
‘Exactly, bro,’ he agreed. ‘After I saw their guns.’
‘Yes, guns. There was a convoy of vehicles – more Taliban, I guess – approaching this group. These guys were closer to me, so I could get a proper look at them. I saw there were men standing on the lorries with machine guns pointed towards the sky.’
‘You must have been too far away to hear anything.’
‘Yeah,’ he said nodding. ‘I was too far away, but I heard enough gunfire when they took a pot shot at me.’
‘Gunshots? How could you hear with the helicopter noise?’
‘You have that?’
Blue edge technology had created the modern state-of-the-art silent helicopter, good for places where noise pollution was a concern. And good for a place like Afghanistan where you needed to be able to see and hear as much as possible.
‘We have everything, bro.’ K-Jim grinned. ‘No money spared. I must have heard a dozen shots being fired into the air.’
‘Did you fly close enough to verify?’
‘Not a chance. Six bullets fired into the air. Come on, what else could it be?’
What else could it be? In a place like Afghanistan!
‘There are many possibilities,’ I said. ‘I can think of a few.’
‘Was it a single pop that you heard? Because that could mean there was a change of guard. Sometimes when a new guard takes over, instead of looking in the chamber to see whether the weapon is loaded, he just pulls the trigger and pops one up in the air.’
‘Don’t I know that?’ said K-Jim, with a hint of a sneer. ‘’Course it wasn’t a single pop. It was like a rat-a-tat-a-tat. They were letting them loose like nobody’s business.’
‘Total mayhem then?’
‘Could be a super-celebration. If someone very esteemed in the community has died, say a respected village elder, they fire every bullet in the house into the air.’
‘No,’ he said cautiously. ‘I know the sound of gunfire in a training exercise. It was pop-pop-bup-bup-bup. That was the way it went.’
I had heard enough. K-Jim had flown only civilian helicopters all his life and wasn’t used to being in a war zone. From the sound he made, it sounded like the gunfire that generally accompanies weddings – rhythmic shots that often accompany dance and song.
‘For Christ’s sake!’ I shouted. ‘That’s the gunfire associated with weddings.’
He was quick, was K-Jim. I have to give him that. Panic flitted across his face for an instant.
‘Just having you on, bro.’ He mouthed a laugh, having decided on a course of action. ‘Of course that wasn’t the sound. Everyone knows that’s the wedding firing sounds. Besides, I did go close enough with my glasses to see everything for myself. No women, no children.’
You fucking liar.
I wanted to slap him hard across his face.
But I didn’t.
It wasn’t his fault.
He should have been briefed properly.
I stood up and left. If I had stayed, I believe I would have hit him despite the fact that it wasn’t entirely his fault and even if he was bigger and younger than me.
The next day it was all out in the papers. It was as I’d feared. Air strike gone wrong. Once again. Lots of women and children.
More by : Rajesh Talwar