03 Escaped Kaneohe Bay Hawaii - Monday

Escaped: Fighting my way home

© Copyright 2009

Written by Banzai Ben and Amazing Anastasia

ben@banzaiben.com

 

Chapter 03 – Monday 24 September 2007

 

Kaneohe Bay Hawaii – Brig – Monday Day Twenty-Five

 

 

It was hard to sleep last night; I'd adapted to sleeping with Jens. I couldn't get comfortable without her next to me, so I tossed and turned all night long. Worse, some drunk in the other cell snored all night long, and they weren’t cute little snores like Jens’s. To top it off, he smelled like ass.

 

At least I didn’t have to wake up early for PT. I'd be taken there later in the day when the gym was empty. It sucked being locked up, but there was no way in hell that I was going to sleep in the same house with Jens again after the way she insulted me.

 

At least, not until she crawled here on her hands and knees and begged for my forgiveness.

 

Good, I smelled bacon – breakfast was coming. I was damn hungry.

 

"Good morning, my love. How did you sleep last night?" Jens said cheerfully, walking in with my breakfast.

 

"Shit. What are you doing here?" I grumped.

 

"Hey, jarhead. What sort of welcome is that?" Jens shot back.

 

"That's not jarhead. It's Sergeant Major Blaine to you, Sergeant Donaldson," I ordered.

 

Her face reddened. "I thought perhaps you'd cooled off last night and gotten your head out of your ass. But I can see that you're just as stupid as you were yesterday."

 

"You should know about stupidity. You're the queen of stupidity for pulling that fucking stunt on me yesterday. I was so embarrassed," I retorted.

 

"Well la-di-fucking-da! Poor Sergeant Major Bennie Blaine got his precious feelings hurt. I thought you were man enough to take a joke. Here's your fucking breakfast. I hope you choke on it, you bastard." Jens threw the breakfast tray at me.

 

"And don't think this is over," she snapped as she turned and walked out of the room.

 

All the noise brought in the MPs. They looked at the mess on the floor and snickered.

 

"Fuck you assholes, too." I yelled at them.

 

Shit, this was FUBAR. Jens still didn’t understand or feel sorry about what she’d done, and now she had the audacity to be angry with me. This was all her fucking fault.

 

I left the mess on the floor for the MPs to pick up and rolled over to sleep until PT.

 

I'd just about gotten back to sleep when I heard someone else coming. I groaned. So much for my nap.

 

I rolled over and faced the door and opened one eye . . .

 

Shit, shit, shit. It was Evelyn Donaldson, and she looked pissed. The guards let her in the room, unlocked my cell door, and left.

 

I stayed on the bunk and stared at her, feeling like an animal in a trap. My guts clenched and my heart pounded. I was one nervous Marine.

 

"Sergeant Major Bennie Blaine, don't you dare lie there in my presence. Get your ass off that bunk, get out here, and stand at attention," she barked.

 

She may not have been a Marine, but she was the wife of the general, and the mother of the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I jumped up.

 

Mrs. Donaldson walked back and forth in front of me. "You sorry sack of shit! Just who do you think you are, treating my daughter that way? She was up crying all last night about how she offended you. She came here this morning to make up with you, and you were an asshole to her. Now she's crying again because of the way you treated her. Did you forget what I said I would do to you if you ever hurt her?"

 

I gulped, remembering that she said she would turn me from a rooster into a hen. I started to open my mouth.

 

"Did I give you permission to speak?" she snapped. "You're lucky that I think you will come to your senses and get your head out of your ass; otherwise, I'd keep my promise.

 

"I feel sorry for you now, because you've got her pissed off. And now you're going to have to pay the price to her for that. But you still have a price to pay to me." With that, she hauled off and punched me in the nose.

 

It seemed as if I was watching the punch come in slow motion. I felt the punch connect and saw stars, and I knew from experience that she'd broken my nose. Blood started running down my face and the back of my throat.

 

She whirled and left, warning, "You're lucky this time. Next time I'll castrate you."

 

The MPs came in, and they were laughing this time.

 

"Shut the fuck up and call the doctor. I slipped and broke my nose," I lied in a vain attempt to save my pride.

 

Doctor Linus came in and set my nose and stopped the bleeding. He looked at me and said, "Slipped, my ass. I can tell when someone's been punched in the nose. Who did you piss off this time?"

 

I stuck to my lie.

 

"Ben, I'm your doctor, so let me give you some advice. You've blown this whole situation way out of proportion, and you're hurting people who love you. You need to get your head out of your ass and grow up," Doctor Linus counseled. "Keep this ice pack on your face. But it looks like you're going to end up with a couple of black eyes, just like your fiancée."

 

Shit. Way to rub salt in the wound. I swore that if I got told one more time to get my head out of my ass, I’d ram my foot up the ass of the person who said it.

 

Doctor Linus left, and the MPs brought me a new bright orange jumpsuit, standard prison uniform for the brig. I hated looking like a criminal. The MPs locked me in my cell and told me they'd be back in an hour to take me to the gym.

 

I sank down onto the bunk and hung my head. Fuck. My life had gone to hell in a hand basket in the last day, ever since I got pissed off at Jens. Was I in the wrong?

 

I was still sitting that way when the MPs came in to take me to the gym.

 

"Damn, do you have a great set of black eyes," One of them chuckled.

 

I looked in the mirror. He was right. Son of a bitch, I’d forgotten to use the ice pack.

 

They walked me to the gym with everyone looking at me like I was a criminal. It was more embarrassing than what Jens did to me, and it was worse because most of it I did to myself.

 

I was so deep in self-recrimination that I didn’t notice that the MPs let me walk into the gym and locked the door behind me until it was too late.

 

One of the MPs yelled through the door, "Good luck, Banzai. You're going to need it."

 

Uh oh. Suddenly, I felt very nervous.

 

Someone coughed, and I turned and looked. Jens stood at the other end of the gym. She wore her Gi and was leaning on a bamboo practice katana.

 

She saw my black eyes, and for a second a smile crept across her rigid face. "What the hell happened to you? You look like a raccoon," she taunted me.

 

"It's nothing. I just slipped and fell and broke my nose," I lied again.

 

"You're getting pretty damn good at lying. But I can still sense your feelings. It looks more like you ran into my mom's fist. At least, that's what the whole base is saying," she jibed.

 

"They're full of shit," I shot back.

 

"Oh, really? I guess my mom just accidentally broke her hand."

 

"I wouldn't know. Perhaps she's taken lessons in acting from her daughter. You know, acting like you care for someone and then embarrassing the hell out of them," I retorted.

 

"You're the bastard who acted like you loved me and then threw me out of your life. What I did to you was minor compared to what you've done to yourself since then. The whole base is laughing at the fool you’re making of yourself," she pressed.

 

"Well, fuck all of them," I snapped.

 

"Isn't that so typical. A man fucks up and can't admit it.

 

"I'm tired of talking with you. I came in this morning to make up with you, and you acted like an asshole. I was going to apologize to your sorry ass because I'm really sorry I went too far, but now you've offended me in front of the whole base. I demand the right to defend my honor. And I'm hoping in the process to beat some sense into that hard head of yours. Defend yourself," Jens said, raising her katana.

 

I stared at her, unbelieving. "I won't fight you."

 

"Then I'm going to beat the hell out of you and sense back into you." She answered, and flew across the mat towards me.

 

I stood there unmoving.

 

She advanced. "You." Whack! "Son." Whack! "Of a bitch!" Whack! Each blow connected with my head. Then she stepped back, menacing me with the katana.

 

"Shit. That hurt! Quit screwing around," I barked, rubbing my head.

 

"Are you sorry for what you did?"

 

"Me, sorry? What do I have to be sorry for? This is all your fault," I replied.

 

"That was the wrong fucking answer, jarhead," Jens yelled, renewing the attack with the katana.

 

She wasn’t pulling her blows, and every one raised a welt on me. Instinctively, I moved my right arm and blocked a flurry of her attacks. Yes! I’d forgotten I still had the fucking cast, and for once, it was useful.

 

I dropped back into a defensive stance and used my cast to block her attacks.

 

The katana rattled of my cast as swear words rattled off her tongue. I looked at her and smiled.

 

"What the fuck are you smiling about? You asshole," Jens spat, and stepped back.

 

"For once, I've found a good use for this fucking cast. And you're so cute when you're angry," I said.

 

"I'll show you angry!" She hit the cast so hard she shattered the katana. Unfazed, she threw the katana on the floor and attacked me with her hands. She punched the cast several times, and I could see that she was damaging her hands and I needed to do something about it.

 

I surprised her with a leg sweep that took her to the floor, and jumped on her, straddling her torso. Before she could move, I pinned her arms over her head.

 

"Get off of me, you bastard. I'm not done with you yet." She yelled and thrashed, trying to unseat me. I felt like I was trying to break an angry wild horse, but she couldn't unseat me and couldn't reach me. Finally, she stopped struggling but there was still fire in her eyes.

 

I switched hands, holding her hands down with the cast, and then took my free hand and held her hair down with it. I moved my face over hers to give her a kiss, and she tried to head-butt me, but couldn't because of her hair. I finally covered her lips with mine and, son of a bitch! She bit my lower lip hard enough to draw blood.

 

It surprised the hell out of me, and I lost my grip on her. She flipped me over onto my back, straddled me, and held my arms down. I knew I could get free, but I wanted to see what she would do. I knew that I was leaving myself vulnerable to her and that she was still damn mad at me.

 

"Now, you bastard. I want you to tell me you're sorry," Jens glared at me.

 

Perhaps she had beaten some sense into me; I started thinking that maybe I’d overreacted to her stunt. I also knew that if this fight kept going, she was going to get hurt. I still loved her, and I couldn't let that happen.

 

I swallowed my pride and said, "I'm sorry."

 

She was still glaring at me, and answered in a venomous tone."You're sorry? What exactly are you sorry for?"

 

Shit. She wasn't making this easy. I knew I'd better come up with the right answer. The seconds it took to figure the words I needed seemed like an eternity, and her face flushed. I decided to use the shotgun approach and apologize for everything, hoping I'd hit the target.

 

"I'm sorry for overreacting to your stunt, even though it embarrassed me. I'm sorry that I embarrassed you in front of the whole base. I'm sorry for acting like an asshole when you came to see me this morning. But most of all, I'm sorry that I caused us to have this fight."

 

I had said my piece, and now my fate rested in her hands.

 

She looked at me and blinked a couple times. I could tell she was thinking. As the seconds ticked away, I wondered if I had said the right thing. My worries were answered when she hugged me and kissed me with all her strength and I heard applause.

 

Now her tongue was the weapon; she used it in a duel to show me her love. It was a damned sight better than being hit over the head with a katana.

 

When she stopped kissing me and I looked towards the applause, there were our friends, the general and Evelyn, with a cast on her hand. Even Dr. Linus, Matt, and Jim were there. They were all smiling and giving me thumbs up.

 

My loving Jens looked at me and said, "And I apologize to you, my love. I'm sorry that my stunt bothered you so much. I will be more careful next time I tease you." She blushed. "And I'm sorry for all those names I called you. I didn't mean any of them."

 

I rolled over with her, and it was my turn to hold her down and kiss her into submission. I think we would have spent the rest of the day on the floor.

 

But Matt and Jim yelled, "Hey you two. Get a room."

 

I pulled away, and Jens looked at me. I could sense her feeling, and we both said at the same time, "I love and live to serve you."

 

I jumped up and helped her to stand. We walked over to our audience. "Dr. Linus, please take a look at Jens's hands. I think she hurt them hitting my cast." I asked.

 

He examined her hands and told her that the wounds were just abrasions and bruises and would be sore for several days.

 

Suddenly, I remembered the sniper competition. I looked at Jens and asked, "Hey what happened to the competition?"

 

The general said, "Jens won it with you as her spotter. After she carried you back to the entrance and everyone knew there was live fire in the training area, I cancelled the snipe-off, and you two had the highest score so you won. Then it became a hunt for the Russian bastard that shot you."

 

Jens said with venom creeping back into her voice, "I was so pissed that I wasn't able to kill the son of a bitch for shooting you. I would have made him suffer for that."

 

I looked at Evelyn and said, "I'm sorry, Ma'am, that you broke your hand hitting me in the nose."

 

Evelyn laughed. "When did I become Ma'am again to you and not Mom? It was worth it to get you two back together again. Besides, now Glen will have to take me out to eat every night."

 

"I wasn't sure that it was still okay to call you Mom and Dad," I answered, looking from Evelyn to the general.

 

"Hell, if you think every time we have a disagreement, you're going to lose our permission to call us Mom and Dad, then we need to have another disagreement right now," the general answered.

 

Dr. Linus interrupted. "I need to get back to the hospital. Ben, would you like to get that cast off and let me look at your new bruises?"

 

"That depends," I answered, and looked at Jens. "Are you done beating sense into me?"

 

She grinned and winked. "For right now."

 

We laughed and started walking hand-in-hand to the hospital. Jens looked at my face and laughed, "With those black eyes, I guess we are twins again."

 

 

Somewhere North of Khudabah, Pakistan – Day Three

 

 

My last thoughts prove right. Fifteen klicks later, there is a road block ahead. It's just one car and two men.

 

"Zarika, let's get ready to rumble." I reach for an AK.

 

"Ben, I do not understand what you mean. Why would we want to mumble to these men? Will it confuse them?" She looks at me, her brow wrinkled in confusion.

 

Shit. I forgot she doesn't understand American colloquialisms. And my Russian isn't always perfect.

 

"Sorry, my little sister. I mean that we are going to drive right through the road block and kill the guards. I want you to get in the back of the truck with your AK and some grenades and try to take care of them if I miss," I explain.

 

I'm trying to protect her from watching me kill two more men. She has seen too much death and suffered enough nightmares as it is without me adding to them.

 

Slowing the truck I pull up to the road block. At about twenty-five meters, I swing the truck hard to the right, pull up the AK, and fire twice. I rejoice to see that I still have it – two shots, two kills.

 

I stop close to the car and jump out, yelling, "Zarika, stay in the back and watch behind us to make sure no one is following."

 

I walk to the bodies take their AKs and add them to our stash in the cab of the truck. Recognizing one as the bastard guard with the scorpions, I start kicking the shit out of his body. Even kicking his dead body brings some satisfaction.

 

I find more supplies in the car and load them in the back of our truck. Zarika looks at me and asks, "Why did you make me get in the back of the truck? Am I not good enough to fight with you?"

 

"No, Zarika, you're a brave little warrior. Soon your time will come to fight with me, but I knew that I could handle this by myself, and I wanted to spare you the sight of more death," I reply.

 

She looks at me, incredulous. "Ben, I hate those men even more than you do. They tortured me much longer and in worse ways than they tortured you. Each one that we kill helps me feel better."

 

To illustrate her point, she hops out of the back of the truck and looks at the bodies. She kicks and spits on the first one, and then shocks me by squatting and peeing on the one that I've already kicked.

 

"That animal used to hurt me on purpose when he raped me. I would kill him again if I could," she explains.

 

I sit the men in the front of the car, being careful of the one she'd peed on, and hook up a detonator and block of C4 to the ignition.

 

Zarika surmises, "When they start the car, it makes boom?"

 

"That's right," I answer.

 

She giggles. Then alarm washes away her smile.

 

"Ben, I see dust in the sky behind us." She points in the direction.

 

"It looks like someone is coming. Let's head ‘em up and move ‘em out."

 

She looks at me like I am crazy.

 

I explain with a sigh, "Zarika, let's go before they show up."

 

We hop into the truck and speed off watching the dust cloud behind us. I know that they will see our dust cloud and follow us if I drive too far. A couple of klicks later, I take the truck into a small depression beside the road.

 

Grabbing the binoculars from behind the seat, I climb on top of the truck with Zarika following close behind me. I hold my breath as I watch a car and troop truck pull up to the road block. "Zarika, do you recognize either vehicle?" I ask, handing her the binoculars.

 

At first, she holds them up to her eyes backwards, so I stifle a laugh and show her how to use them.

 

"Ben, it is Hussein's truck that he uses to carry men, and men are getting out of it. And another car I've never seen," she answers.

 

Taking the binoculars back, I watch as fifteen men get out of the truck and three get out of the car. The ones in the car seem to be telling the men in the truck what to do.

 

"Tell me if you recognize any of the men by the car."

 

She takes the binoculars and looks, "Yes, the ones from the car are some of Hussein's top men." She keeps the binoculars and narrates what happens. "They are pulling the dead men out of the car. Hehehe! They figured out I peed on one of them. Now one man is…"

 

She can't finish her sentence because the car explodes in a huge whump and a cloud of dust. I take the binoculars, waiting for the cloud to clear. The blast has destroyed the second car, but the truck has survived. Men are scattered everywhere, but some are still moving.

 

I tell Zarika, “The blast didn't destroy the truck or kill all the men. We need to go back and finish the job. It looks like you're going to get to fight now."

 

We slide off the top of the truck and hop into the cab. Without being asked, Zarika checks the mags in each AK, makes sure we have spares, and also puts some more grenades on the seat between us.

 

I whip the truck around and floor it, wanting to get to the towelheads before they can regroup. They are still dazed as we barrel into the first group, running over two of them. Zarika is firing out of her window and I have an AK in my left arm. I’m trying to drive and shoot at the same time; doing a piss-poor job of both.

 

"Ben, stop trying to drive and shoot at the same time; you will kill us," Zarika orders.

 

She is right. I swing the truck around so she is facing the towelheads and start circling them. It feels like we're Indians attacking a circled wagon train. She’s hitting them with about every third shot.

 

When they finally figure out what is going on and start returning fire, I grab a couple of grenades off the seat, pull the pins, and throw the grenades into the back of their truck as we pass. Then, I spin the truck back to the north and floor it, watching their truck explode in the side mirrors.

 

All the explosions and fires have created a huge column of smoke that’s visible for miles. We need to get away from here before it attracts more attention.

 

"Ben. We left some of those chewchemeks1 alive. Should we go back and kill them?" Zarika asks.

 

"Unless someone gets to them soon, the desert will take care of them. They were getting too close to hitting you," I answer.

 

She reaches over and touches my arm. “Thank you for caring for me and rescuing me from those chewchemeks. You are my hero.”

 

I smile at her, but right at that moment, I’m not feeling much like a hero. I’m feeling sick, more than anything else.

 

Well this is SNAFU – Because we couldn't kill all the bastards at the checkpoint, they know we’re heading north. And if they are rescued before they die, everyone would know.

 

We can't go south; that will take us back to Khudabah. We can't go west because the Taliban is there, and we can't go north because that's where they think we’re headed. That only leaves east – China.

 

I had hoped to avoid China; they have a real military with all the real problems that came with it – things like tanks, helicopters and airplanes, plus the largest army in the world. I can only hope that in this frontier they don't have border patrols.

 

First, we need to find a route. We continue driving north for an hour and then stop to look at the maps. I put them on the hood of the truck, pull out the compass, align the maps, and then figure out where we are. Zarika comes over and studies the maps with me.

 

"We're right here." I point on the map to Zarika. "We can't continue going north because the chewchemeks know we're headed that way."

 

"Then we must go this way" she says, pointing towards China.

 

"That's the problem. That's China," I explain.

 

"My papa and brother used to travel through China all the time," she replies, giving me hope.

 

"Tell me more about this,"

 

"I don't know much, they never let me go with them; I am just a girl. But I remember they would travel by night and hide during the day," Zarika answers

 

"Did they take a car or truck?" I ask, hoping.

 

"Yes, they took Papa's truck," She says.

 

"Do you know how they hid?"

 

"Sorry, Ben; I don't know any more." She says, her gaze dropping.

 

I study the maps some more, and figure our route – north for about another hour, and then east. From the map it looks to be a better road. Perhaps we can make better time.

 

Zarika wanders away and gets into the back of the truck. She comes out a few minutes later with her cooking supplies. I guess it's time to eat. Damn I hadn’t realized I was so hungry until I started smelling the food.

 

"Zarika, please keep watch while you're cooking. I'm going to work on the truck," I request.

 

Well, since there's some down time, I might as well do something productive. I check the oil level in the truck. It’s just a little low. Then I take out the air cleaner and beat all the dust out of it. We sure stole a good truck.

 

I take the time to fill up the truck. We’re still doing okay for fuel, but we’ll need to liberate some, now that the trip is going to be longer.

 

Finally, I decide to take a really good look at everything in the back of the truck. I hop inside and start a mental inventory of our supplies. We have enough weapons, ammo and explosives to fight a small war, but then, that's what we we're doing.

 

I wonder what's in these four crates that I’ve never checked. They're damn heavy, and hard to move to the tail of the truck. I open one and look inside, and can't believe my eyes. It now makes sense to me why Hussein is still chasing use.

 

I reach inside the box and pull out a glittering bar of gold. Looking closer, I notice that it still has the Kuwaiti seal on it. Shit. This is part of the gold that fucking Saddam stole during his failed invasion of Kuwait.

 

I count the bars and suddenly realize that we’re very rich. I keep two bars out – they could be useful later – close up the box, and slide it back beside the others at the front of the truck.

 

"Ben, come and eat."

 

That’s music to my ears. It seems like no matter how much I eat, I'm always hungry. I jump out of the back of the truck and head over to the makeshift kitchen.

 

Zarika smiles as she hands me a big bowl of food. It reminds me of how Jens used to take care of me, and my heart lifts a little as I feel like someday I might see her again.

 

I hand a bar of gold to Zarika. She takes it, almost dropping it because it’s so heavy.

 

"A cook as good as you are needs to be paid," I smile at her and start eating.

 

She turns the bar over and looks at it, finally realizing what it is, and her eyes gleam. The only thing I've ever seen that makes a woman's eyes gleam more than gold is diamonds. Even in the desert, some things are the same.

 

"Ben where did you get this?” she asks. “This is more gold than I've ever seen."

 

"There're four big boxes in the back full of more bars like this." I hold up the bar I still have.

 

I can see the light dawn in her eyes.

 

"Now I know why Hussein is still chasing us. Ben, he will never stop until he catches us," Zarika worries.

 

"Then I guess we have to make sure that he doesn't catch us." I finish my bowl of stew, wipe up the dregs in the bottom with our stale bread, and let out a big burp.

 

Zarika giggles and admonishes me, "Ben, mind your manners. You are not a chewchemek!"

 

I give her an evil grin and let go with a huge fart. It’s not silent, but it sure is deadly.

 

That is the wrong thing to do. I find out that Zarika may be young, but she has already learned how to scold. I finally have to promise to never ever do that again at Zarika's table, or she won't feed me. When she is appeased, she hands me a tangerine, and then starts cleaning up and tearing down the cooking supplies, putting them in the back of the truck.

 

She jumps into the back, and I hear her moving things around. A few minutes later she emerges with her arms full of supplies – primarily ammo.  These, she puts in the cab of the truck, then comes back to stand over me.

 

"Ben, do not mess up the back of the truck again. I have everything arranged the way I like."

 

Damn, I thought I'd done a good job of making it more functional.

 

"I would like to learn how to use some of the other weapons that we have," she asked.

 

I scan the horizon in all directions and don't see any dust clouds. Now is as good a time as any. She follows me to the back of the truck and watches as I jump up into it. I can tell she’s watching to make sure that I don't make a mess. I pull an RPG rocket out of one box and grab the launcher, then jump back to the ground, and we walk a short distance away from the truck.

 

I take time to explain to her about being careful of whom or what is behind you when you launch the RPG. I then show her how easy the trigger and safety are to use and how to sight the RPG. After she’s comfortable with all that, I show her how to slide the rocket onto the launcher and twist and lock it in place, and show her the opposite – how to take the rocket off.

 

She practices several times until she is proficient.

 

"See the big rock over there." I point.

 

She nods her head.

 

"Load the RPG and fire it at the rock," I order.

 

She loads the rocket on the launcher, takes aim, and fires. We watch the rocket streak towards the rock and hit it with a satisfying explosion. She jumps up, all excited.

 

"Ben, this is a great weapon. Can we use it all the time?"

 

I turn and look behind her, and she follows my gaze. The bush behind her is on fire.

 

"We can only use it when we're outside of the truck. Otherwise, that would happen to the truck." I admonish her. She nods in wide-eyed understanding.

 

"We need to keep some of these in the cab with us.” She jumps into the back of the truck and comes out with three rockets, takes them and the launcher, and puts them in the cab. She crawls through into the back of the truck, and I hear her messing around with more stuff. She comes out with another weapon.

 

"Ben, what is this weapon, and can I learn how to use it?"

 

"Zarika, that is an American stinger missile. It's used to shoot down airplanes or helicopters. We don't have enough of those for you to practice firing one, but I can show you how they work."

 

I spend the next ten minutes showing her how the missile works and explaining to her again about the exhaust gas coming out of the back of the launch tube.

 

"Just to let you know – these are very old and might not work."

 

"We will keep one of these in the truck cab, too," she announces, and starts putting it in the cab.

 

Damn. I hope she leaves me enough room in the cab to drive.

 

"I need to take care of some personal things. I'll be right back," I tell her as I grab an AK and some paper and walk over behind some bushes.

 

Damn. I don't know what the fucking camel jockeys did to me, but I’m still quite sick. I do my business and notice that it looks like tar. Shit. Somewhere I’m bleeding in my intestinal tract. I stand up, very shaky, and walk back to the truck.

 

Zarika looks at me. "Ben, you're all white again, and you are shaking. You need to rest."

 

"We've been here too long, and we have to move," I reply, stumbling and falling to my knees

 

"You are in no shape to drive," she admonishes.

 

I stand back up and argue, "Look, we have to leave now."

 

"I am just a girl, but perhaps you could teach me to drive," she asked hopefully.

 

Damn. Why didn't I think of that earlier?  I should teach her to drive; then we can cover more ground, and I’ll be free to fight. Shit, we're in a desert – in most places, there isn't anything dangerous for her to run into.

 

"Of course you can learn to drive. All the girls your age in America know how to drive, and you'll need to know when I bring you to America with me."

 

She runs over and tackles me with a hug. "Thanks, my big brother. I was not sure that you were still going to bring me with you."

 

"Zarika, you saved my life, and you're my little sister. Where I go, you go."

 

She hugs me even tighter, helping to hold me up.

 

We walk over to the driver's side of the truck and I show her all the controls and explain how they work. I know that the clutch will be the worst part, so I have her practice pressing it down and slowly letting it up while moving the gearshift.

 

When I’m satisfied, we climb into the truck. She’s done a good job of arranging our arsenal so that we can reach everything, but it still gives us room enough to sit. I praise her for that, and she beams.

 

I have her start the engine. In most places, she won't need gas to get the truck going. She pushes in on the clutch, puts the truck in gear, and lets out the clutch too fast, making us lurch forward, bucking like a wild horse. That scares her, and she presses back in on the clutch.

 

"Ben, did I break the truck?"

 

I chuckle. "You did just fine. That's part of learning how to drive. Next time you do that, just let the truck keep going, and it will smooth out."

 

She tries again, and this time it’s better. Once the truck smoothes out, she presses on the accelerator, again too fast, and the truck roars forward. Then she takes her foot off too fast, and the truck slows quickly.

 

"Ben, this is hard. I don't know if I can do it."

 

"Keep trying, and you will get better." I smile at her.

 

Ten minutes later, she can drive in first gear without throwing us around in the cab. She’s still having problems keeping the truck on the road.

 

I’m feeling a little better, so I say, "Zarika, you did very well for your first driving lesson, but we need to get going."

 

She stops the truck and we change places. I notice that she watches intently as I start the truck moving and shift the gears.

 

"You make it look so easy," She remarks.

 

"After you practice, soon you will be able to drive without even thinking about it. You did a very good job for your first time."

 

She grins ear to ear. "That's because I have the best teacher in the world. Thank you for all you taught me today. I want to be a great warrior like you and kill all the chewchemeks."

 

That thought sounds good to me. Very good to me!

 

"Ben, sing that road song again." she asks.

 

So we drive on as I try to teach her, "On the road again." It doesn't sound the same in Russian.

 

By the end of the day we still have about a half day to travel before reaching the Chinese border. I decide that we will try to do the same as Zarika's papa and brother – travel at night and hide during the day. We need to find someplace to stop for the night.

 

"Ben, look at the little road over there." Zarika points to the right. "It looks like there has been some traffic on it. I think we should go and check it out. Perhaps there is a house where we can learn something about this area."

 

I stop the truck. "That's a good idea. But we need to be careful it could be chewchemeck terrorists."

 

Zarika looks at me. "Ben, you won't like what I'm going to say."

 

"What won't I like?" I question.

 

"You can't wear those military clothes when we meet chewchemek. They will know you are American." Zarika informs me.

 

I glance at her. "Don't tell me you want me to wear a man-dress. I'd rather die before I wear one of those pieces of shit."

 

"You will die if you wear what you have on. Let me see what I can find in the back of the truck." She crawls into the back.

I wait for her with apprehension. The thought of having to wear muslim clothes pisses me off. But she is right – with what I'm wearing I don't blend in. I see her in the rear view mirror walking up to my door.

 

"Ben, come try this on." She holds up some clothes.

 

I hop out of the truck, with an AK take the clothes and walk to the other side of the truck. They aren't too bad, a loose pair of black pants, a colorful high collared shirt but the black flat muslim hat is too much so I don't put it on.

 

I walk around the truck and Zarika has changed. She is wearing a long colorful dress with matching pants underneath and a matching headscarf.

 

"Ben, put on the hat," Zarika orders.

 

I open my mouth to argue. "Listen to me. This is traditionally Tajik clothing and you need to wear the hat. Now put it on."

 

I know better than to argue with a woman when I hear that tone of voice so I comply. She looks at me and smiles, "Yes, now you look much better."

 

The expression on her face darkens and she starts crying. I walk over and hold her, "There, there, don't cry. What's wrong my little sister?"

 

"Those are papa's clothes and seeing you in them reminds me of him." She sniffles.

 

She pulls away and I see determination cross her face. "I hate Hussein. Someday I'm coming back to kill him."

 

"You're wrong meya malinkaya sistra2. Some day we will come back and kill him."

 

She hugs me tight. "Now that you look Tajik the chewchemeks won't bother you to speak Arabic. But we need a story on why we are here."

 

She thinks for a minute. "This should work with the Pakistan chewchemeks. You're a Tajik warrior that has purchased weapons and is taking them back for use in Tajikistan. You don't speak Arabic so you brought me; your young bride with you to translate." I watched her eyes glimmer when she said young bride.

 

"Can't you just be my little sister?" I asked.

 

"No, your family would never let you bring your sister on this trip. Remember we have to act like husband and wife. And if I act bad you will have to hit me."

 

My gut clenchs at the thought of hitting a woman, it shows in my face.

 

"Ben! You have to do this or they will know. I will do something disrespectful so that you will have to hit me. Once you do that they will respect you."

 

She reaches in her dress and pulls out a leather pouch. "This is money that we can use to pay for our food and bed tonight. Keep it hidden until I let arrange a price." I take the bag and put the thong around my neck and hide it inside my shirt.

 

Everything is settled so we get back in the truck and turn right down the road. I'm filled with apprehension not sure that this will work but Zarika looks calm. We travel a couple klicks and see some buildings.

 

Zarika says, "Good this is a single family house and they look poor. The food won't be good but the negotiations will be easy." She points. "Stop over there, get out of the truck with an AK and tell me to stay in the truck."

 

I stop the truck where she tells me. A man and several women come out of the house. He is wearing a man dress, looks old and is carrying an even older looking bolt action rifle. The women are wearing old Salwar Kameez3.

 

"Watch him Ben; he is wearing a man dress so he is chewchemek." Zarika admonishes. "One woman is his wife and the other is his daughter. They are very poor. Don't forget your proper muslim greeting."

 

I slowly step out of the truck with the AK in one hand, held up my other hand and said, "Assalamu alaikum4." Then I tell Zarika in Russian to stay in the truck.

 

The old man looks at me and the truck and back at the AK in my hand and says, "Wa alaykum assalam5." And lowers his rifle.

 

Zairka gets out of the truck and walks over to me and says in nasty tone. "I got out of the truck without you telling me to. Hit me and I'll pretend to fall down then pretend to kick me."

 

I know that she is right. I feel sick to my stomach as I backhand her across the face and she falls to the ground and I kick her. Then I yell in a nasty tone, "I'm sorry my little sister."

 

I change my tone to an order, "Get up and ask this man for food and a place to stay tonight."

 

I look at the old man and the women and notice that their expressions of fear are replaced with respect.

 

She gets up off the ground but making sure to keep her eyes downcast. Brushes off and asks the old man my question.

 

The old man and Zarika talk for several minutes. Then she turns to me making sure not to look at my face and translates, "He wanted to know who we are and I told him our story. He praised you for teaching your young bride her place. And said they would be happy to feed us and let us sleep with them. I think we should give them ten rupee."

 

I told her in a strong voice, "Let's make it twenty just to make sure were treated well."

 

I slip the pouch off my neck and hand it to Zarika. She kisses my hand as she takes it from me. I keep my other hand on the AK just in case and she takes out twenty rupee and hands it and the pouch to me. "Hit me again for the disrespect I just showed you."

 

Again my gut clenches as I cuff her on the back of the head. I throw the money on the ground and gruffly tell her, "Sorry again. Pick up the money and hand it to him."

 

She starts sniffing, reaches down and picks up the money wiping it off on her dress and walks over and hands it to the old man's wife. They converse for several minutes; the old man is looking at me and sizing me up. His daughter is watching me. Her eyes are twinkling and she is smiling coyly; I think she is flirting.

 

Zarika comes back to me and kneels in front of me and kisses my hands, "You did very well. They are very impressed with you and will feed us their best food and give us a bed to sleep in. He will show you where you can park your truck so that it will be safe tonight.

 

I get in the truck and the old man and Zarika guide me to a dilapidated barn next to the house. He opens the door and I drive in and shut off the truck. I grab another AK, a bunch of magazines, and a bag of grenades off the front seat. I shut off the truck and jump out of the cab. The old man's eyes bug out when he sees all the weapons.

 

He rapidly says a bunch of Arabic to Zarika. "He praised you for being such a great and wise warrior. Tell me to go get the RPGs from the front of the truck."

 

I order her. She goes and comes out with the RPGs and I thought the old man was going to have an orgasm. He starts going on and on in Arabic.

 

We walk to the house and he continues and she translates, "He says his house is honored tonight to have one of god's great warriors sleep under his roof. No matter what his house looks like make sure to tell me to praise him for his house and hospitality."

 

We walk in the house and he starts yelling at his wife and daughter and they start scrambling to do what he tells them.

 

He motions for me to sit down by the door in a chair. His daughter comes over with a bowl, takes off my shoes and socks and washes and dries my feet. Then puts my socks and shoes back on and sneaks a glance at me when she's done. He sees it and kicks her and yells at her. She scurries to the back of the house.

 

He looks at Zarika and she translates, "He apologies for the offense of his daughter and says that he will give her lashes for it later."

 

I couldn't stand the thought of him beating her and I say, "Tell him that it's never an offense to gaze upon such a young and beautiful woman."

 

"Ben, are you sure you want to say that? It could cause problems." She questions.

 

"I can't stand the thought of him beating her. We will deal with the problems."

 

Zarika told him what I said and he smiled. She translated, "He says that he will honor your wishes and is very pleased that you find his daughter so attractive. You know now he's thinking that he will give her to you for another wife?"

 

Shit, this is the problem that Zarika was telling me about. Perhaps I can just ignore it.

 

As we walk into the rest of the house, it's a real dive. Dirt floors covered with dirty old and threadbare rugs, crumbly walls that are stained from years of dirt and cooking, a roof that I could see some stars through and old worn out cushions on the floor. I look at the old man; sweep my arms around the room turned to Zarika, "Tell him a great lie about how nice his house is."

 

She talked for a bit and his face lit up, she must have been lying through her teeth. He motions for us to put our weapons by the door; I comply but keep one AK with me. She translates, "He remarked how only a great warrior would always keep their weapon with them."

 

They say a few more things and he let's go a mighty laugh and claps me on the back. It scares me and I jump bringing up the AK so he holds up both hands. "I told him that sometimes the AK gets in the way when we are sleeping."

 

I start laughing too and things relax.

 

Zarika heads to the kitchen to help and we sit on the cushions. He tries talking to me but we don't get anywhere. He looks like he's getting frustrated so I yell, "Zarika, get in here and tell me what he's saying."

 

She runs into the room keeping her head lowered and sits at my feet. She asks him what he is saying. They talk for awhile all the time I see respect growing in his eyes. She looks over at me. "He said with so many weapons and such a nice truck we must have a good life in Tajikistan. I told him you are the richest man in our little city with a fine house and many goats and sheep. And that my family had to pay you a huge dowry for you to marry me."

 

"He told me his name is Aamir, his wife is Dhuha and his daughter is Yasmeen. They try their best but it is a hard life out here."

 

I say "Aamir allah akbar." Almost choking on the words.

 

He looks upwards, raises his hands and replies, "Daryush, allah akbar."

 

Zarika tells me, "I told him your name is Daryush. That means king."

The Arabic gibberish from Aamir continues for what feels like an hour. He points to Zarika and she translates, "Again he is praising you and allah for coming into his humble house."

 

I lean over and say, "There has to be more than that."

 

She looks pensive and continues, "He is also praising his daughter and saying how she has been brought up correctly and how it's a shame that a great man like you only has one wife to keep him warm at night."

 

"I was afraid of that. I think we've really messed up." I interrupted her.

 

"Wait, I'm not done. He also mentioned that she would be a great help to us because she speaks Russian."

 

Shit. She knows everything we're saying. Yet she didn't tell anyone.

 

"Zarika, go back into the kitchen and find out what she knows and why she didn't tell her parents everything." I ordered.

 

She jumps up and I watch her leave the room. I grip the AK tighter. Aamir saw me watch her and made some comment that I could tell was how lucky I am to have a beautiful young wife.

 

A few minutes later all the women come out with the food and sit it in front of us. Zarika sneaks a look at me and I can tell that things will be okay. She sits at my right side and begins feeding me. She says something to Aamir and Yasmeen. Yasmeen comes and sits ay my left and does the same. Aamir starts his gibberish again with bunches of shouts and hand waves.

 

Yasmeen leans over and says in excellent Russian, "I know that you are not Tajik, that you are American. I've understood all that you and Zarika have said. I didn't tell papa or mama because I want to get out of this crappy place to live; there is no life for me here."

 

"Zarika has told me you’re a good man and that you saved her. She also said that you have an American girlfriend but that she is your little sister. I want to be your little sister too."

 

I looked at Zarika and she nodded her head.

 

Aamir saw me nod and jumped up and started shouting and carrying on. "Papa is happy because he thinks I will be your second wife."

 

Dhuha starts crying tears of joy and jabbering; Zarika and Yasmeen are talking. The whole house is a cacophony of Arabic noise; it is so loud that it hurt my ears.

 

I raise my hands and slowly everyone gets quite. "Ask them about her dowry." I order.

 

The two girls get a nervous look and lower their eyes and translate.

 

Aamir and Dhuha get a sad look in their eyes. They realize that they have no dowry great enough for me to marry Yasmeen.

 

"Yasmeen. Stand up and turn around for me." I order and she complies.

 

"Again, I request." She continues.

 

I stand up and go over to her and take her hands and look at them. "Open your mouth and show me your teeth." I order.

 

She does. Her teeth are in good shape.

 

Zarika tells me, "She is not a horse. Stop treating her like one. Ask her about her age."

 

She's thirteen.

 

Aamir starts babbling. Yasmeen translates, "He says that I am pure and have not disgraced the family. That I would be a good wife and serve you and Zarika. He also says that it’s a disgrace that he has but a little dowry for me. He has offered you all his goats and sheep."

 

She said, "Please don't take them. That is all they have to live on."

 

I held up my hand and moved to the side and motioned for Zarika. "Well, what do you think about this?"

 

"Ben, we have to take her. Her living here is torture. She has no future and will be given to an old goat farmer."

 

"How do we handle the dowry?" I asked.

 

"Ask her to dance for you. Tell her if her dance pleases you, you will take her as your second wife and you will pay Aamir a dowry."

 

"Are you sure this will work?"

 

"Yes, there is a tradition that allows for this. Remember in the Bible when Salome danced before Herod and he gave her the head of John?"

 

I did remember that Bible story. "Tell them my decision." I ordered and sat back down on the cushions.

 

She told them and they started up on the gibberish. I was thinking: Damn, I wish I had something to drink.

 

They all left the room to get ready. A few minutes later Aamir came back in and hands me a very old and dusty bottle of Russian vodka. He starts laughing and motioning for me to drink.

Remembering that good muslims don't drink I set the bottle down and stand up and start to walk out the door. He starts yelling and wailing and Zarika comes running into the room.

 

"Ben. What are you doing?"

 

"He offered me a drink and I didn't think muslims were suppose to drink."

 

"Don't leave, let me handle this." She replied and started talking to him.

 

He started bowing and talking and talking and bowing some more.

 

Zarika said, "Set back down. I told him how devote you were and how he offended you. He had been saving that vodka for the day Yasmeen was going to be married. He's sorry he offended you and begs your forgiveness. It would be good if you would take a little sip of the vodka to let him know that you're not upset."

 

I sat back down opened the vodka and took a small sip. I could tell Aamir was pleased by the way he was jabbering. I felt the vodka burn while working it's was towards my stomach releasing a flood of memories: about cold Moscow nights and a certain hot Russian nurse that I lived with while on assignment in Russia. It was a case of the patient falling in love with the nurse. But that is a different story for another time.

 

Zarika snapped me back to the present. "Ben are you daydreaming?"

 

"Yes Zarika, I was remembering a time very long ago."

 

"Was she pretty Zarika asks?"

 

Why is it that women can always tell when you think of someone else?

 

"It was a long time ago in a very cold place and our love kept each other warm." I answer.

 

"Does your American girlfriend know about her?"

 

"I'm not sure. But she probably does. She knows almost everything about me."

 

"She must be a very good and smart woman." Zarika says.

 

"She is the only woman in the world for me. She will make a great big sister for you and Yasmeen."

 

Zarika smiles and says, "We need to get ready. Yasmeen will do her dance soon."

 

Aamir, is still jabbering and waving his hands.

 

I lean over to Zarika, "Tell him to sit down."

She repeats what I say and Aamir sits down. He's still waving his hands. I'm glad that I don't understand Arabic – I'm sure what he's saying would make me puke.

 

Yasmeen comes out and looks lovely. She's wearing a very nice white dress that looks like silk. I'm sure it's her best dress and has been saved for this day. There's no music, but as she begins her dance her grace and beauty is reflected in the firelight. She spins and whirls and twists to a music that she hears in her mind, blending it all into a smooth supple movement.

 

This is her show and her stage and she's the prima ballerina commanding all to watch with respect and awe. The moves are enticing and yet innocent, sexy and demure. If I didn't already have Jens it would have been extremely erotic.

 

She ended the dance with a jump and a shout. We automatically rose and clapped our hands. Yasmeen ran over to me and gave me a hug, Zarika joined in.

 

"Zarika, tell Aamir that the dance was worth more than just Yasmeen for my wife. That now I owe him a dowry."

 

She relayed the message and Aamir answered, "Just knowing that our Yasmeen will have a good home with a husband is payment enough."

 

"Zarika, will it offend him if I give him a gift of one of the gold bars?"

 

"Ben, it is too much. It would be better to leave him some weapons." She answers.

 

"Tell him I will leave him two AKs and a case of ammo. But I feel that her dance is worth much more." I order.

 

She tells him and he starts babbling on. I can tell that this is going to go on for a very long time if I don't do something about it.

 

I look at Zarika and wink and make a big yawn.

 

Zarika interrupts Aamir. He looks at me and laughs and slaps me on the back. Then he looks at Yasmeen and talks to her. Dhuha comes over and kisses Yasmeen on the cheek and says some things and they both leave the house.

 

I give Zarika a questioning look, "Ben, this is your wedding night and Aamir and Dhuha are going to sleep in the barn and guard our truck so that we can use their bed."

 

Yasmeen hugs me tight. I pull her off me. "You realize that we aren't really married and this isn't our real wedding night."

 

She looks at me with a sad look on her face, "I was hoping that after I danced for you I could change your mind."

 

Zarika answers, "Yasmeen, when you know Ben better you will know that his heart belongs only to his American girlfriend. He can love us as little sisters but never as wives."

 

Yasmeen questions, "Can't you have more than one wife in America?"

 

"No, we can only have one wife in America. That is our way. However I do love you as my little sister.

 

"It's late and we need to sleep. I want to leave early tomorrow."

 

We wander over to the cushions on the floor that make the bed. Zarika and Yasmeen mess with the cushions until they're happy then they motion for me to get on the cushions. I get on the cushions and they both lie down, one on each side of me. Then Zarika jumps up and runs into the kitchen and comes back with a knife. She slits her thumb and lets some blood flow onto the cushions beneath Yasmeen. We both look at her and smile.

 

She takes the knife back to the kitchen and wraps her thumb in a bandage. Then we all lie back down and the girls pull the blankets over us. Sleep didn't come right away; the girls were busy talking and giggling. Finally I shushed them and we all fell to sleep.

 

 

 

*******************************

 

1  Transliterated  from Russian extremely derogatory word for muslims.

 

2 Transliterated from Russian – my little sister.

 

3 The traditional clothing worn by north Pakistani women and sometimes men. It consists of the Salwar which are loose pajama type pants that are pleated at the waist. And the Kameez which are long tunic shirts that are open at the side seams.

 

4 Transliterated from Arabic – Peace be unto you.

 

5 Transliterated from Arabic – And peace be unto you also.