This story is by Alex Blair and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Leaving Arlington National Cemetery, he strode along Colombia Pike. His thoughts were still with his men in Section 60 of ANC. Most had fallen to IEDs. Why was he still here? Medal of Honor or not, he was no hero, just a man too angry to care.
He trudged into the Celtic Irish pub. As he bellied up to the bar, people hailed him, “Hey Aussie,” “G’day Blue,” “Sarge”. A Newbie was quizzical, “Your name’s Blue? But you’re the reddest fellow I ever saw.”
“Aussie humor,” he smiled.
Later, Blue approached the bar again, “Sorry Blue, but you already have a long tab”, said the bartender. He needed to feel numb, to push the terror away, “OK I’ll sing for my tequila. Who’ll buy me a shot for a song?” Several raised hands were heartening.
He opened with “Khe Sanh,” a ballad of a Vietnam vet. His voice was OK and received applause.
Lurching back to his booth, he greeted the Newbie. “G’day mate.”
“Hey Blue, nice singing.”
“Thanks, and you are?” There was something funny about this white-haired bloke.
“Call me Pax. Do you know ‘The Gambler?’”
“Kenny Rogers. Sure, it’s a classic.”
“Well I can see you’re out of Aces. This will help,” said Pax, slipping a scrap of paper into Blue’s shirt pocket. “Don’t look until tomorrow.” As Pax left he turned in afterthought, “Remember Blue, love is love.”
One year later, Blue was winging to Manila. Pax had given him the address of an online dating site. He’d laughed, imagining himself making some poor woman’s life insufferable with his anxieties and mood swings. Over the next few days he came to think it couldn’t hurt to talk. That was how he’d found Lily from Marawi, on Mindanao.
Eventually, Blue arrived in Marawi, meeting Lily and family. He gave her the biggest hug and kiss, shaking everyone’s hands. “Welcome Blue,” said Lily’s father, “We take care you and make your holiday good.” The children came forward, each in turn taking his right hand and touching it to their foreheads. It was sweet and touching. That evening they honoured him with a whole barbequed fish. Also, there was tuba, the local coconut wine. Many came to see the white man. “Hey Joe!” they greeted him. Every white man was American and every American was called Joe.
He and Lily were at the market when it happened. Every imaginable fresh product was under a simple iron roof. There were meats, fish and vegetables of every kind. The sights, smells and sounds were alluring and intriguing to Blue.
There was something foreboding about the loud call “Hey Joe,” and even as he turned customers melted away and merchants ducked under tables. Lily screamed. It was a Filipino in a bandana, pointing an old Kalashnikov squarely at his chest. He raised his hands.
Blue looked out from his bamboo prison four days later. Somewhere, a rebel was stomping through the jungle in Blue’s best hiking boots. He estimated the distance from the lockup to good cover–about 30 metres. That meant a five second sprint. Blindfolded on the way here, he’d now seen them praying, and knew the direction they faced must be roughly West, toward Mecca. They fed him on fruit, which they’d stolen from orchards lower down. There was something with hard spiky skin that stank like carrion. He ate it, needing the energy. Another fruit was covered in red hair. The skin came away easily, exposing white juicy flesh around a stone. “I’ll be buggered,” he mused, “A hairy lychee”.
Blue was waiting for the right opportunity. They were unaware of his elite military experience. Some had wandered off to who knew where. There were two left guarding him. When one went into the bushes to relieve himself, Blue called loudly to the other “Tubig!” (water). The rebel came toward him cautiously, opening the gate and pointing to the water container. “Give,” he said. Blue stood, moving between rebel and water container. He bent to pick up the container, then steeled every muscle for the next move. Like a spring released, he pivoted, driving his elbow with great force into the man’s nose. He was there long enough to hear the crunch, but not to see the crimson fountain.
The gunshots surprised Blue just as he reached the trees. He’d expected the bloke to take a bit longer to get his stuff together. He must be losing his touch. Then he turned East and downhill.
For hours, he lay under fallen vegetation watching the bamboo house. It was an unremarkable farming household. In the gloaming, Blue emerged cautiously and tapped gingerly on the door. An old man ushered him in urgently. “You Sargent Blue, the Marine?”
“Yes mate, how did you know?”
“Army look for you.” His whole body was covered in cuts and bruises from head to toe. A girl beckoned him to sit down so she could tend to his wounds.
Next day, Lily had a death grip around his neck. “Thank you, Lord, for bringing my love back to me.” The men of the family were patting him on the back. “We’re so proud of you Blue,” said Lily’s father, “You really show those buang rebels”. Blue looked around instinctively, wondering if any sympathisers heard the rebels described as idiots.
Later that night Lily and Blue danced after everyone retired. “Throw Your Arms Around Me” played, in the flickering candlelight. They were snuggling. He loved the smell of her hair and the feel of her body. He moved his hand to cover her breast, loving the soft yet firm mound. Then his hand slid slowly down to her hip, her thigh, and then to her sex. But it wasn’t right. It was man tackle!
Blue sprang back from her, severing contact. Lily was shattered, “I’m so sorry Blue”. He burst into laughter, then took her into his embrace once more. “It’s alright,” he said, “You’re alright … you’re perfect. Love is love.”
I am not sure I truly grasped the point of love is love, but happy the tormented and haunted Blue found his way back.