The Fortunes Of War

I was taken by  local colleague recently to meet his uncle and eat oranges and peanuts with him. I didn't realize that by the end of the meeting, I would henceforth be obligated to refer to him as my godfather.


The trip to his house was some ten kilometers by bike, the last of which was vividly reminiscent of "...over the river and through the woods." Upon arriving, although given the following context I hesitate to use the cliché, my jaw hit the ground. I was confronted by a warm-faced, “smiling” old man who happened to have no mouth.


After about an hour and a half (and about 5 oranges and one very citric acid-burned mouth) later, I couldn’t resist the temptation and curiosity and asked if he had fought in the civil war (which ended almost 20 years ago). With a relaxed face and the closest thing to a grin, he said he had, and asked if I wanted to hear the story of what happened to people who talk too much. With the bait hooked (why are there so many mouth clichés in English?), although I’m not sure who hooked whom, I nodded.


There are a lot of extraneous details, but the general overview proceeds like this. During the war, he was captured and taken prisoner. After three months of being dragged about, he started losing morale and hope, so to stay mentally fit he began taunting his captors. (Now, a starving soldier with a gun is not likely to take much abuse, even verbal, from a restrained and dehumanized prisoner. I omitted my opinion on the matter, though.) It didn’t take long for one of the captors to have sufficiently had his fill before losing his calm. He dragged his prisoner behind a tree, put him on his knees, and put the barrel of the gun to the then-young man’s ear. He yelled at him to shut up and pulled the trigger. Not planning on the recoil of the gun overpowering his arm, the shot blew off our protagonist’s jaw. He was found a day later and taken to a village, where he lived for “months, years, who knows?” and the skin around his mouth healed of its own accord (although part of his tongue was burned off from the shot).


I’m sure there’s some irony or moral to be found in all of this, but the foreignness of it all still leaves my mind numb. Before leaving, I was given about 2 kilos or peanuts and sent on my way, with an open invitation to return whenever I wanted, unannounced.

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.