Day Five: A Story on the Reflective Properties of Dust and Sand in the Moments After a Deadly Explosion
by Tom Noonan
Tony hangs from his chair, a seatbelt holding him inches above the ground. There’s smoke and the smell of gasoline, and the three soldiers around him don’t seem to be breathing. His gun, the one he’d been given before they left the base, had been thrown through the broken windshield that sits in front of him. There’s no gunfire, no screaming, just the settling of dust where laughter had roared moments before.
The contract Tony had signed, the one that brought him here, was a fairly common one. Many young immigrants are offered these types of contracts, to work on military bases, as bilingual employees. But Tony was from Kosovo, a refugee of civil war, and spoke only Albanian and English. He had been offered the contract by a family friend who knew five figures for fourteen months’ work would be impossible for a recent college grad to turn down. He was right. Tony was in Afghanistan two weeks after signing on.
Tony’s brother, Gony, joined him in Afghanistan under a similar contract three months later. Now, when asked about his sons’ well being, Tony and Gony’s father only responds, “Who?”. His two sons signed on to work in a war zone without their father’s permission, telling him they would only be working in the mailroom and would never leave the base. “It’ll probably be safer than living here,” they had told him. His silence was a concentrated effort, giving every letter they sent home directly to his youngest daughter, Kaltrina, who Tony and Gony were hoping to support through college.
Now blood drips from Tony’s arm; a piece of glass had pierced his right bicep during the explosion. Gony is still on the base, choosing not to take part in the “ride-along” a few of their military buddies had offered earlier in the day. “I just want to see the people,” Tony had said to his brother. “I want to see they’re faces, what they look like.”
“They’ll hide their faces. You won’t see anyone.”
There’s an American flag stitched on Tony’s right shoulder. He’s thinking about Mr. Bob, the American man that took his family in when they were finally selected to leave the refugee camp. He remembers the nights in Kosovo when he watched his parents from his bedroom window as they sat in the old, broken down family car with a shotgun, waiting for the far-off gunshots to close in on their home. He remembers the night when a soldier put a knife to his father’s throat, ordering him and his family to leave. The soldier left a small cut on his father’s neck. He remembers the exodus. He remembers the Serbs his family crossed paths with along the way. The same ones who threw his father into the dirt, fixing their guns on him, making him plead for life and mercy. Tony thinks about Gony falling on his father, crying, and begging the men not to shoot his father. That day, Tony’s family traded every cent they carried for their father’s life.
Tony is able to free himself from the seatbelt and crawls from the wreck. As the wind sweeps dust around him, he remembers the first time Mr. Bob took him and his family to the beach. He thinks about the sun and the waves, how big they were. Mr. Bob tried to teach them how to boogie board, and as the waves knocked them around, Tony’s father laughed fully and without conscience or burden.