Home > Events, Writing > II. Rain, Leaves, Mud.

II. Rain, Leaves, Mud.

It would have been an odd sight, had there been anyone to see it. There were about thirty figures, all standing immobile, scattered across the red clay face of the hill. There was no conversation, because no two of them were standing near together. Considering that there were few enough gaps between the trees and not many gentle inclines on the hill slope on which to stand, that the figures were scattered so evenly suggested some deliberation in their placement. They stood like sculptures, strange sculptures, and one suspected that if one were to walk among them they would not have noticed. And over everything, rain was falling, through the trees and branches, trickling down onto their helmets and jackets, flowing down the slope over roots and under brown leaves, turning the red clay into sticky mud.

*

We had reached our objective the day before, after having marched through the night with our boots and uniforms still wet from the river we had crossed. We were beyond tired, but at least we knew what was coming when the order was given. We were deployed to our positions, and after marking them out, we took out our tools and started digging.

What’s digging like? We spent the afternoon brushing away the leaf litter, scraping at clay, all the while trying to keep our footing on the slope, piling up loose earth, which made the slope even more treacherous, and, in between bouts of digging, sitting with our legs in whatever depression we had managed to excavate. But we were done before nightfall, and, having managed that, it was time to grab what rest we could before the next mission. I don’t remember feeling relief, or feeling anything very much at all, as I settled into my hole in the ground, having made it as comfortable as I could.

Very soon, it was morning. It wasn’t light yet, but all the same, it was time to rouse ourselves for the day’s work, which included being prepared for enemy attack. Our traps were layed, and we had made sure that we could find our way around the slope even in the dark should reinforcements be required in another sector. All this had been done the day before. The promised attack came, and fortunately there was only one. We defended, and it ended. After that, stores and supplies were moved or retrieved, and then, we knew, it would be time to move again. The message came for us to prepare.

Then the rain came, just a few drops at first, but, as before, we knew what was coming, and there was no stopping it. We fumbled for our rain jackets, clipped behind us, and tried to put them on as well as we could over our overloaded vests. The hoods came up as well, more to prevent rain from trickling down our necks than to keep our heads dry. We already had helmets on. We also had to move our packs and equipment away from where the water would collect. The rain prompted all this renewed activity, but, gradually, sector by sector, everything seemed to come to a pause.

The message had been passed: we would be moving shortly. Prepare. But we were not moving then; we weren’t moving yet, but, we felt rather than thought, the mission was… over. And so, hoods over our helmets, we stood by our holes in the ground and watched them fill up. We just stood, still, for five or maybe fifteen minutes, or more, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. If we shifted our weight or moved our boots, the red mud would shift and squelch; but there were many reasons not to move. We weren’t supposed to go down yet. Our wet socks squelched in our boots whenever we took a step. Sitting down was too much trouble, there was mud everywhere. We’d have to start covering over our shell scrapes soon. We were just waiting for the order.

And perhaps it was just that: we were waiting, in an in-between kind of moment, where we’d otherwise have been waiting at the ready. Or perhaps, even if we had been told to be on the alert, we wouldn’t have been, because we were wet again, miserable, and, after the past three days, exhausted. And there were two days to go. So we stood, kept in place by the mud and a dearth of motivating energy, perhaps extinguished, literally inter-mission, waiting to be galvanized by the next order. It would come.

*

They stood, it seemed, for a long while, hardly moving, water dripping off them like off cold stone.

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