This piece and other bits like it in the novel, are tricky for me to write. I like to write about what I know and what I'm comfortable with. Having to write a part where Chris is finally opening up and telling Grace of his experiences in Afghanistan is hard for me. I wasn't there, I will not be there, I haven't talked to anyone who was there. I'm having to rely on news stories, blogs, interviews and a bit of empathy to have Chris tell his story. So any feedback would be much appreciated.
“Stuff keeps coming back to me.” Christopher told her.
Grace shifted in his arms and looked at him. Outside, the wind hurled rain against the windows in the gathering gloom of late afternoon.
“They keep nagging at me…bad things that I thought had been long forgotten.”
“Will you tell me?”
“Yes.” He held her tighter.
She felt his long, shuddering sigh as she rested against him, the wool of his jumper soft beneath her cheek.
“Last November, about two weeks after we’d arrived at the FOB, we went on a patrol.
Grace waited, her hand curled up beneath his chin.
“We’d had reports of more insurgents moving into the area. There were reports that they were moving in an arms shipment, to a village about six miles away. We’d had some reliable information, we knew where they were. I didn’t have to go on these patrols, I could’ve stayed in the compound, but I liked getting out there instead of waiting around for a mortar attack. Anyway, it was too bloody cold to be sitting still. We took three armored vehicles. It was slow going. When we got to the village, we noticed it was quiet. Usually when we went there, there’d be people around, some even liked to see us there. That was enough for me. I told the lads to be on their toes more than usual and, fuck me if I wasn’t right. We’d no sooner passed through the market place when they opened fire on us.” His hand moved through her hair. “Are you tired of the ambush stories, yet, Gracey?”
“It’s just as well.” He flinched as the wind slammed a loose panel on the horse-walker.
“They hit us with RPGs. One of them struck the first vehicle in the convoy. We were stuck in a narrow lane with no way to get past it. We returned fire while the lads in the damaged vehicle scrambled for cover. By some stroke of luck, we managed to nail the bastard with the RPG, but there were still plenty of bullets flying about. We had to reverse out of there, once we’d got the men from the other vehicle out of harm’s way. One of the lads got hit in the leg and I dragged him into our lorry. We gave them plenty of covering fire. It was chaos, lots of shouting and swearing. I called in for air support, so that the gunship could tell us where to fire. They got there pretty quick and that just added to the pandemonium, the shouting, the swearing, the shooting and the roar of the helicopter. My ears didn’t stop ringing for days afterwards. That’s why I like the peace and quiet so much.”
Grace felt him tremble as the walker panel banged again. She wanted to make his pain go away, wipe the memories that haunted him.
“The gunship did its job. We managed to get one or two more of the bastards and the rest made a run for it, with the chopper chasing after them. It took care of the rest. We were so lucky that day. It doesn’t stop me from having nightmares about it, though.”
She looked at him, scared by the blackness he saw. She fought to keep the gates open, to keep him there with her. “I wish there was something I could do.”
His hand trailed across her cheek. “You do plenty.” He said softly. “It means so much just to wake up in the night and know that you’re close enough to touch. It’s enough that you’re here right now. I probably don’t say that often enough, how much you’ve helped me. I don’t tell you enough how much I love you.”“You don’t need to.” She kissed him. “I know.” She sat up with some reluctance. “Now I’m going to go out and fix that bloody walker.”