Wednesday, March 15, 2006

At the Front Gate

This was a personal essay I submitted to the Erma Bombeck Contest. I didn't even place Honorable Mention. Why don't you be the judge?

“Sir, they tried to bring in a monkey today.” Sergeant First Class, SFC P said when she got into the office.

I was leery about putting a woman in charge of Local Nationals. Until recently a woman could be stoned in Afghanistan because her husband didn’t like the way she folded his shirts. But SFC P is not your average woman.

She’s taller than the most Afghan men and a whole lot louder. When she steps outside our tent office to have a private conversation she might as well stay inside. She’s the voice of FOB Salerno.

When SFC P says “LN” is sounds like “alien” and she always refers to them as “gentlemen.” They love her. They call her “gentlemen” and have proposed half a dozen times.

“They said some soldier wanted to buy the monkey for $10. I said that’s what wrong looks like. He’s still up at the gate if you want to see him.”

I did. It turned out that every tour some soldier or Marine wants to buy a monkey. This one is actually some local Afghan soldier’s pet. He’s a Capuchin that looks just like an organ grinder’s monkey. He was sitting casually at the gate smoking a cigarette.

“Sergeant P, you’ve gotten another marriage proposal.” The guard stopped whacking his metal detector wand against the ground long enough to tell her that. “They brought you those.” He pointed to two turkeys.

The turkeys were dead, but I don’t know how. They didn’t have any marks on them and they still had their heads. They were just two dead turkeys lying there like they were taking a nap. I don’t know how turkeys got to Afghanistan anyway since they are native to North America. The man who brought them was there.

“He says you are strong like man and he wants to marry you.” The interpreter, “terp” said.

“I’m already married.” SFC P said.

“He says, ‘that’s okay,’ he already has three wives.’”

“Sergeant P this man says you promised to open the English School today.” The guard called. The monkey nodded in agreement.

When an Afghan says, “you promised” it doesn’t mean the same as when an American says it. It means more like: “you were thinking about it, I could see it in your eye.” So, SFC P knew she had never even said such a thing.

“Tell him that we will call him when the school reopens.”

The monkey was shocked.

“This other man says someone told him to see the tall man with green eyes and he will give him money.” The guard said.

“Don’t look at me.” I told the monkey. “My eyes are blue.”