This Part is Real:
My feet make a rhythmic thud against the sidewalk along a quiet street in a quiet neighborhood, safe from war and the daily strife it brings. I settle into a steady meditative pace. When I hit a traffic light I stop. Even though the light is green and the walk sign is on I look up at the cab of the truck in the cross lane. Looking in my direction he gives a slight waving motion with his hand. By that and a nod of his head I know he sees me and I continue across the street giving him a little wave and nod back as a thank you for not running me down as a cross the street.
This part is imagined:
Two soldiers stand at a checkpoint in a neighborhood somewhere near in Diyala Province, Iraq. It is 2007 and the walls of the shops and houses are pockmarked by bullet holes and blasts. At that moment the car traffic was minimal. In the blistering heat the body armor, combat uniform, weapons and ammo caused the sweat runs off their bodies down into their boots. One of the soldiers tips her Kevlar helmet up ever so slightly to adjust the band which is supposed to absorb the sweat dripping into her eyes and blurring her vision. In that few seconds she feels a searing pain across her forehead and hears the bullets hiss past. A gush of blood cascades down her face momentarily blinding her just as a car drives slowly up to the checkpoint. Her fellow soldier, with his hand out, palm forward, weapon ready, motions to the car to stop. The driver accelerates and the soldier fires on the car until it rolls to a stop.
This part is real:
I walk the short distance from the operating room to the Emergency Department at Balad Air Base Hospital looking for my next patient. A nurse motions me to the bed which holds a tiny child, maybe four or maybe older because she looks malnourished. Her brilliant blue dress has long crimson streaks. The dress was cut down the center to expose her chest and belly for examination. I see at least four small black craters, all welling over with red or purplish blood. She is moaning softly and writhing in pain. A medic holds one arm steady as he starts an IV. Her free arm stretches over across the gurney rale to the cart next to her where a body is covered with a sheet. When I pull back the sheet just enough to expose the face of a young frail looking woman, the little girl sobs softly.
“Nothing you can do for her now Major. The other one is all yours though.” The nurse looks back at the young woman for a moment. “No explosives or weapons were found in her car, but still they all know what happens when you run a checkpoint.”
Do they (the Iraqis) though I wondered. I didn’t know anything about her, not even her name. She looked young, too young to be out navigating IED strewn streets with sniper alleys and market bombings, especially alone with a child. What if she had nothing to do with the bullets that zinged through the checkpoint? What if she was trying to get somewhere and became confused with all the detours and roadblocks. What if she misunderstood the soldiers gesture and thought she was supposed to pull forward? What if she accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake?
I pulled the sheet back over her face, covering it gently.
Maybe out of financial desperation and promise of monetary reward she had taken part in an attempted checkpoint ambush, or maybe out of some war fueled hatred.
Or maybe in the pressure of the moment she misunderstood the soldiers outstretched hand.
This part is imagined:
I pull the sheet away from the woman’s face and take her to the operating room where I mix some magic potions and drift her into a mercifully deep anesthetic dream where an outstretched hand doesn’t mean death.