“Blacken coal-eyed bugger … bindle boy, you. Beat it!”
“What the hell's that mean?”
“Beats me, it's what the limeys call ‘em. What they say to these kids.”
“I kinda' doubt that. Makes no sense at all.”
“Close as I can get to what they say. They're English, all right, but those Brits? They sure don't speak it.”
“It's the accent. You get used to it.”
These kids do get on your nerves, under foot, grabby, put their hands on you, touch your gear, move in, move out, move so damn fast you think they've gotten into your pocket. You keep patting your pockets to check your stash, your wallet. I know what he's saying, why he's saying it that way, a kind of disconnect. They got these beautiful eyes, but they are the kind of eyes that make you angry in a way you've never been. But is it anger?
Garcia stops, says, “America number one.”
“What they tell you. Hands out like, gimme something. Walk backwards front of you, say, ‘America number one.' Yesterday some kid holds up his finger … like this. Number one. Right? Today? Same kid, sayin' the same thing, holding up the wrong finger. You want to kill ‘em one minute. Next? You want to kiss ‘em, take ‘em home.”
I laugh. Garcia's right. You can't hate them. Sometimes you laugh.
“You think they have parents?”
“Kinda' doubt it. Chances are we killed ‘em. Somebody. Collateral damage, these.”
One comes up, reaches into my pocket with dirty, delicate brown fingers. Sticks half his arm down there. I want to pull it out, but I'd have to shift my gun. It's empty anyway, that pocket. Kid comes around in front of me. Looks up. Damn but his eyes are sharp as razor blades with a need for something he can't say. But we hear gunfire, hit the doorway.
Lieutenant rises from behind a burned out car, black iron, just a frame, really.
“All clear. Move up.”
Like he knows something we don't.
Gunfire. Pop. Pop. Pop.
Garcia goes down. I hit the closest doorway.
I look back and see divots coming up like brown flowers in the dirt. Go out and try to drag him back. Bullet bites my hand. Elbow myself back alone, hand on fire. It's quiet.
Lieutenant says, “Anybody hit?” I can't see him.
“Garcia's down!” I'm yelling. “My hand's broke! They shot us.”
“Stay where you are. I can see the sniper. Sit tight.”
Two of the ragged kids move in on Garcia. He's not moving. Little kids. So damn skinny, but with big, spooky eyes. One's into his backpack, another's in his pockets. They got his MREs. Rip the bags with their teeth. Sitting right there, eating. Sitting on Garcia's backpack, eating. I want to kill them. I want to kill somebody. I won't, but want to.
Kid holds up his index finger. He smiles. Sniper kills this kid? How will I feel?
Can you imagine being that hungry? Can you?
I can't. I watch his fingers bring food to his mouth. Graceful, butterfly fingers.
All rights reserved.
Written for Lost Children, A charity anthology collection with 30 stories by authors from around the globe. Profits from the sale of this book will go to support exploited, neglected and abused children. All proceeds go to the charities PROTECT: the National Association to Protect Children, and Children 1st U.K.
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