I used to call him “Boss” but I don’t need to anymore because I’m a civvy. A dirty stinking civvy he tells me, a drifter, a busker, a nobody. Freelance writer? What the fuck is that anyway? You were a soldier here with a rank and a gun, men to command - that’s something, that’s being somebody he tells me. Samuel Johnson told his friends way back when that “Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been at sea." I’ve been a soldier I tell him, I’ve done that and now I’m doing something else. It’s not good enough what I do now or will ever do because at one time I used to rub shoulders with him and them - soldiers. Why the Hell did I ever leave the army?He hounds me over a text before getting on the plane. It’s the best job in the world and you know it Sarwar. He tells me to get back in and I can’t ever see how I was ever in in the first place. Not now. How was I ever good enough to stand in their ranks? Now all I do is take a little room in their shadows. I look at them doing their work, I think about him holding his gun and wearing his uniform and can’t ever see how I could do that now. How I ever did it? How was I good enough to be like him and with him? How was I a soldier?
I want to be wearing my dirty, sweaty, oily uniform with it’s union jack high on the shoulder. I want to wash the sand out of my hair and eat crap rations
The next I hear from him is an email from Afghanistan. He’s “getting settled in” even though “it’s a bit rough out here.” A bit rough doesn’t sound like much but the last time he said that we were being bombed in Basra together. I was on base and he was out and about. The mortars came in thick and fast and he crawled under a truck not knowing if it was going to be hit, explode and crush him under it. Would they know he was under there? Would they have found him? Not knowing anything or being able to see anything, just hearing the pounding and tasting dirt. Once the noise settled down he dragged others to safety and slapped the panicked young un’s awake and told them to get a fucking move on. The ground took hits around him and angry eruptions threw dirt everywhere. It was a bit rough out there he told me when he got back in and sat with me cleaning his gun. Cleaning guns is what soldiers do every day and sometimes you bore of it but it’s good chatting time. You clean the carbon off with a metal brush and oil it up so it’s ready to go the next time somebody tries to kill you. That was 2007, I was leaving the army doing my last tour in Iraq and he wasn’t happy with me. “What the fuck are you gonna do in civvy street?” he asked me as if there was nothing else that existed aside from having it a bit rough in a warm country and then coming back to clean your gun. That’s all he’d had all his rough life and he couldn’t see any other way. Here he was the Boss and he had a family and he paid his mortgage and he raised his kids and he went to war and came back and drank until he couldn’t stand anymore because people wouldn't stop buying him drinks. And he had his mates.
Well that was 2007 and a lot has happened since then, I’ve done a bit of writing and acting and hustling, whatever civvy street asked of me and then he emailed me asking me if I was still busking. Yes Boss, I’m still busking and I can’t even begin to imagine the feeling you’re getting out there in the Gan being a soldier with the sun warming your back as you walk around with your gun. I want to feel it too so I’ll email you and send you letters full of morale and hope you write me back as much as you can as you carry on being a soldier. I hope your words give me a little something too. I hope it doesn’t get too rough and I hope when you come back we can meet up and have a drink. It’s on me, no worries. That’s what I hope. And stop telling me to get back in because you know I want to stand there with you.
I’m trying to do something else now but when the sun warms my face every so often in England I want to be back in Basra cleaning guns with you. I do. Why do I think there's anything else in this life for me when there's nothing else for you? I want to be wearing my dirty, sweaty, oily uniform with it’s union jack high on the shoulder. I want to wash the sand out of my hair and eat crap rations. I want to make phone calls home and tell my friends off for being dirty stinking civvies and tell mum to stop worrying, I'm here with the best soldiers in the world. I want to feel it being a bit rough too. I want to be a soldier. I don’t want them to come at you and if they do I want to be the one standing next to you sending metal their way and giving a good account of ourselves. Yes the mission statements were lost a long time ago and yes the politicians can’t tell their arses from their elbows but we’re British soldiers and we’re here and when you come at us you’d better expect it back. I feel all those things Boss. Let’s have a drink soon.
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