Fiction, Vol. 6.4, Dec. 2012
Two soldiers sit down in the back of the bus, so dusty they are crumbling. Exhaustion weighs heavily on their heads, fastening their black yarmulkes to their skulls. Their eyebrows are dark clouds, swallowing their foreheads. They might be identical twins. They have matching uniforms and matching guns, resting on matching knees with matching hairy forearms peeking from matching olive-green sleeves. The one sitting by the window begins by watching the passing view. It is the city of his youth, and he is coming home after a month, maybe two. Then he falls asleep. With every bump, his head bounces like that of the bobbing dog on the dashboard. He does not wake up. After a while, his head wilts onto the shoulder of his soldier-twin. It happens suddenly, like the snapping of a windblown wheat stalk. A string of drool falls slowly from his mouth, dangling from his front tooth. It gets caught on his chin and trudges downward. It reflects the sunlight as it falls, clear and bright as rain or tears. If you are watching, you can follow the progression of the drool with all the intensity of a guard on duty. When the drool hits the soldier-twin’s shoulder, he jerks awake and wipes his mouth on the back of his hand. He looks around, embarrassed, but the other passengers are a forgiving audience. You and I—we know that these men are defending us, or at least they are trying to. We are grateful, and we do not judge. The soldier’s cheeks do not turn red; they can’t, because his skin is too scorched. Dust brown. These soldier-twins must spend their days in the Negev. The other soldier says nothing, doesn’t move a muscle, even as the drop of drool sits on his shoulder like a conscience. He is staring straight ahead, through the cluster of other passengers. His eyes are red-rimmed and brimming with what might appear to be tears. But, if you are watching, you do not judge. Looks can be deceiving. The mouth of the soldier’s gun sticks out into the aisle, and on it, he has hung a plastic bag filled with beer bottles. With every jerk of the bus, they cling and clang, like wind chimes. The second soldier buys these beers on his way home from the base, so that he doesn’t have to think about the base when he is home. The first soldier-twin’s gun is digging into the other’s thigh. Their guns aren’t loaded with ammunition, but they are loaded with other things. They are threats. To you, to me, to the passengers. The people who are watching.