This is a true story, hardly embellished. It ’s about a dear friend, somewhat I have known for a very long time, from the time we were young soldiers, innocent still, and so fearless.
Paul, let’s call him Paul, was on his fourth tour of duty, and due to the way that war had gone, was getting ready for a fifth, after a short holiday back home. This time though the theatre was different, a hell of jungles and swamps, inhabited by malaria carrying mosquitoes, venomous snakes, lethal spiders and hellish booby-traps. Paul was in a medical centre, getting fitness-tested and to receive much needed vaccinations. In fact it was one vaccination, a deadly cocktail of anti malaria, yellow fever, diphtheria and typhus drugs, that only the army medical corps could concoct.
Paul was standing in one of several lines of young men waiting to be infected – for their own good. The atmosphere was sober. Medics were busy administering the huge syringes, disinfecting shoulders, guiding the soldiers. An officer was supervising, a paratrooper captain with a thin face, short crew cut and a medical badge. Paul’s heart missed a beat: the captain was a woman. In those days this was very rare. Even more so in airborne. The exception being the medical corps.
Her face was angelical, the clear blue eyes were surveying the large space, the columns of soldiers waiting patiently, the medical crews. Paul had eyes only for her. But he could not meet her gaze. Yet he noticed her colours of service: she had been in all the hard spots from the djebels to the Delta. His turn came, he was aware of being talked to by the nurse, felt a sharp pain in the shoulder: “next!” said the nurse. Paul was deep in dreams. He followed the next guy in front of him. Vaguely he would remember the renewed pain, before he realised he had been vaccinated twice, having gone into the wrong queue. By then he was in hospital, with a horse fever, full of ibuprofen.
Someone came to see him: a blond para officer with a crew cut and impressive badges, who said in a matter of fact voice:” You’ll be fit for the next dispatch corporal, am sorry you got confused, first time it happens on my watch”.