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Like a biosphere, this desert sits self-contained within its perimeter of concrete walls, razor wire and armed guards. What's over those walls, beyond that fence? What are those guards guarding against? Farmland. Green vineyards, lush palm groves and endless farmland spotted by settlements and eventually cities. Somewhere in those groves, among those palms, grapes and homes, someone wants to kill us. They remind us of this, every now and then, usually about three times in five days. Most times, we don't hear their reminder, just the bellowing of sirens as the post-wide communique is put out telling us that it's safe to walk the streets again and to be mindful of unexploded ordinance. Other times we'll hear the boom from somewhere distant, a place we'll never see even though it's within a couple miles of the base. And, a certain few times, we feel the very floor and buildings quake as the concussion of those shells reaches out to tap us lightly on the shoulder. I always thought it odd to be witness to so many mortar strikes and never see a crater or an explosion. I walk, plodding through the desert of Iraq, this one small arid island encompassed by a sea of green. Like a biosphere, it sits self-contained within a perimeter of concrete walls, razor wire and armed Ugandans. What's over those walls and beyond that fence? What are those Ugandans guarding against? Farmland, green vineyards, palm groves and families tending to their fields across the rural landscape. Somewhere among those grapes, groves and children, someone wants to kill us. We're reminded of this almost every other day. Most times, we don't hear the reminder, just the bellowing of sirens as the base-wide communique tells us the shelling is over and to watch for unexploded bombs. Other times we'll hear the boom from somewhere distant, a place we'll never see even though it's within a couple miles of here. Although, periodically we feel the floor and buildings quake as the concussion of those shells reaches out to tap us lightly on the shoulder. I always thought it odd to be a target of so many mortar strikes and never see an explosion or a crater.
This is Iraq, where I'm supposed to be living; where they tell me I am to make my home. This is where my tan boots kick up the tan dust against a tan background of concrete walls. Sometimes even the sky is tan, filtering the sunlight to an eerie orange that always makes me wonder whether Clark Kent would dare come out of the phone booth on such days. As I get closer, I see he's holding something large and shapely. I don't give it second thought until I hear the strumming. A guitar calling out to me from the comfort I left behind for here. Something strange happens next. Passing by him, I feel heat. There's something odd about the heat, it's not constant. It's a wavering, flowing kind of heat. The sort of heat you catch when warmed by wind-whipped flames. Along with this, I smell something. Marshmallow roasting over open flame. In that instant of confusion, I'm sent years into the past and decades into the future. I remember every campfire I ever sat in front of while my siblings criticized my marshmallow technique. I keep telling them it's flambe. However, these fires never had a guitar with them and so my mind searches through my future. I see plans and visions of my wife, son and I. I see us gathering around those open flames. I see my son and I losing hot dogs off the sticks too small to keep from burning the hairs off all our knuckles. I see myself strumming that guitar, utterly embarrassing myself as I can't remember one single tune. I see lifetimes and futures passing before my eyes and through my senses. And then it's gone.
All in the space of one stride as I walk past that figure with his guitar, with his hopes and dreams, with his choice of pastime and personal visions of tours where women throw their underwear on stages drenched in alcohol. And when my next foot lands I'm still here. I still hear the strumming coming from this man and I just want to go home. I want to feel the heat from a fire instead of that hateful sun burning down at me. I want to relive the moment I just had and share it with the world. I know there never was a fire. I know some hot draft from the generator exhaust is playing tricks with my mind, so I just continue walking. If I stop and turn, this memory
will be lost forever. Better to keep it to myself, to nurture it within the realms of my mind than to have it squashed by such a trifle as reality. Better just to keep walking.