A Waiting story: The Unwilling Soldier

Sun rise. Summer mist hovering over green Cheshire fields. Motorway ribbon trails lazily around the contours of the county. HGV, number plate from indeterminate home rolls onto expansive service station forecourt. Small bundle falls from its belly. It rolls out onto the tarmac, dusts itself down stumbles across the tarmac, avoiding the lorries which lumber towards it, sidestepping the coaches and tourist stares. He slips into the service station, fumbles in his pocket and finds a few euro, an old crucifix and a bright new sellophaned copy of the Comedy of Errors.

He really shouldn’t be here. His uncle gave him a strong cup of coffee, told him to wait at the station and that he’ll be back in 10. Not sure whether he means minutes or years. “We’re on a war footing young Adek” echoes in his ears, the slap of rifle shots whistling merrily by. Next thing he knows, everything has gone green, the rushing of wind in his long hair, memories of his mother, his aunts and stray dogs in streets. He’s strapped to the underside of an articulated Volvo and over time he develops a detailed knowledge of it suspension mechanics, the oil and water smeared floor of a roll on roll off ferry, the asphalt of Dover and – after a long sleep – the littering MacHabits of the good burghers of Cheshire.

Two crimson black crows stare horizontally across the tarmac plain at him, scaring their cousins away from the food bonanza. They outstare Adek. Her averts his gaze to the book. His stomach seizes and he groans. What’s the book worth? A couple of meals? A ticket home? He stares back up the motorway. A large white van rolls slowly over the horizon, down onto the forecourt. Side door opens, steps lower. Young man sits on steps, smoking a long awaited cigarette. Flicks ash down between the steps. Adek steps around him into the van. Shelves of pristine books in neatly regulated rows cry out for attention.

“Look at me! Read me! No, me! Over ‘ere son! On your ‘ead! Offside! Referee! Take me, no, take me!” He stacks up 12 books, the driver nods at him as he steps off the mobile and packs his books into his small rucksack. He strolls towards the service station, the books continuing to shout out from the rucksack. Children gather on the grass in front of him, falling out of the bushes, climbing out of the drains, shinning down from the trees, they follow Adek and his new model army of quarrelsome books in singles, in pairs, tattooed, made up, bones broken, arms in slings, heads and hearts bandaged.

They stare at Adek, he passes out the 12 books from his rucksack to them: Spiderwick, Harry Potter, The Midnight Fox, The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe, Swallows and Amazons, Jennings Goes To School, My Family and other Animals, Whizz for Atoms, The Little Prince, Tiggers Story, To Kill a Mockingbird, Kes. The bandages fall from the children’s limbs.

The children keep coming and the rucksack refuses to empty. Adek issues Shakespeare to babies, Chekov to teenagers, Wilson to grandparents, Grays Anatomy to star crossed lovers and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle to Ulster Unionists. The rucksack finally ties itself up. The unwilling soldier steps aside and the children melt back into the service station, their books muttering, chattering and whispering to their new owners.

Adek places his Comedy of Errors to his ears, listens, smiles and sits in the sunshine, waiting for his next story to begin.

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