Excerpt of Beaufort by Ron Leshem
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And I remember how the gate of the outpost opens to let us in, how the Safari comes to a halt inside a cloud. Everyone grabs hold of whatevers lying aroundbags, equipment, your own or someone elsesand runs like hell inside. The commanders curse under their breathOut of the vehicles, run, get a move on!and people go down, people come up, youre not allowed to stand in place, you have to grab some shelter. When the parking area fills up with dozens of soldiers the enemy fires salvoes of mortar shells. And I try, but I cant see anything, dont recognize anyone around me, grab hold of the shirt of some soldier I dont know and get pulled along after him. Im thrown into a crowded maze, surrounded by thick concrete on all sides, long passageways with no entrance or exit, rooms leading to steep dead-end stairways, cul-de-sacs, and a collection of larger rooms lit up in red, with low ceilings and stretchers. Thirty seconds later Im already in one of the bomb shelters, a long and narrow alcove, a kind of underground cavern with concave walls covered in rusting metal and cramped three-layer bunk beds hanging by heavy iron chains from the ceiling.
welcome to downtown someone has carved over the doorway, and inside the air is stuffy, suffocating, a stench of sweat overwhelms you again and again, in waves. This pit, called the submarine, is where my entire life will be taking place from now on. I consider a quick trip to the toilet. A seasoned sergeant tells me to follow the blue light to the end of the hall and take a right, but he informs me Ill need a battle vest and a helmet. I decide to hold it in. Whats the matter, is there a war on or something? Im really not in the mood to go up in smoke here right now. Back then it seemed like it was light-years away when all it was was thirty, forty feet, three green toilets with a graffiti welcomei came, i saw, i conquered. julius caesarand an official military sign commanding users do not leave pieces of shit on the toilet seat so there is never any chance of forgetting where you are living. And in the morning, with the first sunrise, as the view of Lebanon spreads out before us like an endless green ocean, our commanding officer makes his opening statement, which he has undoubtedly been rehearsing for weeks, maybe months, or maybe it has been handed down through the generations: Welcome. If there is a heaven, this is what it looks like, and if there is a hell, this is how it feels. The Beaufort outpost.
Once, Lila asked me what exactly Beaufort is and I thought how difficult it is to explain in words. You have to be there to understand, and even thats not enough. Because Beaufort is a lot of things. Like any military outpost, Beaufort is backgammon, Turkish coffee, and cheese toasts. You play backgammon for cheese toasts, whoever loses makes them for everyonekiller cheese toasts with pesto. When things are really boring, you play poker for cigarettes. Beaufort is living without a single second of privacy, long weeks with the squad, one bed pushed up against the next, the ability to pick out the smell from every guys boots in your sleep. With your eyes closed and at any given moment being able to name the guy who farted by the smell alone. This is how true friendship is measured. Beaufort is lying to your mother on the phone so she wont worry. You always say, Everythings great, I just finished showering and Im off to bed, when in fact you havent showered for twenty-one days, the water in the tanks has been used up, and in another minute youre going up for guard duty. And not just any guard duty but the scariest position there is. When she asks when youre coming home you answer in code. Mom, you know the name of the neighbors dog? Im out of here on the day that begins with the same letter. Whats most important is to keep Hezbollah from listening in and figuring out when to bomb your convoy. You really want to tell her you love her, that you miss her, but you cant, because your entire squad is there. If you say it youll be giving them ammunition for months, theyll tear you apart with humiliation. And then theres the worst situation of all: in the middle of a conversation with your mother the mortar shells start blowing up around you. She hears an explosion and then the line goes dead. Shes over there shaking, certain her kids been killed, waiting on the balcony for a visit from the army bereavement team. You cant stop thinking about her, feeling sorry for her, but it might be days before the phone line to the command post can be reconnected. Worry. Thats the reason I preferred not to call at all. I told my mother Id been transferred to a base right on the border, near the fence, Lebanon lite, not at all deep innot way deep in Lebanonso that shed sleep at night. Gut feeling, you ask? She knew the truth the whole time, even if she wont admit it to this day.
Excerpted from Beaufort by Ron Leshem, translated by Evan Fallenberg. Copyright © 2007 by Ron Leshem. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.