It made me feel fine to be walking alone in the rain that day. I had noticed the sun, now resting above the tall, ordered rows of pines and birch while I walked and I began to feel a kind of calm when I passed the townspeople. I couldn't have placed it then, but now, looking back, there was peace in the absence of talk. We passed and our eyes would meet briefly, the sound of my boot-heels amplified by cobblestones or alley walls, then they would fall away from each other, our eyes, and they would know me by my skin, tan and sun-beat to linen, an American, no reason to speak, he will not understand the words, and I thought, thank you, I am tired and do not know what to say. By then, in every instance, we had passed each other. And it felt good, somewhere behind my breastbone, to sense that this separation was explicable, a mere failing of language, and my loneliness could proceed with a different cause for a little while longer.
I reached a traffic circle where a pair of silver cabs idled. I tapped on the first one's driver side window. The driver, a man with large eyes and a small, almost lipless mouth, sat up. He rolled his window down and leaned his head out ever so slightly. My hands were in the front pockets of my jeans and I leaned in to him as well. "K-town," I said quietly. For a moment we were very close, almost touching, and he said something that I didn't understand. "No sprechen," I said. He sighed and smiled and waved his hand toward the back seat of his taxi and I got in.
And that's when it began, on that short ride in to Kaiserslautern. We rode in silence, without pleasantries, and the radio stayed off. I leaned my head against the window and watched as my breath condensed on it. I took my finger and made rudimentary lines in the fogged over glass; first one, then another, until I had made the shape of a square, a smaller window inside the window. As I looked out onto the trees that edged the road, my muscles tensed and I began to sweat. I knew where I was: a road in Germany, AWOL, waiting for the flight back to the states, but my body did not: a road, the edge of it, and another day. My fingers closed around a rifle that was not there. I told them the rifle was not supposed to be there, but my fingers would not listen, and they kept closing around the space where my rifle was supposed to be and I continued to sweat and my heart was beating much faster than I thought reasonable.
I was supposed to be happy, but I cannot recall feeling much of anything except a dull, throbbing numbness.
Excerpted from The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers. Copyright © 2012 by Kevin Powers. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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