I should feel like I own the world. It hasn’t rained for days, we had real chicken for dinner last night. I finally got rid of that damn athlete’s foot, and I cheated death another year, but I can’t dig my spirits out of the gutter. Today will pass the same as yesterday, slogging another fifteen miles deeper into enemy territory.
Nau steps out of our marching column and into an orchard along the edge of the dirt road.
He repositions his burp gun, then reaches up and pulls down a branch laden with oranges.
Overhead, the sound of whistling wings makes me cringe. I hold my breath, expecting a 150 mm howitzer shell to explode in my face any second. Instead, a hornbill, its large, yellow beak too big for its body, shrieks as it flies where it won’t be disturbed by tromping boots. I let my shoulders relax.
“Try.” Nau offers me a fruit, slipping back in line. “Taste like American ice cream,” he tempts me.
I’m not hungry and haven’t been for some time. Lately, I’d rather drink my meals. “Got any with whiskey flavor?” I ask, but I take the fruit. “Also, how do you know about American ice cream?”
“Missionaries come to village when I child. Tell parents I smart. Take me to capital city, Rangoon, where they teach English. They think I become priest. After six years, I go home to marry. Cannot be priest if married,” he laughs, looking proud that he ended up with an education that didn’t cost him celibacy.
I throw the orange rind into a ditch and tear off a couple of sections, then, surprised, say, “Hey, this I like! Almost as good as American made.” I check to make sure he knows I’m teasing. Sometimes the message comes out wrong in translation.
Nau grins, satisfied, and says, “My land have beautiful mountains, rivers, trees, filled with ancient temples. Your country new, rich, strong. My country better.”
“Well, granted, you probably don’t have to pay taxes, but if things were that great in your country, we wouldn’t be here,” I challenge him with raised eyebrows.
With hands clasped behind his back, he reflects on my words. Then he kicks the pebbles on the road and says, “You right. Burma have many problems. Feuds between tribes and Burmese government start before I was born. Probably end after I die. But we must trust power of Spirit and have faith”
“Nau, I don’t buy that missionary crap.” The syrupy orange citrus scent on my hands attracts an irritating string of bees.
“Harry, believing in Spirit is good. It teach us to ask for what need. Brain only tells us to fight for what we want. So we fight till all dead. That is not answer.”
“So what do you ask for?”
“I ask my people be left alone.” Nau throws his shoulders back defiantly. I’ve never seen this side of him before, but, in the past, we always talked about my war.
“Well, that ain’t going to happen. What’s your next plan?” I ask.
Nau nods in agreement. “No next plan. Not easy to feel sorry for enemy when they put knife in back. How can I see light in man who doesn’t honor light in me?” He looks at the dry ground, clasps his hands behind his back again, and continues to march forward in silence.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish