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Archive for December, 2010

The doctor was awakened by the sharp official rap of military knuckles on his door. He drew aside the goose-down comforter, flicked a switch on, put on his spectacles which were lying on the bedside table and looked at the wall clock. It smiled back to him at 2 a.m. There were four quick knocks on the door.
He put on his overcoat, wrapped it tightly around himself with one hand and proceeded to open the door just a crack, in a bid to keep the whistling cold out.
“The general wishes to see you in the interrogation room, sir,” a young soldier shouted over the roar of the wind as he saluted the doctor.
The doctor acknowledged him with a stiff nod and went back in to get dressed.
In ten minutes he was walking across the snow-laden courtyard to the shack at the far end of the compound as the snow came down hard. He was in his winter uniform, his sparse hair was neatly combed back and he carried a leather briefcase – worn by use – in his right hand.
He knocked and entered the log shack.
A single, incandescent bulb hung steady from a rafter at the other end and cast a large bright circle of light. In it was a young boy in civilian clothes, supported on either side by two young, well-built soldiers. The kid’s head hung limp over his chest; as if the neck were not there to support it, and his long brown hair fell over his forehead and eyes. There was a deep gash on his right cheek and the fresh blood shone bright as it caught the light and trickled out. Dry blood clung to his cracked lips and a dark patch on the side of his grey trousers spoke of a bullet wound.
“Good morning, Dr. Shepherd.”
“Good morning, General,” the doctor replied officially. He set his briefcase down on the table and proceeded to open it.
“That won’t be necessary doctor, you’re only here as an interpreter. German kid,” the general said as if it explained all, and he walked around behind the kid. The doctor looked at the boy. He needed urgent medical care.
“Ask him what he was doing sneaking around the camp.”
The doctor did as he was told in a soft, comforting voice and the boy, on finally hearing some German, opened his tired, heavy eyes and looked at the doctor through his hair. The doctor, bent down, leaned over and brushed the hair off his eyes.
“Ich bin kein Soldat,” the boy whispered with difficulty.
“What did he say?”
“Says he’s not a soldier,” the doctor said.
“Ich bin nur ein Pfortner”
“Says he’s only a porter.”
“He’s a bloody, lying spy,” the General screamed. “Ask him where he’s come from and whom he’s reporting to.”
The doctor spoke to the kid.
“Ich bin ein Portier mit der Deutsch Armee. Ich war auf der Flucht vor dem deutschen Lager und wurde von meinen eigenen Landsleuten erschossen.”
“What did he say?” the general asked impatiently.
“He says he was a porter with the German army and that he was shot by his own countrymen while he was running away from the camp a few hours earlier.”
“That’s a lie, sir.” It was the big burly soldier who stood supporting the German kid that spoke. “I saw him slouching around outside the camp and I shot him, sir, I did.”
“I know you did, I know you did. And I also know the kid’s a bloody liar,” the general said.
There was a long silence, as the general walked over to his armchair and sat down. He put his feet up on the table. One first. Then the other. He pulled out a small leather pouch and poured some tobacco out onto his palm. He ground it with his thumb as he stared intently at the kid. He then put the powder in his pipe and lit it, breathing in deeply and puffing out a satisfied cloud of thick white smoke.
“You could have missed you know.”
It was the doctor who spoke. The general, and both soldiers looked at him. The doctor however looked directly at the tall, well-built soldier. The soldier glared back at him silently. The doctor outranked him. “You could have missed. It’s dark outside and the kid could have fallen down to the ground afraid, and covered his head, anticipating further fire.”
Then, turning to the general, “Let me check the wound and treat it, sir. I’ll know if it’s a fresh wound or if it’s several hours old like the kid claims.”
“There’ll be no need for that doctor,” the general said matter-of-factly. “Like I said, you’re only here as an interpreter.”
“But…”
“Enough doctor. ”
At this point, the kid mumbled something and the doctor leaned over close to better hear what he was saying. He then reached into the boy’s coat pocket and pulled out a soggy, letter.
“What did he say, again,” the general asked.
“He says his father was killed by enemy fire in his village and that he was going back home to be with his mother who is all alone now. That’s the letter his mother sent him,” the doctor said, looking at the paper.
The general burst out laughing. “Nice little stories they weave the bastards.” Then turning to the hefty solider he barked, “Show the boy how we treat lying bastards around here.”
The soldier let the kid’s arm go, and without warning, lifting his rifle up in a high arc, he brought the butt down with crashing force on the boy’s foot. The thud, the crushing of bones and the anguished scream of agony tore through the silent night.
The doctor, shut his eyes.
The general blew out a puff of white smoke as he shifted the pipe from one side of the mouth to the other.
A mangled mess of flesh and blood and powdered bones was all that was left of the boy’s foot. He fell to the ground in unbearable pain, half unconscious, but the soldier took his position again and held him up.
“Ask him now, if he’s still a porter,” the general told the doctor.
The doctor didn’t move. “Do it now,” the general snapped. The doctor followed the order, but the boy was panting, and suffering and lacked the energy to utter any word.
On the general’s nod, the soldier let go off the boy again and once again lifted his rifle up over his head. Sensing the impending crash, the boy mustered all his energy and spoke a few feeble words in a hoarse, rasping whisper, which the doctor could just barely hear.
“Ich lüge nicht… Ich weiß gar nichts… Ich gehe nach Hause, zu Hause, heim zu meiner Mutter…”
The doctor stared back at the kid. He swallowed the lump that hurt in his throat and whispered softly back, “verzeihen Sie mir, mein Sohn. (Forgive me, son.)”
The kid looked back at him uncomprehendingly.
“Well?” the general asked.
The doctor stood up, “Sir, the kid says that he was sent by Commander Hause to spy on our camp and report back on how many men and what kind of artillery we had.”
The general stood up triumphantly and unholstered his revolver. “I knew it. I knew it the bastard was lying. They train them well these Germans, don’t they doctor?”
“Yes sir, they do,” the doctor replied plainly and courteously. Then he continued, “Will that be all, sir?”
“Yes Dr. Shepherd, that will be all. Thank you.”
The doctor stepped out into the wind and the snow. He heard a laughter, a shot and a soft thud, as he shut the door behind him. He put on his cap and stood there for a second before proceeding.

“I’m not lying. I don’t know anything. I am going home, home, home to my mother…”

The doctor walked back in the chilly night. He carried his briefcase in one gloved hand. In the other – bare – he felt the warmth of a crumpled letter soaked in young blood.

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