For Augustus Sainte uncomfortable memories remained - the sounds, the smells, the taste of the dust in his mouth. They weren’t exact. They weren’t always sequential. They flared up, un-summoned. Always the heat, the baking, searing sun. Everything was hot. There was no shade. Even in the buildings with the AC running it was hot. The stench of the sweat was overpowering, sweat from the heat, sweat from the fear. Fear on both sides – guards and prisoners. They called them “detainees” as though they had just been pulled out of line at the border and were being delayed in their journey.
Right from the beginning, right from the first prisoner that he had helped drag down the concrete runway, what they called the sally port, between the fences, concrete that reminded Gus of a dog kennel that was hosed down on a daily basis, he knew the fear, the confusion, the uncertain, shifting mental ground. The prisoner was yelling in Arabic. The soldiers were yelling in English. Gus was the only one who understood both languages and the words were ugly, mostly noise, an unintelligible cacophony, the bottom of human communications.
There was hatred and fear on both sides and a complete lack of understanding. They were animals without even animal rules. There was a total misunderstanding of cultures, religions, and experiences. There was virtually nothing in common. The young soldiers, fresh off their suburban streets and T-ball afternoons, charged with dragging people as old as their grandparents down hot concrete dog runs under the blazing Cuban sun to yell at them to get them to stop flying more planes into more tall buildings and for no rational reason, killing hundreds, thousands of random men, women, and children who had done nothing other than live in a different culture. The young soldiers had never watched their brothers or sisters or fathers or mothers driven to their knees in front of them and executed as some of their detainees had. They didn’t understand that forcing these prisoners to their knees surrounded by soldiers with guns might rekindle those images, images of the proximity of death.
The memory of the hot, putrid concrete block walled room where they had dragged the prisoners wouldn’t leave him. The smells and the screams and the yelling of the soldiers wouldn’t leave him. Holding up his hand, reminding him of holding up the Boy Scout sign at Pack meetings, he was able to quiet the room and ask the prisoner a handful of basic questions in Arabic, at least establishing rudimentary, human communications. It wasn’t until much later that he realized that the dialect he was speaking might have been the dialect of the prisoner’s enemies.
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