In Between

Vitalina Vergeles

© Copyright 2020 by Vitalina Vergeles

Photo by Terence Burke on Unsplash
Photo by Terence Burke on Unsplash

Life in the army is full of challenges and obstacles. Serving your country but without a free and independent mind. Life and work in the air force are not easy. He was an Air Force pilot Capt. Karl Norris in Eugene. He had everything a man could dream: noble and rich parents, good education and a bright future.

Once, he jumped in the plane and flew somewhere for lunch. He believed it was the total sense of freedom. Flying for flying’s sake. This is the simple and basic essence of flying. He was a strong man with ray-ban aviator sunglasses in a perfect suit, with perfect dark hair. Capt. Karl was so handsome man that every woman could not resist his charm. So did the wife of colonel. His superior, Colonel Patrick Martrisoon, found about this out. After a conversation with his wife, he thought it would be a great idea to send Capt. Karl Norris as far as possible away. He wanted to avoid scandal.

He was transferred to Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan. He lost freedom and could not reject this appointment. The Taliban and other groups carried out a record number of attacks there. They were trying to consolidate control over northern and western Afghanistan, committed systematic massacres against civilians.

Karl became a helicopter pilot. He was appointed to work with humanitarian aid workers and help them in distribution. He was told that fewer helicopter pilots available and he could be the one. It was another disappointment. He believed he was a great jet pilot, who finished Air Force Academy. Being a helicopter pilot was a simple step back from the career ladder for him.

Another unexpected failure happened for the man, who used to be the center of the women`s universe. Women could not walk streets alone in Afghanistan. They always were accompanied by a male relative. Women always had the burqa, a traditional dress covering the entire body except for a small screen to see out of. It was no possibility to meet any woman and talk.

He discovered an unpleasant surprise as well. The Taliban banned television, music, and cinema. Under Afghan law, the sale of alcohol to Muslims is prohibited. Where you can go to what you can do?

 Karl went to the famous restaurant L'Atmosphère in Kabul. He wanted to hear music and drink but guests were seldom allowed to forget that there's a war going on. He could see and hear Apache helicopters that occasionally pass the building, casting an ominous shadow behind the window. He could see usual visitors, the crowd of young and usually single diplomats, aid workers, and journalists, sitting and drinking with empty sight. Most of them earn $100,000 in salaries and have money to spend. They used to be adventurous, but the security constraints of their jobs often leave them cloistered in claustrophobic boredom — following suicide attacks.

He heard a charming melody. The young boy was playing the piano with a dreamy look. He was 16 years old Afghan. The captain remembered the time when he was a little boy and every Sunday went to Musical School. Why did he leave the school? He could become a famous musician instead of being here, in Afghanistan. Air Force Academy made him forget about music. One small mistake changed everything and the destination is lost. From such thoughts, one woman distracted him. She was over her 40th with magnificent blond hair. She looked at him with unhidden interest while smoking cigarettes. He smiled at a lady and understood she is a foreigner as well as he. Few minutes passed- and they drink together and laugh. The woman appeared to be a British doctor, working in a humanitarian agency. Few hours passed- and they were together in bed.

The next morning, he woke up with fog in his head. He did not remember anything but used to have nights like these in Afghanistan. The woman disappeared with his wallet and watches. Now, it became obvious she was not a doctor at all. It was time to change a life.

One day he was appointed to help humanitarian aid workers to distribute humanitarian help. He and the other 4 people traveled by helicopter in the north-eastern Afghan province of Badakhshan. He was pilot again and the team comprised two American men, one German woman, and one Afghan translator. He looked at the translator and recognized in him the young boy who was playing piano in L'Atmosphère. The strange combination of skills, but the captain smiled. Two musicians on the board of the military helicopter, what can be better?

They landed in Badakhshan but no one was around. While waiting for people, captain and Americans started to unload. They have heard a whistle and one American fell with a bullet behind the captain. Karl saw a group of people with guns, moving to the helicopter. It was the Taliban. Another bullet flew over the captain`s head. He looked around and saw injured American dying. Captain needed to react immediately, the Taliban was moving closer and closer. He commanded everyone to board. One American and German woman jumped to the helicopter. Only the translator and injured American were left. “He is dead!” screamed translator, holding the hand of American. Karl understood that they had to leave now, as the Taliban was 15 meters away. He commanded to board again. The young boy tried to lift the body of killed but it was too heavy for him. “Come here, leave him!” commanded the captain to the boy. It was a difficult decision but they had to take off. Karl will remember the face of killed humanitarian aid worker forever. The boy was inside the helicopter and they left the place in time to save their lives.

He could not predict the consequence of his decision but he believed he did it right. Captain left his colleague American alone with the Taliban, but he was already dead. He hoped that everyone believed him that the man was already dead. He saved the lives of other people and felt happy about this. He saw gratitude in eyes of Afghan translator. “You did not leave me there,” said, boy. “How could I leave you? Aren`t you part of our team?” said Karl.

Unfortunately, not everyone would agree with Karl. Team members haven`t said anything to him but he could read deprecation in their faces. Later, he found out that another American complained to his commander. He accused him of leaving their countryman alone dying. “We will never find this body, he left him instead of an Afghan boy. The Taliban wouldn`t kill translator anyway,” cried American.

Karl tried to explain to the commander that man was already dead and they could not move his body to the helicopter because of Taliban attack. “I wanted to save people`s lives instead of saving a dead person. It was no guarantee that the Taliban would not kill the local translator as well. Another question what Taliban did at our spot,” captain said angry.

A few days after, the expedition was sent to Badakhshan. The body was found. The person was dead and somebody cut his hands and legs. Terrifying picture without any sense. The next day Karl was dismissed by the commander of the military base. American, the humanitarian aid worker complained to the American Embassy and government institutions. Captain was accused that he left on purpose the body of American humanitarian aid worker. He put the life of a translator more valued than an American one, despite he had been already killed. “Sorry boy, for me - you are a hero, but that guy has some connections in the Government. He wanted to take you to the military tribunal but I was against. I cannot keep you here anymore. You have to go back to the USA,” said commander to Capt. Karl.

Karl packed his luggage and was ready to move back home. He believed in himself, he was right no matter what. Suddenly, someone knocked on his door. The translator boy came to visit him and say goodbye. He was crying, he was not hiding his tears. “They dismiss you because of me! I am guilty. Would you ever excuse me, Sir?” cried Afghan boy. “I never asked your name, tell me it now,” said the captain. “Dariush,” murmured the boy. “Listen Dariush, you should never blame yourself. I took the right decision to save your life as well as others. We all human beings and deserve to live equally. As I told you before, you are part of the team and you should always remember this. If someone thinks differently, they can go to hell. I know, you play the piano in that restaurant in Kabul. You have a real talent in music and you should never give up on this. You have to move in a determined way although progress in your music career could be difficult. Once I betrayed myself, gave up music and went to military school. Don't repeat my mistake and follow your way,” said Capt. Karl with a kind smile. Dariush handed the captain a book with musical notes. “Sir, please accept from me this gift. It is the most valued thing for me but I want to give it to you,” said Dariush.

Karl was flying back to the USA. He was holding a book with musical notes. It was pure jazz music. He will never forget Dariush but his life will never be the same again. He did not worry about money, his parents were rich and left enough money to him. Karl did not want to come back to home town Eugene, to avoid unpleasant questions. He moved to New Orleans. Handsome man, with ray-ban aviator sunglasses in a nice suit, with perfect dark hair, decided to become a jazz musician. The serious face of a former military officer gave him indescribable charm. He could play well but not enough perfect for the big stage. The captain played every day in a local café chantant, although progress was difficult. Karl liked New Orleans. People of different cultures and races often lived close together (despite conventional prejudices). Traditional jazz was still beautiful here. Recordings and performances by Bunk Johnson and George Lewis stimulated a national jazz revival movement, providing opportunities for traditional jazz players.

One year has passed already since Karl left Afghanistan. Captain organized his own band with different musicians, some of them played before in military orchestra. Five people with different stories and unquenchable sparkle in the eyes. He forged ahead with his plans to stage jazz music concert in New Orleans. Sooner or later success was waiting for him. He sent his first musical album to Dariush. This band became famous worldwide, he gave it the name “Badakhshan”, as the turning point in his life. Karl helped Dariush to get a scholarship and study music at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. A small boy from Afghanistan became one of the most popular Afghan composers in the USA and Europe. Once action, one saved life could change the whole world

Vitalina Vergeles is an Assistant in the International Labour Organization. She worked before with OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, reporting on problems in conflict areas, human rights violation and gender equality. She has a Master's degree in International Relations from the Donetsk National University of Ukraine. She is interested in flash fiction stories and historical novels. Vitalina is an Internally Displaced Person from the conflict zone in Donetsk, East of Ukraine.

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