Got me bung leg in the war, see. Well, actually, got me leg a bit earlier, back when I’s born. Got them both way back then, along with all the other bits I got now. Some’s got bigger and some’s got less – chopped me finger off in the saw mill, lost a bit of ear in a pub fight. Things like that.
So, yeah, back in the war. Fighting the Krauts, in the desert and, y’know, got me real confused. Cos, what’s an Aussie roustabout doin’ defendin’ Africa from German sauerkraut growers, or whatever they were? I mean, none of us belonged there, none of it was our sand. And we was bangin’ away at each other like it was our Motherland, defendin’ it with our lives, losin’ our best mates over it, spending millions on the stupid drama. Got me beat how life works itself out for ya. Stopped tryin’ to work it out now but, back then, young fella’, trying to make sense of everything; it just gave me a headache tryin’ to figure it all out.
See, I’s curious back then. Knew darned near everything, so I thought, and what I didn’t, burned my brain tryin’ to git answers. Did me brain no good, served me ego up nothing but an empty plate of nuttin’ and the world’s still a puzzle.
Don’t get why we have to rush around shootin’ and making a mess of everything. Got enough to contend with in our own back yard, all of us, haven’t we?
We can’t feed our homeless but we can send idiots to Afastan, or whatever they call it, to kill a mob of other folk minding their own business in their own sand dunes. Seems like you’re employed by the government to do it and they call you a soldier and a hero. But if you’re employed by someone else or work for yourself, they call you a murderer and a criminal. Not wastin’ me time burnin’ up me brain on that one, though I did when I’s a young soldier and hero back then.
Yeah, stood on a knob, looking for desert rats when one shot me leg. Jeez, talk about schnell! Schnell, schnell, schnell, I was runnin’ like the clappers down that bloody hill, scared witless and crashed into the trench and couldn’t stop pantin’ and sweatin’ for days, it seemed like. Shakin’ like a blowfly in a hurricane, a dingo in a ditch, and they called me a bleedin’ hero! Get the shakes when I think about it even now. One minute I’m bullet-proof and cocky. The next I’m bullet-kissed and turned to porridge. No bloody heroes here, mate. Just frightened kids cryin’ to mummy and daddy. They gave me a medal but it didn’t get my leg back so lotta’ good that was. Medals healed nothing and, if anything, kept the wounds of bitter old men open so they can pretend they’re tougher than they are; remembering memories that never happened.
So, anyway, the saw doctor did his best with me leg, out there in somebody elses’s desert while we choked on dust and fear. Got most of the bullet out but none of the pain and I was shipped off to a tent hospital in Cyprus. Na, don’t ask me how I ended up there – another brain fryer, that one. So, there’s this Greek doctor – suppose he was Greek cos I couldn’t understand a word he mumbled. Coulda’ been Eskimo for all I knew. Anyway, they’s in the war like the rest of Europe and he had to cobble up parts as best he could. Bits of metal from here and there.
Had to cut it off below the knee, make up a tin leg and foot – great panel beater he was – and I spent the rest of the war hoppin’ round like a drunk wallaby. Pain every time I moved and I suppose it got better or maybe I just got used to the pain. Keep punchin’ a wall for long enough and your fist goes numb, I guess.
Well, I soon found out I had new magic powers. Not like you’d wear a cape or undies on the outside for. Just a little magic power, like a party trick. Bits of me leg, see, was magnetic. Things stuck to it – teaspoons, keys, other stuff. Caused a bit of interest with the locals, walkin’ round jangling and bits stuck to me. It’s how I met Astraia, actually. Her name sounded like my country, like, and it was a good excuse to check her out.
I’d noticed her around; at the hospital, the beach, in town. And asked about her. Couldn’t stop thinkin’ ‘bout her. Not sure why, really. I mean, who’s to say why your eyes hook into one beautiful woman and not another? And, I tell you, there’s lots of beautiful women back then, in Paphos, in Cyprus. So, my eyes liked her and her name tickled my fancy but I assumed she had no interest in a tin-leg from the other side of the world who couldn’t speak her lingo.
Then, one day, it all went quiet. That constant sea breeze stopped suddenly. The birds stopped chattering. I looked around and they weren’t there. Just gone. The cats and dogs all scampering round, lying in the sun or peein’ on lamp posts had all gone. One minute there. Next they’re gone. The swirlin’ dust in the streets settled down for a sleep. An’, the few people out and about … well, we just looked at each other like we knew something was wrong but we didn’t know what it was.
Sometimes, when you’re scared, you run. And sometimes you’re stuck to the dirt – paralysed. So, there we were, looking at each other and wondering why no one was moving and not knowing what way to go, anyway, as we didn’t know where the trouble was coming from or what it was.
Silence. Complete silence. Like the earth breathed in a big breath and was holdin’ it, ready for a big exhale that didn’t come. Even the clouds skittered off.
Then it started. My foot started rattlin’. Then my whole leg. Tin banging against tin. I tried to stop it but it got worse – my whole body shakin’ and I’s wondering why. Then realised the ground was quivering and the only sound was my clanging leg; cluncky, cluncky, cluncky.
I heard giggling and looked back and there was Astraia chuckling at me. She was pointing at my leg, kinda’ laughing and kinda’ nervous. I thought she needed reassurance, a hug or something. So hobbled over to her and, as I did, the quivering stopped. So did my clattering leg. All back to normal. The first and last earthquake I ever experienced and don’t want another.
So, got to her and she’s still pointin’ at my leg, eyes as big as baboon bums. Then the cannon boomed in my ears and I dived for the dirt. Took her down with me. Soldier’s reflex, I guess. It boomed again and the rain started, pitter patter at first. I realised it wasn’t a cannon but thunder up the mountain. Mount Olympus.
I scooped her up and she didn’t protest. Whimpered a bit and hung on round me neck while I raced to the nearest door. Knocked and an old lady let us in as the downpour started. The thunder kept crashin’ round the hills but the sound of the rain out-crashed it – solid buckets of it kicking up dust and mud, blasting down on terracotta rooves, bouncin’ off cars, stinging donkeys. Hell, what a racket!
Astraia and I and the old lady just looked out the window, wordless and dumbstruck. Then I realised a boy was with us – maybe fifteen or so – talking in Greek and English. Twenty minutes later the rain just stopped, like it had never happened. Sun came up, smiled the wet away and there’s this uneasy, weird feeling that something had happened but there’s no evidence of it.
But more happened.
Astraia seemed to remember my leg and started talking and pointing. I looked back and the boy started laughing his head off. Then he translated.
Astraia had been fascinated by my magic leg that could pick stuff up. Then it jangled and made the earth move. Then it started the rain. I tried to explain it all to the boy in English and God knows what he told her but she chuckled and leaned into me, looking relieved. That was fine with me. Very fine.
Well, that’s when my Greek lessons started in earnest and, after a few weeks of brain-ripping learnin’, I found she wanted to leave her little island for a bigger, more progressive country.
Well, few years later, was demobbed and could afford a proper, non-squeaking leg and a foot that hinged at the ankle. Then off to Cyprus to pick up the woman who stole my heart.
In a way, I miss the old tin leg and the tricks it played but, since then, the earth’s moved plenty of times – lots of quivering and quaking – and I gotta’ be grateful to that bloody German sniper for his bullet. I wouldn’t be smilin’ like I am, without him.
This is another short story from My Whispering Teachers.