The Sigh, The Heart

Buck Sergeant Lionel Bronstein was stationed somewhere between the Tigris and the Euphrates, I am not at liberty to tell you precisely where.  Late on a Friday afternoon, the Humvee M114 armoured vehicle for which he was responsible pulled to a halt outside a dwelling on the outskirts of a recalcitrant city. 

Private Rivera was driving.  Both marines were aware that the vehicle offered little protection from a mine blast below, so they selected the location with care before disembarking.  Sergeant Bronstein gave thought also to his vulnerable comrade crewing the machine gun on top of the vehicle - vulnerable despite the newly-fitted 45.72 centimetre-high steel plates with bulletproof windows. 

Before the sound of the engine had died away, Bronstein slid from his seat to take a stance between building and truck.  He did not close the door fully as Humvee doors had a reputation for getting stuck, locking a soldier out, or in.  Immediately, he was scanning the scene, chewing his gum slowly, rhythmically, his M16 rifle held firmly in both hands. 

Lucky followed.  He leapt from the vehicle, alert, M4 carbine at the ready.  As he surveyed the area for snipers, he brushed the dust from his uniform, four strokes at a time, counting to himself, his lips hardly moving, "One, two, three, four."  He took four steps.  Sergeant Bronstein had warned him that the ritual could prove a risky distraction, but after each warning, Lucky had silently insisted that it helped him concentrate and brought him luck.  Had it not kept him alive so far, providing certainty in an uncertain world?  He tapped his M4 four times, counting, watching, surviving.  

Behind the wheel, Rivera eyed the road keenly.  He placed his left hand on his M16 and with his right, pulled the warm key from the ignition, kissed it then dropped it into his jacket pocket and patted the velcro flap.  He transferred the weapon to his right hand and slipped out of the Humvee.  

The gunner above him remained seated half in, half out of the Humvee.  Rivera joined Lucky and Bronstein circling the vehicle, each watchful.  The cooling engine ticked and the radiator fan whirred.  They were oblivious to the steady, dull murmur of city life behind them.   

Nothing moved.