Sotirákis sat patiently waiting for his replacement. He’d been on guard duty at the detached watchtower, looking after the .50 cal since midnight, with his shift ending at six. Six long hours in this wilderness. He didn’t mind though; on the contrary, he enjoyed these long stints away from the outpost and his colleagues. He had a small torch and a battered paperback copy of Christ Recrucified in his ammo pouch, and the watchtower provided the best solitude for reading.
He’d arrived at the outpost a hot August morning a couple of months earlier, fresh from training, and he soon became the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons. Sotirákis was rather simple and quiet, the kind of person who serves as a toy for the alleviation of the outpost’s boredom. The hardened veterans caught wind of his manipulable nature within 2 minutes after he’d first arrived to the outpost as a new recruit. He came on the back of the regimental Land Rover and when the corporal saw him, he simply asked him who he was, more out of curiosity, as they weren’t expecting anyone. “Private Sotirákis Halloumáris reporting for duty corporal sir!”, Sotirákis duly reported in fully voice and standing in attention so vigorously his back was arched and he nearly fell backwards.
The corporal was hardly a ‘sir’, himself far from being the alpha male at the outpost, having failed the rudimentary exams for sergeants and earning the lowest rank one could possibly earn. That made Sotirákis’ response even more spectacular: the oldies knew they had a ‘meek’ one to play with. The corporal, after he recovered from the surprise, decided to play along.
“What’s your specialisation soldier?”
“That’s a shame soldier. We really needed you to have more specialisations than that”
“SHUT THE FUCK UP! Did I give you permission to speak?” “You only speak if I ask you a question.”
“Now, as I was saying, we badly need a cook and a cleaner. Also we could do with an experienced and hardened patrol officer, do you think you can do all those things?”
Sotirákis looked at him, unsure whether to respond or wait.
“You may speak soldier” said the corporal, trying to suppress the laughter.
“I would be proud to perform these duties sir!”
“You do understand we’ll have to train you-training can be hard and demanding. Are you sure you can cope?”
“You may speak soldier” repeated the corporal, rolling his eyes, incredulous at the naivety of this latest recruit.
“Of course I can cope sir” said Sotirákis firmly, while his legs started to tremble.
It didn’t take long for the rest to cotton on to the fact that Sotirákis was fair game. Apart from loading him with the worst chores, cleaning, doing the washing up, doing the worst possible shifts, they played the most cruel tricks on him as well: they woke him up in a creative way every morning, ranging from buckets of water to tipping his bed over and raising the alarm. They once put a dead black snake in his bed as a joke, and Sotirákis nearly had a heart attack. If he was on guard duty when lunch arrived, they often ate everything and didn’t keep any for him. They sometimes stole his personal supplies of food, drinks, soap and whatever else they liked. But he never protested, he took everything with quiet dignity, bowing his head and clearing up the mess, as if his fate had predestined him to do so.
And sometimes they just didn’t turn up to relieve him off his guard shift. Like today. It was fast approaching seven and there was nobody in sight. His replacement often saw this as an opportunity to have a lie-in at Sotirákis’ expense. And all he could do was sit there and wait. He was a very proper young man, to the point of suffering. His fatigue was always in order, his rifle clean, his boots polished. He shaved his young and hardly visible stubble daily-unlike some of the older soldiers.He was never late for his shift, always on time and proper. Proper, proper, proper.
He’d finished school with straight A’s and already had a place in the medical school waiting for him for when all this would be over. His academic nature contributed to his being bullied, as being ‘proper’ and ‘clever’ never went down well in a world where macho posturing, boasting, breaking the rules (or saying you did) and physical prowess ruled. His quiet, reserved nature and his respect for the rules offered more ammunition to those who wanted to completely control and humiliate him. He passed as ‘retarded’ ‘simple’ ‘soft’ and even ‘gay’. His proven academic record posed a threat to the less literate men, such as Antonís. Their insecurity made life hell for Sotirákis.
Stupid he was not. He knew that he was part of a bigger game, his place in society pre-determined. All he had to do was put up and try and belong as much as possible. He did that by laughing at the jokes, pretending he didn’t mind, that he was a good sport. But inside he was burning. And he’d already started boiling that morning by the time his watch showed nine o’clock. Stavrís was due to replace him but he was nowhere to be seen. Sotirakis had been guard since midnight, he was starving and desperately needed to rest. He thought of Stavrís having a lazy morning, perhaps even being awake and sitting around with the other lads, having a cigarette and a game of backgammon. And he snapped.
When he entered the main outpost building, about half a mile from the detached watchtower, he found them drinking coffee and chatting. When they saw him they knew the game was up. Something about the death in his eyes, his demeanour, not to mention the fact that he’d done the unthinkable and abandoned his post, leaving rifle, ammo and helmet behind in his fury. Stavrís failed to read the signs. “Psaraka*, did you abandon your post? You’ll get court-martialled for that” he said, his voice full of sarcasm while he was taking another sip of coffee, glancing at the rest for their reaction. Within seconds, Sotirákis had hauled him off his seat and violently planted his forehead onto his nose, dropping him onto the concrete floor in the process. Stavrís shouted and writhed, clutching his bloody face.
“And never be late replacing me again you cunt!”
Sotirákis washed himself, ate something and jumped into bed for a nap. Nobody dared to bother him until about lunch time, when the sergeant politely nudged him: “Sotiráki, come, there’s some lunch for you if you want-it’s OK if you don’t-just have some rest, Stavrís will be doing your shift tonight”.
Sotirákis was not meek any more.
*Psarakas = (lit.) fish, can be translated as ‘greenhorn’ or ‘fucking new guy’. In Greek new recruits are called psaria, fish, because they are ‘fresh’.
Part of the Army Tales series