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Caffeine and Chaos: Another Day at Work

by Jonathan Burgess

He wasn’t quite sure if it was the heat or the light from the sun coming through the window that woke him up. Either way, coffee was an immediate necessity. He rolled onto his side and sat up to collect his thoughts, and he considered the most promising course of action that would make coffee – and maybe a little breakfast – least difficult to get. His muscles ached, but he thought of the warmth of the sand outside and managed to stir himself to action. He rose and shuffled through the light and dark striped bedroom to make his way to the bathroom.

Outside, the intermittent sounds of insects he couldn’t name helped him gauge the time lapsed from sunrise. They were likely retreating into the lush vegetation from the waxing presence of the sun. They’d be hungrily awaiting him when it was time to go work, but it was better than being in the open poppy and cornfields without them. He hoped the bugs hadn’t done any damage to his newly ripened tomatoes and cucumbers just outside the compound walls. Those might be breakfast if there wasn’t an enticing watermelon on the opposite side of the compound. Coffee first, God willing.

He dug his toes into the warm, gritty sand a bit and gazed upward to measure the summer sun’s progress across the clear, blue, cloudless sky. The soreness in his muscles abated, and he looked back at the house from which he had just sleepily wandered. At that moment, it oddly reminded him of an adobe with its sandy composition and straw roof. He strolled back inside and began the process of producing a hot cup of coffee before the sun could compete with its temperature. He pulled on some old socks and laced up his dirty old boots with a few compulsory grunts. He chuckled a little at the contrast between his pale feet and his deeply tanned legs and upper body.

His brother stirred from the mat beside his and mumbled, “What’s so funny?”

“Kev, I have got to work on my tan.”

The two glanced through the dusty sunlight of the room and shared a sleepy laugh.

“Those boots are high mileage, brother,” Kevin observed, raising a suspicious eyebrow at the mangled, muddy boots on his brother’s feet. He glanced in the direction of his gaze, shifted his weight self-consciously on the colorful mat covering the sandy floor, and shrugged as he poured coffee into his metal cup. It was so quiet; he could only hear the sound of hot liquid hitting cool metal and the sound of dried mud falling off of his boots and landing on the thin woven mat under him.

“Coffee’s ready. Get it while you can,” he muttered as he grabbed his equipment with his free hand and walked outside to sit in the shade. The sound of the insects was much louder now. Maybe it just seemed cacophonic because it was so quiet earlier, but he could barely hear the distant sound of a few villagers moving towards the market down the street. Dressed for the day now, he sat in his favorite spot in the shade so he could watch the trees sway in the cool breeze.

The shadow cast by the wall of the house at his back began to creep and encroach on his leisure threatening him with heat and the prospect of work. He let out a sigh at the prospect and shoved a couple of single-serve packets of instant coffee into his cargo pocket. It wasn’t the good stuff, but it would get the job done. The sound of insects had died down for the day, and no one seemed to me moving around in the dirt road outside. The bugs and villagers probably wouldn’t return until just before the sun began to sink into the green heat-shimmering horizon. All was quiet, and there was a stillness in the summer air as he closed his eyes for a little mid-morning siesta. In the distance, a storm threatened the clear skies with grumbling thunder. It thankfully hadn’t rained since he’d been in that place, but he wouldn’t be overly surprised to find himself working in a brief but irritating deluge later. The thunder grumbled again at his hopes of an uneventful day. He answered with steeled eyelids. The thunder responded with the loudest boom yet, closer and more menacing. He opened his eyes to a peaceful sky.

Three hisses and following snaps quickly pierced the silence and breached the dusty ledge of the wall in front of him. The radio at his side erupted in a flurry of familiar voices. His brother and a few others trotted past the door beside him as he stood up and grabbed his grenade launcher-equipped rifle only an arm’s length away. Kevin shot him a smirk and said, “Time to work, Devil Dog!”

He walked quickly over to his teammates to begin giving instruction based on the information coming from the radio on his left shoulder. As they quickly moved into position, he chugged his coffee and tossed the empty canteen cup inside the nearest doorway. He trotted to the gate of the compound and thought to himself: what a shame. It had to be some sort of cosmic crime to wage war in such a beautiful place.

Jonathan Burgess is a South Carolina native and spent four years with 1st Battalion 5th Marines. He and his wife, Kelly, are Marine Corps combat veterans of the war in Afghanistan. Jonathan is a creative nonfiction MFA student at Converse College and a program director at Upstate Warrior Solution.

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