Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer
“Curfew, curfew. Off the streets. Curfew, curfew…,” the recorded voice droned from a passing tank. The accent was oriental. Korean? Japanese? He didn’t care. As long as he could order a beer in Japanese, biro, he didn’t care. It was all the same.
He shrugged deeper into his duster. It offered scant protection from the sticky water blasted from below the tanks inflated skirt. A bum in a faded Army field jacket shuffled up. The jacket caught his attention. The camouflage no longer worked. The patterns buzzed randomly, intermittently.
“Sensei. Can you spare some for an old vet?”
“Don’t call me Sensei,” he snarled. The bum shrank visibly, abject fear in his eyes. The man felt a twinge of… something.
“Sorry.” He shoved a few plastic bills at the bum. The holographic chrysanthemums on the money danced. He walked on. Emotion rose within him. Sadness and frustration gave way to anger. Anger became rage.
With a grunt, he spun on his heel. The bum was well down the street, scampering for the nearest liquor machine. The man’s loping stride ate the distance between them. His black, leather duster flew in his wake.
He reached out and grabbed the bum’s shoulder. He threw him against a crumbling brick wall. “Where did you get this jacket?”
“It’s mine Sensei,” the bum squeaked, “I didn’t steal it.”
“I told you not to call me that. Where did you get it?” He straight armed the man against the building; the bum’s toes barely touched the broken slidewalk.
“Look mister, I don’t want no trouble. I just want to get a drink, you know? I didn’t mean nothing’ mister.”
With his free hand, the man grabbed the patch on the jacket’s shoulder and ripped it free. The patch was that of a white birds head. In measured words, the man asked; “Where, did, you, get, this?”
“Like I told ya mister, I’m a vet. I was in the war.”
He shoved the patch in the bum’s face. “This was your unit? Your division?” The words leapt out in a strangled hiss. He slammed the bum into the wall.
“Yeah man. Yeah,” tears left clean tracks down the bum’s grimy face, “look man, I didn’t do nothing’, why don’t you leave me alone. Please mister.”
All emotion drained from the man. Carelessly he threw the bum aside. With silent sobs he slid down the decaying façade. “Is this what we’ve become? Is this what we’ve been reduced to?”
“You,” he gestured at the bum slipping in the oily muck, “what happened to you? You let them do this to you. You let them. They broke you. All of us.”
The bum cautiously approached. “Look, mister, if you want your money back…” He held out the wad of colourful bills. “See mister? I just wanted a drink is all. I just…,” The words were interrupted by the roar of a second tank.
Regaining his dignity, the man rose to his full height. “I’m going to do you a favour,” the man said. He smiled at the bum. He took the filthy, tear streaked face in his scarred, calloused hands.
“That’s okay. Really mister, that’s okay. I don’t want no favours. I don’t need no drink. I…” There was a sharp crack. The bum slumped to the oily pavement.
The man regarded the bum sadly. He stepped over the body and into the street. He faced the tank.
A heavily accented voice burst from the floating behemoth. “You are in violation of curfew.”
The darkened street was momentarily lit from the muzzle blast of twin heavy machine guns.