battle station gnu

Pedro didn’t pine – it was just a goat, after all – but he felt a goat-shaped absence in his day’s labours. At his battle station, placed by his generals so far away from any roads and warpaths that the local tribes only visited him once every month or two, he set about replacing Mirela….”

 

by cedric popa

 

The joke used to go like this: ‘What’s the biggest country in the world? Cuba – it has its government in the Soviet Union, its army in Africa and its population in the United States’. It was a good joke, and Pedro Benitez repeated it to a few too many of his friends, and suddenly, instead of hiding on a boat and then strolling on Sunset Boulevard, something which he had planned for over a year, and for which he had pushed hundreds of pesos to the right people, he was drafted into the army – yes, anyone should be able to handle a gun, any comments Comrade?, we have to fight alongside our Communist friends, wherever they are.

Wherever turned out to be a continent away – devilishly hot, with no breeze from the sea to cool the skin, no rivers to bathe in but the dead ones, scarring the earth.

Only one thing he left behind, his goat, Mirela. You have to have a goat. There’s the milk, and maybe more goats to come. And the feeling that there’s something in the world, one thing, that’s yours. Pedro didn’t pine – it was just a goat, after all – but he felt a goat-shaped absence in his day’s labours. At his battle station, placed by his generals so far away from any roads and warpaths that the local tribes only visited him once every month or two, he set about replacing Mirela. Green leaves scattered around the hovel, traps with fruit – he used his canned fruit! – careful vigils at evening and dawn.

The savannah yielded. It produced a gnu antelope, sinewy long muscles, scared but curious enough to come close. In a single flowing movement, Pedro pulled on the rope, jumped at the makeshift gate, closed it. On its behalf, the gnu fought proudly – battle-crying with indignation, legs kicking high. But it was an unequal fight, and after an hour, with Pedro looking at her, she knelt down, and in that instant she could have become the goat that Pedro wanted.

And it was in that very instant that Pedro, cursing, putana!, but with just a hint of admiration, stood up, let go of the rope, headed towards the gate and opened it. And he drank deeply, from his rum bottle, head thrown back, almost finishing it in two lengthened swigs, while the gnu ran away into the tall grass, towards the forest, away from sight.

Later, much later, a man, once a young boy from one of the tribes, whom Pedro had given some of that canned fruit (what generosity, what was he planning to eat?), now a market stall trader with wife and young children himself, recognised Pedro on a dusty market road in the capital city. He stopped him, and they drank coffee together. They talked about the old war, and the new ones. ‘And you? Aren’t you going back home?’ the trader asked, and Pedro shrugged, and moved his arm in a large semicircle, pointing at the horizon, for what was home than a place you chose, and which took a piece of you, and knew when to give it back.

Originally published:
Issue Fifty
November 2007

 

(illustration: marc covert)


Cedric Popa hails from Romania and lives in London. His fiction has appeared in Seventh Quark and Leaf Books and online in Eclectica and AntipodeanSF.

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