Home to Roost (extract)

I don’t remember any of what happened.
Just those howls, like dogs, as we drove out.
The fields and trees all black and green.
Perhaps some of the very first rounds.
But nothing else.

I had to pick it all up second hand,
as my hearing came back in the chopper,
and then again in Bastion.

How when my driver had reversed
he’d hit a roadside IED.
How the explosion had hit a fuel tank, or ammo tin
right under me.
Shot me out, like a jack in the box,
60 feet. And then how it had all kicked off.
Rockets, grenades. The lot.

They took me straight to Rose Cottage.
A special room in the medical centre
deep among the tents and containers of Bastion.
A room for the lads or lasses who’d taken a hit,
which even the surgeons on camp couldn’t fix.

It was manned, back then, by two blokes,
staff sergeants Andy and Tom. It was them
who took me in, off the ambulance,
and into their room. It smelt of sweet tea.
“That scent,” Andy said to me. “It’s the Eau de Toilette. Rose.
The Afghans insist we spray it on their guys.”
“Don’t worry though Arthur,” Tom added on my other side.
“You’ll soon get used to it. We did.”
And then they laughed. Not for themselves
but for me, I could tell. And they carried on talking too,
chatting me through all they’d do,
as they put what they’d found of me onto a shelf,
saying “sorry it’s so cold Arthur”,
which it was, like a fridge.
Then they said “sleep well” before sliding it shut.
My first night of three in Rose Cottage.

I saw them again just before I left.
When they slid me out into the light again,
still passing the time of day
as they placed me in the coffin
that would carry me home.
Always calling me by name.
“Not long now Arthur.”
“You’ll be back in no time.”
Gently, they lowered the lid
then, like two maids making a bed,
they unfolded, smoothed and checked for snags,
before draping me in the colours of the flag.

– Owen Sheers

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