Reading the Red Book [Medium]

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On the left: My grandfather ‘Lofty.’ Image provided courtesy of the author.

Lofty stretches his great limbs, still stiff from the night before. Each night seems worse to him than the last, leaving the group worn out for the day ahead, following orders and keeping watch in the scorched desert city. There is no let up between the extremes of temperature, the stark contrast between night and day beneath a blank open sky. The soldiers have been camped here for several weeks now on the cracked hillside a mile or so away from town. They are fully equipped, sat around in dusty khaki fatigues, already dog-tired.

The night-shift are rooted like strange dead flowers. As if the desert drank their sap all night as they drained into the stones and withered. The others have not been up long. They drink with heads held back, pass around metal flasks that glint silver in the light of the new sun. Lofty just sits there, not sweating, and carefully sparks up a cheap cigarette. He is sometimes sure the desert renews itself overnight, a studio mock-up ready for them to act in the following day. Ever since the Arabs broke into their camp with an armoured bus and killed the night-guards, Lofty can feel the mounting tension.

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