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25th December
posted by amber

The Banquet

We weren’t at Base for Christmas, but the brass sent us enough food for a feast. No turkey, but lots of canned ham, canned yams, canned peas, canned gravy, canned cranberries, instant mashed potatoes and canned plum pudding. But when we went into the cook tent to enjoy it, our mouths all watering, it was gone. Cook was sitting on a crate, drinking a beer.

“Musgrove,” was all he said, but that was enough.

The weird kid. Should never have been a soldier.

“Was that him, just driving out?” I’d wondered who was taking a jeep out just before our banquet.

“Yeah,” he said, and we were off, all crammed into the remaining jeep, chasing Musgrove’s dust. It didn’t take long before we realized where he was headed – the village we bombed last month. Musgrove’s been spending all his free time with an aid worker there.

When we arrived, the villagers were in the main square, laying out our banquet on tablecloths on the ground. Musgrove intercepted us the minute we jumped out of the jeep.

“Now guys, don’t be mad. They know this is a holy day for us, but on their holy days, the tradition is to share everything.”

“This isn’t sharing, this is stealing,” Hardy protested.

“You’re invited – why do you think I drove back to show you the way? I took all this stuff last night.” Musgrove pushed us into the square where kids grabbed our sleeves and pulled us to a spot at the head of the improvised table. We sank down, all of us scowling. The meal before us bore no resemblance to the banquet we’d been anticipating. Chunks of ham swam in some kind of yellow broth, the cranberries and peas were tossed with greyish rice. The yam had been mashed and spread on flat bread. I couldn’t see any potatoes, but I thought I could make out bits of the plum pudding in the ham stew.

Hardy stood up and walked back toward the jeep, saying, “This is crap!”

I followed, put a hand on his arm. Musgrove joined us, speaking to me instead of Hardy. “Sir, they have almost no food. Their fields were burned, we bombed their granaries. They’ve been eating moldy rice for weeks.”

I looked at the dingy rice pilaf heaped on plates. “Why don’t they go to the Aid Camp?”

“The men and older boys were run off by the rebels before we even got there. When we bombed, there was no one left in the village besides women and children. They’re waiting for their families to come home.”

I looked back into the square and saw that he was right – there were no men or teenage boys among the villagers.

“Sit back down, Hardy,” I suggested, with just a hint of command. “I’m about to say grace.”

The Story 365 project is a year-long marathon of short story writing, with a new story for every day of the year and posted on this website from May 1, 2011 – April 30, 2012. Stories must be a minimum of 200 words. Please help me by adding first line or topic suggestions in the Comment section of any story. If you’d like me to use your name in a story, I’d be happy to do that.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

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