The latest issue of The Provo Canyon Review has an excerpt from the novel I’m working on (the current title is Braver Deeds--from a poem by Stephen Crane--though in the past I’ve called it Crossing Baghdad, FOB Sorrow, A Walk in the Sun, and That Stupid Novel I Can’t Seem to Finish).
“The Wedding Party” in The Provo Canyon Review stitches together three different portions of the book which tells the story of a squad of soldiers making their way on foot across Baghdad in order to attend the memorial service for their platoon sergeant Staff Sergeant Raphael “Rafe” Morgan. One of those scenes is a flashback to a conversation between Rafe and the platoon’s translator Hamid as they investigate the site of a mortar attack--a tragically-interrupted wedding party. Here’s an excerpt from the story...
Rafe knelt next to an overturned metal platter of food, a spill of rice coming from beneath in a delta. He touched the plate—as if to turn it over—but yelped and jumped to his feet, shaking his fingers. The tray was still hot, long after it had been seared by flame.
“So how did we get from ‘I do’ to this?” Rafe asked, sucking his fingertips.
“Wedding this morning. Bright and early. It was all very happy, all very good. Cheerful—laughing, singing, some dancing. Then they all came back here to the house of the bride’s family for the walima. Feast. You know ‘feast’? Is that the right word?”
“Yeah, like a reception,” Rafe said. “I get it.”
“In our country, men and women they don’t eat together,” Hamid said. “Men eat first, tell stories about the bridegroom, laugh a little more, maybe drink too much. Then the women eat, indoors, away from their husbands and fathers. Not as much drinking, but still lots of stories. That is how I think this one went today, how I see it in my head.” Hamid, the damn fool, was starting to get all misty-eyed and choked up.
He and Rafe stepped around a body part as he continued to narrate the scene. “Then, the proper time has passed, the groom comes to the women’s feast—he is shy and maybe embarrassed—and everyone toasts the couple with orange soda.”
“Orange soda?” Rafe asked. “That’s the tradition?”
Hamid shrugged. “Maybe it was Diet Coke. I don’t know. At my cousin’s wedding, it was orange soda.”
“Go on,” Rafe said. “Then what happened?”
“Then there was more dancing. Everyone’s together now. Men, wives, children. The very rich father, he’s hired a band, so musicians are playing loud and with joy. Drums, trumpets, cymbals. The bride and groom are in the middle of the street, holding hands, swinging each other around and around in circles.” Yep, no doubt about it: Hamid was crying. We could see that from where we were doing our work—pulling security, measuring craters, and marking the groom’s body parts with circles of spray paint.
Hamid pulls a once-white handkerchief from his vest. He wipes his face. “This goes on into the night, all the way to dawn. Finally, a neighbor gets tired of all the trumpets. He comes out yelling, firing his rifle straight up into the air. Nobody stops. They hear him, but nobody stops. The joy, it is too great. The neighbor, he’s still mad, but he goes back inside. Or maybe he gives up and joins them in the street. The kids I asked weren’t too sure about this. Anyway, about an hour later, a mortar—maybe two, maybe three—lands here in the street and—and—” He can’t finish. Hamid is done. The handkerchief is flying like a flag from his face.