Saturday, December 22

Iron Fist

Did it really take me four and a half years before I experienced “almost” having my block knocked off in the French Foreign Legion? There’s one for the record books.

Few things get me out of bed in the middle of a freezing cold night. Pitch black bathroom breaks are a virtual non-entity as I tend to make a point, these days, of going to the little boys’ room just before lights out, continually dreading the day when said routine will fail me and an aging bladder will oblige the frosting of feet on the cold tile floor hours from wake-up. My uninterrupted bachelorhood also aids my quest for uninterrupted sleep, eliminating the threat of frantic midnight phone calls or texts from insanely jealous French girls questioning my fidelity. One look across at the snoring skinhead on the other side of the room would quickly quell any flutters of forbidden passion.

So on this occasion, I had to be firm in my decision to peel off the cosy, freshly warmed covers and go investigate the increasingly agitated sounds emanating from below my 1st floor bedroom window for the past hour and a half. The sounds of loud discussions in Russian- animated if not quite aggressive - flowing forth from boyish voices only recently broken. The young Ukrainian kid from my room hadn’t come back yet. Something smelled off.

I hastily threw on my sports gear and descended the stairs to the front door, a common hangout for late night smokers. Opening it wide and stepping out into the uncomplicatedly arctic night, I called out;

“Hey, who’s shouting out here like that?”

I refrained from vulgarities, less I find myself confronted by a group of Eastern Europeans infiltrated by ranks superior to my own. One sheepish face emerged from the darkness. A kid, a young legionnaire from another company.

“Who’s there with you?” I commanded, visibly irritated.

“Uh, no one, Corporal. I’m on my own down here”.

Now came the vulgarities.

“Do I look fucking stupid? You mean to say you’re down here like a fucking idiot shouting at the fucking night, on your own?? Who the fuck’s there with you? Who’s that? Come out here, right now, fucking idiot!!”

Out stepped the second baby-faced brute, the kid from my room. I approached him only to be immediately struck by the pungent whiff of strong alcohol. I launched into an interrogation over what they were doing outside at this hour, drunk, only to stop myself in the middle having just realized the futility of directing such logical questions at such inept imbeciles.

“Right, it’s simple” I stated very matter-of-factly, “You (to the first kid) go back to your company – I don’t want to see you around here again tonight. And YOU (to the kid from my room) get upstairs and into bed!” I recognized the paternal irony immediately, but plundered on.

“But Corporal, I’m off to jail tomorrow and this is my cousin, I need to give him a letter for my family explaining why I won’t be in touch for the next few weeks” ventured the kid from next door, rather unsurely.

Excuses, as they say, are like assholes. Everyone’s got one, and this one stank to high heaven.

I explained with growing impatience (along with levels of vulgarity) that said letter could have been passed to his baby-faced brute of a cousin throughout the course of the past 2 hours’ rowdiness, and that it was now too late. They weren’t having any of it, and as soon as I grabbed the first kid to push him towards his company, the second took a hold of my collar. As a corporal in the French Foreign Legion, and having gone through the shite I’ve gone through these past 4 and a half years, it’s probably not surprising that any unease at the obvious precariousness of my situation (two tall, athletic and most importantly drunk legionnaires shaping up to me) was completely overshadowed my feelings of outright incredulity at the sheer insubordination of their actions. Of course my shock at the sheer impudence of the two decrepit fuckheads soon gave way to genuine concern at my chances of exiting this situation unscathed. Their grip was finally relaxed by the threat to go wake the duty sergeant.

Ah tattling, the less honorable yet essentially self-preserving tactic.

Yet the kid next door still refused to leave, so I trudged on towards the sergeant’s office. They followed at a distance shouting threats and obscenities the whole way. When the sergeant eventually emerged, they scarpered. I explained the course of events, and retired to my room. A few hours later I was temporarily woken by a loud bang. An hour or so after, the kid from my room slinked in and straight under the covers. It was 3am and I was exhausted, dreading the inevitable wake-up in little over 2 hours.

When the whistle sounded in the corridor, I climbed out of bed and hit the lights. No movement from the fully-clothed sack of shit under the sheets.

“Get up ya lazy drunk fuck!!” I bellowed as I tore back the covers of his bed. Blood everywhere. His right hand was basically slit in two as he mechanically set to putting on his boots, apparently unaware of his injury. I calmed down immediately, taking him by his shoulders to steady him as I tried in vain to explain his urgent need for medical attention. He petulantly shrugged off my attentions and, seeing no point in further effort, I called in another Russian-speaking legionnaire to take him straight to the infirmary. It was almost roll-call, I explained the situation to the sergeant and the day slowly dragged itself to its feet.

It didn’t take long to discover the cause of the injury as one of the kids doing the morning chores opened up the ground-floor laundry room to discover the window smashed to smithereens, a giant rock in the middle of the floor, and blood spatters dotted across various shards of glass. It resulted in the laundry room being closed for a week and the exile of two of the three washing machines at the company, leaving one solitary machine to tackle to dirty smalls of close to one hundred legionnaires. Merci, camarade!

The little shit eventually came out of the infirmary after a week or so safe from the wrath of the company mass. He paid for the window, but has since inevitably inherited an ineffaceable red bulls eye on his forehead. Every NCO makes a point of making his life hell through incessant heckling and remarks on his uniform and comportment, the corporals have his name on their lips anytime a “volunteer” is needed for the shittiest of the shitty jobs around the company. All this would be well and good (and deserved) if I didn’t have to still share a room with the shit. Such is his petulance that far from an apology, he refuses to even speak to me or even look me in the eyes when my voice rises to one of authority demanding a response. Pure childishness, like a tantrum-throwing toddler, and incredibly difficult to counteract. This is, after all, the 21st century and as much as some outsiders or veterans would like to think or suggest, the era of beating kids like this senseless has long passed. Even earlier today another corporal physically attacked him for talking back during the daily cigarette butt hunt (otherwise known as “Corvée Quartier”) and – ironically – I was the one to break it up. Trouble seems to follow this kid around. Yet here he remains, clouded by the perpetual hope from the collective body of soldiers at the company that one weekend he’ll head off in to the sunset, never to return. The wait continues.

My superiors commended my sound judgment in reporting the incident on the night it occurred, echoing my afore-mentioned sentiments regarding the bygone era of beatings and blind eyes. I kept quiet and graciously accepted the praise of the big wigs. What I didn’t say is that, had the little prick been on his own that night, I probably would’ve sent him to the infirmary myself without any need to go breaking windows.

I REALLY don’t like having to get up in the middle of the night.


    u r great writer and tell story man
    keep on posting! a rare and almost inexistent deep emerged view of the legion !
    heading up to aubagne in fev hope to make it

  2. Brilliant reading on a swedish xmas morning.

  3. Thanks for the comments, guys! Have a great Xmas!

  4. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

    greetings from Polish.

  5. Happy New Year to you and thanks for the UL