If I’m honest, I might have expected more emotion. Not that leaving behind my home of 5 years, my regiment in the isolated alpine foothills with scorching summers and apocalyptic winters wasn’t an emotionally charged experience, but rather how I was surprised the experience manifested itself less as a sustained sensation and more in short bursts of euphoric highs followed by gaping nothings. Every parting handshake spread across the past month or so sent a brief message to my brain, telling it “This is the last time you’ll ever shake this hand, see this face, hear this voice”, a message momentarily heeded and cherished, before being unceremoniously discarded, seeing itself wiped directly off the hard-drive, not even lingering in the recycle bin, if only for a while, for old times ‘sake.
Navigating the final few weeks of my contract here in the French Foreign Legion was a rather surreal affair. Surreal and extremely monotonous. I was left to my own devices to an obscene level, the plethora of time-tabled activities no longer concerning me as preparation for another 4-month mission in French Guiana erupted, exploded and cascaded all around me, trapping young recruits and seasoned, wearied veterans in its eerie, stubbornly incessant flow. Apart from morning sport, I was required for nothing save the occasional consultation of my leaving dossier, whereby they’d request a photocopy of some document before liberating back into the custody of my room and laptop. Freedom appeared more of a prison than the daily routine of the guys trucking onwards with their contracts. A seed of doubt for some, a cunning trick worth recognizing as such for others. I didn’t waiver, couldn’t so close to the end. My guns had been stuck to this far, not long to go now.
In spite of my differences with my platoon commander, when the time came for my “official” leaving party, and I was called upon to step forward and receive my parting gift, he spoke rather eloquently and without malice. Irrespective of the presence of the company captain and other lieutenants, I found his words to carry a sincerity all the same, as if – this close to the end – it was mere water under the bridge. I graciously accepted my gift (an ornate knife with my rank and name engraved in the blade), shook his hand firmly, and attempted to slip back into the crowd. Alas, a speech was demanded, and I accepted the challenge willingly (surprise surprise!!!). To paraphrase the main gist, I stated my firm belief that, whether leaving or staying beyond the five years, to each their own so long as you’re sure of your choice. I thanked everyone present for having contributed to my time at the 3rd company of 2REG, and wished them all the best for the future. Nice, neat, diplomatic. I may just run for office one day!
That, of course, was the “official” party where we, the soon-to-be-departed invite all the big wigs and superiors to bid us farewell. The ACTUAL leaving party was held the night before and how the young legionnaires (naturally charged with the mission of cleaning up after the corporals’ messy arses) managed to render it presentable the next morning is a wonder. Knee-deep blankets of broken bottles enveloped the tiled floor as the music and beer flowed to almighty levels, the Corporal Chef overseeing the “safety” of the event being quickly exiled to the corridor as we locked the door to crank proceedings up a notch. Watching some of the videos the next day extracted more than a few sheepish expressions, but no doubt further down the line those expressions will turn from sheepish to sheer pride and nostalgia.
In the present, when the Friday arrived I climbed on to the bus for the last time, pulled out through the gates of my regiment for the last time, and instead of sleeping the entire journey to the train station my eyes stayed wide and searching, across the mountainous countryside, winding down through the various picturesque towns and villages. I listened more keenly than ever to the almost unfathomably wide range of languages and accents colouring the journey, soaking it all up, taking it all in.
I might have been slightly perplexed at the lack of poignancy. Give it time…..