I am an American


Brazi tells us he needs a drink and stare out at the waiting room window where a bad sign shows on the other side of the muddy runway.

Heís a hair guy with hair on his arms, chest and back, and eight hours since heís shaved last, giving him the look of an ape.

We tell him to sit still and wait for the plane to take us out of this place.

Weíve heard all we need to hear about the death squads, and donít need to learn any more about them up close.

Sure, weíre Americans and dead squads donít usually pick on Americans, but why take chances?

This is El Salvador and the military might just make an expect ion for us, if they find out we just came forth from Nicaragua and that we helped with the harvest there.

What a way to spend our summer vacation, eh?

I canít believe Iím aching to go back to college and books.

When the pilot told us we needed to stop over here, I nearly fainted.

Engine trouble, the pilot claims.

Monet thinks it a right wing conspiracy with President Ronald Reagan ordering the plane to land here.

All Monet ever does is eat and sleep. Yet heís the skinniest tall kid Iíve even seen, more ribs than man, and so loaded down with pimples the natives avoided him thinking heís diseased.

He would have slept through the whole flight if we hadnít landed, and now heís made about it.

Why he cam on this flight is a big mystery to the rest of us since he believes that messing with the American Empire in Central America is bound to get us killed.

I had hoped to laugh in his face when we touched down back home.

Now I think he might be right.

For all that, Monet worked harder at the harvest than the rest of us put together, possibly fueled by his constant intake of food and his ability to conk out the moment he hit the sleeping bag, while the rest of us tossed and turned.

Now he looks as if he wishes he can sleep, his think frame shivering and not from cold.

Me, I have to take off my glasses and wipe the sweat off my eyes, and in that moment, Iím blind, and could not see an attack if he started an inch from my face.

Fear of breaking my glasses made me pack four extra pairs, yet now, staring around at every crack and every shadow, I wish I could leave them off and not see anything, knowing if I do Iíll die of fright.

Brazi is so restless, I think he might explode.

He always fidgets, especially when he wants a drink and fear makes him want to drink more than he usually does.

Heís also impulsive and I expect him to charge out of the building at any time.

Heís just too scared to go alone.

Iím the deciding vote on whether to go over to the tavern or not.

Can we rely on our clout as Americans to get there and back unscathed?

Suddenly against all reason, I agree and we stumble out into the hot hair, smelling death around us like we never did in Nicaragua, every breath we breathe bringing the rancid scent of rotting bodies we cannot see.

The evening is filled with the complaints of crickets and the rattle of machine guns, not near, yet growing nearer.

We are drenched in sweat and now I need a drink as much as Brazi does, and we foolishly continue, even the gun-shy Monet.

Then we hear the helicopters, and see them a moment later, gun ships bearing American emblems on their sides Ė though someone tried to cover them up with black paint, reminding me of how cops used to tape over their badges before they started beating on hippies.

I want to believe that the local military purchased the airships wholesale and did not have time to paint their own emblems on them.

I want to believe these are not Americans spreading Democracy at gun point.

I know better.

Monet yells for us to run as the ribbon of machine gun bullets rips at the tarmac and the mud from our right to our left, not exactly aimed as us, but close enough to stop my heart with fear.

Other gun ships pass.

Then more, and then explosions resound beyond the boundaries of the airport, flashes of light scorching the sky briefly and leaving the after glow of something set afire.

Monet, who used to listen to his uncleís war stories, suggests this looks like Vietnam.

We are half way to the tavern door when the first gunmen appear, grim men grunting at us, more like apes than anything human, heavy with the scent of gun smoke and the lust for killing.

The muzzles of their rifles erupt with flame, the sound striking us later.

Bullets buzz passed us, aimed at some enemy on our other side.

Only then do we see the soldiers closing in on us, machine-like in their efficiency, ling up like a firing squad to fight back.

We just happen to be caught in the middle.

Brazi yells as he gets hit and fall, moaning for us to help him, but weíre stiff with fear and donít move

The second volley of bullets unhinges us, but we dive for the cover of some water barrels Ė bullets passing through them with water gushing out the holes like blood.

I decide to rescue Brazi (I donít know why) and rush out form cover to a jeep just as both sides open fire in earnest.

The jeepís gas tank explodes.

The shape of running rebels shows in the flashes of light, shooting and being shot, killing and being killed.

Monet rushes towards me, but gets hit, his face exploding onto me as if he just vomited everything heís eaten since coming south.

He falls into me, taking my glasses with him as he hits the ground so I have to grope through the muck of him to find my glasses again.

I am alone.

I am screaming.

I am telling everybody on both sides that I am an American.

But nobody cares.



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