It’s my turn to guard, with rifle and combat dress I make my way to the position overlooking the entrance to the base. First one thick steel door is pushed aside and then another immediately after. Were it not for the occasional luminous light all would be pitch black as I navigate through the guts of a small base on the border between Israel and Syria. The grey concrete is at first painted white though as I move closer towards my position the white gives way to the original concrete grey colour of the concrete used to build the base and the lights are spread further and further apart until a lone white flickering bulb on the wall is the only illumination that remains.
Above me are the naked cables that are responsible for bringing light, heat and air to my skeletal palace. There are thick black cables and small, thin cables of varying colours and unknown lengths snaking around in infinite directions over my head. My shortened M16 is slung over one shoulder and my oversized combat helmet is in my hand. The first time I made my way to this position I got lost and struggled up and down several different stairways opening doors to deserted field positions. My attempts to navigate fell to pieces each time I moved down the concrete steps and was offered the mere options of left and right and more steps to go up. Eventually I gave up and called out to be greeted by the screech of a rust covered steel door being forced open from the inside and a friendly greeting.
Tonight I know my way and move through the intestines of this beast thinking only of the lonely hours I have ahead of me. There’s nothing to do in my post, there’s no light and it’s pretty much the only job in the world where the bosses emphatically insist that their employee does absolutely nothing. The shift lasts from 1a.m.-4a.m. with nothing to do but stare into the darkness and wait for it to end while hoping that the soldier responsible for switching me wakes up in time.
My predecessor hears me mounting the concrete steps and I hear the clanging of the lock and the grind of steel against stone as he pushed the barrier between him and me open. We’re too tired to exchange words and the grunts that pass between us count for a complete conversation. With the metal door closed behind me I am well and truly enclosed in a world of concrete and Perspex that is that is about 2m x 2m. I have no light and nothing to do but look into the darkness and hope that nothing happens. In front of me is a big machine gun complete with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, each bullet linked to the next creating a conveyor belt of death just waiting to be activated.
There’s a small chair but if I sit on it I can’t see out of the windows that provide me with a 270 degree view of the darkness outside. Despite having a panorama of darkness to look at the only thing I am really supposed to be watching is the constantly deserted dirt track that leads to the gate of the base. 50 meters beyond the gate and up a small hill is a big green skip where we empty the garbage. I can hear noises coming from within, yelps and clanging along with the occasional bang permeate the darkness from that big green hulk of steel. I feel around for the night vision goggles and eventually get to them, raising them to my eyes with one hand and flipping the on switch with the other.
The sight that greets me is another familiar one as I watch two cats battling over the food that my friends and I left behind. I kill some time watching them circle the skip then jump inside then explode out of one of the openings. Guard duty is all about killing time. The cats are only one noise, I am treated to an entire symphony of sounds that are usually blocked out by the hustle and bustle of the day. The wind continuously batters itself against my small tower, it whistles and it blows and occasionally thunders against me in a continual effort for some attention.
There are other noises coming from out there in the dark. There is the crunch of footsteps on gravel, the crunch that tells me that persons unknown are already in the base and are preparing their attack even while I stand there listening to them. The crunch repeats itself over and over and I know that it is the noise of a fallen part of the perimeter fence. The wind blows the tangled pole over and over again over the small white stones that have been spread around the outside of the bunker. I take a look with the night vision and there the pole lies locked in it’s own perpetual battle against the elements. Other assorted debris surrounds the fallen pole and each piece makes it’s own special sound when rocked and buffeted by the howling wind.
I can look over both Israel and Syria from my position though I can see neither. The night vision turns the darkness into shades of green but it cannot penetrate the cloud that has settled below obscuring both countries. I can see the illuminated sections of cloud that signify a cloud covered village but I can’t see anything else. I turn my attention up to the night sky for I never tire of viewing the plethora of stars and planets before me that are illuminated by the night vision. Somehow the sheer loneliness of my position ensures that even this vista of twinkling jewels in the darkness provides no particular solace tonight. One last sweep of the area and the picture brightens for a moment and then disappears altogether, it seems that even my equipment is against me being able to force out the loneliness.
The radio doesn’t work, no surprise there, a couple of guys are convinced that it’s the work of Syrian radio jammers, perhaps they are right. The static keeps pumping through the radio and I imagine those jammers out there and wonder if they are celebrating jamming a frequency, if they even know that they have succeeded…if they are even there at all.
My thoughts turn inward, I count how many days I have left here at the edge of my world. I knew before I started counting but I count anyway. I try to figure out once again on which day I’m leaving even though I already know it’s on a Tuesday. I push deeper, I contemplate my life, where I am going and where I have come from. I ask questions that have no answers and try to pluck one out of the darkness.
I imagine that an attack is coming, that infiltrators are already in the base, that they are moving from room to room with silenced weapons. I open up the Perspex windows to listen for the tell tail signs of movement, perhaps some rocks slipping as people move through the ravine nearby, equipment clanging against something or even some words carried to me in the wind.
There’s nothing out there, nothing that I can hear anyway. My mind moves on. Sounds come to me from beyond the steel door bolted behind me. The crackle of the flickering light that I passed on the way up, the clanging of a door that can’t be bolted shut.
I don’t know everyone on this base.
There are my friends, we’re the fighters tasked to defend it against attack but there are others here too. There are small clusters of people in other units, I don’t know them, they don’t know me. They have been here in this mini fortress a long time. What if one of them was to go crazy, what if one of them was to simply go into the kitchen grab a knife and…my thoughts have turned as dark as the night before me.
I unbolt the door and kick it open, see Aviad coming up the stairs with a cup of tea in his hand and breathe my sigh of relief that the shift is finished. “yalla go get some sleep” he says. I nod and murmur some words that even I can’t understand and make my way back towards the heart of the base. My bunk is waiting for me but I don’t go to it, I sit down with my computer and write this piece instead, then I go on a little patrol with a couple of the others and take some pictures of the clouds below me in the light of dawn.
Now I’m going to bed.