Fiction · 05/21/2014

The Pilot

It was after you got transferred, after the operation started, after the villagers began to leave in large numbers, the villagers whose lives you monitored from the satellite videos, the men whose beards extended to their chests, the men who hugged their weapons even in their beds. It was before you started taking sleeping pills, started wearing earplugs, before you knew that your colleague was cursing by looking at him, that you knew he would press the button from the movement of his lips, from the words you did not hear. It was before you began to play the game whenever you were off duty, the game you played until your eyes started to ache, the game that sometimes felt more vivid than a mission, the game in which the targets bled red, in which the bodies were mashed by the mud. It was before all you could see in the landscape was mud, before you saw the man with the mud in his mouth and tried to think of your girlfriend’s mouth, tried to picture her pale skin, the skin soft to your touch, the touch that once made you tremble. It was before you left your desk during missions, to go to the washroom in short intervals, to wash your face, to stand in front of the mirror and stare at the veins pulsing in your red eyes. It was before you watched an old man slaughter a goat, skin it, cook the cut-up pieces in a big pot, watched the men gather and eat, men whose utensils were their hands, men for whom even eating seemed like an act of war. It was before you smelled the ash thousands of miles away while sitting behind your desk, before you asked your girlfriend to do things she didn’t want to do, before you monitored the life of a man and his daughter you weren’t asked to, the man who didn’t have a gun but was connected to those who did, the man whose culture was hardly known to you. It was before you zoomed into his house, the house with walls made of mud, the house with rooms separated by gunnies, where you watched the girl eat alone as the man ate with other men. It was before you watched him uncover the girl’s face and comb her long black hair, before their bodies became so close at night that they blended, that their images merged in the infrared videos. It was before the man slapped the girl, the girl you’d assumed was his daughter, before you stared at the girl and wondered if this was how you looked with your girlfriend, when she tied you to the bed, when your face was stretched with pain, when she was the pilot and you were the drone. It was before you were questioned about a mission, that you were asked to provide a detailed report, that the only thing you remembered was the sound of your colleague cursing. It was before you asked your girlfriend to hit you with a rock once she finished tying you to the bed, after which she stared at you, frozen, the rope dangling loosely from her hand. It was before she left, before you started to curse like your colleague, before you zoomed into the houses you regularly monitored and found them collapsed, before you saw the man with the mud in his mouth, before all you could see in the landscape was mud.

+++

Babak Lakghomi lives and writes in Toronto, where he is pursuing his PhD in Civil Engineering. This is his first published piece.