Monday, December 15, 2008

Tuesday 23rd February 1943

There's a nigger sergeant here. He speaks English and is very dignified, with a Paul Robeson head. Usually he is very helpful with the other three darkies here, of lower caste. He's got religious mania I think. He became sullen this morning though. (He was queer last night too, kneeling on his bed crying out, in prayer, with a bible clasped to his face. “Buena, Buena!” Two of the blacks were very impressed and joined him in excited jabberings when he had finished, but the third is a genial madman who doesn't care a bugger for anyone, so long as he can sing and wail a bit, and be taken to the lavatory and play with a nice, pretty handkerchief.)

This morning, one of the darkies would not get dressed. “Tell him to get up, Sarge,” said an orderly, but the sergeant was sulky and mumbled, “I cannot do this.” The genial waste chuckled and sat on the end of his bed, wearing a cap, and a greatcoat over his pyjamas. But luckily one of the sergeant's friends – who'd been quiet violent a few days ago, himself – was feeling sensible, and quickly pushed in between, jabbering soothing words, when the recalcitrant nigger eventually jumped up and struck the orderly. So peace was restored; the sergeant looked on sullenly, the interposer went back to his bed well-pleased with himself, and the obstructive one, sobbing, got dressed. Heaven knows what would happen if those three hefty niggers got awkward together!

Hunt and I were allowed to use nice knives and forks at lunchtime!

The nigger sergeant remains sullen; one of his mates became violent and had to be put to bed by a crowd of orderlies and the doctor. He wasn't being hurt but he screamed terribly in his own tongue and cried for his “Mama,” and in English shouted, “Get a rifle and shoot me now!” They put a screen around his bed, and a small cool nurse slipped inside, among the struggling men, with a hypodermic needle in her hand. He is sleeping quietly now.

Hunt is apparently less dangerous than me, for he has been told to move into the quiet ward next door. I'm sorry he is going; this will be even less restful and soothing when he has gone. Yesterday the silent, depressed man in the next bed to me, had to be forced to eat his lunch. It hardly aided one's digestion.

I am much better, though, despite this place; even this is better than that ghastly Routine. I can now answer queries about the time with equanimity. But a horrible fascination makes me glance at my watch every now and then and I keep a check on things. 6:30a.m. - they'll be getting up; 7a.m. Roll call, caps will be worn. Then some will rush into the wash house, others will start stacking their kit. All brass work will be polished. All webbing will be scrubbed.... and so on. Ad infinitum. Curiously enough, now that the harm is done, my watch is not keeping such good time. It loses 5-10 minutes each day.

8:15p.m. Uncanny sort of evening. Dead silence broken suddenly by dogs howling, and then two of the niggers began to get restive (not old Ghandi though; he remained immobile beneath a mound of blankets and his inseparable great coat) Then dead silence again, except for the mad Scotsman in the cubicle, talking softly to himself: “One, two, three, four, five. And one for you and two for my king and country. That leaves three wonders. One for my left foot, one for my right foot, one for my right head... Tonight is – Tuesday – I don't want to die tonight – I want to see tomorrow – For tomorrow is another day. I want to see – tomorrow night – that's Wednesday night...”

All day long, hour after hour, a thin ghost of a naval leading seaman sits propped up in the bed opposite. He never speaks, except to mumble indistinctly when someone asks a direct question. He never smiles; the sad expression on his face never alters. I feel more sorry for him than anyone else. Tonight, he broke another of the uncanny silences by suddenly saying in a clear, authoritative voice, “Orderly!” And the orderly jumped! “Yes sir?” The Killick pointed to the bowl from which he'd just had his soup. He was kind and polite but still authoritative, “I wonder if you'd be kind enough to see if you can get me a bowl of mixed fruit.” Cultured voice. “I'll look into it right away,” said the orderly nobly. Presently he came back apologetically, “They haven't got any in the place but they've sent out to the next hotel. All right?” But the Killick had sunk back into apathy again. “What?” he whispered, “Oh, it's alright, it doesn't matter now. Thank you.”


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