Monday, December 29, 2008

Tuesday 9th March 1943

“How do you feel this morning, Sailor?” “Well, I can't say I'm too good, really. I hardly slept at all... Are you going to shave in this mug, Corporal” “Yes.” He laughed. “you have plenty of uses for this mug, don't you?” It is delightful when the leading seaman laughs and thinks and speaks like that!

And a few minutes later a man came in from the kitchen and said vaguely, “Will someone give me a hand with dishing the porridge out?” “Yes,” I said, glad to do something – but the sailor was too quick for me! “Yes!” he said, “I will!” and off he went with the bowls, up and down the beds. I feel as pleased as if I had cured him myself, instead of being a mere spectator!

When I came back with the clean clothing – this is a much better job than sweeping the ward or arranging things in a uniform manner – the black sergeant was being hustled out and back into his solitary tent again. (I do not weep for Adonais).
N'Souki and Ghandi were in a hell of a state, but they were quiet and happy again, half an hour after he'd gone.

After two or three days of dull, round-eyed, close-cropped silence, the Cypriot has moved elsewhere. In his place has come a Greek. He slept about 12 hours but now (5:30p.m.) is awake and seems quite interesting. Conversation is going to be difficult,as he knows only a dozen words of English and even less Arabic. He's a Western Desert man, as is witnessed by his Iti Breda grenade - “red terror,” now used as a cigarette case. Also, one imagines he's a communist, as he made the sign of the clenched fist to me this afternoon and rattled off a string of Greek (“pleased to meet you old man,” or “greetings comrade,” perhaps) when I returned the salute. One also assumes he is of a suicidal temperament, as I saw Jack Penn making a rigourous search of his kit this morning, whilst he slept. For instance, not only did Jack examine each article in the pockets but he also ran his hands carefully up and down the seams and around the lining of his greatcoat. “What are you looking for?” I enquired. “Razor blades,” said Jack laconically, “You'd be surprised.”

The new orderly glanced around the ward, hearing the two Bechuna darkies chuckling, and saw that Jock was suddenly smoking three cigarettes simultaneously – one in his mouth and one in each nostril. He took the cigarettes away. “Now why do you want to do that, Jock?” “I'm happy, see?” cried Jock, not resenting the conclusion of his triple smoke, “'Cos I've got three chances, and I know when the end of the world is comin'. So I'm happy, see.” Everyone else was laughing. “My!” said the orderly coming back, “This is a rum place! You can't help laughing though.” “And we're all happy too!” said someone.

That's the queer thing. Instead of this being a sad place where men grope for lost souls, it is happy. And laughter is the secret. The medical staff and the patients all laugh and are amused – at themselves.


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