30 August 2019 version
Janet wakes up early and she wakes the children. They shower, eat, and dress. There’s a lot to do and they have to go meet their father at the airport. He’s been gone so long, but he’s coming home today. An hour later they’re ready and getting into the dual-cab flat-bed truck, the only road vehicle they have on their farm, to go to meet the flight he’s on.
The drive into the local town isn’t far and they soon go through it. It’s still early and no one is about on the streets. There’s no one to see them pass through because most of the town is still in bed - asleep. But it wouldn’t matter much since they come from the poor side of town and their skin colour isn’t the same as most of the people in the town. They’re used to being not seen and not heard, so they just drive through.
Nearly an hour later they drive into the nearby city and go to the airport. They park in the short term car park and head for the arrivals section. It’s not a big airport, just a small regional airport servicing a fair sized city of 60,000 people and the rural area around it. The walk from the car park to the arrivals terminal is only a few minutes. They join the small crowd of other people waiting to meet people on the early morning flight in, which is the first flight out of the state capital this morning.
They timed it well as the flight is on time and it arrives only a few minutes after they arrive at the airport. It moves to near the terminal and the airport trucks go out to where it stops. The steps and service trucks are quickly in place.
The cabin crew open the door at the same time the ground crew open the cargo doors. The luggage and cargo starts down the conveyor belt at the same time as the passengers start down the stairs. Many of the passengers have a brief word when they walk by the cabin crew and some just nod as they pass them. They all take care walking down the stairs. On reaching the ground some slowly start walking to the terminal while others wave and run to meet loved ones waiting for them.
Janet and her three children stand there and watch for John, her husband, to come off the plane. Several minutes go by while people and cargo come off the plane. Then they see him exiting the plane. When he does most of the ground crew stop and stand still while a few snap to attention when the coffin comes down the conveyor belt.
Slowly the small family walks out to meet him. The local airline office manager meets them at the coffin and he helps to open the lid as it’s been secured whilst in flight. Janet looks in and nods yes on recognising the face of her husband. At her nod the coffin is closed again.
He wasn’t supposed to be coming home this way, not at all. Damn it, he was a civilian contractor not a soldier as he’d left all that behind when they got married. But his military background was useful in some of the civilian organisations which worked with the military over there, so he took the job offer. It paid well and the drought had destroyed the crops three years in a row. The pay was too good to let go as the three year contract would pay off the mortgage on the farm and put money in the bank. It did do that, and he had only three months to go before he was coming home, and now he comes home this way, like she so feared.
The manager asks, “Excuse me, Ma’am, have you arranged the hearse? I don’t see it!”
She turns to him, “We can’t afford that. I’ve our truck over in the car park. We’ll take him home ourselves.” He slowly nods as he asks for the keys and registration number. He gives the keys and number plate to one of the other staff. A few minutes later their truck is driven up to near the plane and the ground crew move the coffin onto the truck. They tie it down well. The family gets in and drives away, going home together.
On the drive back home she takes it slow and careful because she doesn’t want to risk losing this load. While she drives she thinks about what the man said on the phone. The company will pay out his contract and the bonuses for being injured while over there, but her John was off duty when he was injured. However, that’s causing some problems with the senior management, so it may be some time before all of the proper payments are made while they sort out some legal aspects.
An emergency situation arose and John, along with most of the off duty people, went to help deal with it. He and two others were injured by the second set of bombs to go off. He died the next day and he was the only one to die as a result of that incident because the others were only injured. The bombs went off near the accommodation compound where the civilian medical staff were staying. They were set to destroy vehicles in a military convoy going down the road, but they only damaged the convoy vehicles while injuring about fifteen of the soldiers and twenty civilians. Like the rest of the off duty nursing staff John grabbed a field kit and went to help save lives. He treated a number of people and he was working on one of the less injured soldiers when another set of bombs started going off. He threw himself over the two injured soldiers beside him to protect them with his own body. That act was what doomed him. The extra height above the ground meant the shrapnel and debris that would have hit the soldiers hit him. The rest of the medical staff did what they could, but they couldn’t save him.
Janet isn’t angry at John for going, he spent seven years as a platoon medic treating people in the field and he was an ideal choice to ask to work as a field nurse for the civilian medical teams helping out in the city. They needed the money and it was something he could do where he made a difference in people’s lives. She wasn’t happy about him going, but she didn’t blame him for it. As one of the first response medical people his field combat experience was extremely useful as a triage nurse and in spotting dangers to the other responding staff. The city wasn’t a war zone, although some people were trying to make it one, but it came about as close to being a war zone as you can get without it being an official war zone. She didn’t blame the military either.