I was not a born soldier. Others were perhaps, but I was just a kid then: Just like the others who were there with me. We didn’t know the islands we were sent to defend. The sergeant didn't either. We had been walking for days across the pampa, looking for the exact place to mark out the frontier: mark it and defend it with five bullets per man. We had lost our compass and were walking without any point of reference. What have you got left to guide you if you are totally surrounded by fields and the horizon? No trees. No houses. Nothing. Just pampa. The bloody pampa.
We had to stop at some point, because six men without water can’t live for too long, walking around and around. Stop, dig a ditch and get in it so as to defend the land. From inside. The other guys weren’t born soldiers either, nor were they born in the pampa. We had all come down from the north to defend the south. Someone had heard that lots of people had family on both sides of the border.
The truth is I wasn’t really sure where the border was. Nor did the argentines we found one morning, stationed 300 metres from our ditch. They had also been sent down from the north to defend the islands. To mark out and defend the border with Chile. They stopped, dug a hole and got inside, so as to defend the land. That’s how it was.
But the bloody pampa. No one could know that all of a sudden one of your comrades could get ill. And could need more morphine than we had with us. And that destiny meant for the only other people in those, what, 10 square kilometres?, 100? were our enemies. Can you ask an enemy for help?
It would seem so. The suffering of our mate came first and we made a pact. But afterwards each man went back to his trench to carry on defending. Each of us had to kill five Argentines. But we weren’t going to kill the morphine suppliers! Were we? They had been good to us. Anyway, we didn’t know each other, and didn’t have anything really against them. But I was forgetting about the land. We had to defend our position. Everyone back to their trench.
But then other things came after the morphine: water, tobacco, something to eat. There was a dog that served as messenger between the two trenches. Such a stupid stretch of 300 metres! It was boring. The respective sergeants agreed to work together to establish a clear border they could then defend. In the pampa. Christ. We didn’t even know where the sea or the mountains were. Or our houses. Each commander wanted to grab a few metres more from the other one, but they didn’t even know if they were in Chile or Argentina. The point was to command. And burn the grass to make the mark. But I’ve already said it. The bloody pampa, and the wind doesn’t warn you its coming. It blows anyway, frontier or no frontier.
Right then the winds of war were blowing. We went back to the trenches. No one would ever know we ate lamb together. No one would ever know we danced cueca and tango together. That we played a Chile-Argentina match with knotted rags. No sir. In the trenches, defending our land. Long stints were spent trying to understand the radio. Trying to communicate with the north to find out what we were supposed to be doing. Defend? Attack? Go forwards? Go backwards? We waited.
You know the rest. In the end there was no war. A pact was made and disaster avoided. The islands were divided, by someone who knew where they were- obviously. I was still just a lad who had spent a long time in the trenches. And had defended a few square metres of grass. One day I will go and see the islands, just for the sake of being sentimental.
*My best enemy, by Alex Bowen (2005).