Approaching the Border

This text was inspired in part by my readings of war journalism on the Chechen wars (see reading list for examples). I wished to try to capture some of the style and bleakness of those writings but change the context to a Queer sci-fi one. To be continued ... 
I talked my way onto a military plane using a journalist pass I had from when I worked as a writer on an architecture quarterly. The penpusher in the grim admin office barely looked up as he handed me the boarding permit with its handwritten serial number.

There would have been a time when I had to fight for a permit. But there weren’t many journalists still interested in coming here anymore. The war had been grinding on for so long and the colony had lost its novelty value. It was just me and rows of silent conscripts, eyes and hands in their laps. I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth as the plane lifted up from the tarmac. It’s likely I was the only one there who had chosen to come.

The flight was short. Touch-down was bumpy. I wandered along a chainlink fence topped with rolls of barbed wire. Hot sun. The road outside the base was empty. Dust and potholes. Sandblasted trash rotting beside it. There was no sign of the conscripts. And in any case if they had left the base they would be going in the opposite direction where the militias still held out in the high passes.

I sat on my bag and shielded my eyes with my hand and waited. There would have been a line of cars waiting here once. Mercedes Benz, some of them, drivers eager for hard currency. Writers and photographers eager for contacts, hook-ups with warlords, bombed out schools and hospitals, bodies. The business of war. It was still going on but far from here now. A day’s driving in a jeep. The frontline had straggled away and now there was no one.

Someone would come and meet me. That’s all the message had said. No code words. No secret liaison point. No fee. Everyone would know where I was going anyway. Everyone knew who was there in the mountains. No one seemed to care anymore. No one else wanted the land — not after what happened — and they’d lost their appetite to mess with us.

It’s funny. That this became possible right here. I peered up at the land climbing in steps over the horizon to the peaks. This was a place where things had been very bad for us. There were worse places, sure, but here it had been very bad. Some people talked about it having to get as bad as it can before there can be a space for something new to happen. But I think that’s just bargaining. Dangerous talk.

For whatever reason they were leaving us alone. As far as they were concerned the mountains were empty, apart from the ghosts. And they didn’t want to be with the ghosts anymore.

The car came. A battered old Benz driven by an old guy in dark glasses, his buddy in the passenger seat. He gave me strong tea from a thermos. The road was wrecked and I swung in the hammock of the back seat holding down the contents of my stomach. They laughed and joked in a language I didn’t understand, hands on each other’s thighs.