THE PRICE OF A VOTE
Ellie paused to let her eyes adjust to the dim interior of the desert triage center. Her right hand fidgeted with the dog tags escaping the confines of her khaki T shirt. Her left hand clenched a crimson medical bag. Day one. Afghanistan. Her combat boots settled firmly onto the canvas tarp sitting on the packed sand. Twelve cots lay in two orderly rows inside. Most were full.
The groan from the nearest cot drew her attention. Male. Young. Fetal Position. Taliban. And yet this was not the right tent for the enemy Warriors of God.
The young doctor shoulder checked to confirm her location and took a step inside. She knew that the name Taliban meant student for these Sunni Muslims who embraced the radical religious and political side of Islam. Mullah Omar drew his followers from the madrassah schools in Pakistan and formed them into tightly controlled military units. The strict Sharia law courts operated as an alternative government in this war torn country and enforced their intimidating will on the people.
“It ain’t what it looks like.”
Ellie pivoted toward the voice of her superior and gave the proper recognition of his rank. She scanned the blended foliage green, desert sand and slate gray markings of his camouflage designed to fade into settlement, desert or forested backgrounds. She knew the uniform became darker or lighter depending on its exposure to sunlight and instinctively focused on his left Mandarin style collar as he stepped out of the sun and under the tarp.
‘Relax lieutenant. Inside the canvas we’re just doctors trying to do our jobs.”
Ellie nodded her head toward the curled up figure. She tried to relax. The hero at her shoulder had been decorated with a purple heart at the will of the president not even a year ago but here he was, despite his limp, serving once again. She knew the flag on the right shoulder pocket flap of his coat was a source of pride for this warrior.
“Take a look. Right hand. Index finger. Used to be purple. Price of a vote here.” The surgeon ripped open the velcro tabs of his jacket, unzipped it and tossed it on a reed mat by the tent entrance. He knelt at the entrance as if in prayer. She noticed the branch insignia of an army Chaplain pinned exactly 1/8 inch above his name tag.
As her eyes adjusted again to the form of the wounded man she could see a neatly trimmed beard. A red cap covered the charcoal hair that shot out at all angles. A bandaged hand minus a digit was tucked under his chin as the talib rocked back in forth in an attempt to comfort himself.
“Says he was trained in Balochistan. In Pakistan. Just across the border. The army paid him to switch. He tried to elect his president. Canadians found him ten minutes too late. We think his own brother did it.”
Ellie knelt beside the young man in an attempt at compassionate encouragement. When he saw that his doctor was a woman he recoiled in horror and began to rock even more, chanting and calling out in his Pashtun tongue.
“There were three Talibs in the group.” The surgeon went on as if nothing unusual was happening. “He’s the only one who made it. The others took a bullet from a Kalishnikov as well. When they vote here they dip their index finger in the ink bottle. Comes out purple. The Taliban have warned everyone. Vote. Lose your fingers. We picked up 21 fingers today.”
“How long do we keep him?” Despite the nylon cotton texture that made for a cooler uniform, Ellie could feel the heat begin to envelope her. Why was she here in a land where even the patients wouldn’t let her near them?
“Intel takes him in an hour. We’re just here to stabilize.”
“Can’t they understand we’re here to help?”
“All they see is that we’re changing everything. They think we’re trying to turn them all into Christians. We change school books from A is for Allah to A is for Aass [mule] and from J is for Jihad to J is for Jawary [corn] and it’s like we’ve set off a holy war.”
Ellie stood back as the great man with the purple heart crawled and began to whisper and soothe the man with the missing purple finger. Both knew the cost of voting for freedom.
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