Saturday, August 8, 2009


The bright sunshine reflected the mood of the soldiers as they rode their motorcycles in a long military column, like serpentines, winding their way through the crowded city. Resplendent in their uniforms, some soldiers sat proudly on their motorcycles while others chose to rest in the open crew trucks as they slowly returned to their barracks.

They had just completed a highly successful military manoeuvre as part of their annual war games. It had been a great accomplishment and even their general, who gave no indication of his emotions, seemed satisfied with the outcome. He hardly spoke a word, but this was taken as a positive sign by his lieutenants and the non-commissioned officers.

The exhilaration of their successes was also acknowledged by the townsfolk, who had gathered on the footpaths, occasionally spilling onto the street, adding to the traffic congestion.

Everywhere people could be seen throwing flowers at the soldiers and personnel, cheering so loudly; they were even drowning out the military bands playing rousing songs from their specially festooned vehicles.

‘Hurray,’ they shout and ‘well done, boys!’ whilst constantly jostling each other to get closer to the convoy. And as far as you looked, there were cheering faces everywhere.

The seemingly endless column could only move slowly as trying to get back to the barracks, was proving to be quite tedious.

Per thought so too, as he drove his grey motorcycle with side car complete with passengers ‘All this stopping and starting is really strenuous’ he thought ‘it requires intensive concentration’ He seemed almost invisible to the crowd, sitting on his bike and all his bulky equipment, which would have fallen off long ago had it not been firmly secured with leather straps. And in front of him, reclining on some luggage that made a comfortable cushion, was Gina, an Italian girl who was luxuriously stretched out on the luggage, laughing and waving back at the cheering people.

‘Gina, you will have to get off from there and sit behind me in a proper seat! I can hardly steer and see the traffic ahead of me. And should we have to gather speed, you could fall off.’

A peeling laugh was Gina’s reply. ‘You worry too much, you are too serious. Enjoy the day – everybody else does!’ Where upon she returned her attention to the onlookers, smiling and waving at them.

Intermingled with the soldiers, who were perched high on the trucks and armoured personnel carriers were civilians. They were mainly Italian girls, ‘helpers’ as they were affectionately called, who had come to Denmark to work under contract to the armed forces. As they were always cheerful and hard-working, they added to the prevailing camaraderie.

The Tudor-style houses on either side of the road were adorned with colourful flags and buntings which were stretched across the road and gave the appearance of a roof over the road. They were mainly red flags with white crosses fluttering in the breeze, seemingly with excitement. And the occasional cloud tries to smile from the powder-blue sky.

Per sits proudly on his motorcycle, smiling happily and every now and then wiping perspiration from his face. The convoy was approaching the city centre now only making slow progress due the traffic congestion. This made the driving for him increasingly difficult and required all his concentration. With all that stopping and starting, suddenly increasing speed and slowing down abruptly, there was a distinct danger of either running into the vehicle in front of him or being run down by the enormous truck behind him. Especially since his view of the traffic ahead was partly obstructed by Gina.

‘Gina, get into the seat behind me. Now! ’ He said to her and managed to say this in a firm, commanding voice; and she obeyed immediately. After all, he was responsible for the safety of his passengers and the transport.

The late afternoon sun was throwing long shadows, when the column finally arrives at the barracks. Soldiers and the civilian girls dismount cheerfully, rushing towards the canteen as they were in need of some light refreshments before storing away the equipment and vehicles in their proper places.

As they all hurried towards the canteen, Per, hurried along too, becoming part of the long line of people on a narrow walkway. Pushing and shoving his way down the winding stairs and around a corner, he did not see the lieutenant standing there, out of sight and ready to pounce on any transgressor of military discipline. He had a reputation among the soldiers for being constantly angry.

Per was part of the mass of people now slowly shuffling down the stairs. In front of him, he noticed Gina and tapping her playfully on her shoulder, he smiled as he teased her with the only Italian word he knew: ‘Avanti, avanti!’.

The lieutenant, who was also Italian, overheard this, mistook this as a joke at his expense and stopped Per as everyone rushed past him.

The lieutenant’s face became an angry grimace as he gives Per a dressing down and made notes for a report with all the resulting consequences. Per tried to plead with him and attempts to explain that the remark was meant for Gina, but to no avail.

Standing there and desperate, he sees the General and a Colonel walking across the now empty square. Boldly stepping forward and addressing them in a proper military manner, he explains his predicament.

The General listens intently and turns to the officer at his side: ‘Deal with this issue and let me know!’

The Colonel’s voice was not unfriendly: ‘Go into the canteen now and write your report on this incident. And have it on my desk by tomorrow morning, at the latest. I shall look into this matter!’’ She saluted him as a sign of dismissal.

The barrack square was now devoid of people, giving Per a feeling of loneliness. He makes his way back to the canteen, and as he enters a wave of cheerfulness engulfed him.

Per finds a seat at a table along the wall and pulls a sheet of writing paper from a rack, attached to the wall in front of him. It was at eye level, containing mostly magazines and some stationary. Thoughtfully, he places the sheet on the table and, taking his writing pen out of his pocket, he tries to gather his thoughts together for his report.

He quickly glanced around, taking-in the mass of people who are enjoying themselves. The vast whitewashed hall had light-brown oak beams and wooden chandeliers with many light bulbs which had individual lamp shades patterned with chequered red and white material. The oak tables, too, were covered with table cloths in the same red and white pattern, adding cheerfulness to the prevailing bonhomie.

How do I start, what’s the best way of beginning?’ he thought, staring at the empty white page. Suddenly he became aware of an Italian waitress bending over his shoulders; she placed a printed double page in front of him that seems to have been torn from the centre of one of the many magazines.

She seemed to know about his predicament.

‘Here! Read this – it’s all in here’, she said with compassion and was gone. Somewhat confused, Per looks at the pages in front of him; they seemed to tell a story and he begins to read:

“The bright sunshine reflected the mood of the soldiers, as they rode their motorcycles in a long military column, like serpentines winding their way through the crowded city. Resplendent in their uniforms, some soldiers sat proudly on their motorcycles while others chose to rest in the open crew trucks as they slowly returned to their barracks.

They had just completed a highly successful military manoeuvre as part of their annual war games. It had been a great accomplishment and even their General, who gave no indication of his emotions, satisfied with the outcome. He hardly spoke a word, but this was taken as a positive sign by his lieutenants and the non-commissioned officers”.

He continues reading with utter amazement and discovers that the story is his story!

‘Who put this in front of me?’ he asks the soldier sitting next to him. But only a shrugging of a shoulder is his reply. Standing up, Per waves his double page and calls out: ‘Hey, has anybody seen who put this in front of me?’

Several, very elated, people reply: ‘It was a waitress!’ But nobody can remember which one as there are quite a number of them working busily, moving in and out of the room.

Returning to the intriguing story about himself, he reads on that he will get up, walk across the vast hall to the next room, where he will meet his future wife…….

On reading these details Per becomes very apprehensive and yet inquisitive. As if under a spell, he feels compelled to read this story right to the end.

It goes on to say that he crosses the floor, and walked towards the door to the next room to find a pretty blond girl there and says:

’I shall see you this evening!’

‘Yes, I shall see you this evening!’ she nods shyly.

And when he started to read about an enormous wedding which was being held, with all the soldiers and staff attending, the drive from the church through streets festooned with flags and buntings and about the cheers and well-wishes of the people crowding at the footpath, smiling and happy,

Per felt the enormity of the moment! Pale and shaking all over, he rose from his seat and walked stiffly towards the other door at the end of canteen.

Nobody took any notice of him as he crossed the hall, the noise of chatter and hilarity continued unabated, whilst he suddenly felt terribly lonely in what he thought was the most very important moment of his life.

Reaching the door, he looked through a small glass window into a waiting room: It had the same whitewashed walls, and a few wooden chairs were placed at the opposite end of the room.

At first, Per perceived the room as empty but he suddenly became aware of a girl sitting on one of the chairs, exactly as it was told in the story. A feeling of de ja vu came over him and he felt that he had known her all his life. Everything here was so familiar; she was young and fresh-faced and her long blond hair cascaded richly around her shoulders.

She wore a white sleeveless summer dress which accentuated her pink skin. Her feet were in narrow-strap sandals and her shapely hands were resting in her lap. Her gaze was lowered to the floor and she seems to be waiting for something predestined…….

As he opens the door and steps into the room, she glances up at him for a moment with a shy smile on her face. She seems to have expected him. Her face, he had always known; it was so familiar, so natural. She did not have the need to wear make-up as her skin is smooth and pale. Her lips are full and pale too and he senses that she, too, may be aware of this all-important moment in their lives.

He introduces himself and she quickly looks up at him with the bluest eyes he has ever seen and nods knowingly.

Per, feeing so in unison with her and still remembering the story he’d just read, this story about him, he is only able to stumble out the words from his dry mouth: ‘You are my future wife!’

Her eyes still cast down, she immediately nods and whispers: ‘I know!’ A slow blush appears on her cheeks giving them a shell pink look.

’I shall see you this evening!’ he hears himself say, feeling stunned by this momentous event.

But she, too, knows all that and without looking up she nods with decisiveness ‘Yes Per, I shall see you this evening!’

Per finds himself back in the canteen with this strange feeling, a sense of surrender and finality. He realises that he forgot to ask her for her name, but finds this detail unimportant. He has found his future wife, he now has a purpose in life and that is all that matters!

Suddenly a determination to act overcame him and, having already read the story – his story- he knew what to do next! Striding purpose-fully past the tables with his care-free comrades, across the barrack square, he found himself suddenly standing outside the office of the woman lieutenant.

The two girls in the main office smiled when they saw him entering and seem to sense his urgency to meet the lieutenant. They pointed to one of the doors; “This way!’ Upon entering the lieutenant’s room, he was greeted warmly and offered a seat. This officer seems to have plenty of time as she listened patiently to his, somewhat garbled, report and smiled at his uttered intention to marry. Nodding reassuringly, she promised to arrange for the paperwork and other formalities and, wishing him well, she led this dazed soldier out the door.

‘Don’t worry about a thing,’ he heard her say, ‘I’ll arrange the necessary papers and then call you in for signing. It is that easy!’

This conversation reassured Per greatly. He stepped outside and suddenly finds the barrack’s square full of people, soldiers and civilians, cheering him and shouting their best wishes.

It’s as though everyone around him knew what was going on, except he!


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