by Francisco Martinezcuello

January 22, 2018

In Massoud’s Circle, weathered plastic shopping bags are captured by the thorns of Afghan roses. Armored vehicles crisscross in formation. Liberators with their guns pointed bully civilian cars to halt. My convoy breezes by, failing to free the bags from their thorny prison. Through shatterproof glass I see a green-eyed girl with reddish brown stains on her face, barefoot as she walks, sifting through flowers and refuse.

Throughout the green zone, large potted plants and HESCO bastions are strategically placed to serpentine traffic. Colored flags are planted alongside Afghan roses, denoting distances from sentry to target.

Walking the streets with combat load, I reach for a rose through the concertina wire, even though it slices through my uniform. Grabbing the spent brass casing buried in soil now enriched with blood and lead, I imagine the petals against my flesh. I put the brass into my pocket. The weather is warm, drying out the weakened rose. I snap the stem closest to the soil and rest it between the spaces of my armor. The bud fits me like a target, but my M4 carbine deflects the stares as I patrol.

En route to base, I see the green-eyed girl. I hand her the rose, but she’s expressionless. When I look back to wave goodbye, I see the rose has been added to the littered road.