At times it sounds like the noise of a door slamming. But it’s a strange noise, one that often makes us stare at each other for a few seconds in silence.
Other times, even the plaster and window panes come crashing down. When that happens there’s no doubt.
And sometimes you hear nothing at all. No vibrations from the windows, no muffled blows. But what happens next is always the same.
‘Mass casualties’, they call them. My mother, a simple woman, would call it slaughter.
Few weeks ago there was an explosion in the city. It hit more than forty people, all together. I don’t remember the exact number – people who obsess over statistics are never satisfied. Someone died immediately. Another a little later. Another the day after. Not many, as far as I could tell.
Most are still in hospital.
Few days later in the afternoon, another explosion. Another mass casualty – another slaughter, in ordinary people’s terms. They say it was a car bomb. I don’t know, I don’t care.
A line of white bags at the gate, the first aid area looking more like a slaughterhouse, dozens of people running around, skidding on the blood, dodging the stretchers in every corner. The operating theatre asking for blood over the radio. In the wards the guys go round, bandages in hand, trying to stop the blood on those waiting to be operated on.
Ask any one of the general directors here if their hospital is capable of dealing with two maximum emergencies in the space of three days. You’ll get their answer. The time’s come to start afresh, to reflect on numbers, on patients, on what’s to be done. The time’s come to let the workers here recover from the strain of more shifts, from the extra hours spent in the wards coping with the influx, from replacing materials, from having to spread the patients around so as to find a suitable place for everyone.
And here we are again. Heads still in the sand. Not breathing.
I don’t know how Ljubica, the Medical Coordinator, managed to find a place for everyone, but she did it. In the morning, I’m going home and it’s time to ask myself a few questions.
Of all the ones I could ask, a strange one comes up. How would I tell all this to my child? I dunno.
I would tell them that the sound of war is not screaming or crying. The sound of war is the sound of the 22-year-old man with half his guts spilling out. It’s a wheezing, a weak gurgling that struggles to leave the mouth. It’s the metallic noise of a rusty iron shard the size of a spanner, falling to the ground after cutting off your leg.
I would tell them that the sight of war is the one you catch out of the corner of your eye, of a man on a stretcher being judged ‘unsavable’ and lying there, alone in the first-aid corner, with his head dripping onto the bed sheets, barely breathing. He’s the only one with no one by him, no possibility of being saved, no one to take care of him because they’d be failing to help someone who still has hope. But from the corner of your eye you see he’s moving a little, breathing a little.
And he lies there.
And you can’t tear the corner of your eye away from him.
I would tell them that the stench of war is of burnt blood, of gunpowder. And of shit. Because that’s what’s in your guts.
I would tell them that throughout life they’ll hear a lot about this subject: at school, from friends, in the neighbourhood and on the TV. And on social media.
I would tell them that it’s good to listen to all opinions, that everyone has a right to express themselves, even if what they say sounds terrible.
But I would tell them that it’s not only a right. Sometimes it’s a necessity.
– Roberto, nurse in Lashkar-gah, Afghanistan