It seldom snowed, they said - Part I by Ivan Donn Carswell
It seldom snowed, they said, it might get cold but it won’t be snow;
well, one should guess the locals know the weather best and I was new,
so when I left the warmth of the limited express and descended onto
a dimly lit, deserted siding I was not impressed to find the ground at
least an inch deep. I looked around as far as the sad light would allow
and while the train hissed and huffed tiredly into the cavernous dark my worst
fears were confirmed. On this night of nights it had snowed in Waiouru,
I was alone on the siding, no-one cheered me with a greeting, there
was no duty NCO meeting me in my bright new uniform, no revellers
reeling with drink and ribald cries to farewell a fortunate colleague
deserting them to the cold and lonely night, flying off to the bright city
lights, the noisy pubs, the crush of streets alive in social whirl, and the girls.
I had barely time to feel the cold before a troop truck slithered
into the lamplight and subsided steaming against the kerb, a stern
NCO bellowing to greatcoat and balaclava clad soldiers issuing listlessly
from the deck, boots clattering, kitbags thudding to ground, and oddly, not a word
amongst them. He lined them in two ranks under the pathetic light, told them
of their dubious parentage, wished they would never blight his unit again.
Their heads hung in dejection, I could not see their eyes for the shadows
that concealed them but I swear there was no living soul in those ranks,
they were spent husks of once strong young men who had failed
some herculean task and were being sent away. I should have joined them.
A polite driver asked if I was the new training officer for the Depot, I supposed
I was I said, and he assisted me into the cab of the Bedford. We squelched off
into the narrow alleyway of dim street lights, turned once and the siding was lost
behind me. In that instant the world I knew intimately faded as desperately
from view as the destiny of the soldiers standing in the watery lamplight
silently awaiting the southbound train.
© I.D. Carswell