Sirens With Your Coffee?

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The rocket attack alarm sounds while a friend and I are having coffee and smokes at this outdoor French-style cafe on the boardwalk. A blaring siren wails, and then the grim pronouncement, “Rok-it, at-tack. Rok-it, at-tack.” The voice that accompanies the siren is female–dry, accent-neutral, and a little robotic–like the tinny voice prompts you hear on automated answering services. The standard operating procedure (SOP) for rocket attacks is to get small and seek cover, or find the nearest bunker and stay there until the All Clear is sounded. When a rocket hits, it explodes and shrapnel fly out, so you need to expose as little of yourself as possible.

In seconds, all of us cafe patrons grab coffees, sandwiches, cigarettes, and other stuff, then duck sheepishly under our tables. The first thing I notice is that all the Romanian troopers remain seated comfortably on their benches, unmindful of everyone else doing the sudden dry dive. I look inquiringly over at my friend Tata Su, and he says, “Ignore them, they are used to it.” We exchange grins.

I feel cramped and self-conscious under the table, mainly because crouching that low wasn’t very comfortable and I see that up close, the floor is very dirty. I question the wisdom of having only the thin wooden slats of the table for protection against rockets, and my friend says it is better than nothing. I don’t quite agree with that, but don’t really feel like arguing the finer points of rocket attack etiquette while bent in such an unladylike position. We puff away and make more morbid jokes for a few minutes.

An ambulance siren wails, loud enough for us to know that one is speeding nearby. Silently, I reassure myself that the ambulance is just ISAF being hyper-prepared, and not an actual necessity. It is much too nice an afternoon to contemplate the need for ambulances.

An uneasy little silence follows, as though everyone just ceased talking at the same exact moment. Not even five seconds later, as if on cue, we all stand up and go back to our seats, even though the All Clear siren has not sounded yet. The two heavily mascaraed women next to our table pounce on their sandwiches; the men in dust-streaked blazers across from us resume their cross-legged poses and take small sips from their coffee cups. The Romanians, still wondrously unperturbed, converse even louder in their guttural, hard-rolling consonants.

My friend and I place our  props back on the table: cellphones, coffee cups, stirrers, and the shared Marlboro reds pack. We light up and resume sipping our cafe Americanos, behaving as the others do, in casual (not even brave) denial of this brief dalliance with death.

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4 thoughts on “Sirens With Your Coffee?

    Maine said:
    December 7, 2010 at 6:32 am

    Beautiful work! I had mixed feelings of fear for the safety of a dear friend in an unpredictable, seemingly infamous place yet awed by the technical superiority of the writing style. Very crisp. Very real! It drowns the reader in the world of its own! Admirable piece!

    thebee responded:
    December 7, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Thanks for the kind words, migo!

    Erik Matti said:
    December 12, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    Katahum! I mean, how the story was told. Of course, indi man tahum what happened. Hehehe!

    thebee responded:
    December 13, 2010 at 10:35 am

    Baw te mayo kay kavisit ka di liwat Rik. Thanks for the comment. It’s not really that dangerous, we were still able to finish our coffee and smokes in peace. More stories coming, as life permits.

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