Grapes of Wrath

I knelt between the grape rows on a sweltering afternoon. Sweat ran through the dust caked on my face. The Soldier in front of me glanced back, his sunken face caked in filth that outlined the shape of his cheekbones. One of our endless patrols.

An Apache flew overhead, rotors churning the miserable air.

I can still hear it when I close my eyes. Feel the steaming, primordial Hell. I smell the awful stench of diesel fumes. Piss and shit. The sting of cordite. The bitter-sweet taste of near-ripened grapes.

Afghanistan is a place outside of time. Some phenomena are explained away; the uselessness of our radios, the disruption of our mine detectors. Written off against the minerals in the soil. Iron ore.

Like going back to the Bronze Age.

The relics of technology from other eras lay everywhere. The rusting hulks of T-72s. Abandonned MIGs. Mud huts strung with crude electric lighting. Exposed copper wires that looked like house-bourne IEDs to a line grunt.

Left-overs from the last Empire to bury its wealth in the Land of the Unruly.

. . . But there is something otherworldly there. We never bury our dead in that cursed Earth, for fear of a soul. The thought of it being trapped there to fester in Hell.

I reached up into the vines and plucked a small bundle of grapes. The most expensive grapes in the world. A delicacy that will never touch an American table. I sucked water from my camel-back and spit on them to wash off the dust.

I popped them in my mouth and crushed them. The realization hit me at once . . .

How many Soldiers had bled out into this ground? Shed their limbs? Ragged bits of flesh to nourish the vines . . .

The sweetness turned to poison. I retched and puked them out at my feet.