I check my GPS against my map. The convoy is approaching the checkpoint down the road. It’ll be here within 5 minutes. Looking around at the barren, sunbaked landscape, devoid of hard cover more than 10 inches high, and weighing the M79 grenade launcher in my hands, I decide the direct approach is my best bet.
I stroll down the hill towards the road and pick a bush next to the well worn tyre tracks. Making sure my by now somewhat old and patched-up camouflage suit covers everything it needs to, I crouch in the tall savannah grass behind the shrub and wait in the choking African noon heat for the convoy to turn the corner.
I’ve done this before and I know what to expect from these arms convoys: Two armed pick-up trucks on either side of a larger cargo truck with the goods. I need to blow the cargo to complete the contract, but I’ll need to dispatch the armed escort to stay alive. One driver and one gunner in each. I’m looking forward to trying out my new M79.
The first armed truck drives around the corner in the distance. I calmly wipe the dusty sweat from my brow and take aim down the barrel. If I do this right, three grenades will be enough. Otherwise my M249 SAW machine gun is ready to mop up the left-overs.
There’s the cargo truck and the second escort. Just need them a little closer.
With a dull whump, I loose the first grenade, and the impact tears apart the leading truck, throwing its burning wreckage several feet into the air before it comes to rest a mere couple of yards from where I hit it. The driver in the cargo truck desperately slams the breaks, barely avoiding the wreck, and prepares to back up and drive around, but with the routined movements that come from years of practice, I eject the spent shell casing and insert a fresh grenade in seconds, lining up a new shot before the driver has a chance to evade.
The second explosion rolls off the surrounding hills, a blazing hellfire completely consuming the truck. My sardonic, satisfied smirk turns to horror as the munitions on the back of the vehicle are set off and launch the several tonnes of smoldering metal directly towards me. Seconds expand into minutes as I stare, frozen, mouth ajar at my unbelievable misfortune. It seems my mind has no reaction prepared for getting crushed by a burning truck, but at the last moment, I throw myself to the ground as heat and darkness engulfs me.
All this war, all these skirmishes – all the people I’ve killed and everything I’ve destroyed, and in the end I’m done in by physics…
Distant gunfire. Panicked shouts. A curse in a language I don’t understand. Somebody is tugging painfully at my arm. I open my eyes as much as I can, and I see Nasreen through the blood. She came to save me. How did she get the truck off me? My legs hurt, they must be broken. The gunfire has stopped, she’s killed the two soldiers in the last escort, but the grass is on fire all around us and I can barely stand, even leaning on her.
“Get up!” she grunts, supporting me only with one arm, unwilling to let go of her rifle. “Watch out, the fire is getting close.”
We limp away from the wreck, blood oozing from my forehead and swimming across my vision. Her jeep is parked just down the road, it’ll take us to the nearest safe house. One day my luck will run out – it seems I cheat death more and more narrowly each time. And this was supposed to be an easy mission.