Close Encounters with Science: Picks
I No Longer Remember by Linda Hossie
I no longer remember what country I was in. I can recall only the sound—the soft pop-pop ... pop. I was a reporter, in and out of conflict zones. I would have been gathering information, scribbling in a notebook, watching, asking, listening— and then stopping in my tracks. Everything else in my environment disappeared—the trucks, the soldiers, the trees, the dust. In those few seconds, my only reality was a soundscape, like something by John Cage in which your imagination is invited to make an emotional truth out of a few notes, a vast expanse in which muted sounds floated as benignly as summer clouds. I knew immediately what it was. There was never any doubt. A machinegun.
It must have been hot, but I was chilled. The wars and coup attempts and uprisings I reported all seemed to take place in a stinging heat that had me slinking along the ribbons of shadow at the edges of buildings and walled gardens. I had seen machine guns but I had never before heard that sinister stutter. Surely in a just world, a weapon designed to kill so many people so quickly should make a noise commensurate with its intentions. I wanted the boom of a jet breaking the sound barrier, not the fwop of a large paper bag exploding.
Later—and this time I remember where I was, in a hotel room in San Salvador—I heard a series of 500-pound bombs go off. There was nothing even remotely muted about that. It sounded like what it was: the encroachment of doom. It could have been a high-rise tower imploding or the top of a mountain blasting into fragments. I was on the phone to a fellow journalist in Mexico City, and each time a new explosion detonated, my anxiety level ratcheted up. “Think about your lead,” he instructed me. “Think about what you’ll write.”
Why did machine gun fire blow away the details of daily life when 500 pound bombs could not? My guess is that I was disoriented by the disconnect between what I heard and what I knew, the gap between appearance and reality. That gap is the natural environment of the deceivers and exploiters of the world, the home ground of war mongers and assassins. It is no place for the innocent.
I encountered some of the innocent, the machine gun’s victims. One remains vivid, a tiny peasant woman in layers of skirts. Her adolescent son had been killed by a stray bullet that pierced the board wall of her kitchen. She could not bring herself to leave the grounds of the hospital where his body lay. She repeatedly picked up her small sack of belongings, readying herself to go, and then put it down again, unable to make the break. “Ay, mi niño!” she keened. “Ay, mi niño!” My boy, my boy. Another sound that stopped me in my tracks.
Linda Hossie is from Penetanguishene, ON