He was still standing a little behind the front, thinking he was in no danger. Sitting on his mount, his head held high, he looked really good. His panorama was however apocalyptic. He saw his comrades daily disappearing under blasts of mortar or falling under bursts of bullets. The macabre jousting took place under his stoic gaze. Equal to himself, he remained stony faced, just barely allowing himself to mock those that didn't have his chance. He was well-born, wealthy, which in the past enabled him to buy his place behind the front, with the cushy job holders. Since then, he had the right to attend the same show, the live performance of THE WAR.
In the morning, a series of small simple gestures was enough to reassure him. Turn off his alarm clock, get out of bed and quickly put on his slippers, open his bedroom window to ventilate and close open his shutters, go to his kitchen, run his kettle, go to the toilet, go take a shower, put on his clothes, fold his pajamas, dry his hair, go back to his kitchen, brew a tea bag, let it cool down for the time to butter a toast and put quince jam on for a second, drink his tea, go brush his teeth and finally shave. This perfectly oiled gear allowed him to get in condition.
Sometimes the wheels would seize up when a power outage prevented him from waking up on time or when the depletion of his toothpaste or razor blades jeopardized his body's maintenance. Fortunately, such incidents were rather rare because he was forward-looking, but it was immediately a bad omen. The day was going to be bad and the ordeal would last until evening.
That day, his ritual took place without a hitch. So he was ready to fight, or at least to watch it.
The sky was threatening but he looked almost every evening at the weather forecast, science oh-so random he took for cash. The day before, the presenter had announced in his bulletin that the weather would be variable but that it should not rain with a confidence index of three out of five, which was not terrible but better than nothing. He had not taken the trouble to cover himself too much when leaving his apartment.
So he got on his service moped to go to the report.
On the way, the light on his fuel gauge lit up to indicate he was on reserve and an imminent stop of the vehicle was waiting for him.
As punctuality was a virtue too few men could boast of, he made it a point of honor to arrive on time on the field of maneuver. So he decided to anticipate the breakdown and branched off to the first petrol station he saw, especially since this was not very good for the engine, running with so little fuel loaded with dust and corrosion debris from the tank could gravely damage the mechanics.
He parked his moped in front of a petrol pump and he was immediately joined by the pump attendant. He instructed him to do the basic tasks, in short, refueling.
During this time, he started looking for the restroom, a little smeared he was. The premises were certainly exceptionally clean, which was the least of it, but his dismay was only more intense when he realized that the petrol station was devoid of triple-ply toilet paper. Mad with rage, he had to content himself with a vulgar, slightly thick, slightly coarse toilet paper roll, a paper of questionable quality from a less precious essence.
Meanwhile, the pump attendant had finished filling the tank of the moped, smiling before announcing the bill because it was his nature to smile and as a good trader, he had to smile.
His client was much less cheerful.
Each of his steps was punctuated by a syllable, a chimerical assemblage of cries of lion, bull and elephant, a melting pot of roars, moans and lowing which, once the pieces were placed end-to-end gave a sentence whose substance seemed to be a threat. After decryption, it was possible to understand that a fortuitous accident could very well endanger the oil tanks if he did not immediately provide him with what he was mandating.
The shopkeeper fixed his gaze in the Apple of the eye of his interlocutor, as if to show him that he had made the wrong address if his ambition was to play the bulls.
He was tall, rather stocky, at least enough to serve gasoline, he was dressed in a blue blouse smeared with sludge and drain oil which gave him a little dirty air.
The gas station attendant didn't allow himself to be taken aback by his client's attitude which claimed itself domineering. Armed with simple but effective rhetoric, he explained that times were tough and that a commodity as rare as triple-ply toilet paper was difficult to procure, that his connections to the black market were not good and that the supply was not permanent, that it had to be dealt with, that it was war and that if he was not happy he couldn't help it, that it was not his ambition to run a petrol station, that only the bill payment made him stay where he was.
The two men rivaled in intimidation, darkening their eyes, and puffing their chest or moving their ears with the help of a frontal musculature connecting them to their eyebrows. They looked like two wild beasts wanting to favor themselves with a lady during the rutting season.
No matter how well he turned them over, the answers the pump attendant gave him did not convince our hero. As the interview went on and the tone went up, the latter seemed to smile a little meanly.
In the old days when duels were the safest, fairest, quickest and above all, the least expensive way to settle all kinds of disputes – it was just a jump of fifteen years in the past; this technique was used to distract the opponent by the brightness of his dentures. Forever perpetuated by the big screen' stars, he had made it his. He was preparing a bad move and the pump attendant knew it.
With a quick gesture worthy of the greatest manipulations of card-magic, he took his petrol lighter from his pocket.
This kind of lighters was the regulatory lighters in the military because they were considered very reliable and they were traditionally given as gifts to the officers to celebrate their birthday.
Sometimes irrational forces beyond human comprehension came into play.
This was certainly what happened at that moment. An idea, a flash crossed his mind. He must have seen it in a bad film or a television series, and he made the decision to make it happen by bringing his lighter to his mouth, and twirling the wheel against the incisors of his two clenched jaws. Unsurprisingly, he felt pain. Surprisingly, the wheel turned, rubbed against the stone to create a spark sufficient to make a flame fly out of the wick. From his mouth, the flame seriously burned his upper lip. His reflexes were luckily good, the burning stimulus activating his breath which quickly extinguished the flame. It was too late however, the damage was done. As the traditional representation of the somatosensory homunculus showed, the lips were not the least sensitive part of the body. While he had to restrain himself so as not to burst into tears because of the pain, the pump attendant could not restrain himself from bursting into laughter, a giggle that even forced him to retire to his sentry box to avoid breaching the respect for human dignity towards his client.
Notwithstanding the ridiculousness of the situation, he had noticed the blatant disrespect of the pump attendant. He took his courage in both hands, he swallowed a good hit to restrain the tears which continued to flow and he tried again to make his petty grin. The inflammatory reaction which immediately followed the burn had made his lip swell, which made him look like a perfect idiot; he was no longer threatening, and he no longer inspired fear, only pity. He then took a serious look and swirled the wheel of his lighter, by hand, which was much easier and much less risky. It refused to light, it was empty.
The painting got its final touch with gastrointestinal problems and a downpour that started to fall. His lighter would never light again. Clearly, a spell was going on him. He could not stay there, however.
Certainly, he could have left without paying, which would have been a kind of lesson for this pump attendant; the army should be able to be respected and to set an example was an honor for a soldier of his caliber but with his description and what looked like a video surveillance device, this was perhaps not the idea of the century.
He could also have taken advantage of his geographic situation to fill his lighter, but it required a good mastery of the distribution system to avoid putting it everywhere. And there was this rain soaking his clothes…
He soon regretted not having covered himself more. He clearly did not understand why the presenter had indicated orally, in addition to the pictogram on the map that the region should not experience bad weather. Such a mistake was a riddling lack of professionalism, unless, it was war, it should not be forgotten, misinformation reigned supreme, there were daily manipulations on the part of enemies, why it couldn't go as far as erroneous or even sabotaged weather reports? The Grenati might be powerful and have spies everywhere but the meteorological services were managed by an international body and finally, everyone had the same forecasts, which limited the scope of his hypothesis.
However, he promised himself to buy a personal weather station quickly, so that he would no longer be dependent on unreliable forecasts. With rough negotiations, he might even manage to pass this purchase on as mission costs, knowing the weather was essential for him to carry out his mission more effectively. It did not explain the downpour; however he remembered a TV show he had seen in the past about a theory of physics science, the theory of chaos. To illustrate this, a physicist used as a picture the flapping wings of a butterfly somewhere in the world could cause a thunderstorm. He did not need more, if an eminent scientist, it was written in inlaid at the bottom of the screen, said so, it was necessarily a truth even if in fact, he had understood absolutely nothing of the statements of the scientist.
He therefore put this downpour on the back of a flutter of a butterfly's wings, an incidentally insignificant event that the meteorologists had not taken into account in their forecasts but which had nevertheless managed to disrupt the chaotic worldwide climate system. So he decided to eradicate all the butterflies from the face of the earth. He could not identify with certainty the culprit and he thought that with this systematic method, this butterfly would necessarily be part of it. This would also prevent possible new unpredictable thunderstorms, which would greatly facilitate the work of weather stations.
Having analyzed all the opportunities available to him and risking with everything that had happened both to catch a cold and to be late for the report, he decided to pay the pump attendant who had not succeeded to suppress his laughter, finishing his annoyance business, and hitting the road. The abnormal, even pathological, activity of his digestive system oppressed his colon and the rain ruined his styling.
He left the gas station and ended the trip to the base, meditating on the luck that this attendant may have had. He swore that he would never be taken there again; it was out of the question that he would set foot in an establishment unworthy of his rank, not even capable of providing his customers with a simple roll of fleece triple-ply toilet paper.
These thoughts allowed him to forget his own fate. That same evening, he should buy new purple boy's briefs. He could not keep the ones he was carrying on him, it was against hygienic rules. He would change them well the next day, but the Laundromat would not be open until the end of the week, enough time for the stains to soak into the fabric. Suffice to say they were ruined. With one less pair of briefs, it was the balance of his life that sank towards instability, especially with sensitive buttocks like his, the discomfort he would feel all day was not enviable.
The roadway was soaked by this downpour, as violent as sudden, but common in this region. It was almost dangerous to drive under these conditions on a vehicle known as not being the most stable but he nevertheless arrived on time for the report, which was not a luxury but completely normal, given his function.