Walking home last night, air frosty and stones clattering under my feet the base felt different. I don’t know if you have noticed it; the quietness and emptiness of a downtown area after the offices and shops are closed. The pedestrians are not the daytime workers, no longer sharply dressed individuals purposefully striding on their way. The delivery trucks, cars and cabs give way to the occasional patrol vehicle and slowing moving cars trolling for activities and substances less than legal.
Tonight there are people huddled together on benches to keep warm or tucked into shadowed doorways. The occasional vehicle’ headlights blinding at a distance, comes closer and passes without the driver being visible. Overhead lights illuminate the ground in sharply defined circles of white.
I am passed in the other direction by the occasional person so deeply concentrating on their own business that they don’t even note my presence. Deep into thought or cell phone calls I wonder at their sense and safety. Wrapped up in blankets, hats and gloves a soldier’s face is reflected in monitor light as he sits outdoors to Skype with his family.
Past the PAX terminal, the only active area on this part of the post, where busses roll up to disgorge passengers cheerfully pushing, shoving and unloading gear as they prepare to leave the country and others, heads lowered with fatigue, drag themselves and duffles toward waiting vehicles, newly arrived for a tour of duty, I walk through the crowd unnoticed. Salutes are not an issue at night unless you personally know someone, rank is not easily seen and most of us don’t go looking.
Approaching Disney Drive at the Rock Clam-Shell the night quiet is split by shrieking small birds launching themselves from the trees at the audacity of two troops pelting them with stones. Leaving the soldiers to their entertainment, I head toward the Korean Hospital on the gravel road passing MRAPs lining the road in the dark their hulking bulks partially obscuring the minimal lighting.
I reach my B-Hut glad for the chance to get out of ACUs, have a cup of tea and curl into bed with a book for the evening expecting in the morning that Bagram will have reverted to sunshine, roaring vehicles, saluting troops and heavy dust in the air.