He gets off the bus, left leg first, always left leg first. It isn't far to the entrance of Green Park and it is a sunny day. It has been raining for over a week, since Easter Day, in fact. Doesn't go out much in the rain, as a rule. No rain today though. Thought there'd be more people about. Dying for a smoke. Haha. Bickerstaff did that. Shell got him as he sheltered in the corner to light his fag. There wasn't enough left of him or his kit-bag to put troubles in. Smile boys that's the style. Wilson had taken a fragment in the upper arm. Not a blighty wound, but worth a couple of weeks in the Military Hospital after a visit to the Casualty Clearing Station.
He'd gone back, no bother. No bother at all. Duty bound, simple as that. Someone had jumped off the train 2 miles out of Calais. An older man, about 30, he had looked a bit off colour on boarding. 'Sod this for a game of soldiers,' he'd said, by way of farewell. No-one did anything. Not even the Colour Sergeant from the Durham Light Infantry. He just kept staring out of the window on the opposite side of the carriage.
The few walking in the park look more like people with somewhere to go than strollers. Even the girl over by the bandstand. He stiffens his back. Stand still, that's it. Wait for her to walk past. She stops to talk to another girl, not prettier, exactly. Just more conventional. The first girl looks like Arabella. Arabella is married now, to a conchie. Imagine that! The other girl strides over to the far side of the bandstand where a youngish man is smoking and watching a little girl play with a hoop and a stick.
Wilson just waits, it looks like the first girl will walk past him, after all. He smooths back his hair, not enough brilliantine today. She´s quite tall, maybe a bit posh for him once upon a time. Not today. Today is sunny and he just wants to feel normal again. What´s more normal than striking up an acquaintance with a pretty girl?
There had been one or two in France. Behind the lines, a drink and a bit of slap and tickle, nothing serious. Besides, they were mostly working girls. It wasn´t the same. Carter got a knife under his ribs after one visit to the Bar Pigalle. Some things had to be paid for. Never saw Carter again after that. Home to Blighty after a whorehouse brawl, how lucky was that? Luckier than Wilson himself, surely.
Wilson shifts his weight onto his good leg. Funny how he can still feel the other one, even now. Here she comes. My, she´s a bold one. Looking him right in the eye now. Holding her hand out. He recognises what she´s holding. She´s going to give it to him, she really is. He puts his own hand up in front of her, but there´s no stopping her now.
´Coward,´ she says.
He looks down at the white feather sticking out of his top pocket.
´ I´m not...´ he gets no further.
´Not fit to be an Englishman!´ She spits it out as though it´s the worst thing in the world.
´I´m Scottish,´ he says, but there is no answer from her stiff yet elegant back.