Monday 23 – Tuesday 24 February 2015
‘My father returned from Nigeria a different man. What happened over there?’ Francis Frobisher slapped the arm of his chair. ‘Tell me.’
Winston mopped the sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. He gasped for air, wincing in pain as he did.
‘You wouldn’t know if your father came back a different man, Francis. You were barely a year old when he left. You didn’t know him at all.’
‘I was old enough to know that when he got back he was missing something.’
Winston laughed. ‘When he got back, you weren’t even old enough to wipe your own arse. So stop telling me that you know he was different. You don’t know anything.’
‘I heard my mother enough times since father’s return, cajoling him into doing things that she said he used to enjoy, and constantly, constantly saying how different he’s been since Nigeria. That’s enough for me to know that he’s a changed man.’
Winston, on the verge of passing out from the pain and blood loss, tried to snicker at the ridiculous argument that his nephew was trying to create.
‘Pathetic,’ Winston gasped. ‘If that’s how you try to argue your point, it’s no wonder that you never made the cut for the army. You’re a fop, a pansy, a nonce, a nancy boy . . . and all this time I thought that you actually had a backbone.’
‘You say that, and I’m the one who shot you, Uncle Winston. I shot you and I’d gladly do it again to get what I want. Words have never really been my thing. I’m more of a man of action, as you can now attest.’
‘Yes,’ whispered Winston, ‘perhaps you’re more like me than you are like your father, Francis.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
The injured Colonel inhaled one last time before losing consciousness and slumping even further down in the chair. Francis was suddenly in a panic, and immediately attended to his uncle.
* * * * *
A battlefield in Ijebu, Nigeria.
‘You can have me court-martialled for all I care, Winston, and it still won’t make you or what we’ve done here right.’ James Frobisher pushed his brother back against the battlefield desk. He rubbed at his forehead, and frantically paced around the tent unable to come to grips with the recently ended massacre.
‘What’s got into you, James? You used to be a soldier that we could rely upon to make the difficult decisions, and do the dirty work that no one else would do. Now look at you . . . feeling sorry for the natives, second-guessing your own commands, questioning orders and directives from superior officers. You’re a mess, James. A bleeding heart feeling sorry for enemies of the British Empire who impede our trade routes, kill our men, women and children . . . you’re not a man, James. You’re soft. Maybe some time back at barracks will harden you up.’
James stopped pacing and stood directly in front of his brother. Winston squinted his eyes, fearing another punch from James, but nothing came. Instead, he heard the ripping of fabric, and opened his eyes to see James tearing the insignias from his shoulder boards and collar. ‘I’ll save you the trouble of a court-martial, Colonel Frobisher. Here, they’re all yours.’ James slammed them on his desk, his rage palpable.
‘You won’t get out of it that easily, James. I will court-martial you for insubordination, and I’ll have you demoted to the lowest of the low. You’ll be cleaning out the toilets for the rest of your career. Father would be ashamed of you.’
James’ fist collided with Winston’s face for a second and third time, Winston’s nose and jaw taking the brunt of the punches.
‘It’s you who is the lowest of the low, Winston, bringing father into this. You always do that when you’re lacking a sensible, logical argument to counter what I have to say. You’re the one with no backbone, blindly following orders that are clearly wrong. These people, these natives as you choose to call them, are more civilised than you’ll ever be. We have committed mass murder today. That’s what this campaign has always been about – the destruction of a people that the British Empire can’t control, and has no right to control or impose British rule upon. I refuse to be a party to this murder any longer. You can take your rank and shove it firmly up your arse, Winston . . . or would you prefer that I call you Colonel?’ A quick arm movement from James made his brother recoil again, but instead of the punch that Winston expected, James simply saluted. ‘See you at the court-martial, brother of mine,’ James yelled as he stormed from the tent.
After a few minutes, Winston walked to the entrance of the tent and surveyed the carnage in front of him. Nigerian bodies were being thrown in a pile in order to clear a path for the re-opening of the trade route, while the bodies of the slain British soldiers were carefully moved into unoccupied tents.
‘Wilson,’ screamed Colonel Frobisher. A middle-aged man ran to the Colonel, stopped straight and saluted.
‘I want those of our boys who are injured attended to immediately. Then I want those who’ve not made it cleaned, dressed in clean uniforms, and arrangements made for their transportation to the port to be sailed home. Finally, send four of your best men to find Major Frobisher and take him in to custody. Make arrangements for him to face a court-martial as soon as we return to the capital.’
‘Yes, sir. Right away, sir.’ Wilson saluted again, pivoted around, and marched away to follow through on his orders.
James Frobisher had made his way to a secluded hillock overlooking the battlefield. Beneath him, those men still standing looked like ants scurrying around their nest, making way for the queen. For as long as he could stand looking, James watched the bodies of the fallen Nigerian warriors and their women and children being dragged from the battlefield. Once the tears began to fall, James could do nothing to stop them or the guttural sobbing that followed. With his head in his hands, he wished he were back at home with his wife and young son.
. . . The end . . .