Picture a down and out bloke sitting in front of a BBVA bank in Alicante, Spain on a cold December night. He’s smoking a roll-up, waiting to bed down inside, after most people have withdrawn cash for a good night’s partying. A second homeless guy called Antonio shows up and asks if he can join him in there for the night. The first one doesn’t mind and the newcomer starts to tell how he was a blue helmet in Kosovo a couple of decades earlier.
A mate of his was on patrol in a deserted village, when he heard a baby crying. Just as he’d located the infant, who was lying amidst some corpses, he heard the rat-tat-tat of an approaching death squad. Which side they belonged to is neither here nor there, as both were equally gruesome. They would enter every building and shoot anything that moved, period.
The blue helmet took the baby into hiding and held his hand in front of its mouth to keep it quiet.(Where his buddies were at this time was never mentioned.) After the death squad had come and gone, the soldier found that he was holding a dead baby. Apparently it had a stopped up nose and had suffocated. The soldier felt horrible and kept saying: “I’ve killed a baby!” Antonio tried to console his friend by saying that he’d only tried to save it. The man wouldn’t have it and shot himself through the head two days after. With “War sucks!” Antonio, the ex blue helmet, concluded the first part of his story.
After steeling himself with two more roll-ups, he went on about how one day he’d witnessed a curious event: a group of armed thugs were marching a long line of singing children into a school building. On closer inspection, Antonio saw that the school was rigged to be dynamited with the children in it. When he radioed in the events, he was told to observe, but not interfere. He consequently feigned a radio malfunction and told his mates that he was going to stop this, alone if need be. His brothers in arms did not let him down: the children were saved, but lives were lost. Antonio received a dishonourable discharge for disobeying orders, lost his pension, lost everything and ended up on the street. Two decades later the horror of this war could still be read in his eyes.
The first homeless guy was yours truly, Ralphie, and for some reason I did not think to write about it then, last December. Now I wish I could go back, get the complete story, get it corroborated and published in some Spanish magazine or newspaper and hopefully help Antonio get back on his feet that way. I for one believe that this soldier deserves a second chance in life. If any reader knows of a way to bring this about, please do not hesitate to help right this wrong, for Antonio is still paying for his act of humanity and the army’s response to it to this day.