The Dogface of Tyre
He rode in on a service motorcycle and parked between the MP section’s grimy Chevrolet jeeps, whose soft skin canopies sagged. I knew right off we’d be washing and putting a taut feel to things before the day’s end. He was the new Dogface, a name given to Military Police Detachment Commanders. No one knows who coined the name or why, but we assumed it was because a commander was expected to bark or maybe had the facial representation of a hound or perhaps both.
Fola was too tall for a motorbike, even if was a titanic Yamaha. It was the last military police motorbike in the UN – its three companions had been written off in the last six months, primarily because of the roads, most of which were cratered as badly as the Moon.
And he looked like he was the last soul out of somewhere else severely blitzed. I could smell the drink from him in the wavy afternoon heat. When he removed his shades under the veranda, his green eyes were holding onto the mist of a party that wasn’t long over. After removing his helmet he smoothed his lank brown hair. He sniffled and handed me his blue UN flak jacket to leave in the duty room/armoury for him.
Next, he asked to be shown to his billet. He didn’t need to be introduced to his dog run as he would have previously visited the MP section. So he was acquainted with the layout of the kitchen cum dining room, duty room cum armoury, the storeroom and our small club where we watched video cassettes, played darts, and soaked in some beers in the evenings.
We were a UN unit ensconced in a Lebanese army barracks. Leb soldiers paraded for inspection by one of their officers every morning and fought for the Amal (Hope) militia at night.
During the day they played table soccer and backgammon, and at night sat around a glowing brazier; those who weren’t out on checkpoints manned by Amal militia – Lebanon was a country where common sense and its Government had been kicked into touch by its citizens. A land with a shredded heart and more divided loyalties than a sprinkling of confetti.
We walked side by side to the long prefab a hundred yards away, passing a tank raised on a concrete plinth, a totem of sorts. Behind it lay a tank graveyard – armoured vehicles abandoned by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and brought into Tyre to decay.
‘What MP’s are stationed here?’ Fola asked.
‘Khodra, Veron, Monoku, Agyeman. And me, Maguire.’
His eyes lighted on the name-tag sewn above my shirt pocket. He was one of those people who pretended not to have seen you before.
I turned the key to his billet, opened the door, handed him the key. He gazed at the bunk with the clean sheets on top of the grey blankets, the raised mosquito net a green cloud above the bed, the steel desk and wooden chair. I could tell he didn’t care much for the kennel.
Puzzled, he said, ‘This is not the Dogface’s accommodation.’
‘No, we put our names into a beret and mine was drawn out.’
He shook his head, ‘I want that room – we will switch.’
I thought to say something but instead shrugged and said, ‘Now?’
‘I have a Nepalese, a Frenchman, a Fijian, a Ghanaian and Irishman... is that correct?’
Disdain showed in his expression.
‘I will meet them in the club at,’ he glanced at his Rolex, ‘at fifteen hundred hours.’
His watch looked the real McCoy. But counterfeiters in this country could fashion you a new soul if they thought you’d buy it – like everything false it would probably shrink in the first wash or stop ticking after one thousand tick-tocks.
I said, ‘I have to visit the gendarme in Tyre to collect a statement from a witness to a traffic accident.’
‘Three,’ he said, closing the door.
‘Okay,’ I said to the closed door.
I went and packed my things and left the bags to the side of his door. Then I went early to collect that translated statement, bringing Khodra along as a shotgun. We lunched at a restaurant in the Sidonian harbour off the Christian Maronite sector. Khodra knew Fola and didn’t like him. He turned his nose up with his finger to indicate that Fola looked down on people.
At three, he laid down the law, Dogface style. He wanted the jeeps valeted, the section floors washed and polished and shining; reports handed in on time, incidents and accidents investigated properly. In short, he wanted to hear no adverse comments about MP Tyre, meaning him, when he attended the monthly Dogface briefings held at Headquarters.
‘No,’ he said, wagging his finger, ‘taking day trips to go shopping in the villages.’
‘Have I made myself absolutely clear?’
Murmurs of ‘Yes.’
For the next couple of days, he watched us like we were rare zoo animals. Nothing we did was good enough for him. In the afternoons he would ride into Tyre and drink coffee and eat pastries in Cafe Phoenicia. He had himself fitted for three suits with the one-armed tailor off Berri Street. He didn’t dine with us nor did he join us in the evenings in the club, preferring to work on reports in the duty room. He had no room for humour, I thought. He was abrupt and rude.
He was a Staff Sergeant, a rank above mine. In Norway, he was a police officer and served in the military reserve. I formed the impression that he resented being told what to do, which is the way of some people who like ordering people about. Even imparting advice to him – well, he could fly into a huff.
On Saturday I advised him not to take the motorbike into town. That it was not a good idea. Ignoring my advice, he ended up running smack bang into a massive political demonstration on the isthmus on which Alexander the Great crucified the city’s inhabitants after his army broke the siege. Fola was wrenched from the bike and forced to watch it being thrown into the sea. He walked through the barrack gates with his helmet underarm, carrying the blue and white pennant that had been attached to the bike’s aerial – walked trying to keep himself tall. An effort for him to keep his face in neutral; shock occasionally slipped through and put him to the verge of tears.
I listened as he berated the interpreter, who had heard of the incident and hastened to be with us, about not warning him to keep out of the city. The poor man looked at me and I told Fola that Ali had asked me to warn him.
‘You did not tell me that Ali had told you.’
‘You were advised of the situation.’
He glanced at his watch, shook it, looked again, shook it harder. Shook his head – I thought he was wasting his time trying to persuade both to work.
Khodra watching from behind the desk said, ‘It is a fake watch – I have four same same.’
‘It cost two thousand dollars and I have a guarantee – it is not fake,’ Fola said, at a point below sharpness.
‘Anyhow, Fola, you need to contact Headquarters and tell them you’ve lost the UN’s last motorbike,’ I said.
‘I did not lose it,’ he said stiffly.
Ali said with a shrug, ‘When it is quiet, we will go and get it out of the water.’
Which is what we set out to do, leaving before darkness fell, but the Yamaha wasn’t anywhere to be seen, and Khodra stated the obvious when he said someone had reached it before us.
Fola had given up on standing tall now. His shoulders had caved forward. one slightly advanced than the other; one chastened, the other humiliated.
He went to his room early, after calling in the incident and typing up his report that I would bring to HQ tomorrow, on a supply run.
Close to dawn, his screams awakened us and I saw Khodra, the night-time duty man with Fola, outside Fola’s billet – a small man next to the tall one who was supporting his hand with the other.
‘Scorpion sting,’ Khodra explained coolly, ‘we need to bring him to hospital.’
Fola sat alongside me, Khodra in the rear, as I ripped it along those broken roads to the hospital in Tyre.
‘The room is full of scorpions – I counted six,’ he said wincing and staring at his hand, which was swelling.
‘I know,’ I said.
‘You knew about them being in the room!’
‘Yes. That’s why we had the lottery, to determine which of us would take the room – I killed five scorps during my first night there, and then eight the following night – but I haven’t seen any in awhile, you know’
‘Jesus,’ he said.
A bad day for him; motorbike, watch and scorpion.
‘Maybe tomorrow will be a better one for you,’ Khodra said.
I knew Fola would be accompanying me to Headquarters tomorrow and wouldn’t be returning, so I remained silent as we walked him into the hospital, as beaten down a man as I’ve ever walked alongside. Not an ounce of Dogface bark left in him.