By noon the sun is white hot and there’s no shade.

Sharp sand crystals seep into my boots, lie in creases within my buttoned jacket and find sanctuary behind the folds of my red-raw ears. I walk across the rough ground towards the engine shed where my shift is about to start. Screwing up my eyes against the glare I focus on the huge sliding doors that hang off twisted rusting rails running along the walls of the repair shop. And behind these splintered sun weathered boards a dark cavern is alive to the sounds of sweating, cursing and toiling engineers who keep our vehicles alive.

My tongue smarts as the tingle of heavy sulphur, hot oil and petrol fumes cover my face like a damp fog. In a corner, a cascade of diamond sparklets shower from oxy acetylene torches, brief lives of light extinguishing on the grease thickened floor. Along the sides of the halls are rough wooden benches where thin razor sharp splinters await the ungloved and coils of broken wire are ready to snag fingernails. There is a steady hiss of compressed air from leaking rubber pipes. Engines backfire like gunshots then rev up with their loose gears screaming to engage. With a thud they roll forward on their way to the exit ramp, belching black exhaust that heralds their progress as they bump over railway sleepers to the lorry park outside.

I approach my wagon, now captive in this inferno awaiting its operation. The back is broken, drive shafts hang down, uncoupled and useless. Two large blocks of old wood support the rear springs and mechanics in filthy overalls lie underneath its belly passing smooth wrenches to each other, speaking in a local dialect only they know and only they can hear over the riot of noise around them.

They kick pliers and tools to each other, then they arch up, reaching into the guts of the beast, straining and loosening dirt caked bolts. One man has taken his hammer and the clanging hurts my ears. I notice that the lorry is starting to sway. It is waking up too early. But it is too late for them though as the dry wood blocks start to crumble from the vehicle’s weight and with the sound of a pistol crack the carcass drops to the floor.

No one can hear the screams.

One thought on “The army workshop in The Sudan 1978

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