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￭ in return for your navy blue shirt
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by Sergiu Somesan
My wife, Betty, had just put little Bill, our eleven month old to bed, asking me to keep quiet till he fell asleep, when I heard the doorbell.
Puzzled, as it was almost 10 pm, and weâre not used to visits at this time, I went to see who was there. At the door there was a colonel, whom, as far as I could tell by his uniform, was with the Air Force. Behind him there were a number of soldiers waiting, looking at me with indifference. On the street, in the dark, I could make out the shadows of several light armoured vehicles, but I couldnât take a better look as the officer stood right in front of me.
âGood eveningâ, he said, in an anxious voice. âPardon me, we are looking for Mister William Clemensâ.
I smiled, embarrassed:
âThere must be a mistake, Colonel, I said, casting a glance at the soldiersâ guns. I am Robert Clemens. There is no Mister William Clemens living hereâŚâ
The colonel looked confused for a moment, then turned towards a captain standing in the shadow of the stairs. The captain lit a tiny torch, leafed through a notebook, shrug his shoulders, and said:
âRoses Street, Number 5. This is it, Colonelâ.
The colonel turned stiffly towards me:
âWe want to see Mister William Clemens immediately! I feel it is my duty to inform you that we are on official business and any interference on your part will have serious consequences.â
âBut, colonel, donât you understandâŚâ I started to explain, then I suddenly stopped. My sonâs name is William, William Clemens, but since we call him Bill, I did not realize it in the beginning. Surely, the Air Force is not looking for him. It definitely is a mistake.â I sighed with relief:
âWellâ, I continued on a happy tone, âthe truth is that there is a William Clemens here, but I doubt that you are looking for him. Heâs not one year old yetâŚâ
The colonel displayed an official smile, then turned and waved a discreet gesture towards those standing behind him. In a few moments the soldiers passed by stealthily into our living room, like walking shadows. They must heave been very well trained, as they made no noise whatsoever, while searching all corners with an expertâs eye for danger.
I must say all of this left me speechless. When I came to my senses, I asked in a strange voice, I could hardly recognise:
âWhy are you looking for him, Colonel? Are you going to arrest him?â
I could see a lenient smile on the colonelâs straight face. He followed me into the house after casting a second look at the few soldiers left on guard outside. He then turned and spoke to me:
âOn the contrary, Mister Clemens, nothing like thatâŚ From now on, we must do our best to protect your son.â
Attracted by the noise, my wife came out of the bedroom, and seeing the soldiers occupying strategic positions in our tiny living room, stared at us in disbelief.
âAs you are Mr William Clemensâ parentsâ, the colonel explained quickly in response to her bewilderment, âI donât see any reason to hide the scope of our visit. The Governmental Computer, on the basis of the tests given monthly in all schools, nurseries and maternity wards, revealed that your son is a genuine military genius, registering top scores in all exams. The Government decided, in recognition of his merits, to appoint him General of the Armed Forces and give him, in this difficult time for our nation, the supreme command.
I opened my mouth a few times in an unsuccessful attempt to utter something. Eventually, a pitiful laugh was everything that came out.
âYou must be mad!â Betty said bluntly, summing up, in a bit too direct a fashion, what we were both thinking.
âMaâamâ, the colonel turned, obviously offended, âthe fact that you are the mother of the greatest military genius in history does not mean you can question the Governmentâs decisionsâŚâ
While we were talking, the captain sneaked into the bedroom unnoticed, and came out with our little Bill, holding him with great care, as he would a priceless trophy. Bill was blinking sleepily, looking around in bewilderment at what was going on. When he caught sight of Betty, he stretched his hands towards her and started babbling: âGoo-goo-gaa-gaaâ â these were actually the only sounds he could pronounce clearly, despite the fact he was almost one year old, as I mentioned before.
The Colonel turned towards me with a radiant face:
âDid you hear that? Did you hear what he just said? âGoo-goo-gaa-gaaâ! Extraordinary! The General knows, without ever being told, the code that triggers the nuclear attack. How can you still doubt his military geniusâŚ?â
âWhat do you mean, Colonel, is thatâŚâ
âExactlyâ, the Colonel confirmed my fears. âFor increased safety, a nuclear attack can only be set off by a chosen person pronouncing a code word in a microphone, so that there is no risk a criminal hand would press the wrong button. From now on, your son will sit in front of said microphone, in the control room. He will be given all the data he might needâŚ He will be the one to decide on a nuclear attack, should we need to start one. I hope you realize that this is a great honour for you.â
Meanwhile, the captain had managed to take little Billâs blue pyjamas off, and he was now trying to fit him in a uniform his size. He couldnât manage to put on the military jacket, so he had to ask for Bettyâs help, who, with tears in her eyes, dressed up our little General.
âYou shouldnât cry, Mrs Clemens, the Colonel intervened to comfort her. You should be proud, aware of this great honour bestowed upon youâŚâ
âBut, Colonel, these are the only sounds Bill can pronounce clearly. And he keeps on saying them almost all the timeâŚ when he sees a new toy, for instance...â
âIs that so, Mrs Clemens? Interesting, indeedâŚ Did you heard that, Captain? ToysâŚ as many as you can get, new onesâŚ we should stock a consistent supplyâŚâ
He made a sign and all went out rushing towards the combat vehicles. The captain was carefully carrying Bill. We went to the door as well.
âHe also says âgoo-goo-gaa-gaaâ when heâs hungry, Colonel,â Betty shouted behind them.
The Colonel turned towards us for a moment, waived goodbye and got into the tracked vehicle. They started rolling with a screech and vanished round the corner, leaving behind a dark cloud of dust, which started to set in the pale moonlight.
âAlso when he needs to be changed, Colonel,â Betty whispered. ââŚ and when he gets bored, or when heâs sleepyâŚâ
I turned her towards me, and sunk her face into my shoulder. I wanted to calm her down, but, more than that, I wanted to keep her from seeing the long row of rats coming out of the old warehouse next door, making their way to the mountains on the horizonâŚ
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