Smile for the Virgin, Boys by Hannah Storm

I reach for my rum, swallow it and the colonel’s words. “If you hear the gun fire, you’re probably all right.” I want to believe what he told me, but I don’t know how much I would have to drink before I felt immune.

It happened this morning, on patrol with the peacekeepers. I was only there to record some natural sound for my radio package when the gunshot flung me into darkness. In the metal cage of the armoured vehicle, the flak jacket half covered my face. Later I realised how bloody ridiculous I must have looked – like a cartoon tortoises – and was that my scream or the sharp pitch of the gun fire? One of the soldiers sniggered: “A virgin, boys.”

Afterwards, they asked for a photo with me. I wonder if anyone says no to men with guns. Not me. “Smile for the virgin, boys”, one of them ordered the others, and I had obliged too, a glued-on grimace with a group of Brazilian soldiers for whom I was just another bar story.

Then it was the walk of shame up the side walk, as the armoured personnel carrier spat dust into my face. They charged up the mountain to their military headquarters and I charged, tortoise-like again, up the paved slope to the pristine compounded hotel where the five-star generals downed their five-star brandies.

The road to the hotel was far steeper than this morning before my borrowed body armour became heavy with fear. My helmet slipped, bruising the bridge of my nose. Damp fingers of hair stuck to the sides of my mouth. Sweat dripped down my back, pooling in my pants. Had I accidentally pissed myself when we were shot at? I didn’t dare take off the flak jacket until I was safe in my room.

“Make sure it comes back in one piece,” the safety stores guy had joked when he made me sign for it. “And sorry, it’s a bit on the big side. The bosses haven’t got around to getting ones for the girls.”

That doesn’t really matter now I’m nursing the Barbancourt, watching the young woman in front of me. She has a scar that shines in the flickering lights of the bar.

She reminds me of Marie who I interviewed yesterday. How she rocked her baby daughter, shushing her with lullabies of love. She had waited until the baby slept before sharing her nightmare.

“We had no power, no lights. Nobody could see their faces when they came with their guns. She had turned her face towards me, tracing the outline of a scar. “They did this. And this”, she nodded towards her new born child.

“Here in Haiti, we say, Dye mon, gen mon.” Behind the mountains, are more mountains.

The young woman’s smile stuck at the point where it met her scar.


Hannah Storm is a journalist and media consultant, specialising in gender and safety. Although she’s been writing since she was a young girl, she’s recently discovered a passion for short stories and flash fiction, thanks to an Arvon course with Vanessa Gebbie and Cynan Jones. Her Twitter handle is @hannahstorm6.