As I pull up a torn fold up deck chair beside his, I can’t help but notice his bare legs and feet looking rather pale and blue in comparison with the rest of his body.
The first words to leave his mouth, yell, “Look!” in a harsh Aussie accent. Followed by a finger pointing up at the tree behind me, “Can you see that red Cockatoo over there?”
Confused and unexpected by his spontaneous excitement I turn around with high hopes to see a red Cockatoo in the tree, but what follows soon after is only a brief wave of disappointment, finding no trace or sound of any animal, only an abundance of dying leaves instead.
Unsure with what to say, I mumble politely, “Ermm no, I can’t. Sorry.”
In a harsh and disappointed tone of voice, he mutters, “That’s the trouble with you city folk, you look but you don’t see.”
I sit and wait for the following words.
“A lot of tourists come over here looking for wildlife but the majority of em’ end up leaving the bush seeing less than what they expected. It’s because they don’t bloody look ard’ enough, that’s why!”
In an angry and impatient sort of gesture, he dives his hand into the right-hand pocket of his tattered deck chair to pull out a cigarette and attempts to light it with a shaky hand. “It’s because folks nowaday’s have no patience to look at things, half the time they don’t see what’s there! Too busy on the damn phones if you ask me, it will be the ruin of us all.
“If you really want to see the Cockatoo, look!”
5 seconds later, he impatiently mutters, “Can you not see it?”
With a great deal of effort, I take a hard long glare into the dead tree, unexpecting to find any sort of life, since concluding that this man’s supposed cockatoo is most likely a result of his heat-stroke hallucinations. After scanning and scanning for what feels like an awkward eternity, I mutter under my breath, “I’m sorry mate but I really can’t see any bird.”
“Open your eyes and look! Clear your mind and try to focus on what’s there! ” He yells.
I can see from his fingers, gripping the deck chair, and his frequent puffs of smoke through his nostrils, his frustration is building, fast, intensely… “Do you see it yet?” He impatiently mutters again.
Before long I quickly rise from my chair, shuffle back to where he’s positioned, crouch and stare hard into the dried up gum tree’s branches. After looking and looking I still find no trace of a bird, but then, in a sudden wave of stupefied embarrassment, I find myself lost for words. The old man’s tale of the red Cock- atoo living in the dried up gum tree springs to life. It wasn’t a hallucination after all.There it is, sat peacefully, perched atop one of the branches, minding its own business.
In an embarrassed tone, I say to the old man, “I see it, right there. I don’t know how I missed it, it’s so clear…“
“This is exactly my point son. You look but you don’t see, just like the rest of the city folk.”
“How can you see that bird so fast?” I ask.
“I’m from the bush. If you spend enough time in the bush, it will talk to you. If you learn how to respect it.”
“So, you grew up in the bush?” I nervously repeat in question. “Yeah… I just said that.” mutters the man.
Once the word “Yeah” leaves his mouth, his lips start to quiver, his eyes close and a harsh trip down memory lane looks to begin for him.
A few minutes later his eyes open back up, he looks at me, spits on the ground and says, “The reason why I can see that bird in a split second is because of my grandfather’s teachings from back when I was a kid. My grandfather was a corporal in the army and for the better part of my childhood, when he raised me, he taught me a variety of skills towards the art of war and camouflage. One of the more important lessons he ever taught me was the lesson of understanding what’s around you by using your eyes and ears to see, not look.
He was the first man to tell me to see what’s there instead of just look. Ever since then, from being only a small youngster, I trained myself in the bush and taught myself how to understand and respect it using my eyes and ears. This training eventually led me into the Kong war as a ghost in the jungle.”
“A ghost in the jungle? What’s that?”
“Have you seen the movie Rambo with that Sylvester Stallone fella?”
“Yeah…” “I was basically Aussie Rambo, but without all the explosive Hollywood bow and arrow bullshit. I was one of the guys that would disappear into the jungle with only a gun, camera and radio for thirty days at a time during the war. I was able to disappear for a month, live off the grid without the need for supplies, to remove myself from existence when inside the jungle. For the time in the jungle, my mission was to secretly track the Kong’s progression and movements. For example, if I found tire marks I would discreetly track the marks until discovering the source and take photos and notes of the whereabouts of the source” The man looks down to his pale right foot and uses both hands to move it from the ground to a stool beside.
Are you ok?” I ask.
“Yeah… I have MS, so sometimes it’s hard for me to move. I’ve got these pills, (shakes the bottle of pills in his chair’s right arm) to help me but half the time they do fuck all. I’ve only got a few years left in my legs… Can’t work now because nobody will hire me, I’m sick on paper, they can’t insure me. Some days I’m right as rain, others I’m like a bloody vegetable. You can already see my legs skin colour turning pale to shit.”
I sit silently, unsure what to say.
The old man breaks silence with, “I trained myself to sleep for thirty minutes a day back in the jungle, I did this because sleep is a risk. To be incognito you need to be aware, not asleep. After the month in the jungle, I would go into a four-day hibernation to regenerate myself to go out again.
Out of nowhere the old man abruptly states, “I only ever had to engage twice. Two shots. Now, after all those years, I still wake up sweating, thinking about those two shots in my nightmares. It’s haunted me my entire life, never goes away. But orders are orders in war. (At this moment he closes his eyes and talks to himself in a fast-paced manner of speech) I did not kill the men the army did. I will never be able to truly explain what war is like if you have never seen it with your own eyes or felt it. To kill a man in war is not emotional it is an action, not personal. When in war you cannot and should not feel, you must just undertake orders. No emotion. No feelings. If the army tells you to engage and kill, you need not to think, just engage and kill, it’s an order. This is war. You cannot spare the life of an enemy in war, if you do, you might be the one who ends up dead.”
说着说着，他又换了话题，” 我这辈子只放过两次枪。两枪。到现在，这么多年过去了，我还是会在梦里惊醒，梦里重复回放我放的那两枪。这是我永远都无法摆脱的噩梦。但在战争中，命令就是命令。” 这个时候他闭上了眼睛，加快了语速似乎是在自言自语：“我没有杀那个人，是军队杀的。如果你没有亲眼见过或感受过战场，我是永远没办法跟你解释什么是战争。在战场上杀人，不是被情绪所操控的，而是一种行为（指令），跟个人是无关的。在战争中，你不能也不应该有感情，你必须服从命令。没有情感，没有感情。如果军队告诉你要交火要杀人，你不需要思考，只要照做就行了。这就是命令。这就是战争。你不能在战场上饶恕敌人的性命，如果你这样做了，那最后，死的就是你了。”
The old man opens his eyes and looks up at the red Cockatoo with a grim smile.
Still unsure of what to say, I say, “War sounds horrible, I would hate to be put into your situation. I bet you were a happy man for the war to be over and come home.”
“I was not happy. I didn’t want the war to end. I loved my time in the jungle. I was bloody good at it. I felt more scared to come home from the war than be in it. Back home I had nothing, I was a nobody, useless in the peaceful world. The only valuable skills I knew were only useful in times of war… Not peace. So when I entered back into a world of peace, I was useless. Unemployed for over a year until finding employment as a fisherman. I guess the only use for my skills in war, now, is to catch the sight of a red Cockatoo faster than a young buck like yourself.”
“What’s your name?” I ask the man.
“My name is Jackson.” He replies.