Who Trains My Hands for War

chinese grenades

I’ve killed two people since I landed in Antarctica. One of them was in self defense, and the other, the Navy SEAL, well, you could at least argue self-preservation. But staring into that room full of guns, and the crooked path that lay ahead, I knew that once I slung one of those assault rifles around my chest, or clipped a grenade to my belt, I would no longer be just some hapless victim of circumstance. Whatever moral counterweight that had balanced the choices I’d made in the past… was about to come unhinged forever.

I glanced at Yumi, then stepped inside.

There were at least fifty Chinese-made AK-47’s racked side by side on wooden shelves, plastic drawers brimming with 9mm and .45 pistols, and scores of clips pre-loaded with ammunition. Leather gun harnesses hung on pegs above a couple of rectangular wooden boxes stuffed with paper ticking and hand grenades lined up in neat little rows like cartons of eggs. On the far wall was a rack of thin-bladed swords. Stunned, I gaped at the tiny arsenal.

“What in the hell does a whaling ship need all of this for?”

Yumi looked away, as if she were trying to process the English.

I did a little mime of a fisherman reeling in a catch, then looked side to side with my arms out. “Why?”

“Ah,” she said, a flash of understanding crossing her face. “In case of… pie-reh-to.”

“Pie-reh… oh, pirates?”

Un, hai. Pie-reh-to, deshou?

I laughed. “I didn’t realize Antarctica was such a hotbed of pirate activity.”

Yumi set her gun down on the table and raised her eyebrows to me. “Wayne-san,” she urged.

“Right. Okay.” I looked up at the wall of death, and grabbed a harness from a peg. I loosened the straps, and shrugged into it, then took a 9mm from a drawer. I ran my finger along the cold, metal barrel, and turned it over in my hands. Chinese characters were etched along the barrel and the handle. “Hey, what does this—”

“Watch,” Yumi said, snatching the gun away from me.

“Hey, I just wanted to know—”

Yumi raised her hand to shut me up. She pressed a lever above the grip and yanked the slide back. Showing it to me, she said, “Open.” She grabbed a clip from the drawer, jammed it in underneath the grip, and clicked the lever again. The slide released and shot forward with a ka-chink. “Closed.” Yumi flicked a lever on the slide and the hammer snapped shut. “Uncock.”

I let out a deep breath.

Looking downward, Yumi held the gun out in both hands, like a bowl of rice, and offered it to me with a deep bow.

“Something tells me that sailor wasn’t your first career,” I said, slowly accepting the gun.

Yumi cocked her head slightly. “Wakaranai,” she said. “No understand.”

“Just remind me never to lend you money,” I quipped.

She shook her head, then repeated the lesson for the AK-47. She slung it over my chest and tugged on the straps of my gun harness, making sure it was tight. When she was satisfied, Yumi began filling the little pockets with 9mm clips, shoving them in, and giving each one a double tap with her palm.

I felt like my mother was getting me ready for my first day of kindergarten. Bad, evil kindergarten.

“But mom, all the kids are going to make fun of me,” I joked.

Yumi was too busy clipping hand grenades on my harness to reply. I rolled my eyes and watched her slide the little key rings onto the hoops on my waist belt. She bit her lip as she was fastening them, and after each one clicked into place she’d tap on it, then nod her head slightly, almost like a little bow. I smiled a little.

When she was done, Yumi stood up straight and laid her hands on my shoulders. “Show time.”

“Wait,” I said. I looked her up and down, then pointed at the machine gun slung around my chest. “What about you?”

Un,” she replied, then brushed past me. At the far wall, Yumi looked up, and plucked one of the swords off the rack. She held the blade out vertically, then flicked her wrist and swung the sword side to side with a sobering whoosh-whoosh-whoosh. She dropped the blade to her side and pointed her brown eyes at me. “Only this.”

I grinned widely. “I can’t tell if that’s the scariest… or the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

The corners of Yumi’s mouth turned up slightly. “Ganbatte, Wayne-san.”

“I have no idea what that means,” I said, yanking the 9mm out of the holster. “But let’s get the fuck off this boat.”