x Prologue then pressed it flat against his forehead. In that instant, he felt he had been branded.
The sensation triggered a volley of thoughts. First: the certainty he was about to be killed. Second: the certainty that the private would die next.The third certainty was, paradoxically, harder to bear: both their deaths would be his fault because he had broken the one unbreakable commandment drummed into him since his sergeant-major father packed him off to military boarding school aged thirteen: never go anywhere without your weapon.
Hugh froze and it seemed like a very long time before the man with the pistol began to speak.
‘Fuck off back to England!’ he shouted. ‘We don’t need your help.’
Hugh edged backwards, then turned and stumbled towards the truck. As he ran, his mind began rehearsing what it would feel like if a bullet slammed into the back of his skull.
‘I had tears streaming down by then. I was waiting for my face to explode,’ Hugh recalled. ‘I couldn’t even breathe.’
He clambered into the cab and saw his humiliation reflected in the face of the private. Hugh’s rifle was where he had left it – wedged beside his seat.
‘When I got up close and he could see I actually had tears down my face, I was like: “Fuck off. Let’s go.”’
Hugh told the driver never to tell anyone what he had seen. And then a loop began to play, a loop that would only get louder as the years went by: You’re not all that, when it comes down to it.You’re not all that, at all.