NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Volume 16.2: Fall 2016 - Page 12

“ Tillman , for Christ ’ s sake !” I shouted hysterically , having ducked under the rope and pushed and shoved my way forward through the cordon of mps , midshipmen and medics frantically at work assisting the survivors , as one by one , each stunned and frequently weeping gi was plucked from the water , loaded aboard rescue baskets and dropped aboard the top deck of our ship by the frantic cranes .
Apparently , he had fainted and fallen off the life raft moments before the helicopter ( one of those early gawky crane-like machines , not the deadly earnest flying work-horses of today ’ s war movies ) had finished easing it to the deck , for now a nurse was helping him to his feet while a medic gave him an injection and wrapped a blanket around his shoulders to keep him warm and conscious while waiting for a medic to load him on another stretcher and be hustled below .
Incredibly , and in spite of the noise and frantic confusion around him , he looked my way and smiled —
“ D ., is that you ? Then you must be dead like me —”
When he said that his manic smile froze on his lips and his eyes rolled upward , and then he must have fainted , and since casualty lists , even aboard ship , remained top secret until the notification of kin , I had no way of knowing whether Tillman was alive or Tillman was dead —
Until one balmy day a week or so later — shortly after our section of the troop convoy had split off from the other ships scheduled to continue on to northern European ports and was heading north through the Canary Islands toward Casablanca — I ran into him again , this time presiding over one of two chow lines that stretched around the entire perimeter of the lifeboat deck , now dressed in neatly pressed fatigues but with a cook ’ s bonnet perched jauntily on his head , as he presided over an enormous steaming fifty-gallon pot of stew and splashed mashed potatoes and stew on our mess kits while carrying on a cheerful banter of obscenities and inane comments to entertain his captive audience , until suddenly I was next in line —
“ Well , lookee here , Mr . D . —! Whatchu doin ’ in a lowly gi chow line like this ? Shee-it , man , I ’ m afraid we ’ re fresh out of caviar and pheasant ’ s breast ! All we got left for gentlemen folks like you is hog maws and black-eyed peas simmered five days and five nights in gorilla piss —!”
And right away , eyes bulging with laughter and love , he frantically began to overload my mess kit with triple portions of everything on the menu , and in those precious few minutes of this , our miraculous reunion somehow managed to tell me that starting the following day he ’ d been temporarily assigned to kitchen duty at the on-board so-called “ officer ’ s club ” where , so he claimed , his job had been serving peanuts and beer to the officers and nurses while they watched dirty movies and got each other off —
But then , in the organized chaos of that overloaded troop transport , we lost track of each other until three days later , an hour before lights out , he showed up in our cramped quarters next to the engine room but so drunk and loud , he tripped and fell into the permanent crap game at the bottom of the stairs —
“ Hey , you sad-ass muthafuckers , you know who I am ?” he yelled as he jumped to his feet and assumed a ready-for-the-bell Joe Louis boxing stance . “ I ’ m the lucky nigger survived the enemy ’ s latest model super-torpedo and assigned temporary duty at the Officer ’ s Club ! And you all want to know what I just found out from the horse ’ s mouth or rather the blatherin ’ white-ass mouth of a drunk petty officer ? Something ain ’ t going to make y ’ all very happy , but there ain ’ t no horses aboard this ship or any other ship in the whole fucking convoy ! And without any horses Buffalo troopers ain ’ t Buffalo troopers no more but pure and simple hired laborers — which , if you ask me , means that for the duration of the war the Emancipation Proclamation ’ s been declared null and void , and you-all so-called Buffalo troopers are going back to being what y ’ all do best , common ordinary handkerchief-headed ditch diggers and mule-back stevedores , so what you got to say about that ?”