There in the crumbling gaunt Red Cross hotel,
Its race-track grandeur spurned by Army feet,
I lingered in the lounge among the few
Sad soldiers there, and fell asleep.
I woke at ten and found myself in hell -
My time was overstayed: I would not get
Away to London, but would have to keep
To barracks: ‘No more week-end pass for you!’
I ran the whole way back, along that street
Of sleazy stucco villas to the gate;
In darkness met the guard I never knew.
He shone his flashlight on my pass: ‘You’re late,
Soldier, and I’ll have to turn this in.’
His voice was low: we might have been two friends
Together in the same mistake. ‘I’m due
To go to London, and it matters. Can
You help me?’ Even now that minute tends
From him to me, from me to him. He shone
The flashlight on my face, then clicked it off.
‘I shouldn’t do this, pal, but, okay, you’re
On time. Now get the hell in there. Be sure
To have a drink for me in London.’ Safe
Again, I said: ‘Thanks, thanks a lot.’ And softly
Walked away. I never knew his face.
I never knew his name. What he had done,
An unguarded kindness, made me feel the grace
Of being brothers. And that war he won.