She thought it was an old fashioned word, something they used in the First World War, maybe the second. What she did know was they say it three times, to show it’s a real emergency and not just someone talking about or a mis-hearing.
So she imagined they’d use wind up bush telephones to call from the trenches, not from a barren street in Afghanistan.
He’d not been the one to make the call. It was too late for him by then and for most of the men. They’d heard a baby crying hard and followed the sound into a deserted building. Only it wasn’t a baby and it wasn’t deserted. It was a reel-to-reel recording and an ambush.
The first three men were shot down at the doorway. The others ran but were met in the street outside by loyalist fighters with firepower sold by a friendly government in friendlier times. Those who ran on even after being shot didn’t outrun the grenades lobbed by the retreating fighters.
One sapper, seventeen and already lived too long, managed to operate his radio with his remaining hand. He managed two maydays and no location before passing out for the last time. It took hours to decide if a rescue mission should follow them, more to eventually get there. By then it was too late for them all.
She rested a hand on a boy’s small blond head, stroking hair as he slept. Eight years old. Too young to have many special memories of a father at war most of his life and too old to forget him without any effort. She would have to tell him, soon anyway.
She wanted to call out mayday and not stop, certainly not at three times. She would stop when it was no longer a tragedy.