Everybody calls him Hodgy.
If you were going to put a character like him into a movie script, you’d definitely come up with another name. ‘Hodgy’ is such a mundane, almost cosy name for a man who is such a weapon.
‘Weapon’ happens to be Hodgy’s highest term of praise for others — Bow, the young boxer, for instance, is a weapon, with his spare physique, quick fists and whipped, high kicks. But anyone pushing on and getting things done can also be a weapon. Even I’ve been pronounced a weapon for my land-clearing efforts.
But Hodgy — just look at him — is a weapon if ever you saw one. Not some mass-produced mechanism, though; more like a hand-crafted Samurai sword, perfectly balanced and honed to an edge so sharp it almost cuts your eyes to look at it.
In a tourist paradise like Phuket you see a lot of heavily muscled guys driving around on their motorcycles displaying their sculpted torsos to the mirror of the world. Hodgy is a little different. Not the biggest, necessarily. But whereas others look like they were drawn by Max Fleischer or Walt Disney, Hodgy is pure da Vinci, Vetruvian Man, all perfect proportion, physical poise, and coiled power: the golden ratio in human form, and these snaking muscles were not made in the gym.
‘No one ever built anything in a gym,’ says Hodgy, ‘except their ego.’
Not that Hodgy hasn’t had his own problems with ego. It’s natural. But there’s something beyond narcissism in his attitude. Four one thing, he’s a fighter, so these muscles are not just decorative. It was as an infantryman, in mountain jungles and high deserts, carrying heavy packs and sniper rifles, that he laid down the basis of the exceptional physical strength he now possesses. He’s honed that in the ring with endless repetitions, and on the roads, where the man runs fifteen or twenty kilometres, barefoot every day.
Hodgy does not do shoes. He was in boots for four years, and that was enough. Now he is always barefoot. As he walks he feels with his toes. No snake or centipede will ever sting him, you feel. His senses are too sharp. Animals will sense the purity of his energy and let him pass.
‘I was an extremely… efficient… soldier,’ he says. ‘Like if you told me, go over there, shoot that person, I would do it.’
He doesn’t often talk about stuff like this, and when he does, his eyes go opaque, dark like gun barrels. It’s something he can do at will with his eyes. I’ve seen him do it once in a while when there’s some conflict in the air or he has to explain how things are. Which is not often.
So what happened? What was it that turned Corporal Kailen Hodgekiss from an efficient soldier of the Anglo-American empire into this forest Yoki, this barefoot warrior-hermit meditating at half-moon in a boxing ring in the jungle?
He does not talk easily, does not really trust words.
Words are actually a very crude form of communication, says Hodgy.
And yet he has an engaging way of speaking. He’d be the last to claim that he was especially articulate, but he chooses his words carefully, and has that knack of amplifying what he is saying by saying less.
So he leaves a lot of space when he talks. And less can be more, if someone’s listening. It’s light on detail, high on resonance. It is what it is.
So having joined up for what he thought were patriotic reasons, did he gradually become more and more disillusioned over the course of four years, and get out straight away at the end of his stint? Was there a turning point, something specific that happened?
Or did he come out of the army after one four-year term and suddenly ‘wake up’, as they say? Did someone or something switch him on to certain realities concerning the particular wars he’d been used in?
When he came out of the army, he told me, he was fine. The traumas were buried deep, beyond consciousness. It was only much later that they came back to find him.
And I don’t know what that feels like, have no way to imagine the situations he had been in, or picture the hard-core, visceral memories backed up and waiting to spool through his mind, in relays of horror, fear and guilt.
I don’t know. But it seems that at some stage, this thing they call PTSD is going to grab you by the arm and say, Listen, you remember all that shit you lived through?
You survived it but that’s not enough; now you’re gonna have to live through it all over again.
When it was happening, survival was all, and you survived, and prospered. But you only do that by living in a state of mind which is both heightened and limited, narrowed to a kind of laser-beam state of consciousness, trained and targeted, a weaponised mental state consisting of a galvanised brew of group-think, mind control, self-discipline, ego and raw adrenalin.
And I suppose that the result of the post-traumatic crisis is that this construct collapses in on itself, and reality sets in — the reality of what they used you for. What they turned you into. What you became.