Courage To Live
It was a cold, rainy morning when he arrived. I was dreaming about
the war, and the dull whine of falling bombs in the desert. When I
woke up, he was standing outside my bedroom door, haunted and
unsmiling. His clothes were shining wet and looked as though they’d
been pulled from a cupboard. Backlit by the ghostly light of the hall,
he looked spectral, ephemeral, a waking dream that might vanish at
For a moment, dream and reality threatened to coincide.
A war-torn desert replaced a peaceful room, fatigues replaced
pyjamas; sand replaced worn floorboards. Like a figure in fog, the
real world gradually asserted itself; rain hammering a cold glass
pane, a dark room swathed in papers, and the gaunt figure of my old
friend in the doorway, shining with light and water, unbelievably,
“Hello,” he said in Arabic. A wry, uncertain smile unfurled slowly
across his face, as though he’d forgotten how to do it properly. “I’m
I stared at him, and waited for emotion to register. Shock, relief,
rage, anything. But the reality of his presence did nothing but slowly
seep through, leaving the dull, numb ache of disorientation. He had
been gone, but now…
“It’s raining quite a bit,” he said.
“You… you’re here. I thought you had gone.” It felt strange to be
speaking Arabic again, but then, everything in this moment – this
dark, rainy, bewildering moment – felt strange.
A shadow passed over his face. “I was. But I’m back now.”
Cold and unfeeling, I rolled out of bed and hit the floor,
stretching my toes along the grainy floorboards. The drag of his
breath halted for a moment, quizzical. Feeling my way through the
dark, I shuffled across the room, racked back the blinds, and cracked
open the window, breathing in deeply the cold, damp sea air.
Everything smelt of brine and rain.
I turned and, subconsciously, perhaps, a memory from our time
in the desert, went to hold him. His entire stance changed the
minute I got within reaching distance. His eyes went wide, nostrils
flaring, jaw clamping shut so tightly it had to hurt, head tossing like
a wild horse’s. “Don’t,” he bit out, once the involuntary tremors
ceased. His gaze crept haltingly to mine. “Please, don’t.”