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Stung, I pulled my hands back. “You… must be tired.” The words

sounded ludicrous in this setting, but I needed some sort of

normalcy, anything. The shocked, numb part of my mind took this

mental breadcrumb and set off down its track, resolutely planning

the essentials.

Tea. Warm clothes. Food. A hot bath


“Come on,” he said, and stooped to pick up an Adidas duffel, and

what looked like a rolled-up sleeping bag. “I’m starving.”

“Very nice,” he said, as I led him through the interior of my

cramped houseboat. “Love the portholes. Very retro.” There was

something in the tone of his voice that added a painful bitterness to

his words, some indefinable darkness that look the words and

twisted them. Not directed at me, I could tell, but whatever it was

had him wound as tight and tense as a bowstring.

“Ah, the old Kalashnikov,” he smiled briefly as his eyes alighted

upon my baby hung on the wall over the wood-burner. “Still your

favourite, eh?”

His words transported me, and suddenly, I was back in the

desert again, fingers slippery around the stock, straining to see

through the shimmering heat haze and falling bombs. I realised I

was rubbing my ears.

Hakim caught sight of the kitchen, gave a gusty sigh of relief, and

started towards it. “Excellent. I need coffee.”

I lingered uncertainly as he padded through the kitchen, still

seeming ghostly and insubstantial. The interior of my houseboat

was a mess of tangled clothes, books, bottles, and papers, drawings

and diagrams in clean, stark lines like coloured sunbursts. On my

psychologist’s recommendation– art therapy was a surprisingly

common staple of war vets.

The kitchen bench was gritted and stained, blackened in some

places where the smell of cooking meat had triggered my episodes.

Had I known he was coming, I would have cleaned up. I arranged

the scattered pill bottles and other medication in neat lines by the

window, swept the wrappers off the counter into the bin, stacked

the magazines in a pile, and looked up to find Hakim looking

bemusedly at me.

I took a breath. Better now than later. “I thought you were dead.”

Out in the open, the words sounded aggressive, confrontational.

His gaze darkened. “I might as well have been. But I’m back


Courage To Live