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
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
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