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Courage To Live

I narrowed my eyes. “Where were you?”

He flinched, abruptly, violently, as though he’d been shot. “Please,

don’t ask me that,” he whispered. “I can’t… I can’t talk about it now.


Uneasy, I held his gaze for a long moment, chewing my lip,

mentally going over the eight months he’d been away. Questions

gathered and fizzed on my tongue, like bubbles in a soda can.

Waiting for answers, I knew, which would not be forthcoming.

“Please,” Hakim forced a smile, his eyes distant. His gaze went

over the top of my head, unseeing.

Thousand-mile stare

. “Don’t worry

about me. You just keep doing what you do.”

It was meant to be a preventative raid, part of an ongoing series of

campaigns to keep the rebels massing in the north from capturing

the city again, a preventative measure.

We parachuted in about half a kilometre outside the city,

plummeting through the densely packed leaves, before furling our

parachutes and setting off at a steady jog towards the outskirts of

the city. I followed my unit carefully, keeping quiet and to the

shadows, and Hakim fell in beside me. My partner was young, dark,

and dove-eyed, with corkscrewed hair, and a cigarette seemingly

permanently glued between his lips, moving unsteadily through the

undergrowth. Nervous.

Muffled grunts and curses exploded out of the town square

ahead and the almost non-existent light glinted off the muzzle of a

hand gun. As we neared the fighting, the smoke, melee of bodies,

chatter of machine guns, and sharp report of pistols made it difficult

to tell how many were ours, and how many were the enemy. Soon,

the streets were swarming with people, too many people, or so it


First things first. The bullet flew true to the streetlamp, shattering

it and raining glass on the attackers below as the bulb flashed and

failed. Use the bench as a springboard to leap over their

blind shots, sinking a knife into a shoulder and ripping it free.

The scream this time was higher pitched, wild with shock.

Pure killing moves. Forget any notions of fair play or honour,

save for helping the person next to you, and fighting the urge to

leave the boy behind, because he was too slow. He could take out of

the bigger ones, while I could get the fast, little ones when they got