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“I have the guts to die, but do you have the guts to live?” he

quoted, long, dark hair falling into his eyes. His face was impassive,

tiger-striped in the light from the lamps. A gunshot cracked against

the stillness of the night, and I jumped. “I’ve been thinking about it

a lot, lately, what with the war and all. Because, you know…” he let

the sentence drop, and barked a laugh.

I punched his shoulder affectionately. “Don’t you go and die on

me, now. We’ve got a war to get through.”

So flippant back then! Had I known what I know now about the

mental cost of war, I would probably have been more tactful.

But it was an interesting thought, nonetheless, disquieting and

almost ironic, here in a war-zone at the end of the world.

I found Hakim curled up on my living room floor the next morning,

arms over his head and eyes closed, and, in fits and starts, received

his story.

He couldn’t even remember what he’d been doing, he told me.

Reading, watching TV, whatever, when suddenly he’s on the floor,

eyes rammed closed and writhing, fingernails embedding crescents

in his skull as he struggled to hold onto himself through those


The thump of a windblown book hitting the floor, I realised

later, can sound uncannily like a gunshot.

His heart was racing, almost palpitating in his chest, oxygen was

just out of reach, every hair and nerve in his body attuned to the

slightest sound, the slightest current of air, the slightest vibration,

and he was shaking, trembling, shivering.

He told me where he’d been the past eight months.

He told me about the failed raid, how they’d stormed them,

found him, and dragged him blindfolded to a bunker underground,

where they held him and bound him and tortured him in the dark.

I thought about all I’d heard of torture –how many troops had

raided places like that in the past to discover gruesome anomalies;

prisoners of war bled dry, humans kept under solitary confinement

and tortured for days on end to test the authenticity of papers

written by madmen; shackles and syringes and knives.

I held my partner as his seizures subsided, and thought again of

Tennessee Williams. I thought of all I knew of bravery, and

wondered what it felt like, truly having the courage to live.

I held him as the sun rose.

Courage To Live