Part 19: Remembrance

Chapter 1

Spring 1990

“Captain, I hear movement in the back room.”

The soft voice sounded in Jahni’s earpiece, making him turn towards the man ahead of him in the corridor. Jahni raised a hand in acknowledgement and got a wave in return, that he could just see in the dimness.

“Hold position,” Jahni said. “Five and six, to me.” Through his earpiece he heard Madari, outside on the perimeter, ordering the backup into the house. The team had secured most of the rooms already, capturing four suspects and handing them off to the police outside. But a couple of rooms remained and the police said five suspects were in the house.

Two men, Kadry and Hurun, call signs five and six joined him. Jahni made hand signals to follow him. As they moved down the corridor, he heard the reserve come into the house behind them, taking up secondary positions. Jahni led his team to the door of the room at the back of the house.

They hadn’t fired a shot so far in the raid. All the suspects they’d found had surrendered at once. Jahni felt almost disappointed. The same had happened on all the missions the new unit had completed since they started their active service a couple of months ago. No more than minimal resistance. It barely seemed worth them coming to support the police tonight. A village constable could have arrested this lot.

He reminded himself that this meant that so far they’d only gone up against the easily found groups. The loudmouths who drew attention to themselves. You barely needed intel to find those. The day would come, he knew, when they’d be going in after tougher opponents. Meanwhile these raids at least kept them in training.

His team was in position now. The man already at the door spoke softly.

“No voices. I think only one person.”

Jahni nodded and motioned him back a short distance down the hall to give them space. Hearing the noises from inside the room, footsteps, he agreed that it sounded like only one man. One man pacing up and down. Scared and knowing they’d be coming for him soon.

Soon was now.

“Going in,” he told Madari over the radio.


Jahni kicked in the door. It smashed back and the team piled in. One man, as they thought, staggering to a halt as the three black-clad and heavily armed men stormed into the room.

“Drop your weapons, now!” Jahni yelled at him. “On the floor, on your face, do it now!”

The man didn’t drop to the floor as the others had. He didn’t even yell for them not to shoot. Although pale and sweating, a strange smile touched his lips. Jahni saw it then. The belt and the wire that ran from that to a switch in his hand.

“Bomb!” Jahni yelled. “Fall back!”

Madari’s voice echoed the fall back order to everyone in the house, even before Jahni completed his own order. And another voice overlapped Jahni’s own and Madari’s. The suspect. He screamed the words.

“God is great!”

Jahni fired a single shot, high, at the man’s head, going for the kill. It took the bomber in the forehead, and Jahni was already turning before the man fell. He burst from his position like a sprint champion powering off the starting blocks, in case the bomb still…

The explosion picked him up, and bounced him off the door frame, like a football hitting the post, before he spun off and slammed into a wall. He remembered nothing else.


“Captain Jahni, report!” Madari stood up again with the noise of the explosion still ringing in his ears. No answer came from Jahni. Other reports did come in, from men at the back of the house, men inside. And then the voice of number five, Hurun.

“Men down! We need medics!”

At Madari’s signal, the medics ran across the garden at the front of the house. It glittered with broken glass now, sparkling in the glare from the police floodlights set up on the perimeter. Madari followed them, the glass crunching under his boots as he ran up the path, and through the front door that hung off its hinges now.

“Captain Jahni, report!” Madari demanded again as he ran inside and at once started coughing on the dust in the air.

“Captain Jahni is down.” Hurun’s voice again. Not yelling now, a little more controlled as the shock of the blast faded. Madari ran on, following the flashlights the medics carried. He passed one man sitting against the wall, awake, talking to a medic. At the end of the corridor he found Jahni. Hurun and two medics bent over him on the floor. Dust and plaster covered Jahni, who lay on his face. The same dust choked Madari and stung his eyes.

“Report,” he commanded, though hacking coughs.

Hurun looked up. “He’s alive, sir.”

Madari couldn’t see much blood. Jahni’s body armour and helmet would have protected him from shrapnel. The roof and wall had held, so nothing had crushed him. But the blast, the shockwave…

The medics spoke urgently to each other, then one looked up at Madari. “We need the medevac chopper, sir.”

Madari nodded, and walked away from them, needing distance to maintain his strength now. He had to do his job. Stepping back outside, he was forced to spit onto the grass to get rid of the dust coating his mouth.

“Get the medevac chopper here fast,” he ordered on the radio. It was on standby as always during a mission, no more than ten minutes away. “Clear a landing area on the road. And I want everyone out of the house, now. Call bomb disposal. Why weren’t we warned explosives were present?” That last question was aimed at the police commander on the scene. His outraged voice came back.

“We had no reason to suspect.”

Madari glanced over towards the vehicles and lights, wondered if the man was glaring at him right now. He couldn’t see, looking into the floodlights. A strange sound came from that direction. Chanting? After a second he realised it came from the police van which held the already arrested suspects. Chanting in triumph, while their friend lay dead and Madari’s men injured.

“Get the prisoners out of here, now.” Madari said it through gritted teeth. “And search them all again.”

As the police van roared off, the soldiers still inside the house began to come out and withdraw to the perimeter. A medic and another soldier helped out the man he’d seen sitting against the wall, Kadry. He was dazed, and bandages stood out against his torn sleeves, where shrapnel had peppered his arms. But he stopped as the medics moved him down the path.

“He blew himself up, sir,” Kadry said weakly to Madari. “Who would do that? The Captain, he saw it, shot him, but…” He broke off, coughing. Madari touched his shoulder briefly.

“You did well, Kadry. Go. Let the medics take care of you now.”

“Sir, the Captain…”

“Will be fine. Go now.”

They moved him away, towards one of the waiting ambulances. Madari hoped he hadn’t just lied to Kadry about Jahni. He counted the men out until he knew the only ones inside were Hurun, the two medics and Jahni. Reports still flooded into his radio earpiece. The chopper was close now.

He went back inside. Dust still hung in the air, muffling all sounds so he couldn’t hear the voices of his people until he almost reached their location. The medics had Jahni on his back now, his helmet off, and a plastic collar protecting his neck. Even Madari couldn’t recognise him. Camouflage paint, dust and blood obscured Jahni’s features. The floating dust had started to settle on his hair, turning it white.

“Report,” Madari snapped at the medics.

“Head trauma,” one of them said. “Other minor injuries.” He turned to his own radio, speaking to a colleague.

“His helmet’s intact,” Hurun said, holding it up, his eyes wide in his also blackened face. The un-cracked helmet seemed to carry all his hopes for Jahni. Madari took it from him. It was a good one; his men deserved the best quality. It would have protected Jahni against too bad a trauma surely? His skull wasn’t crushed. He didn’t even have a bandage around his head.

“Go and wait for the chopper, Sergeant,” Madari said to Hurun, handing the helmet back to him. “Take care of that.” It had Jahni’s name stencilled on the side, and the words “Who dares, wins” in English. The SAS motto. He was so proud of his training. Madari’s throat seemed to close off, the dust still choking him. Jahni had barely had a chance to start putting that training to use, and now he lay so still under the hands of the two medics working on him.

Hurun took the helmet and vanished into the dusty haze. A moment later two men arrived with a stretcher.

“Got him on a back board already,” one of the first medics said, as his colleagues joined him. “Ready to move.” He scowled up at his commander in a way Madari had come to accept from medics, who he gave a certain amount of latitude. “Clear the way,” the medic snapped, and Madari reluctantly moved off towards the front door again, giving them room to work.

He stepped outside and the noise of the helicopter coming in filled the world. Its lights stabbed down into the road, the landing zone marked with flares. The clearance was tight, Madari saw. As the helicopter descended its rotor blades were barely two or three meters from the houses on either side. The rushing wind flattened plants in small gardens. A shirt that someone had hung from a window to dry blew loose and danced away in the darkness, like a ghost, running from the monster descending from the sky.

That monster touched down, blades slowing, but not stopping, ready for immediate takeoff. Madari could only follow and watch as the medics carried Jahni aboard. The helicopter’s paramedic crew and one of Madari’s field medics climbed in after him. The other medic hurried back, taking Madari’s arm to pull him away as the helicopter roared to full power again. It rose and the pilot must be sweating, Madari thought, trying to keep the rotor blades from scything into a house. Thank God the street had been evacuated, the sleepy residents taken out hours ago now before the pre-dawn raid began.

When the helicopter cleared the rooftops, Madari breathed a sigh of relief. He watched it bank away, picking up speed and height, and setting out across the suburban streets, towards the heart of Az-Ma’ir. When it vanished into the darkness, Madari looked around to see Hurun at his side. For the first time he noticed the man had bandages of his own.

“Why aren’t you in an ambulance?”

“I’m alright, sir.”

“You can let the doctors decide that. Get back to barracks and to the infirmary now.”

Hurun nodded wearily and left with the remaining medic. The chief police officer on the scene approached Madari.

“Demolitions are on their way. Is the house secure?”

“No, it is not secure!” Madari glared at the man. “But nobody is going back inside until the bomb squad gets here. Understood?”

The officer bristled at the tone. “I’m sorry your man is hurt, but we had no reason to think they had explosives.”

“Then you had no reason to call us in at all. If the only weapons you thought they had were a couple of handguns, S.W.A.T. could have handled it.”

“Your role includes police support. We were told we could call on you whenever we need.”

“Support doesn’t extend to hand-holding. What will you have us do next? A school crossing guard?”

This was futile, he realised. He took out his anger and pain on a man he’d have to work with in the future. Useless. They could hash all of this out at a debrief. Now, he had to…

He had to go to the hospital, he had to… And he couldn’t, because the scene was not secure and he was still in command. He took a breath and he swallowed it all down. The shock, the pain, the fear. Crushed it all into a ball inside and went back to work.


It was an hour before he could leave the scene. The bomb squad had arrived and were making a thorough search for more explosives. Madari dismissed his unit to return to barracks, with the promise he would update them as soon as he could on Jahni’s condition. He took his leave from the police chief, in a cold exchange, and got into his staff car.

“The hospital, sir?” Sergeant Sijad, his driver, said.

“You know which one they took him to?”

“Of course, sir.”

Of course he knew which hospital. Madari had been careful not only in his selection of the men to train as Special Forces soldiers, but also for all of the support positions of the unit. From medics to drivers to supply officers, he wanted the best.

Sijad was not only the best driver in the Royal Guard; he had the kind of initiative Madari had become used to back in his days as a guerrilla. He didn’t wait around for the officers to do his thinking for him.

Sijad drove away from the command post, past the police barriers at the end of the street and put his foot down. They flew through the early morning streets and Madari realised Sijad had already worked out the shortest route while waiting for him to leave. He smiled. The best.


And his best soldier lay in a hospital bed now.

Best soldier. Friend. So much more, which he tried to stop himself thinking about. He stood over the bed while nurses monitored the unconscious Jahni. He’d been cleaned up now, his face washed, his clothes cut from him. Madari had been here before, looking down at Jahni in a hospital bed and had hoped he’d never find himself here again.

“Ah, Lieutenant-Colonel Madari, is it?” A white coated doctor came in, a plump middle-aged man, some younger doctors following him. “I’m Doctor Choudhary, I’m a neurologist. The emergency room doctors called me in at once. Excuse me. I will speak to you in a moment.” He hurried over to check the machines and speak to the nurses.

Madari stood back a little, as much as he could bring himself to. Must let the doctors do their jobs.

“Seventeen point six?” Choudhary said. One of the nurses nodded and the doctor shook his head. He spoke to the other doctors who’d followed him in. “The Mannitol is not relieving the inter-cranial pressure fast enough. Organise a move to ICU, we will induce coma immediately.”

He came back to Madari as the young doctors hurried to do his bidding.

“Sir, your officer has swelling of his brain. We’ve done tests, and can find no bleeding, so no surgical intervention is indicated yet, but his brain is under pressure and the drugs we have used so far have not relieved that.”

“You said… a coma.”

“We’re going to induce a coma with barbiturates. We may have to keep him that way for several days.”

“And that cures the swelling?”

“It should. He was brought here quickly, so we’ve been able to intervene before the pressure rise got too high. It’s serious, but I am confident.”

“I see. Thank you.”

The doctor turned away then, to start supervising the nurses as they prepared to move Jahni. A sound from Jahni made him look up and frown. Madari, already looking at Jahni, frustrated at not being able to get closer, saw Jahni’s eyes open, and heard his soft moan.

Madari’s heart leapt for joy. Moving, eyes open, he really is alive he really is…

Then Jahni didn’t just moan, he yelled, a cry of shock, and lashed out towards the nurses, who caught his arms. He yelled again, but words this time, words that shocked Madari, profanities in Arabic and English and threats towards the nurses holding him down

He thinks he’s under attack, Madari realised, he’s confused. Choudhary filled a syringe and hurried to the IV stand. Jahni went on fighting the nurses, too weak to break free of them, but still yelling threats. The other doctors came piling into the room.

“Captain!” Madari tried the command voice, something Jahni normally obeyed instinctively, hoped it would calm him. “Stand down. Stop fighting.”

Jahni turned to look at him, looking past the nurses, looking into Madari’s eyes. Then he looked away. The sedative Choudhary had injected into the IV took effect and Jahni flopped back onto the pillow. The nurses held him until he lay quietly and Choudhary started to give them orders.

Madari could only barely hear the doctor’s voice. He staggered back until he bumped into the wall, ears buzzing, knees shaking.

One instant in time played over and over in his mind. Jahni had looked at him. Had looked right into his eyes. And his eyes had held not the slightest sign of recognition.

He didn’t know me.

Chapter 2

In a near-daze, Madari followed the medics and Jahni to the Intensive Care Unit and watched them setting him up on yet more machines. When they put the tube down his throat, Madari had to look away. The induced coma meant he had to be on a ventilator and Madari hated to see that. It was like a living death. If only a machine kept a person breathing, then were they already dead?

Was Jahni dead in another way? That instant in time came to him again. He didn’t recognise Madari. What if the head injury had destroyed Jahni’s memory? No, Madari thought, it hadn’t destroyed it totally. He still remembered how to speak, in Arabic and English. But could he have lost the memory of his own identity? And of everyone he knew?

“He is doing well,” Choudhary said, coming up to Madari, who stood watching from the nurse’s station. “We’ve established him on the vent and his blood oxygenation is good. He’s stable.”

“Doctor.” Madari feared asking it, but he had to. “When he regained consciousness before he seemed… confused.”

“Yes, he was altered somewhat. That’s to be expected with this kind of injury.”

“And I noticed, he looked at me, and… he didn’t seem to know me.”

The doctor nodded and made a note on his chart. “Oh yes, again, to be expected. Once the swelling recedes he should be fine.”

“Should be?”

“Well, with a head injury, we usually can’t assess the full damage until the patient regains consciousness.”

“So, there could be long term effects?”

“Possibly. But I’m confident of a good outcome in this case. Excuse me a moment.” He went back to Jahni’s bedside, speaking to the staff, their talk too technical for Madari to follow.

But only one word filled Madari’s head now anyway. Should. Jahni should be fine. Not will be for sure. Well of course the doctor couldn’t know for sure, and they always hedged anyway. They never made promises.

What if in this case that caveat took effect and he wasn’t fine? If his memory didn’t return? Would that be worse than his death? He’d still be walking around, Jahni’s face, Jahni’s voice; but his personality, their history together, all gone.

It would be as if something had possessed him, stolen his body. It would be as if he had become a zombie. Walking dead. Madari shivered. Horrible. His identity just… gone. Mind, personality, life, their feelings… He choked, and put a hand over his mouth, fearing he would vomit as the full horror of it rose like bile in his throat.


A voice came from beside him. Sijad. Madari took a breath to bring himself under control and turned to his driver. Sijad’s expression changed to concern at once, but he didn’t say anything. Initiative was one thing, but impertinence was another. Stick with business.

“Sir, Colonel Rahama called. He’s waiting for your report.”

Madari knew he had to go back to barracks, check on his men, and report to the colonel. He had to leave Jahni alone again. That made him sick and afraid. But he had no choice.

Duty called.


At the barracks, Madari went first to the infirmary, to check on the other injured men. Only Kadry and Hurun remained there and they were more concerned about Jahni than about their own injuries. He told them what he could, and reassured them he’d keep them updated.

The rest of the unit were still awake and waiting in their barracks. Like the injured men, they wanted to know about Jahni.

“I’ll update you with any change,” Madari said, after reporting what he knew. “Now, I’m ordering you all to rest. We’ll have the full debriefing later.”

One debriefing wouldn’t wait though and he headed for Rahama’s office, to find the Colonel in a sombre mood.

“Faris,” he shook Madari’s hand, holding on to it for some time. “A bad business. I’ve had reports from the scene. Please, sit, there’s coffee here.”

Madari sank into a leather armchair with a sigh, grateful to get off his feet, and very grateful for the coffee. As the rising sun crept across the floor of the office, he gave his report, first on Jahni’s condition and then on the operation.

“I’ll be having an emergency meeting today with the police chief,” Rahama said. “I’m not happy with their intelligence failures.”

“We’d have approached the mission differently if we’d known there were likely to be explosives there or that we were dealing with…” Madari searched for the right word. “Fanatics.” Yes, that seemed right. The police intelligence reports had called the men radicals, but a mere radical, or even an ordinary terrorist wouldn’t kill himself like that, would he? Only a man gone beyond radicalism and into something irrational could do that.

“It’s a very disturbing development,” Rahama agreed. “Not something we’ve seen here yet.”

How many more men might there be out there ready to do that? Madari wondered. They needed better intelligence about these groups.

“Do you want me to accompany you to the meeting with the police?” Madari asked.

“No, you’ve been up all night, you need rest. And to clean up.”

Madari winced as he realised he was still in field battledress and covered in dust, dirt and blood from the scene.

“I’m sorry, Colonel, I haven’t had time yet.”

“That’s all right. But, I mean it about rest. And not in a hospital waiting room. I want you to go home. I have sent a man to the hospital to stand guard. He will report to me at once if there is any change and I will page you.”

Madari accepted the order, as he realised just how weary he was now. He went to the officer’s locker room, hoping a long shower would give him time to collect himself. But as he stood under the hot water, that moment kept coming back to him.

He didn’t know me.

If Jahni had forgotten him, then he’d forgotten their recent… indiscretion. Recent? Not so recent, almost four months ago. It felt like yesterday. Madari thought about it every day, even though neither of them ever spoke about it. If Jahni had forgotten him, then he’d forgotten the feelings that led to that indiscretion.

Could that be a good thing? Perhaps then they could build a new friendship. A more socially acceptable one. A more professional one. Could that really happen though? Even if Jahni no longer had those feelings, Madari still did. He was the one who had lost control that night after all.

What if he lost control again and this time Jahni reacted with horror and disgust? That would be… well, he didn’t think he could survive having his heart ripped out and shredded in front of his eyes. At least on that insane night he’d known – or almost known, been almost sure – that Jahni returned his feelings. Without that certainty, he’d never have dared however crazed he’d been.

Leaving the shower, he dried off and put on his uniform, hoping for the strength that came with it.

How much worse it would be to go back to those long ago days, when he knew he loved Jahni, and didn’t dare to believe those feelings were anything but unrequited. Lately, despite the constant pain of loving someone he couldn’t be with, he took a kind of comfort in knowing that someone loved him in return. In knowing that they had something at least in the abstract.

Could he believe Jahni might fall in love with him over again? Was he vain enough to believe that could happen? How much of love depended on timing and circumstances? Two people, who might not give each other a second glance in one time and place, might find each other in different circumstances and consider themselves soulmates.

Soulmates. Yet Jahni believed he didn’t have a soul.

Madari sighed, doing up the last button of his jacket. He must stop letting his thoughts take this dark path. The doctor was confident. The confusion would almost certainly just be temporary. It made no sense to relive that moment over and over.

He looked in his pockets for his pager, but didn’t find it. It must be in his office. He hurried there, suddenly desperate to have the small machine in his hand. He’d grown tired of it a couple of days after he first started carrying it, once the Special Forces Unit became active. But now, he felt as if it connected him directly to Jahni.

He found the pager and stood by his desk, inserting fresh batteries. Just to be sure. In fact he slipped a couple of spare ones into pocket. Just to be sure. His fingers brushed against his worry beads wristband in the pocket. He usually carried it in there when in uniform. He let his fingers run over the shapes of the beads for a moment. Then he took the wristband from his pocket and put it on, pulling his sleeve well down over it.

Could Jahni forget giving that to him? They say with gifts that “it’s the thought that counts”. What happened when the gift remained and the thought behind it was lost? How could such a strong emotion be so fragile? He’d like to think that only death was stronger than love, but that could be mere romantic fantasy.

Love could be created in an instant. At first sight, as the saying went. Something he felt sure had happened to him, however long he had tried to deny the feelings for Jahni. Could love be destroyed in an instant too, by a simple bang on the head?

But it wasn’t a simple bang on the head was it? And death was involved. The death of the man who blew himself up. If his death had robbed Madari of Jahni’s love… If it had robbed Jahni of his memories, of his family…

“Still here, Faris?”

Rahama’s voice made him turn. He held up the pager. “Just picking this up, sir.”

Rahama studied him for a moment. “Have you eaten anything today?”

“I’ll get something when I get home.”

“No, you’ll join me in the mess for breakfast, I think.” He had a look on his face, somewhere between disapproval and concern. But after a moment, it softened into a smile. “You have to take better care of yourself, my old friend. Or perhaps while your usual guardian is in the hospital, I will take care of you.”

They walked together while Madari worried about Rahama’s words. Did he give the impression to his commanding officer that he needed to be taken care of? That couldn’t be good. But this man was more than his commander, he was a friend, had been for a long time.

Faris had been thirteen when his grandfather first brought Rahama home. He often brought guests home now, Royal Guard officers usually. Faris’s father had died only a few months earlier and Ahmed missed his son’s company in the evening. He sought out a distraction, or even a substitute. That day, late in the afternoon, Ahmed called Faris over from where he sat in a shady spot in the garden, reading.

“Faris, this is Lieutenant Rahama,” Ahmed said, introducing a young man, not yet thirty, who smiled at Faris. A more genuine smile than the ones from other officers Ahmed had introduced him to. Most of them took no interest in the boy, unless they thought being kind to him would put them in Ahmed’s good books.

“Hello, Faris, it’s good to meet you. Your grandfather talks so much about you that I feel as if I already know you.”

Ahmed looked almost flustered then. “Don’t flatter the child’s ego,” he chided. “He thinks quite enough of himself already.”

Rahama bowed his head to Ahmed, but turned to Faris again. “What are you reading?”

Faris showed him the book of poetry.

“Oh, Jean de La Fontaine.” Rahama leafed through the book. “En Francais?”

“My father taught me French,” Faris said. Rahama looked delighted.

“I went to university in Paris. I hope we can talk about poetry sometime.”

Faris just shrugged and looked away. No. He had talked about poetry with his father. This wasn’t his father.

“Come along, Lieutenant,” Ahmed said, tapping his shoulder. “I want a cigar.” He walked off towards the house.

“Yes, sir,” Rahama said. But he didn’t follow Ahmed right away. He handed the book back, though held onto it when Faris reached for it. “I only met your father a couple of times, Faris. But I wish it had been more. He was very well respected in the Guard. I am glad to meet you.”

He let the book go then, and followed Ahmed. Faris watched him go. None of the other officers that came here had said that to him. In fact they all avoided the subject of his father. Frightened to upset him perhaps. None of them wanted to deal with a crying boy.

They needn’t have worried. Faris had not cried since the day of the funeral.

This one was different than the others. He had a courage that went beyond the battlefield. Perhaps they could indeed talk about poetry.

They had talked about poetry many times since then. And about so much else. Since Rahama became the Colonel of the regiment the two of them had maintained some suitable distance, but he hoped the old affection remained. And seeing him now, carefully watching to make sure Madari ate a decent breakfast, he felt reassured on that score.

If he hadn’t been under that scrutiny, Madari might not have eaten at all. Food had little appeal at the moment. But he ate to fuel himself, just as he filled his car with petrol. Rahama seemed satisfied with his own breakfast and Madari’s and led him back out of the mess.

“Now, Faris, I promise I will page you if I hear any news from the hospital. Your men are resting, go home and do the same.”


Madari couldn’t leave the city. He tried to make himself take the northern road out of Az-Ma’ir, but turned off and doubled back towards the city centre. Towards the hospital.

At the last moment, he drove past the hospital entrance. He’d been given a warning once about rumours and there was no reason to stop heeding that warning, despite its source. No need to fuel the rumours.

Still, he wouldn’t leave the city. If he received a page, or a call it took too long to get back. If something bad happened, if Jahni took a turn for the worse, if he even…

Impatient with his own morbid train of thought, he found a parking space near a park and strode into the open space, the grass, spring flowers and trees a welcome relief from the city’s stone, concrete and glass. He breathed easier than he had for hours, as if the fresh breeze finally cleared the last of that stone dust from his nose and mouth. Here in the spring morning it felt easier to be optimistic. He slowed his stride and strolled instead, watching people. Friends laughed together. Families walked, or sat, while their children played. Children with their lives ahead of them, their minds still forming. All those memories that would make them the people they became.

Jahni’s family existed only in memories now. If he lost those memories, then those people were finally truly gone. On the other hand, he’d lose the pain of their deaths. He’d forget all that shock and grief.

A trade-off. Madari wondered if he’d be prepared to make such a trade himself. His torture had driven him close to insanity, the memories of it still haunted him. What if he could lose those memories? But what if the trade-off was losing the good memories, of his history with Jahni. Of his love?

What of that love? Didn’t it make him miserable? Didn’t it make his life more difficult? Yes. But sometimes, just sometimes, it exalted his soul. Losing it wasn’t worth the price.

If he lost the memories of the torture, he would be a different man. Perhaps the same man he’d been before it happened. Would Jahni have fallen in love with that man? Would that man have fallen in love with Jahni?

His tiredness caught up with him suddenly and he sat on a bench near a small pond, gazing into the sun-dappled water. Was his personality the sum of accumulated memories? If so, then the bad memories were an essential part of him too.

A bad memory like the moment he had realised his father was going to die.

Razaq Madari had never been a strong man, and a serious case of influenza left him so weak that the doctor visited twice a day, and the rest of the household spoke in hushed whispers. Faris wouldn’t leave his side, sitting or lying on the bed beside him, talking to him, or just holding him.

One day, he wouldn’t wake up and a servant ran for the doctor, who came and listened to Razaq’s heart. Faris still stayed beside him and wouldn’t be sent away, so all the adults went out of the room instead. He couldn’t hear their voices outside the closed door.

Ahmed came back in after a while. He wore a distracted look, and didn’t speak to Faris, just sat down on the bed on the other side of Razaq and took his pale hand. He sat there for some time without speaking. Then he bent over and kissed Razaq on the forehead.

That had been the moment Faris knew his father was dying. Ahmed was an affectionate person, but it was a manly affection, of bear hugs and rough games. Faris had never seen him be tender.

So he knew.

At that moment, Faris saw the world anew. He saw reality. Reality hurt. But he couldn’t regret the clarity it brought him. For the first time he saw the world as a man, not as a child.

If he lost the painful memories, would he lose that mature vision of the world he’d gained in that moment? Did Jahni have a similar moment somewhere in his past, where he left childhood behind? If he lost that, or all of the smaller moment that built the personality that became Kahil Jahni, then he would be a different man. Would Madari even still love him if he was?

Madari sat up straight suddenly. Now that hadn’t occurred to him. He’d imagined himself in unrequited love with a new Jahni who had forgotten his feelings for Madari. But it might not be that way. He couldn’t imagine not caring about Jahni, after all they had been through. But that was a different thing than loving him and wanting him. His own feelings might change along with Jahni’s personality.

He didn’t mean if Jahni was… damaged by the injury, disabled. Then Madari would take care of him for the rest of his life and he’d still love him, even if all chance of that love coming to anything had vanished entirely.

But if he remained fit and active, just no longer himself, then would Madari first mourn the Jahni that had gone and then fall out of love with the Jahni that remained?

And would that in fact be a good thing?

He stood up from the bench, his head actually spinning at that thought. What was he supposed to hope for now? That Jahni would actually lose his memory permanently? Because then both of them could have the chance of a new life, a new friendship, if God willed that. One without the burden of their hopeless love.

No. He could not possibly be standing here wondering if it was a good idea if his dearest friend suffered permanent brain damage. His head was spinning and he realised why. He’d been up all night and hadn’t slept well the night before that. He needed rest.

He should go home, as Rahama said. Still, the same objection to being so far out of the city came to his mind. And the long journey, under the hot sun, when he was almost ready to fall asleep, not a good idea.

Twenty minutes later, he knocked at the door of Sophia’s apartment.

She didn’t seem to need much explanation. Of course the operation had to have been on the news this morning, including the explosion. He told her the rest, Jahni hurt, in the hospital, in a coma, and she held him, saying soothing words. After that, she helped him out of his uniform and left him alone in her bed, his pager on the night stand where it would wake him if it went off.

Exhaustion gave him the oblivion he needed.


He dreamt of hearing his pager beeping for him and being unable to find it, searching frantically. But when Madari woke from the dream, it lay on the night stand where he left it, and had no messages in its small display.

He sat up. Sophia’s bed, he recalled. The scent of roast lamb wafted through the partly open door. He rubbed his eyes, still feeling groggy. Hard to sleep in the day. Traffic noise outside, too much light coming through the curtains. Enough sunshine for Sophia’s cat to find a warm spot on the carpet to bask in.

“On guard, Giotto?” Madari said, smiling down at the cat. It ignored him, as usual, stretched out in the sunbeam. Madari checked his watch, guessing from the angle of the sun that it was afternoon now. Yes, almost 3pm.

He couldn’t find his clothes, so put on the white linen robe Sophia had bought him and dropped his pager into the pocket. Stepping carefully over the stubbornly unmoving Giotto, still enjoying the sunbeam, Madari left the bedroom. He found Sophia in the living room.

“Faris, how are you feeling?”

“Better, thank you.” He sat beside her on the sofa and she took his hand.

“You need to eat before you go anywhere. Wait a moment.” She left him to go to the kitchen, and he sat back with a sigh.

He did feel better. The sleep had cleared his head and left him more optimistic. Though he still wanted to rush to the hospital to be at Jahni’s side, the impulse felt easier to restrain. More so than when Jahni has been shot. The memory of his hysterical behaviour on that day still shamed him. He hoped he’d grown stronger since then. However frantic he felt, he had learned once again how to keep it inside. Most of the time.

No sense in going to the hospital anyway. He trusted Rahama to inform him at once of any change in Jahni’s condition, so could only assume there had been none.

No change. What if there never was any change? What if Jahni never awoke? No that was foolish. The coma was induced by drugs. They simply had to stop those drugs and he would wake. But still, what if he didn’t? Was that better than him waking up and not being himself? What if he was already not himself? Did he have the dreams of a stranger in his mind now?

No, how could it be better for him to lie unconscious and wither away, simply to spare Madari that blank look in his eyes again? He couldn’t see Jahni preserved as a living corpse, just to prevent that. He stopped those thoughts as Sophia came back in, carrying a tea tray.

“We’ll eat in about fifteen minutes. Enough time for some tea first.”

This time when she sat down she slid an arm around his waist and snuggled against him. He put an arm around her and held her close. They stayed like that for a while, not speaking. Her presence comforted him without words.

He could only be grateful that she and Jahni hadn’t become enemies. That had worried him for months before they finally met. They weren’t friends, he knew that. But both seemed to accept the other, or rather, accepted his relationship with the other.

Again he wondered how aware of the rumours about him and Jahni Sophia might be. Perhaps she didn’t believe them. Well, she surely didn’t. He’d promised to be faithful to her, and she had never confronted him with any accusation that he hadn’t been. And she would, he felt sure of that. She was European. Liberated. They might not be in love, but still, he had made a promise to her and she’d expect him to keep it.

And he hadn’t. The guilt stabbed him and he stirred in her arms.

“Our tea is getting cold.”


After lunch Madari found his uniform, pressed, waiting in the bedroom along with his freshly laundered shirt and underwear. Sophia thought of everything, of course.

He went to the hospital, arriving there at just after 5pm. He’d restrained himself as long as he could. Besides, he was Jahni’s commanding officer and it was perfectly normal that he’d want a personal update on his second in command’s progress.

The soldier at the hospital, sent over by Rahama, reported that the Colonel himself had been to visit, as well as several men from the Special Forces unit, and other Royal Guard officers. Madari smiled to hear it. How foolish he had been to think he had to be here day and night. Jahni had other friends and colleagues who cared about his welfare.

He didn’t smile when the soldier reported that a journalist had tried to get in too, pretending to be a civilian friend of Jahni’s. The new unit attracted some attention in the press, to Madari’s annoyance.

Madari dismissed the soldier to take a break and went into Jahni’s room, moving quietly. The room, a cubicle really, open at one end to the ICU nurses station, was dimly lit, and in the hush of the ward, the machines sounded loud.

Should he talk to Jahni? Madari had heard of people talking to their loved ones to bring them out of comas. But in this case the coma was deliberate, therapeutic. Instead, he just took Jahni’s hand, hoping if Jahni felt it, that it comforted him.

“I’m here.”

No more than that. If Jahni could hear it, then it was enough. What more could he talk about? The weather? The football? No point in that. Anyway, Jahni’s favourite team had lost a match that afternoon; Madari had heard that on the radio on the way over here. Jahni didn’t want to hear that.

A doctor arrived after a while. Not Choudhary, one of the younger men who had attended the senior doctor yesterday.

“He is doing very well,” the doctor told Madari. “The pressure is reducing steadily. Dr Choudhary thinks we may be able to bring him around as early as tomorrow evening, if he continues to progress at the same rate and his condition remains stable.”

The doctor’s words should have been good news, but Madari felt as if he’d just been given a time for Jahni’s execution. While Jahni lay here like this, he was still the man Madari knew, just sleeping.

Tomorrow evening, he could open his eyes a different man.


Sophia arrived at the hospital at eight o’clock that evening, and Madari doubted she’d even bothered to call his home first. She knew where he’d be. They sat together in Jahni’s room for a while, not speaking much, and then they ate the cold food she’d brought, out in a waiting room. She thought of everything. He could only be grateful for her support, for her ability to be practical and take care of him, so he didn’t have to think about mundane matters like food and laundry.

They left the hospital together, as a soldier arrived to relieve the one on guard. Madari checked that the man had his pager number.

“I don’t have that pager number,” Sophia said as they walked through the car park.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m under orders not to give it anyone except for Army business.”

“I’m kidding,” she said. “Don’t worry. I can usually manage without having to track you down at a moment’s notice.”

She could. He admired that independence and it suited him. Some women demanded so much attention. Perhaps he was selfish, but a man needed his space, and Madari needed his time with Jahni. Thankfully, she understood that.

“Come home with me tonight,” she said. “Easier for you in the morning, you won’t have to get up so early.”

She also understood that he didn’t want to be too far from the city. But she didn’t say it. So discreet. If things were different, for both of them, what a wife she would make.

He flushed. No sense in those thoughts at all. That could never be. He didn’t know if he really meant it anyway. He was thinking of it almost as a business partnership. He didn’t want a wife. Not now. Too late.

Of course a wife would really stop those rumours once and for all. And if Jahni woke with his memory of their love gone, then Madari would be free to do whatever he wanted, without fear of hurting him. Of course, Sophia wasn’t free.


He brought his attention back to her. “I’m sorry. Thank you, I will stay.”

Chapter 3

He left Sophia still sleeping in the morning. They hadn’t made love. She hadn’t expected it and had only offered him the comfort of her body against his. He fell asleep holding her.

He’d woken more than once, thinking he heard his pager, but must have been dreaming again. It stayed silent and dark on the night stand.

Before he left, he used her telephone to call the hospital for a progress report. Jahni was still improving slowly, they said, remained stable, and that’s all they could say.

That possibility of Jahni being woken that evening still gnawed at Madari as he drove to the barracks. He felt as if his future hung in limbo until then.

Jahni’s memory wasn’t the only thing that could be damaged by such an injury of course. That might be intact, he might still be himself, but with some other kind of long term effect. Something that would see him invalided out of the Army. What then? Well if he needed care, Madari would see to that. He’d leave the Army himself and turn nurse if he had to.

But if it was something that left him invalided out, still himself and otherwise fit, no nursing care needed… oh, then the future could be very different.

Madari had decided long ago he would give up his career to be with Jahni, if they could make it happen. Give it up willingly, not be thrown out in disgrace. Jahni hadn’t been ready to give his up though, and Madari understood that. Jahni could have a brilliant future in the Army. But if that career ended due to injury, then everything would change.

He drove past a signpost that pointed the way to the airport. Their future wouldn’t be here, if things turned out that way. If Jahni wanted it too, they could leave, go to Europe or America and make a life together there. A flat in London, perhaps. Or an airy beach house in LA. Fantasy images came into his head of them sharing their lives in those settings.

If Jahni wanted it, Madari would take him wherever he wanted to go.


After stopping off at a café for breakfast, Madari arrived at the barracks and gave orders to call the men from the mission, for a debriefing session. They gathered in the briefing room, still rather subdued. Kadry and Hurun were there too, still bandaged, but released from the infirmary. He spoke to them individually as the rest of the men got coffee and took their seats, then addressed the group once everyone settled.

“Good morning, gentlemen. I hope you’ve all had a chance to rest now.”

A man raised a hand. “Is there any more news on Captain Jahni, sir?”

“He’s making steady progress. If any of you want to visit the hospital today, please feel free. He’s still unconscious, but that’s part of his treatment, and I’m sure he’ll be pleased to hear that you visited, once he’s conscious again.”

They nodded, looking pleased. The men liked Jahni, though he pushed them hard in their training and expected the very best from all of them. They respected his achievement, completing the SAS training. Madari had plans to send more of the men to do that training, but Jahni would always be the one who did it first.

“All right, let’s begin,” Madari said, finishing his coffee. “We’ll review the operation from the start.”

No point in just concentrating on where it had gone wrong, he knew that. They’d get there soon enough. The men were still inexperienced and they needed to review every detail of their operations to make sure they did better every time.

He allowed them a lot of freedom in mission briefings and debriefings. Nothing was off limits. If the men had found their job made harder because of something Madari, or any officer, had done, then they must speak up about it. The officers didn’t always like it. Some of them had complained to Madari that they didn’t appreciate being criticised in public. But Madari told them to get used to it.

He’d learnt the value of such frank discussions at the camp, with his civilians turned guerrillas, who didn’t have the Army training not to question an officer. And the lesson had been reinforced by his own and Jahni’s consultations with the SAS, who held similar sessions. All input had equal value and anyone could be told they were wrong.

Hannibal and the A-Team did the same. At times it had surprised him to see Face, Murdock or BA question Hannibal, and he’d put it down to how long they’d been out of the formal structure of the Army. But Hannibal had told him they’d done it since Vietnam and he encouraged it. Only honest opinions were worth anything.

And as much as they questioned him while they made plans, he’d seen them fighting and there the questioning stopped. Those men fought as if they had one mind between the four of them, while remaining individuals with their own strengths and specialties. A remarkable unit. He’d learnt a lot from them.

The debriefing lasted until lunchtime. Madari had turned his pager to its vibrate setting during the morning, but still he checked it for calls as soon as they left the briefing room, in case it had gone off in his pocket without him noticing. After lunch he checked it once more, then double-checked it was set to vibrate and put it back into his pocket. Foolish, he thought. Rahama knew he was here, he’d call, or send a runner. But still, just in case.

They restarted the session, finally getting on to the subject of the man who’d blown himself up. His actions baffled most of the men.

“Who would do that? Why?”

“He preferred death to capture?” A man suggested. Madari understood that. He’d have preferred that during the guerrilla campaign. But then he’d have been tortured again, which wouldn’t have happened to this man.

“I’d rather be in jail than dead,” one of the men said. “It can’t just be that.”

“They think it makes them martyrs,” Madari said. “To die and take the enemy with them.”

“Fellow Muslims are enemies?”

“We weren’t there to bring them birthday gifts, you know,” Kadry said and a chuckle went around the room, breaking the tension a little.

“I think we will see this more often,” Madari said. “The fanatics are choosing this method more and more often in other countries. We have to face up to militants here adopting those tactics.” He looked around at the men. “How do we deal with a man who is not simply not afraid to die in battle, but actually wants to die?”

“Give him what he wants before he can do it to you,” Kadry said, with a fierce grin. A rumble of approval stirred around the room.

“And if the bomb he holds has a dead man’s switch?” Madari said, sobering them up. “The man in this case may have had that. In that case simply shooting him is no use. He has a fail-safe for that eventuality.”

“Fail-safe?” A man said, not asking the meaning, but questioning the usage.

“Fail-deadly,” another said.

“Right,” Madari said, “let’s look at the strategies for the various scenarios.”

The men sat forward in their chairs, all eager to give their ideas. Madari paused to drink some water.

“I still say men who blow themselves up to kill others are fools,” Hurun said.

“They think they are fighting a holy war,” one of the officers said.

“Nothing I’ve ever been taught justifies that.” Hurun scowled and folded his arms. “They’re fools.”

Madari agreed with him, though didn’t want to continue the discussion of that. They had more pressing matters to deal with. But it sickened him to think a man could claim a religious motive for such an act. He could lose Jahni thanks to an act of religious obsession.

He slipped a hand into his pocket for a moment, touching the plastic body of the pager. Then he took a deep breath and brought the men’s attention back to him.

“Right, strategies, yes, Corporal?” He gestured towards a man who’d raised his hand. That made his cuff fall back from his wrist and he quickly pulled it back down, covering his wristband.

He really shouldn’t be wearing it with his uniform.


“Dr Choudhary decided to wait until the morning.”

“I see.”

“A few more hours, just to be on the safe side.” The doctor finished writing a note on Jahni’s chart and hung it back on the foot of the bed. “If you have any other questions, please come and ask me. I’m on duty all evening.”

The young doctor left and Madari sat down beside Jahni’s bed. The execution had been postponed. Now he had until morning before he would find out if this was still Jahni, or a stranger.

A nurse came in then, checking equipment and tubes. She adjusted the ventilator tube that still made Madari want to gag even to see it. Her businesslike, yet gentle movements fascinated Madari. Did Jahni react to the touch at all? It seemed not. Not a flicker from his eyelashes. Nothing registered on the steadily beeping monitors.

“Don’t worry, sir,” she said to Madari. “We’re taking good care of him.”

“I… yes, of course. I know. Thank you.”

“Have to give him a shave soon.” Her fingers briefly touched the stubble on his chin. “Hard to do that with the vent, but if he’s off that tomorrow, we’ll get him tidied up.” Her fingers stroked briefly through his hair, sweeping it off his face.

Madari found it strange to see a woman touch a man she didn’t know that way. Her job gave her permission he supposed. The touches were more like a mother with a child and made him think of the touch of his own mother’s hands. As always, more painful memories mixed with those tender ones. Memories of watching her slowly fade away after his father died.

Always a quiet woman, she became almost silent. Even Faris could offer her no consolation in her grief. She drifted away from him, from all of them. He often saw the pained looks on the faces of his grandparents when they watched her sitting in the garden, one of Razaq’s books always in her hands.

By the time she died, when Faris had just turned fifteen, she seemed to have become a ghost already. The doctors couldn’t even say what she died from. Ahmed found her in the garden, apparently asleep. But not asleep. The doctor guessed at a stroke and marked the death certificate with that.

Cruel gossip said that she had taken poison and Faris heard stories of an incident in the local marketplace. They said that his grandmother had slapped another woman in the face. He could believe that. But he’d never believed his mother had taken her own life.

His grandparents took him and moved away from that house after that. Its walls were too soaked through with sadness.

Madari wondered if he had it in him to fade away from grief. He hadn’t done so over his parent’s deaths, or his grandparents. But still, even a child had awareness in him that he would probably see his parents and grandparents die. Different for a husband, wife, or… lover.

The nurse had gone, he noticed, his attention coming back to the hospital room. He hoped she hadn’t spoken to him and been ignored. But perhaps nurses were used to visitors who were somewhat distracted.

That word he’d just thought of. Lover. Why think of that? Jahni wasn’t his lover. Even the… incident, had been only that; one incident, a single indiscretion. A kiss. Well, several kisses. But not sex. Could two people be called lovers if they didn’t have a sexual relationship? If in their hearts, they were bound to each other?

He reached for Jahni’s hand. No, he’s not my lover. He is my friend. And that is not a lesser title.

“Hello, Faris.”

Sophia stood at the door. Of course, she knew where to find him again. For a moment he resented that she found him so predictable and he even resented that she had come here. He wanted to sit quietly with his friend, perhaps for the last time, if his fears were realised tomorrow. But he got control of himself and stood, to offer her his chair.

“Thank you for coming,” he said. “I know Kahil will appreciate it.”

“I came for you, Faris,” she said, looking up at him, surprise on her face. “Of course, I wish Kahil well, but he doesn’t know I’m here.”

“Then I appreciate it,” he said. She raised her hand and he took it, stood holding it while he watched Kahil. That might be a lie, what he’d just said. He appreciated her support, but right now, he didn’t know that he appreciated her company.

In fact, lately, he had begun to wonder if he had run out of things to say to her. They had talked so much in the early days of their relationship, especially when Jahni was away. Now, he seemed to have used up all of his – he smiled – all of his best material. And there was so much he couldn’t talk to her about, that he could share with Jahni. Memories of the campaign, or of their friends who were gone. Work of course, soldiering. Things a woman could never understand.

She’d brought some food again, a light picnic supper and they went to the waiting room to eat it. The nurse who had been looking after Jahni earlier brought them two cups of coffee. Real coffee, not from the vending machine.

“Thank you,” Sophia said. “That’s very kind.”

“We were making some anyway. And anything for friends of Batman.” She walked away, chuckling.

“Batman?” Sophia said, looking at Madari, eyebrows raised.

“Oh, ah, he has a tattoo, a Batman symbol. He got it while he was in England.”

“Aren’t tattoos forbidden for Muslims?”

“Yes, but…” He stopped. Jahni’s lack of faith was his own business. “I expect he was drunk at the time.” Damn, no, that’s worse, the arch of her eyebrows, her surprise told him that. He shrugged and gave a weak smile. “You know, young people.”

“Isn’t he almost thirty?”

“Twenty-seven,” Madari corrected, as if that made Jahni a headstrong youngster. Madari quickly started to concentrate on his food to escape the conversation.

He ate his fill quickly and stood up, ready to return to Jahni’s room. Sophia had not finished her food or her coffee and the look in her eyes made him sit down again. And it made him feel that resentment again. She wasn’t doing it deliberately to keep him from Jahni’s side, she only expected him to act like a normal man should. But an ungracious and un-gentlemanly part of him wanted her gone.

After a moment, she put down her coffee and looked at him for a while, as if assessing him. Her gaze made him nervous, her expression so much more serious than he was used to.

“Do you know, Faris, that people call me a fool for being with you?”

“If you tell me who those people are, I could have them killed for you.” He gave a nervous smile, and then dropped it quickly, as the joke hit the floor like a lead weight.

“These people tell me about certain rumours about you. I discounted those rumours a long time ago. But sometimes, I wonder.”

Madari felt suddenly paralysed in his chair. They had never spoken of the rumours before of course. He couldn’t discuss such matters with a woman, not even this woman. What would she ask next? The fear of that gripped him.

“Some people tell me I should consider Kahil my rival. Are they right? Can I consider Kahil a rival for your… affection?”

His tongue seemed frozen. He couldn’t answer that. He should walk out of here now and never see her again. A woman shouldn’t ask these questions.

“Sophia.” His voice sounded distant in his ears, as if he stood across the room and heard himself talking. “I cannot talk about such things with you.”

“You share my bed, Faris Madari.”

He did. He shared that, and yet they shared so little else. For the first time he saw just how superficial their relationship was. The sex made it appear intimate, but it wasn’t. They talked for hours, but of things that were inconsequential.

Because she was a shield, he had to admit. A shield against those rumours she asked about now. Did he owe her an honest answer because of that? But he hadn’t even told his new psychiatrist this yet. He’d mentioned he was in love with someone he couldn’t be with, but hadn’t specified beyond that. The doctor thought he meant a married woman and for now, Madari let him go on believing that. Would he ever have the courage to admit the truth?

His silence stretched so long that at last Sophia stopped waiting and began to pack away the supper things. If he let her leave now, without an answer, he’d never see her again, he knew that.

“Yes.” He whispered it.

She stopped packing the things and sat in silence for a long time. He watched her, waited. He knew what her next question would be.

“And have you –?”

“I promised to be faithful to you.”

“That’s not what I was asking.”

No, he knew that. He rested his elbows on his knees and clenched his hands together, his forehead resting on them, unable to look at her now. He couldn’t tell her this. He couldn’t tell anyone.

After a moment he again heard the sounds of her packing up and guessed at once that his silence had given her an answer, but the wrong answer.

“No!” He said it too loud, looking up, and lowered his voice before he went on. “No. We have…” Now his voice became a whisper. “Kissed. Nothing else.”

“Since you and I met?” Her face had gone pale now, her eyes pained, and he wondered if she regretted starting this conversation. Ignorance is bliss, the saying went.

“Yes. But this happened only once. And I promise you, it will never happen again.”

“Just as you promised to be faithful to me.”

The words made him wince. Her tone had only a hint of reproach in it, but still, it felt like a slap.

“I wasn’t myself.” A feeble answer, he thought, and she seemed to think so too. She swept the remaining supper remnants carelessly into her basket.

“I never understand what people mean by ‘I wasn’t myself’. Who else were you? Did a demon possess you? Were you hypnotised?” She dumped the basket on the floor.


“I am starting to worry about how little I know about you.”

“Sophia, you now know something only one other person in the world knows.” He glanced in the direction of the ward. If Jahni awoke with his memory gone, she would be the only person who knew. “Some people may suspect, but only you know. I’ve trusted you with knowledge that could destroy me. If I’ve made a mistake doing that, then I don’t know you as well as I thought I did.” He dropped his gaze from hers, still ashamed of the accusation in her eyes. Liar. Unfaithful. Deviant. “It will not happen again.”

“And is that because of your promise to me? Or fear of the consequences? For you and for him?”

“I’ve made a new promise.” He didn’t look up at her. “There’s nothing else I can say.”

She didn’t answer for a while, and then she stood, picking up the food basket and her small bag.

“I will have to think about this.”

“Of course,” Madari said, rising too, but not moving towards her.

“That may take me a few days.”

“I understand.”

“But, please, let me know about Kahil. About his injuries I mean. When he comes around.”

“Of course,” he said again and saw her smile.

“He may be my rival, but I am quite fond of him. Whatever he thinks of me.”

“He likes you!”

She laughed at that, at the hasty, defensive answer. “If you think that, then I wonder if you know him as well as you think. Goodnight, Faris.”

Sophia walked out of the room and he wondered if this might be the last time he saw her. That thought made him sink back down into his seat. To lose them both, if she left him and Jahni forgot him. What meaning did his life have then? Who cared if he lived or died?

He chided himself for such morbid thoughts. His work had meaning. And he had friends. Rahama. Even Hannibal. Good men he could rely on. Still, without Jahni or Sophia, his life would feel hollow. A dread he hadn’t felt since the days leading up to Ahmed’s death gripped him.

Trying to shake it off, he walked back to Jahni’s room. Nothing had changed. Jahni lay exactly as before, the ventilator and the monitors the only sound and movement in the room. He’s in limbo, Madari thought. Both of us are. Until he wakes. A moment of waking that could be the same as a moment of death.

He stood for a long time at the foot of the bed, holding the rail and watching. Jahni’s chest rose and fell as the ventilator pushed air into his lungs. Electrodes taped to the skin picked up his heart rate.

Under the hospital lights and in this condition, his skin looked pasty. He wasn’t naturally very dark, had much paler skin than Madari. But he had soon topped up his tan after coming home from Britain, giving his skin a golden-brown glow. Now that glow had turned sickly. The dark bristles of the stubble the nurse had mentioned stood out stark on his face and neck.

In his mind, he saw Jahni once again in the bombed house, unrecognisable under the dust and blood and camo paint.

Not himself. Neither at that moment or this one. Kahil Jahni was strong, healthy, handsome, not this wan ghost.

Madari thought of the final briefing session before the mission. Jahni had led that session, preparing the men, breaking the tension with a joke. Filling them with confidence with his own self-assurance. And he thought of how the evening sunlight had poured through the window and shone on his hair. And of how beautiful he was when he laughed.


He had to go home that night, since he couldn’t go to Sophia’s. He could have stayed at the barracks, but he needed to go home. He needed fresh clothes, he needed to check his house, check the horses. The man from the village came every day of course, but still, he felt neglectful.

He slept uneasily, listening for the pager, and in the morning he woke early even by his personal standards. For over an hour he drifted around the house, drinking coffee, unable to settle, knowing he’d look like a fool if he arrived at the hospital at 0600.

At last, he could stand it no longer and set out. If they thought it strange, he’d just say he’d decided to call in on the way to barracks, which was true, and that soldiers rose early, which was also true. Truths to hide another truth, which nobody there could hear.

The road stayed empty almost all the way into the city. A good thing, because the swerve he made when his pager beeped would have caused an accident on a more crowded road.

He slammed on the brakes, stopped half off the road and pulled the pager from his pocket. It had beeped only once and it usually gave three chirps for a message. He stared in horror at the dark display. No power. The batteries were dead. Had it beeped to alert him of its low power? Or had it been a message, but the alarm and the display light had sucked the last of the power from the batteries?

Batteries! He had put spare batteries in his pocket. But when he felt in there, he found nothing. Damn! Sophia’s servant had ironed the jacket, and must have taken the batteries out, then forgotten to return them afterwards.

Madari swore in five different languages, then he put his car in gear and roared away, his foot heavy on the accelerator.


He arrived at ICU to find Jahni gone. A nurse gave him directions to another ward and Madari, conscious of his uniform, trying to maintain his dignity, walked there, fighting the urge to sprint.

He found a Royal Guard soldier on watch at the door of the ward. The man came to attention.

“Good morning, sir.”

“Good morning. Captain Jahni is here?”

“Yes, sir. They moved him here a couple of hours ago. He’s awake, sir.”

“Have you – um – spoken to him?”

“No, sir.”

Madari didn’t think this man knew Jahni personally anyway, so even if he’d spoken to him, he wouldn’t know if Jahni was still himself

“Thank you. You may take a break. Return in an hour, please.”

“Thank you, sir.”

He left, and Madari pushed open the doors and walked in. He wanted to stride confidently through the ward, but his steps slowed as he spotted Jahni, at the far end of the room. In just a few seconds he’d know, and fear gripped him tight.

Jahni was sitting up, conscious, a nurse at his side, helping him to some food. Just a few more steps, a few more seconds. The rest of the ward, the sight and sound of it faded, growing blurred and muffled. He forgot everything else, even Sophia.

The future held its breath.

The nurse beside Jahni noticed Madari, conspicuous of course in his uniform, and pointed, making Jahni turn.

Jahni smiled. He raised a hand and waved. Madari’s heart pounded. Hope surged but still not certainty. It could just be the uniform he recognised, not Madari’s face.

The last few steps came in a rush, because now he had to know, he had to end this unbearable tension. He reached the bed and stopped, breathing fast, not trusting himself to speak.

The look, the eyes, no longer blank, recognition there. But of the uniform or the face? Tell me, please!

Jahni reached out, still smiling and took Madari’s hand, not in a handshake, but the touch of a friend, fingers curled together.

“Hello, Faris.”