Part 2: Sleeping with the Major

Chapter 1

“Javi, looks like we’ve got a new fish.”

Javid Noor opened his eyes at Lieutenant Hoshel’s words. He saw a guard leading a man across the prisoner compound towards a barracks hut. The man was tall, at least six three in Noor’s estimation. He carried a bundle of blankets and sheets, with clothes piled on the top of them.

“Walks like a soldier.” Hoshel said. Noor glanced at the younger man then back at the new prisoner.

“And sneers like an officer.” Noor said, seeing the way the new man looked at the prison guard who pushed him on the back with his gun. He waited a moment until the guards took the man into the hut then he stood up from where he’d been sitting in a shady spot against the wall of the kitchen and mess hall building.

“Got any cigarettes, Sesi?” Hoshel handed him two. “Thanks. Pay you back later.” He dropped the cigarettes into a pocket sewn roughly onto the front of his shirt. “Right, I’ll go grill our new fish.”

He waited until the guards came back out of the barracks and strode across there, went inside.

The new man was the only one in there. He sat on a bare mattress on a spare cot. His face was bruised and cut, one eye swollen, but even so Noor could see he was handsome man. He was bare headed and Noor recognised an expensive haircut when he saw one. The man rose as Noor approached him, a cautious look on his face. His stance wasn’t obviously defensive, but he was tense.

Noor smiled, held out his hand.

“Captain Javid Noor, Sixth Armoured Infantry.”

The new man relaxed at least a little. He took Noor’s hand and shook it.

“Captain Idris Faraj, Royal Guard.”

“Royal Guard?” Noor said, impressed. “First time we’ve had one of you here.” He frowned then. If the government was arresting Royal Guard officers then things must be getting very bad out there. He glanced at Faraj’s hand as the other captain withdrew it. Nails manicured and buffed.

“Cigarette?” He offered Faraj, who thanked him and took one of the two Noor took from his pocket.

“Those thieving bastards took my lighter.” Faraj said. That didn’t surprise Noor. He produced a disposable lighter and lit Faraj’s cigarette, flicked the lighter off again quickly. He held out his cigarette.

“Could you light it from yours?” He smiled. “Not easy to get refils around here, have to save every drop.”

Faraj hesitated a moment, not unwilling, Noor thought, just a little shocked to think that such economies were his lot now. Then he held out the cigarette and touched the end of it to Noor’s until Noor got it alight.

“Thank you.”

Faraj nodded, took a drag on the cigarette and made a face.

“Not your brand?” Noor asked. Faraj looked as if he wondered whose brand these would be, except perhaps a masochist’s.

“I prefer Dunhill.”

Noor laughed. “Not likely to get any of those here unless General Ziyahd has some hidden away.” Faraj made a face even more disgusted than the ones he’s pulled about the cigarette.

“I see you’ve met the General then.”

“That rodent.” Faraj snarled with contempt.

Noor smiled. He liked Faraj, clearly he was a right thinking man.

“Come outside.” Noor said. “Please, let me show you around your new home.”

Faraj gave him an odd look, but let Noor lead him outside. The sun was bright, near to noon and they both donned their head scarves as they went out. Faraj shaded his eyes with a hand. Noor wondered how many pairs of designer sunglasses Faraj owned. None of them were any use to him now.

“This is home ground for you, isn’t it, Captain?” Noor asked.

“Yes, this was a Royal Guard outpost. Decommissioned about five years ago. I was never here myself, though Major Madari…” he stopped, bit his lip and looked down.

“Major Madari?”

“My CO. My… my former CO I suppose I have to say. He served here a few years ago.”

Noor looked at Faraj, his eyes were still downcast, he looked pained.

“What happened to the Major?”

“He’s dead.” Faraj’s voice shook very slightly.

“I’m sorry. He was a friend?”

Faraj looked up again, didn’t answer that. He looked around, taking in the buildings, the wire around the prisoner compound and the perimeter wire around the whole base. He took in the guard towers and the gate. And beyond that the desert stretching to the horizon in every direction. And he took in the men, swept his eyes over them, stopping at a group of young men who stood around outside barracks hut two. He can spot the soldiers, Noor realised. He’s not just a rich boy whose father bought him a commission in the regiment with the smartest uniform. He knows what he’s doing.

Faraj turned to Noor and from the grim look on his face Noor knew the pleasantries were over.

“How many of us are there?”

“You make us thirteen. All officers, Captains and subalterns.”

“Whose in command?”

“I am.” Faraj looked at him, assessing. Noor tensed slightly. Royal Guardsmen had a reputation for assuming they always got to be in charge. “I’ve been Captain three and a half years now. You?”

Faraj hesitated, then said, “Two years eight months.”

Noor nodded, appreciating the honesty. As long as Faraj accepted his seniority they didn’t have to have any kind of problem. He turned and nodded at the prisoners around them.

“Two hundred and thirty odd civilians, all political prisoners. Professional men, academics, doctors, lawyers. Non combatants.”

Faraj frowned. “And the opposition?”

“Thirty, including the general and the medical staff. Armed with M-16A2s and Sig Sauer 9mm pistols. The towers have M60’s.”

“How long have you been here, Captain?”

“Seven months.”

“And how many times have you tried to take the camp?”

All right, the pleasantries were definitely over. Faraj’s tone was hard. Well it was nice to see the man was confident, but he’d need to learn some reality.

“Once.” Noor’s tone was just as hard, but he had to work to keep it that way, to keep his voice from shaking. “And when we failed the general shot ten of the civilians dead in front of me.”

Gunshots. Screams. The stink of cordite and blood under the burning sun. He did them one at a time. Picked them from the crowd one at a time. Innocents. None of them even involved in the attempt. One day I’ll get my hands around his throat and avenge every one of them.

“Captain?” Noor dragged himself back to the present, looked at Faraj. “I’m sorry, I meant no offence.” Faraj smiled, losing some of his haughtiness. “Call me Idris and please, tell me what I can do to help you. So that next time we don’t fail.”

Noor grinned. He knew his instincts were right on this one. “Welcome, Idris. Call me Javid.”


General Ziyahd usually liked to see the trucks come in with new arrivals. The more prisoners he had the more money the government gave him, to feed and clothe them. And the more he could skim off. But he was nervous about this one. This man had a reputation. Ziyahd made sure his uniform was perfect, had his prisoner orderly ensure his shoes had a mirror like shine on them. He walked outside as the truck pulled up beside the guard house.

Sergeant Ghaith waited there too. Although Ziyahd had officers under his command too he didn’t trust any of them, was certain they all wanted his job. Ghaith on the other hand could be trusted. He could be trusted to do anything the general asked and usually enjoy it.

“Another Royal Guardsman.” Ziyahd commented.

“Haughty bastards.” Ghaith snarled. “That other one, Faraj, needs taught a lesson.” He slapped his fist into his other hand.

Ziyahd smiled. Ghaith was right. Faraj had made his contempt for Ziyahd very clear not only on his arrival but on every day of the three weeks that had passed since.

“We will…” Ziyahd began, then he stopped and stared.

The security police officers in the truck pushed a man out. He fell to the ground and Ziyahd stared down at him. This was Madari? The man lay on his side, unmoving, eyes closed, dressed only in a pair of filthy grey trousers. His limbs splayed gracelessly on the ground, like those of a smashed insect. His torso and arms were thin and wasted and covered in wounds. His hands… Ziyahd had to look away. He put a hand over his nose and mouth.

“God, he stinks.” Ghaith growled. Another guard standing behind Ghaith stepped forward and knelt over Madari, checking him over, then he jumped up and ran into the guard house.

“Sign.” The police officer shoved a clipboard at Ziyahd. He appeared unimpressed by the general’s rank.

“Wait, is he even alive?” Ziyahd said. “I’m not signing for a corpse.”

The police officer kicked Madari in the back and Madari gave a loud moan. He rolled forward onto his stomach. Even Ghaith, a man who’d happily dished out lashes to the prisoners stifled an oath at the sight of the man’s flayed back. Part of the stench came from clearly infected wounds.

Ziyahd averted his eyes again and signed the transfer document. The officer threw the clipboard back into the truck.

“He’s all yours.” He smirked. “What’s left of him.” He climbed back into the truck shouted “Let’s go,” at the driver and the truck drove out of the gate fast, soon vanishing in a cloud of dust. Ziyahd looked down at his new prisoner.

“Um, get him on his feet, Sergeant.”

Ghaith stared at his CO. “Have you seen his feet?”

Ziyahd glanced at them and then away again hastily.

The guard who’d run into the guardhouse earlier re-emerged, the camp doctor, Rachad, following him. Rachad stared at and then knelt by Madari, started to examine him. After only a few seconds he turned a pale face up to Ziyahd.

“We must get him to the infirmary now!”

“Sergeant.” Ziyahd said. Ghaith sighed, bent down and lifted the unconscious Madari over his broad shoulder in a fireman’s carry. He pulled a disgusted face.

“Gonna need a real long shower after this,” he growled.


General Ziyahd had heard plenty of screaming since he was given command of this prison, but he’s never heard anything like the sound that woke him that night.

He woke in a cold sweat as if it was him screaming, but the sound went on. He grabbed at the clock by the bed with its luminous dial. One thirty. His hammering heart began to slow down as he realised where the screams were coming from. The infirmary. He got up and put on his floor length silk robe and his slippers. He paused to brush his hair and smooth his moustache before he left his quarters, going out through his sitting room into the guardhouse corridor. As he approached the infirmary the shrieking was replaced by frantic voices, some he recognised as his doctor and medical staff, one he didn’t know, crying out “No! No!” over and over.

Ziyahd burst into the infirmary to find two medical orderlies holding down the struggling Madari while Doctor Rachad, also in his robe, like Ziyahd, prepared an injection. Ziyahd stared at the horrible scene. Madari looked insane. He fought like an animal, scratching and biting and kicking wildly. Two guards ran into the room behind Ziyahd, their weapons out.

An IV drip on a stand hung above Madari and the doctor injected the hypodermic into a connector. Then he bent over Madari.

“Please, Major, calm yourself. You’re safe.” His voice was quite gentle. “You’re safe.” Madari’s struggles grew weaker. Rachad carefully put a hand on the man’s face, brushed his hair off his forehead. “Shh. You’re safe.”

“No more… please.” Madari’s voice was a cracked whisper. His eyes were still insane. He has no idea where he is, Ziyahd thought.

“No more.” Rachad said, still stroking Madari’s hair until Madari finally relaxed into drugged sleep. The doctor stood up and sighed.

Ziyahd frowned at Madari. He looked better than before. He’d been cleaned up, shaved and put into a crisp white hospital gown. But many dressings stood out stark white against his dark skin. He was clearly not leaving the infirmary for some time yet. The general shivered at the memory of the horrible shrieks that had torn them both from sleep.

“Doctor, is there likely to be a repeat of this performance?” Ziyahd asked, coldly.

Rachad stared at him for a moment, then he turned to his orderlies.

“Check he hasn’t reopened any of his wounds.” He ordered, then turned to Ziyahd. “Can we speak in my office, sir?”

Ziyahd followed him in and they sat down at the desk.

“Well?” Ziyahd said. “Will there be a repeat?”

The doctor didn’t answer directly, he pushed a file across the desk at the general. “My report on his condition. I was going to give it to you in the morning but you might as well read it now.”

Ziyahd started to read through the report.

“He’s been tortured,” Rachad said. Ziyahd didn’t need a doctor to tell him that. He read on. Part of him was disgusted by the horror of what he read, but part of him felt a sick thrill. Three weeks Madari had been in the hands of the security police and the – ah – consultants from the KGB. Ziyahd pictured the torture, the unspeakable acts, and he enjoyed the picture. His fingernails pulled out. His back flayed with a whip or a cane, or both. Soles of his feet beaten. Burns from cigarettes and other unidentified weapons. Injuries from restrains. Injuries from electrocution. And…

“Sexual injuries?” He looked at the doctor and had to fight very hard not to jeer openly. The great Royal Guardsman couldn’t stop himself being fucked? That was something to keep a note of.

The doctor sighed and passed a hand over his face.

“Sir, there will be a repeat of tonight, for months, perhaps years. After this kind of trauma… well, he will never fully recover.”

“But you can give him drugs.”

“I’ll have to, to make him sleep. But he’s as likely to go into flashbacks during the day.”

“Well give him drugs then too.” He scowled at the doctor, silencing the protest the man made. “Keep him quiet. I can’t have him disturbing me… the men like this.”

“But I can’t just keep him permanently sedated, not in the long term.”

“Only as long as he’s in the infirmary, doctor. Just keep him quiet.” Once he was out with the prisoners Ziyahd didn’t care whose sleep the animalistic shrieks disturbed. Just so long as he didn’t have to hear them again.

“But he needs…”

“Goodnight, Doctor.” Ziyahd stood up and swept out of the room. He glanced at the sleeping Madari as he passed. Why was I afraid of you? He wondered. Of course Madari was hardly at his best just now. Once he started to recover that might be a different matter. The doctor’s words cheered Ziyahd though. “He will never fully recover.” Ziyahd could only hope that was true.


“Bring him in.” Ziyahd ordered. Ghaith went out of the office and returned in a moment, leading the limping and shackled Madari, a meaty hand gripping the Major’s arm. Two more men followed and took up guard positions. They weren’t needed, Ziyahd realised. Without them, without Ghaith and even without the shackles Ziyahd was in no danger from Madari.

Ziyahd hated Madari instinctively, purely by reputation. His sort had always sneered at Ziyahd. Madari thought he was something special, Ziyahd was sure. Famous grandfather, too clever by half, known to be rebellious and insubordinate. Ziyahd had feared he would rally the other military men among the prisoners and start an uprising.

But that was hard to reconcile with the man that stood before him now. Madari’s gaze stayed on the ground. His hands, still bandaged, hung limp in the shackles that Ziyahd almost regretted now. Madari had been given prisoner’s clothes and they hung loose on his wasted body. He’d regained very little weight since arriving a month ago now. He was visibly trembling.

Still Ziyahd launched into the speech he always gave new prisoner about escape attempts being futile and answered with severe punishment. As for the other rules he’d learn them when he broke them and… He shook his head, stopped. Was Madari even listening? Could he actually understand? His eyes were dulled from the drugs the doctor had been giving him to put him to sleep at night and keep him in a near stupor during the day. Ziyahd shuddered briefly at the memory of those screams of absolute terror he’d heard that first night Madari spent in the infirmary.

He rose and walked around his desk to stand in front of Madari. He stretched up, annoyed that Madari was taller, made his voice harsh as he snapped, “Are you listening to me, Major?”

Madari’s bowed head rose slowly. His eyes, deep set and very dark were half closed and dazed. Perhaps only the word ‘major’ had made any impact, stirred something in the man’s shattered mind, Ziyahd thought.

Ziyahd raised a hand intending to wave it in front of the glazed eyes and at once Madari cringed away from him as if expecting to be struck. He gave a tiny frightened whimper.

Ziyahd was actually shocked by how intense a thrill of pleasure the flinch and especially the whimper gave him. Madari was afraid of him? Of him? The high and mighty Royal Guardsman was brought so low as to be cringing before him. He grinned, wanted to laugh, but restrained himself in front of his men. Ghaith was sneering at Madari, probably already choosing ways to humiliate the man.

“Well, I can see we’re going to have no trouble from you, Major.” He’s broken. He’s truly broken. He raised a hand again, knowing it would terrify Madari, seeing terror in his eyes. Ziyahd didn’t strike him though, he reached up and patted Madari’s cheek, as one might do to a child or even a pet. “Good boy.”

Ghaith sniggered and at Ziyahd’s nod he dragged Madari away.

Chapter 2

“The big problem is still the north west tower.” Noor said. “It’s just impossible to get close without…” he glanced up as the door to the barracks opened. Faraj, sitting on the next cot looked over too and scowled as Ghaith came in. Both Captains tensed and stood up, ready for trouble. But Ghaith just turned and watched two guards drag in another man, and throw him to the floor. He landed on hands and knees and cried out, looked around wildly, hair spilling down into his eyes and then scrambled towards one of the cots, grabbed at the frame and held on, curled up, face hidden in his arms.

“One of your boys.” Ghaith said, with a smirk. “Bring him to the infirmary once a day for dressings.” He turned and strode out with the two other guards.

“It can’t be…” Noor heard Faraj whisper. He glanced at Faraj to see the guardsman was pale and stunned. Noor hurried over to the new prisoner, who was still holding onto the cot with bandaged hands. Faraj followed him and they both knelt down.

“Major?” Faraj said, in a quiet voice. “Is that you?”

Noor frowned. The prisoner still hadn’t lifted his head. Noor reached out and put a hand on the man’s shoulder.

“Sir?” He said. He felt the man flinch and tremble when he was touched. A quiet sob escaped him. A whisper, incomprehensible, except that it was a plea of some kind.

“Major, please, look at me.” Faraj said. He turned to Noor. “I… I think it’s Major Madari, my CO. My god, I was sure he was dead, I was sure.”

“What’s his name?” Noor asked.

“I told you, Major Madari.”

“His name.” Noor said, rolling his eyes. There was a place for formality, this wasn’t it.

“Faris.” Faraj said.

“Faris,” Noor said, to the curled up man. “Faris, is that you?”

“Faris,” Faraj joined in. “Faris, it’s me, it’s Idris. Can you hear me? Do you know me?”

Slowly the prisoner raised his head. His eyes, dark pools, glazed and scared, looked uncomprehending at Faraj.

“Is it him?” Noor asked quietly.

“It’s him.” Faraj’s voice was a shocked whisper. “My god, he’s so thin.” The emaciation showed in Madari’s face, hollowed out cheeks, his eyes sunken, his nose sharp and bony. He was probably not a bad looking man in full health, Noor thought. A lean hawkish look that some women liked. But now he was a skeleton.

“Id…Idris.” The voice was barely there. Certainly not the voice of an officer, trained to make itself heard in combat and put steel into men’s backbones. This voice was a scratchy gasp.

“Idris!” Recognition showed in his face at last. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Tears sprang from Madari’s eyes, poured down his face. “I’m so sorry!” He was trying to cry out, Noor could tell and his voice just wasn’t there. Madari pawed at Faraj’s shirt, trying to grip it, but unable to. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Noor looked at the bandages on Madari’s hands and, showing up under the thin fabric of his clothes, the many dressings on his back. And he realised why the major had no voice. Too much screaming.

“Keep him here.” Noor said, standing up. “I’m going to find one of the doctors.”


“Sorry.” Madari kept on whispering. “I’m sorry.” Faraj frowned. He lifted a hand towards Madari, wanting to soothe him, stroke his hair perhaps. But he put it back down. This was his CO, Faraj couldn’t pat his head as if he was Mehdi.

“What are you sorry for, sir?” Faraj asked, sitting close to but not touching Madari. He felt awkward. What was he supposed to do for him, say to him? He’d never dealt with anyone in so much distress before. The fact that it was his CO just made it more difficult. Made it embarrassing.

“Names,” Madari whispered, not looking at Faraj. “The names the names give us the names give us the names.” The words tumbled out of him. He gave up our names, Faraj realised. He looked down at his own hands. Gave up my name.

“Betrayed you…” Madari whispered. Faraj looked at him. Was it a betrayal? Clearly he had resisted, but they had broken him in the end. He’d had no choice. That wasn’t a betrayal, was it? If Madari had truly betrayed them then Faraj would want to put his hands around the man’s throat and kill him. But he felt no urge to do that.

“No, sir, it wasn’t your fault.” He frowned, working something out in his head. The security police had come for Faraj three days after Madari was arrested. Why hadn’t Madari been brought to the prison at the same time as Faraj, or soon after? Prisoners who worked cleaning in the guard house had mentioned a prisoner who was brought in about a month ago, being treated in the infirmary. But even a month ago was three weeks after Madari’s arrest. What had they been doing to him for three weeks? Faraj looked at him, at the bandages and most horrible of all, his eyes. He shuddered. Whatever they had been doing to him he wasn’t the man Faraj had known.

The door opened and Noor hurried in with a stout middle aged man, a doctor named Al-Hijazi. Noor let the man pass him and turned back to the door, spoke to Lieutenant Hoshel.

“Guard the door. No one comes in until I say.”

Hoshel saluted and Noor closed the door.

Al-Hijazi had hurried over to Madari and Faraj stood up to let him get to the major. Madari whimpered as the doctor checked him briefly before turning to Faraj and Noor.

“Can we get him off the floor, please?”

They came over and gently helped him to his feet. He moaned in pain as he stood and the doctor glanced down at his feet, frowning.

“On this cot, lie him down,” he ordered. They did as he asked and carefully laid Madari down, cautious of his injured back. “Give me a few moments,” Al-Hijazi said. Noor and Faraj moved back a few paces and let the doctor work. He first looked at Madari’s feet, slipping off the sandals Madari wore, before easing them back on gently. Checked his back, pulling up the major’s shirt to do so. Faraj gasped. Even from this distance he could see the scars in the places that weren’t still covered in dressings. His hands balled into fists.

The doctor checked Madari’s arms and made an expression of fury as he found needle tracks.

“He’s been heavily drugged.”

“Doctor, what about his hands?” Noor asked. “Are his fingers broken?”

“They’re not splinted.” Al-Hijazi said. “I’m going to take the dressing off one.” He began to unwrap the bandages. Madari whimpered and the doctor shushed him gently. “All right, let’s see what we have…” Then he gasped and swore, which Faraj had never heard him do. The two captains came over as Al-Hijazi held up Madari’s hand. Tears shone in the doctor’s eyes. Noor muttered an oath and turned away from the gruesome sight of the tips of Madari’s fingers, the absent fingernails and exposed and inflamed nail beds.

Faraj’s head spun and his vision seemed to fill with a haze of blood. Anger boiled insanely inside him. He made a low growling noise in his throat, involuntary, pure rage dragging the sound from him. He turned and ran for the door, his only thought was revenge. One of the guards, any of them. He would make them pay, take Madari’s pain out on them.

His hand was on the door handle when he was grabbed from behind, turned and pushed against the wall. Noor pinned him there, using his superior weight.

“Let me go!” Faraj demanded.

“To do what?” Noor asked, “grab the first guard you find and beat the shit out of him? Kill him? They’re not the ones who hurt him, Idris.”

“They work for them! They have to pay!”

“And then you’ll pay, with a couple of days in the hot box or the block house or maybe a bullet in your fool head.”

Faraj still struggled, still wanted to get away and kill a guard anyway. Whatever they did to him it would be worth it. Noor leaned on him harder.

“I’m not letting you go, Captain. I can do this all day, you’ll get tired first.”

Faraj glowered furiously at Noor. He liked the easy going man, they had become friends, and he respected the natural authority Noor had with the other officers. But right now he’d happily lay Noor out to get past him. Noor just stared back at him, a stern glare in eyes that usually sparkled with good humour. Faraj held the gaze for a long time, then finally turned away. He looked over to where the doctor was talking softly to Madari, apparently ignoring the soldiers.

“They tortured him…” Faraj said, quietly. “Mutilated him.”

“I know.” Noor stepped back, taking his weight off Faraj. “I know. And they will pay. But not at the cost of your life. He needs you, Captain, he needs your protection now.”

Faraj frowned for a moment, but then he understood. Madari was helpless, at the mercy of any man in the prison, guards or inmates, soldier or civilian. Most of the prisoners were educated, civilised men, but a place like this could bring out the dark side of any man. And the guards… They would be drawn to the defenceless man like wasps to honey. Noor was right, Faraj’s duty was to his CO now, not to his own lust for revenge.

Dr Al-Hijazi came up to them then, a stern and angry look on his face.

“Captain Noor, can you please help me. I want to talk to Dr Rachad.”


Al-Hijazi was a surgeon, so hardly counted himself as a squeamish man. When he’d worked in emergency surgery he’d seen some gruesome sights, casualties of road accidents, burns victims, and yes, sometimes people who had been attacked by others, beaten, stabbed or shot. But he’d never in his life seen the kind of systematic brutality he found when examining Major Madari. It staggered him that human beings could inflict such cruelty, in cold blood, for days and weeks to another human being.

Other men had been brought to the prison having been beaten and ill-used, but never anything this serious.

Rachad came out of his office, came up to Al-Hijazi, who stood waiting for him, a guard at his shoulder.

“You wanted to see me?” Rachad said.

“We have to talk about Major Madari.” Al-Hijazi said.

“Major Madari is my patient,” Rachad said, “I didn’t ask you for a consult.” He said the last part with heavy dose of sarcasm. Al-Hijazi wasn’t amused.

“I want to see his notes.”

Rachad nodded at the guard who took Al-Hijazi’s arm. The doctor pulled it away.

“You will talk to me! If we don’t deal with him properly that man will be dead inside a month at his own hand!”

Rachad held up a hand to restrain the guard. “All right, come into the office.”

They went in and sat at the desk. Rachad pushed a thick folder of notes over to Al-Hijazi.

“You’ve examined him?” Rachad asked.

“Yes.” Al-Hijazi started to read the file. “I see your ‘treatment’ has consisted mostly of keeping him drugged into a stupor.”

Rachad bristled. “What else am I meant to do? You’ve seen what’s been done to him. The only way I can keep him from screaming all night and trying to kill himself is to keep him drugged.”

“He clearly has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Al-Hijazi said. “He needs psychiatric treatment.”

“Well he’s not going to get it, is he? Look, Doctor, he’s probably insane, he should be in a mental hospital, but he’s here and we’ll just have to deal with him as best we can.”

Al-Hijazi shook his head. How exactly? He was a surgeon not a psychiatrist, there were other doctors in the camp but none of them were specialists either. Rachad wasn’t any better use. But Al-Hijazi saw that Rachad was right about one thing. The only thing keeping Madari from killing himself right now was the drugs.

“He can’t be sedated forever.” Al-Hijazi looked up from the notes. “I’d suggest that we start to move him onto psychiatric drugs as soon as possible, once we’ve had time to assess the most appropriate ones.” Right now it was impossible to assess. Talking to Madari had proved almost pointless, the man barely knew who he was, whether a result of the trauma or the sedatives Al-Hijazi didn’t know.

“Agreed.” Rachad said. He stood up and Al-Hijazi did the same. The two doctors shook hands. Rachad smiled, he looked almost relieved now to have another doctor to share the burden of Madari’s care. “Bring him here three times a day for his drugs.”


“Anti-depressants?” Ziyahd frowned looking at the budget request from the infirmary. “You know I don’t like molly-coddling these men with ‘happy pills’, Doctor.”

Rachad frowned, forced himself to stay calm. The other officers around the table looked at him, or drank their coffee and ate pastries. Ziyahd always liked to make sure his weekly staff meetings were properly catered.

“They’re for Major Madari, sir,” Rachad explained, “I’ve been getting him off the sedatives and onto the antidepressants, over the last two weeks. He’s making some progress…”

“We can’t afford it, he’ll have to cope without them.” He put a line through the entry.

Can’t afford it? Rachad thought. Can’t afford to give up money you’re embezzling you mean, you little bastard.

“Sir, I have to warn you that he’s likely to end up back in the same kind of mental state he was when he arrived.” he lowered his voice. “You remember that first night?”

Clearly Ziyahd did, Rachad was sure he saw the General shudder.

“But there’s a difference now, Doctor.” He smirked. “I can’t hear him any more.” Some of the other officers tittered dutifully as he smiled around at them. Rachad wanted to smash all of their faces in, starting with Ziyahd.

“General…” he had to make Ziyahd see how serious this was, these weren’t ‘happy pills’, they were the only thing standing between Madari and suicide, Rachad was certain of that. Even in a heavily doped state while still in the infirmary he had tried to pull out his IV tubes and whispered more than once to Rachad the words ‘kill me’. Those words made Rachad shiver more than even the screams.

“I’m not interested, Doctor. No more drugs.”


Noor groaned as he and every man in the barracks were ripped from sleep for the third night in a row by Madari screaming. He sat up and in the moonlight saw the tall slender figure of Faraj go and kneel by the major’s cot, try to calm him. It had little effect.

“Shut him up!” Someone yelled out of the darkness.

“Shut up yourself,” another voice shouted.

“Everyone shut up!”

Noor groaned. Gradually Madari’s screams began to quieten, whether as a result of Faraj’s comforting him or simply the demons in his mind retreating Noor didn’t know. This couldn’t go on. Madari was suffering horribly, Noor was certain, though since the man still barely spoke it was hard to say. While he’d been on the drugs he’d been almost totally passive, letting them lead him around, staying where he was put and sleeping most of the time. Without the drugs he was more restless, would suddenly take off, limping but moving quite fast, yet with no aim. He’d walk across the yard and stop outside another hut, look at it confused then often just sit down on the ground and stare.

And that was the easy part. Then there were the flashbacks.

As Madari finally went silent Noor lay down again and closed his eyes. Men muttered in the dark. Madari’s suffering wasn’t the only reason this couldn’t go on.


The inevitable happened the very next day. Noor was watching over Madari in the barracks. Faraj slept, exhausted, Noor knew, from tending to Madari. Madari sat up from lying on his cot, staring into space. He looked at Noor with recognition and said. “Captain.”

“Yes, Major?” Noor replied, smiling encouraging at him.

“I want…” Madari said, had to swallow a couple of times before he could go on. “Some coffee. Can we go…” he frowned puzzled looking. “…there? Where the coffee is?”

“The mess? Of course.” He helped Madari up, took his arm and they left the barracks, walked across the yard. There was a delightful cool breeze blowing and Noor heard Madari sigh almost happily as it played across their faces.

In the mess hall he sat Madari at one of the long tables. A couple of prisoners, quite old men were sitting at another table playing chess, but otherwise the place was empty. Noor nodded to the old men as he passed on his way into the kitchen. He glanced back at Madari as he nodded and they seemed to understand. Keep an eye on him.

Noor made the coffee as strong as he could, Faraj told him that was how the major liked his coffee. It was hard to tell, since getting any food or drink into the man was difficult and he displayed little enjoyment during the ordeal. The damage to his throat didn’t just affect his voice, it made it hard for him to swallow anything. He still wasn’t putting on much weight since his diet was nearly all liquid.

Noor was pouring out two cups of coffee when one of the old men came into the kitchen.

“Captain, you’d better come out here.”

Noor looked at him alarmed and followed him out of the kitchen. Four men were standing around Madari who was staring up at them, looking terrified. They were all young men, civilian prisoners and they looked angry.

“Hey!” Noor hurried over, “get away from him.” He stood between Madari and the other men. He assessed them quickly. He couldn’t take the four of them at once, but any two of them and he’d come out on top.

“We were just talking to him.” One of the men said defiantly. Noor knew him. A chemistry graduate student before he was arrested.

“Well don’t,” Noor said, “he’s still ill, just leave him alone.”

“Okay, okay. But look, you’ve got to keep him quiet at night. We can’t take that every damn night.” The others nodded. They all looked tired, Noor thought, but he felt no pity for them. He was tired too, and Faraj was exhausted, they weren’t whining about it.

“He can’t help it, you idiot. He’s ill, you know what’s been done to him?”

“I don’t care! Just shut him up, or something’s going to happen, people aren’t going to stand for it much longer.”

“Anyone lays a finger on this man they answer to me.” Noor’s scowl was fierce and it did seem to intimidate the civilians. The four of them backed off.

“Just, do something.” The spokesman of the group said and the four of them turned and left. Noor sighed and sat down beside Madari. The major looked at him, eyes wide and frightened.

“It’s all right, Faris,” Noor said gently, “I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

“I make too much noise…”

“It’s not your fault.” He put his hand on Madari’s shoulder, then ran it down the man’s arm. Still so thin and wasted.

“Captain, here’s your coffee.” Noor looked up to see the old prisoner who’d come into the kitchen approaching them carrying the coffee cups.

“Oh thank you.” The old man put down the cups and retreated.

Madari tried to pick up one of the cups. His hands only had dressings on the ends of his fingers now, as protection as much as anything else, but they still made his hands clumsy.

“Can I help you, Major?” Noor asked.

“No!” Madari snapped. “Sick of… fed like a baby.” Ah, a little fighting spirit, Noor thought, glad to see it. He sat back, let Madari fumble the cup into a reasonably secure hold, between both hands and take a sip. He drank his own watching Madari take slow careful sips of coffee. Then he must have taken a little too big a sip, or the coffee grounds irritated his throat, because he gagged and one hand flew to his throat. He spat out coffee and the cup fell from his other hand, hit the edge of the table and shattered.

“Are you okay?” Noor said, alarmed, worried about having to pound Madari on his injured back if he was choking. But Madari nodded, not speaking, but seeming calm.

“Water.” Madari whispered. Noor ran though to the kitchen and came back a moment later with a cup of water. Madari managed to hold it and sip from it. When he was sure Madari was managing that Noor bent down and started to retrieve the pieces of broken cup.

Chapter 3

“Well we have to do something,” Noor said to Faraj and Dr Al-Hijazi. The three of them stood around in the bathrooms at the end of the barracks room. Outside men were settling down for the night.

“It seems to help him if someone is close, even holding him.” Al-Hijazi observed. “If we pushed a cot against his and someone slept beside him, close enough to be woken when he started to become agitated, then they could wake him before the nightmare takes full hold. This has to stop. For one thing his voice isn’t going to get better if he keeps screaming every night.” He shook his head, “I wish I had an endoscope. I’m certain he has nodules on his vocal chords.” He sighed. “On the other hand continually interrupted sleep isn’t going to do his mental health any good.”

“Right now it’s not doing anybody’s mental health any good.” Noor pointed out.

“I know. I’m going to talk to Dr Rachad again. It’s disgusting that they won’t at least give him sleeping drugs. The man is suffering!”

“Sounds like a good idea about the cots,” Noor said, interrupting the angry doctor. Faraj looked less convinced. “We’d have to take it in turns, not just us three, all of the officers who are willing, and there’s other men I think can be trusted who’ll want to help.” He smiled. “We’ll have a rota, I’ll put it together tomorrow.” He glanced at the pale and exhausted looking Faraj. “And I’ll take the first watch tonight.” He smiled at the other two. “I think this will work, my friends.”


It did work. Al-Hijazi explained to Madari what they proposed to do to help him and asked if he was comfortable with that. Madari had just nodded, Al-Hijazi hoped he actually understood. Noor pushed the cot to the left of Madari’s close up beside the major’s and lay down beside him. He gave a reassuring smile to the nervous looking Madari.

“Just sleep, Major, it will be fine.”

Noor woke when he heard Madari give a choked groan. He remembered where he was and why and reached out to stroke Madari’s arm soothingly. He moved closer, spoke quietly.

“Shh, Faris. Shh.” In the dim light Madari’s face was twisted and frightened. “You’re safe,” Noor said softly. “Wake up, Faris.”

Madari’s eyes opened abruptly.

“Ahmed?” He whispered, then frowned.

“No, it’s me, Javid. You’re safe.”

Madari’s eyes closed again, he turned away from Noor and groaned. He was embarrassed, Noor realised. Well it wasn’t a very normal situation, but this wasn’t a very normal place and Madari had been through something very far from normal

Noor moved back a little, allowing Madari his space and dignity. He saw Madari was shaking now and the major pulled up a blanket to cover his face, his tears. Noor wanted to weep too, with pity. Instead he found Madari’s hand in the dark and took it. I am here. That’s all I can do for him. Be here, be strong for him.

Noor had always been someone who’d been protective of anyone weaker than him. Even at school, though he was a big boy he’d never been a bully. Instead he’d been the one the other children ran to if someone bullied them and young Javid had gone to teach the bully a lesson in picking on someone their own size.

Going into the army had been for him a natural extension of that protective instinct. And when the new government had started sending through orders that meant hurting the very people he believed he was meant to protect Noor had rebelled, had disobeyed orders and been arrested first by his own comrades in arms and then the security police had shown up and then he was here.

And now he had someone else to protect. He waited until Madari was asleep, then let himself drift off too, still holding Madari’s mutilated hand.


Madari slipped his hand out of Noor’s. He watched as the Captain stirred in his sleep and then settled again. This one is a good man, Madari thought. Sometimes he forgot Noor’s name, sometimes he forgot his own, but he was convinced the captain was a good man. Ahmed would have approved of him. If only things had been different, Madari thought, we could have been friends. If only there’d been time…

He sat up on his cot, slow and quiet, kept the groan inside as his injured feet touched the floor. In the dark he groped for his sandals and slipped them on. His eyes were adapting, he could see well enough to make out the door to the shower and lavatory area at the end of the barracks.

He winced as he looked in that direction. He couldn’t shower properly, with the dressings that still covered his back and his fingers. Even using the toilet was difficult. He cringed. He felt as if he wasn’t clean, would never feel clean again. He’d never feel like a man again. The other men meant well, but they treated him like a child. And now this: a man sleeping beside him to comfort him when his dreams came. When he was a little boy and had nightmares he would sometimes climb into his parents’ bed, sleep between them, knowing their presence would chase away the monsters in his dreams. He’d stopped doing that a long time ago, yet now he was reduced to it again, it seemed. Reduced to a child, humiliated and pitied.

And was it any wonder? He was a pathetic, broken creature, deserving only of the pity of real men. His body was maimed, his mind destroyed. His honour, his pride, were mere distant memories that mocked him. He could not live like this, preyed on by other men and by his own dreams and memories, by his guilt. He could not look at Idris every day and see a man he’d betrayed. A man who might never see his family again because of Madari’s weakness.

Careful not to let the cot creak he leaned over to where his shirt lay at the foot of the bed and slid his hand into a pocket. His clumsy, bandaged fingers closed around a small piece of the coffee cup he had dropped earlier. The sharp broken edge pressed into his skin and he smiled.

The pain would stop soon. Forever.


“Javid! Javid!”

Noor sat up, startled from sleep at the panicky yell. He recognised the voice, Lieutenant Moshen, one of the officers.

“Naji?” He called out. He glanced down at Madari… who wasn’t there.

Oh no.

Noor jumped up, Moshen’s voice had come from the shower block. Noor ran there, ignoring the questions and imprecations from the other men in the barracks, men woken again from sleep. But this time it wasn’t by a nightmare. Unless it was Noor’s nightmare.

Noor skidded as he ran into the shower area, skidded on the tiled floor, which was wet. And he saw with sick horror that it wasn’t water on the floor. In the moonlight what was on the floor looked black, but Noor knew it was blood. Oh no! No! Noor’s thoughts screamed. He was under my protection. I failed, I failed.

“Here!” Moshen shouted, from one of the shower cubicles. Noor found him leaning over Madari who was slumped in the corner, dressed only in baggy white trousers which were now soaked with the blood that ran from Madari’s wrists.

No! No! I failed him.

“I woke up and saw he wasn’t in his bed.” Moshen said, turning a pale face to Noor. He ripped a strip of cloth from his own shirt, started to tie it tight around Madari’s wrist. Noor stared at him and then gasped.

“He’s alive?”

“Yes, just.” He bound the other wrist. Both makeshift bandages were soaked with blood in seconds, but Noor wanted to cheer anyway. If Madari was still bleeding then he was still alive.

“We have to get him to the infirmary!” Noor got into the cubicle and the two of them pulled the unconscious man to his feet, arms over their shoulders. “Double quick,” Noor said, quickly manoeuvring the three of them out of the cubicle and into the barracks.

Faraj was right at the door as they went through sideways.

“Faris!” He cried in horror. “What happened?” His face went dark, furious, he glared at Noor. “You were supposed to be watching him!”

“There’s no time, Faraj, get out of my way!”

Guards were coming into the barracks now. The lights came on. Noor snapped at Moshen, “Keep moving.” He trusted his fellow officers to run interference and get the guards out of the way.

The sight of the blood apparently shocked the guards as much as it did the prisoners, they stood aside and Noor and Moshen dragged Madari out of the barracks and across the yard, started to run. As they approached the gate that led out of the prisoner compound a searchlight hit them, followed them. Moshen groaned.

“They’ll shoot us.”

“Wounded man!” Noor yelled at the guards on the gate as they approached. “Medical emergency! Open the gate!”

It wasn’t open by the time they got there and Noor was about ready to chew through it. Madari’s blood was soaking into his shoulder, leaking through the bandage. Then Noor growled low in his throat as Ghaith stepped up to the gate, looked through with his usual sneering expression. Noor could smell drink on him. Ghaith looked Madari up and down.

“Can’t he wait for sick call in the morning?”

The other guards sniggered. Noor grabbed the wire of the gate, snarled out words.

“Let us through, you son of a bitch, or I’ll tear this gate off and then tear your fucking head off after.”

The guards went silent, looked at Ghaith, who held Noor’s gaze for a moment. One day, Noor thought, one day I’ll rip out your heart, hold it up in front of your eyes.

“Open the gate!”

Ghaith snorted, then said, “Okay, open it up.”

They did and Noor and Moshen hurried through with their burden.

“He’d better not bleed on the guard room floor,” Ghaith warned as they passed him.

Noor shot him a filthy glance and wanted to tell Ghaith how much he wished scorpions would lay their eggs in every one of Ghaith’s bodily orifices, but he couldn’t delay getting Madari to the infirmary. He hurried on. A commotion behind him made him glance around once to see Ghaith arguing with more prisoners, Faraj being the most vocal among them. Faraj was demanding to be let through. Ghaith wasn’t having it and Noor gasped as Faraj threw a punch and the argument became a fight. He couldn’t stop though. A guard took them into the guardhouse and Noor just prayed the fight didn’t lead to anyone getting shot.

And then they were in the infirmary and handing Madari over to the doctor and the medical staff were rushing around and Noor felt his legs start to shake so that he had to back up to the wall and sit down. After a second Moshen sat down beside him. The two blood spattered men looked at each other. Moshen’s eyes were wide. He was young, only twenty four and, Noor remembered, he’d never seen combat, never seen that much blood. He put his arm around the younger man and let Moshen lean against him, felt him trembling. Noor closed his eyes and put his head back against the wall. Listening to the medics work on Madari Javid Noor prayed.


General Ziyahd had a headache. The headache was named Madari. Once again the place had been in an uproar overnight. Ghaith was in a foul temper and had a black eye. He was stamping around shouting at guards and prisoners alike. Captain Faraj was in the hot box and could stay in there until he shrivelled up like a date as far as Ziyahd cared. Noor and Moshen had needed eight guards to drag them out of the infirmary and back to their barracks. Madari himself was the only quiet one, doped up, in restraints and being given a blood transfusion.

And now Doctor Rachad and Doctor Al-Hijazi were shouting at each other in Rachad’s office. Ziyahd hated doctors, superior bastards. He approached the office and waited for a moment listening to the two doctors arguing.

“Not giving that man medication is professional misconduct!” Al-Hijazi shouted at Rachad.

“I want to give him medication!” Rachad yelled back. “I told you the situation, the general won’t let me requisition any antidepressants.”

“Then do something about it! Report him, go over his head, do something, for the sake of your patient.”

Ziyahd listened hard, barely breathing, waiting for his doctor’s answer.

“I can’t.” Rachad said, quietly. “You don’t understand. It’s different in the army than in a hospital, it’s just different.”

Ziyahd smiled, pleased. Seems he still had his officer’s loyalty.

“I hate the little reptile.” Rachad went on, “but there’s nothing I can do, he’s my C.O.”

Ziyahd scowled. Reptile? If the doctor wasn’t careful he’d find himself on the wrong side of the wire.

The door opened suddenly and Al-Hijazi stomped out, his face dark with fury. He almost knocked Ziyahd over as he stormed out. He glared at the general, then turned back to Rachad who was following him out.

“That man’s blood is on your hands. His death will be on your heads.” He stalked off. Ziyahd waved a hand at a guard to accompany him.

Rachad was looking at Ziyahd, alarmed, presumably wondering what he might have heard. Ziyahd didn’t berate him for the ‘reptile’ crack though. He squirrelled it away in his mind for later use. He stood thoughtful for a moment, rubbing a finger across his moustache. He had a dilemma. His superiors wanted Madari kept alive, he’d been told that. But they were, it seemed, quite happy for him to be in the wretched state he was in now. If the doctor gave him drugs he’d get better. And if he got better then things could get very difficult around here. Ziyahd thought he had Noor under control; just threaten to shoot a few civilians if the Captain got stroppy. Faraj needed breaking in, but Ghaith was working on that. But Madari in his right mind again, if the man’s reputation was to be believed, would be a danger Ziyahd wasn’t sure he could cope with.

“All right doctor. Give him drugs. Just enough to keep him from trying this again.”

“General, I can’t guarantee that.”

“You’d better try doctor. You’d better try. Keep him alive, but don’t let him get any better.”

Ziyahd turned away from the outrage on Rachad’s face and strode out of the infirmary.