“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.