Jahni walked into the barracks to find Madari sitting up on a cot, back against the wall, eyes closed. He hesitated for a moment, unsure if he should approach. but Madari must have heard him come in. He looked up suddenly, eyes wide for a moment, before his face became calm again.
Jahni went over and offered Madari one of the two cups he carried.
“I thought you might like some tea, sir.”
“Oh, thank you, Lieutenant. Yes, I would.” he took the cup from Jahni’s right hand and sipped the tea.
“Are you feeling better?” Jahni asked. Why had the others left him alone? After what happened they just left him alone? That wasn’t right. He sat on the cot beside Madari’s, slipping off his sandals and sitting cross legged.
“Yes, I do feel better, thank you. And… thank you for helping me. I hope that wasn’t too, um, disturbing for you.”
“No, sir.” It hadn’t disturbed him, it had made him angry. Angry at the men who hurt Madari so badly that he fell back into their clutches like that. And then angry at Faraj and Noor, who he saw trying to hold Madari down on the bench, in the darkness, shouting his name. Idiots getting it all wrong.
He’d run up and grabbed Madari by the arm, dragged him stumbling into the sunlight and spoke close to his ear, almost touching, in a voice… a voice he never knew he had. Where had that come from?
“Do you have experience dealing with… with that sort of situation?” Madari asked.
Jahni frowned. He didn’t.
“No. I just thought that I had to make the situation now as different as possible from what it must have been then, when you were tortured.” He saw Madari flinch at the word. “I thought that was the best way to make you come back from the memories.”
He sat looking down into his mug of tea. He’d been presumptuous he supposed. He’d only just met the man, how could he know what was right for him? He’d always been headstrong. He used to play golf sometimes with his father and he never remembered to shout “fore”.
“You… you don’t have to stay here with me, Lieutenant,” Madari said. “I’m sure you have things you’d rather be doing.”
Jahni looked at him. Madari’s eyes were bleak.
“Well, I did have a squash game scheduled, then I was going to go to the steam bath, but I think I might have to postpone.” He grinned and Madari smiled back. Jahni liked that. He drank the last of his tea and put down the mug. He leaned back, hands flat on the cot.
“It’s usually best if I’m just left alone.” Madari said, sighed.
Jahni scowled at that.
“Best for who exactly?” He almost bit his tongue. He hadn’t intended that to come out with quite as much vehemence as it did. Madari looked at him, frowning.
“I’m sorry, sir.” Jahni reached around for his sandals. “Of course you don’t want to talk about it.” Why would he talk to me anyway? A stranger? And why do I care so much? What is this man’s pain to me? I have enough trouble, I have to think about getting out of here, I have to think about my family.
“Kahil,” Madari leaned forward, caught his arm as Jahni started to move off the cot. “Wait. Please.” Madari let go, when Jahni stopped, but he didn’t sit back. His voice dropped low. “I do want to talk about it. Sometimes I think my head will explode if I don’t. But the others think if I talk about it too much, dwell on it, that will make it harder to forget it, that will make the memories come back more often.”
Jahni sat down again. There were tears in Madari’s eyes now. He was trying to hold them back, his voice shook with the effort, cracked until it was barely a whisper. And he reached out and took Jahni’s hand. Jahni was very careful not to squeeze the injured hand he now held.
“The memories don’t ‘come back’, Kahil. They never go away, they’re always there and then something, something tiny can make them overwhelm me. It’s like… like being in a lake or the sea and most of the time my head is out of the water, but then something drags me under and the water closes over my head and I start… I start to drown.” He choked off and put his head down, put his free hand over his eyes to catch the tears that were starting to fall now. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have to hear this. I don’t even know you.”
Jahni was silent for a moment. No, Madari didn’t know him. Well if knowing him was a requirement that could be arranged.
“I was named Kahil after my mother’s brother, who died when he was ten. Both my parents are still alive. I have two younger sisters, who worship me. My father thought I should join the army for a couple of years to get some discipline, I was lazy at university you see. But…” he smiled. “I loved it. Now he can’t get me to leave. My friends say I am the world’s worst driver.” Madari was looking at him now, eyes wide. What the hell am I babbling about? Jahni wondered. But he couldn’t stop. I want him to know me, I want him to trust me. I want him to talk to me. “I broke my arm falling off the roof of our house when I was nine. No other man in my unit can field strip an AR-15 faster than me…”
“Who the hell is this Jahni anyway?” Faraj paced up and down while Noor patiently shook out and folded freshly laundered clothes. “He waltzes in here, and suddenly he’s the expert on what’s best for the major.”
“None of us are experts, Idris.” Noor said. “But Jahni seems to have a way with Faris.” He shrugged. “He’s made a connection of some kind. Can you come and help me with this?”
Faraj scowled at the piles of laundry. Manual labour was not one of his things, Noor knew. He’d never washed so much as a sock before he came here. But he stomped over and started to fold garments aggressively.
“Idris, you have to admit that the major has improved, since Jahni got here. You must be glad about that. If Faris finds him comforting then where’s the problem?”
Faraj just scowled again. Madari had indeed taken to Jahni since the lieutenant arrived a month ago. Jahni had quickly joined their rota for taking care of the major at night and was better at it than anyone else. Noor had listened to him a few times, as he spoke into Madari’s ear. The voice he used was remarkable, almost hypnotic. It calmed Madari down faster than anyone else was able to. And if Madari went off to the shower after the nightmare Jahni always followed. “He shouldn’t be alone.” Jahni had insisted. Noor believed that too, especially after the suicide attempt. But Madari had asked them to leave him alone and since he didn’t seem to be about to slit his wrists again what could they do? But Jahni was apparently tolerated, even welcomed.
A week after his arrival Faraj had given Jahni a direct order to leave Madari alone when he went to the showers after a bad dream. Jahni had just looked back steadily at Faraj and said, “Not until he tells me to.”
“Idris,” Noor said, with a chuckle, “will you stop acting like a woman whose husband just took a second wife.”
Faraj looked at him outraged.
“Are you saying I’m… what? Jealous? What the hell are you suggesting?”
“Nothing, nothing.” Noor said, hastily, seeing the fury in Faraj’s eyes. Went a little too far there he thought. Jealous was exactly the right word though. Faraj’s aristocratic nose was a little out of joint over the way Jahni had connected with Madari. Aristocratic was the right word too. Faraj and Madari himself both came from wealthy families. Old money families. Jahni had told them about his family – he talked about them a lot – and his father was wealthy with very new money. Money he’d worked for himself. Noor personally considered that something to admire. Faraj on the other hand was less impressed.
Noor sighed. He didn’t want those two to feud. Jahni seemed to be a good officer, sharp, bold. They could use a man like that. Noor would have to try and work out a way to make them trust each other. They could all be a hell of a team, frankly.
Ziyahd was taking a stroll around the yard with Ghaith at his side when Faraj and Noor, under guard, came out of the laundry and headed back towards the prisoner compound, pushing a cart full of clothes.
Ghaith sniggered at the sight of them and Ziyahd smiled too. Noor gave the two of them a dirty look, Faraj a furious glare.
“Laundry duty, Captains? How the mighty are fallen, eh, sergeant?”
Ghaith sniggered some more, which encouraged Ziyahd. “I hope your hands don’t get too rough from the work, Captain Faraj.”
“Why don’t I put them around your throat and you can find out, you jackal fathered runt.”
Ziyahd heard Noor groan, before the sound was drowned out by Faraj’s cry of pain when Ghaith slammed his truncheon into the captain’s shoulder. Faraj fell to one knee and the truncheon fell again slammed into his back, making him drop to hands and knees. The two guards who’d been escorting them grabbed Noor as he tried to run to Faraj’s aid.
Ziyahd, flushed and breathing fast at the sight of Faraj moaning in pain watched as Ghaith pulled Faraj to his feet. Faraj was not cowed, he still glared with hatred at Ziyahd.
“A few hours in the hot box I think.” Ziyahd said, smirking.
“Yes, sir.” Ghaith summoned a couple of guards and tossed Faraj at them. “Hot box.” He ordered. They dragged him off struggling. “You,” Ghaith turned to Noor, “get that cart out of here before I piss in it.”
Glowering, Noor obeyed, pushed the cart back to the prisoner compound. Faraj was being dragged into there too and across the yard to the hot box.
“Not even noon yet,” Ziyahd said smiling. “Keep him in there until dark.”
“Yes, sir.” Ghaith slapped his truncheon into his hand. “Needs taking down a few pegs that one.”
Ziyahd nodded in agreement. “Any suggestions, Sergeant?”
“After he’s done cooking I’ll take him to the blockhouse. Me and a few of the lads will teach him what his place is.” He slapped the truncheon into his hand again, licked his lips. “Be a pleasure, sir, a real pleasure.”
Ziyahd was actually frightened of him in that moment. The big man was clearly hungry to teach Faraj the lesson he needed.
“You have my permission, Sergeant. Do whatever is necessary.”
Did they think this could break him? Hours in the box till every nerve ending felt like a flame? Heat and pain and thirst the only things his mind could know. What the hell did they think he was? Weak? He was Royal Guard. Come back in a month and maybe he’d be broken.
Ghaith came around every so often, stood outside the box drinking water and asking if Faraj wanted some. Faraj would never give him the satisfaction of begging for it. That animal would never hear him beg, even if he waited till the sky fell.
He couldn’t stand up when the guards finally opened the door and dragged him out. He hit the hot sandy ground hard when they dropped him. A boot in his side didn’t make him move. Play dead, he thought. If they thought he was unconscious they’d get bored and leave him alone. And then Javid would come and help him. Why had he shouted at Javid before? Javid was kind.
“Get him up.” Ghaith’s voice, not Javid’s. Just leave me alone, you bastard. Men grabbed his arms and dragged him up. He managed to crack open his eyes, guards all around him, prisoners watching. There was Noor, worry etched on his face. Madari stood beside him.
“Give him some water.”
Faraj was astonished when one of the guards suddenly shoved a canteen at him, pouring water into his mouth. He choked and then gulped it down desperately. “Enough.” Ghaith snapped. He grinned at Faraj. “Won’t do for him to pass out too quick. Bring him.”
What the hell? This wasn’t the usual procedure. Normally the man in the box was dragged out and left to the other prisoners to take care of. If he was still alive.
The guards dragged the stumbling Faraj out of the prisoner compound and across to the block house. A concrete block of cells. Sometimes men were put in there for solitary confinement. There were no windows. It was like another world in there. Dark, damp, cold as a cave.
They opened a metal door and shoved Faraj into a cell. He hit the cold floor almost gratefully. After the heat in the box it felt good. Footsteps behind him and someone grabbed the back of his shirt, like a man grabbing a cat by the scruff of its neck. He was thrown further into the room and now three more men were coming in after the first. The lights came on, quite dim, but they let Faraj see that Ghaith and three other guards were in the room now.
“Close the door.” Ghaith said and unshipped his truncheon from his belt
Faraj moaned softly, but steeled himself for the beating he knew was coming. He was strong. He was Royal Guard. He stared then as Ghaith dropped the truncheon on the floor.
“Hold him down.” The other three grabbed Faraj, who resisted, though still baffled. Then his eyes widened and a cry of horror escaped him as Ghaith started to undo his belt buckle.
No, he couldn’t be. It was impossible. The belt whispered out of the belt loops. He’s going to beat me with the belt, that’s all, Faraj thought, that has to be it. Please let that be what he’s going to do.
Ghaith dropped the belt.
“No!” Faraj cried, struggling in earnest now. “No! You vile pig! You can’t! You can’t!”
“Turn him over.”
Faraj fought wildly, but there were too many for him, and they turned him onto his stomach. The guards were laughing and leering. A sob forced its way out of him.
“Please, no, please!” A sound, a zipper. “Please, no!” Weight on top of him, cigarette tainted breath against his ear.
Madari and Noor sat up awake all night, waiting for Faraj to be brought back.
“Why can’t he keep his mouth shut?” Noor asked at one point. Madari, sitting up on his cot glanced over at Noor.
“He’s a proud man.”
“Well his pride is what’s getting kicked out of him right now.” Noor said, angrily. He sighed. “You’d think he’d have learnt by now.”
Madari shrugged, it would take more than a few months to undo the years of training in haughtiness that Faraj had gone through. He hoped they didn’t hurt Faraj too badly, but there was no way Faraj would ever keep his mouth shut. A proud man, a real man of the type Madari wished he could be again.
He glanced at the cot on the other side of him. Jahni lay sleeping there. There was a man too. Strong and proud. Unbroken. He knew the lieutenant carried bruises from the fists and truncheons of guards that he never missed the chance to insult or sneer at. Noor called him headstrong and reckless and he was, but he had the kind of guts Madari knew he himself would never have again. Strange, he thought, how important Jahni had become to him in such a short time. His voice. His hands. The way he listened. Madari had heard the expression “a good listener.” He’d never really understood it until now.
“It’s almost dawn.” Noor said, looking out of the window. He smiled wryly at Madari. “Why did we sit up all night? They’re not going to bring him back until morning.”
“A vigil, Captain.”
“Right.” Noor dropped the blanket he had over his shoulders then slid off the cot and headed towards the bathroom.
Jahni stirred, perhaps from the noise or movement Madari guessed. He sat up, blinking, eyes still hazy with sleep.
“Did they bring him back yet?”
“Not yet. Go back to sleep, Kahil.”
Jahni lay down again and closed his eyes, Madari reached out and gently touched his shoulder.
“Sleep.” He said softly. Too many nights this one sat up with him then slept in the day. At least he’d got some rest tonight. Jahni sighed and his breathing became even again, as he dropped back into sleep quickly.
Madari, Noor and Jahni came back after morning prayers to find Faraj lying on a cot. His clothes were dirty and bloodstained. He was barely conscious.
“Find Dr Al-Hijazi now!” Noor snapped to Jahni who quickly ran off, calling the doctor’s name. Madari meanwhile shoved away cots so he could kneel by Faraj. He took one of the Captain’s bloodied and bruised hands.
“Idris, I’m here. The doctor is coming.” Faraj stirred painfully. His eyes half opened but he didn’t seem to recognise Madari, he didn’t speak. Noor stood on the other side of him, looking down, agonised.
“Bastards.” He muttered. He reached down and brushed a strand of hair that was crusted with blood off Faraj’s face. “The bastards.”
Dr Al-Hijazi came in then with Jahni. More of the officers followed them in. Other prisoners stood around the barracks watching. Madari saw Noor frown around at all the people, then catch Jahni’s eye. Jahni gave a small nod, turned.
“Let’s give them some space, come on. The man needs air, everybody out.” Jahni used his officer voice and even though he was the most junior of the officers currently in the room people obeyed him, even the officers more senior to him. In a moment the audience had been chivvied out. Jahni stood at the door on guard stopping anyone else from coming back in.
After a few minutes Dr Al-Hijazi stood up from examining Faraj, went up to Madari and Noor who stood a short distance off.
“Is he badly hurt?” Madari asked,
“He’s been beaten,” Al-Hijazi said. “But not too badly, there’s a mild concussion I think. I don’t think he has any internal injuries or broken bones.”
“That’s good,” Noor sighed with relief. “We get him cleaned up and he rests and he’ll be all right?”
“There’s something else, isn’t there?” Madari was looking at the doctor, who was pale and sickened, a look Madari had already seen too many times on the man’s face.
Al-Hijazi nodded, spoke in a low voice, leaning in close to them.
“I think he’s been raped.”
Madari didn’t even know how it happened but he was suddenly outside and leaning against the wall of the barracks throwing up. He had no memory of the intervening time. Gradually, as his heaving stomach calmed down he realised Jahni was beside him, staring wide eyed, looking frightened. Madari shivered. Cold sweat bathed him and he was trembling.
My fault, was all he could think. He’s here because of me. My fault.
Bangs and crashes sounded from inside the hut. Noor. Cots must be flying. Guards would come in a second. Madari straightened up. He could still taste bile in his mouth.
“Stay here,” he ordered Jahni, “assist Captain Noor.”
“Sir, what are you…” But Madari ignored him. He strode across the yard, right up to the gate.
“I want to see the general, now.” It actually physically hurt to put the kind of authority in his voice that he needed here, but he managed it, just. The guards instinctively responded and one raised his radio to ask permission. In a moment he got an answer and nodded.
They opened the gate and two guards escorted Madari to the guardhouse and into Ziyahd’s office. The general was enjoying a coffee when Madari was brought in. He smiled, actually smiled at Madari and Madari suddenly felt the anger that he had floated here on be replaced by fear. What the hell was he doing here? What the hell did he think he could say or do?
“Why, Major, how kind of you to visit me.” Ziyahd said, mockingly. “Is there something I can do for you?”
“That animal Ghaith sexually assaulted one of my men. I want…” Madari had to stop as his voice cracked. He put a hand to his throat then went on as best he could. “I want to make an official complaint.” Even as he said it he knew it was ridiculous. Such procedure didn’t exist, he had no rights, none of them had, no rights, no protection. They were at the mercy of these men. The only protection they had was each other. And he had failed. He had failed Faraj again.
“Well, let’s see what Sergeant Ghaith has to say shall we?” Ziyahd said. “You,” he ordered a guard, “send Ghaith to me.” The guard left.
Ziyahd gave Madari another mocking smile, enjoying the little charade. “Won’t you sit down, Major, you look quite pale. Perhaps some coffee?”
He’s gloating, Madari thought. He knows what happened and he knows there’s nothing I can do about it and he just wants to rub it in. And I came here alone and I’m helpless and these men are sadists.
Ghaith came in and it was all Madari could do to keep from flinching. Ghaith looked bigger than ever, as if he was puffed up with his triumph.
“Sergeant Ghaith, the major has a complaint, he says you assaulted one of his men.”
“Oh yeah? And what does he think he’s going to do about it?” He looked at Madari with a sneer.
“Well, the major is an old fashioned sort of man.” Ziyahd sniggered. “Perhaps he’d like to challenge you to single combat.”
“Oh yeah?” Ghaith said again. He stepped closer and Madari backed off at once, terrified. His hands curled into fists, but to protect his partly re-grown fingernails, not to fight. Ghaith kept coming and Madari kept backing off until he hit the wall, trapped into a corner. Ghaith came still closer and Madari shut his eyes as the man’s weight pressed against him.
“Maybe the major wants to be next?” Ghaith snarled, close to Madari’s ear. “Maybe the major wants to spend a night in the block house with me and a few of the boys?” He pushed against Madari who gasped in horror at what he felt against his hip, hard and… no, it was Ghaith’s truncheon. No less terrifying for that.
Ziyahd’s voice, close too. Madari opened his eyes to see Ziyahd had come over, was flushed and excited looking.
“Or perhaps your pretty new friend Mr Jahni can amuse the sergeant instead? Yes.” He smirked. “Don’t think we haven’t noticed how fond you’ve become of that one.”
“Oh please,” Madari begged, horrified at the thought of them hurting Jahni. “No, please, not him.”
Ziyahd gave a repulsive smirk. “Isn’t love a wonderful thing, sergeant?”
“Now, Major, are you quite finished bothering me? I have a lot of important work to do.” His desk was empty of everything except the coffee cup.
“Yes. Please,” his voice cracked, barely a whisper now. “Can I go?”
Ziyahd looked at him, expectant, an eyebrow cocked, waiting.
“Sir,” Madari added and almost threw up again.