A few short snippets set in the AMTW universe.

The Small Secret World of Kahil Jahni

A short story of Jahni’s childhood.

“That little monkey is on the roof again.”

Kahil heard his mother’s voice drift up from the open kitchen window. His father’s voice came a moment later.

“I’ll fetch him.”

Kahil imagined his father walking from the kitchen towards the front door and he followed the same path across the roof. He had worked out the layout of the house from up here, knew when he stood over his own bedroom, or his parent’s room, or the living room.

As Kahil reached the edge of the roof, the front door opened and his father stepped out into the twilight.


“I’m here, Papa.”

He expected an order to come down, but instead heard his father chuckle.

“Why do you climb up there anyway?”

“Because I can see the whole world from up here!”

Another chuckle and Kahil laughed too. Silly. He’d thought that the first time he climbed up. Seeing the tall buildings on the horizon, he imagined they were not Az-Ma’ir, but New York, or London, or Paris.

That first time he had climbed up to retrieve a football he’d kicked too high. Finding the decorative stonework on the corners of the one storey house made good hand and footholds, he’d kicked off his shoes and shinned up there like the little monkey his mother had called him.

And discovered a secret place.

His football was there and he threw it down to bounce around the yard. But another football lay there too, in a corner, resting against the low parapet that ran around the edge of the flat roof. It must have been there a long time, sad and deflated now, blistered from sun and sandstorms. The top of it that faced the sun had faded to grey; the shaded underside was still dark red. When he picked it up, insects ran from the shady places now exposed to the sun. He didn’t recall owning the ball, or losing it. Whose had it been?

Stones lay around. Big ones that filled his small hands. How did they get onto the roof? Did someone throw them? Did they fall out of the sky? Rocks did fall out of the sky; meteorites, from space. But they didn’t just drop onto your roof like rain; they shrieked out of the sky in a ball of fire and left your house a crater in the ground.

He’d found a dead bird there once. His father had been at work that day, so his mother laid out an old sheet on the ground and threw him her gardening gloves. He had to hold the gloves onto his hands; small fists balled inside them, the fingers empty, while he scooped up the bird and tossed it down onto the sheet. Perhaps it was bigger than his mother expected; she shrieked and ran away from the corpse. Kahil climbed down and, feeling like the man of the house, dealt with the bird, bundling it up in the old sheet. Later his father burnt it up in a bonfire.

One day he found, or rather met, a cat on the roof. It lay stretched in the sun and looked quite put out by the intrusion when the boy climbed up to join it. Where the cat came from, Kahil had no idea. Nobody around here owned a cat. Some farms lay a few miles away, perhaps it belonged there. Farms had cats to keep down the rats, he knew.

Tiring of his curiosity after a few minutes, the cat left, flicking its tail. Kahil watched amazed as it jumped from the roof to the washing line tied between the house and a pole in the garden. It walked along the line like a tightrope walker in a circus and then jumped again onto the wall around their garden. Dropping down from there it vanished from sight, until a moment later, when he saw it walking away up the road, soon vanishing into a shimmer of heat haze.

“Come down now, boy. Time for supper.”

Well, if one thing got Kahil down from his secret kingdom on top of the world, it was mealtimes. He ran to the corner and started to climb down, hands and bare feet gripping the warm stones. Half way down he put his right foot onto a stone and… it moved, came loose, his foot slipped off the stone, hands slipped, he fell…

His father caught him, grunted as he took Kahil’s weight, and then let him slide down to set him on his feet.

“Thank you, Papa!”

He looked around for his sandals and slipped them on, sand and grit from the roof and the ground still pressing into the soles of his feet. When he looked up, he saw a scared expression in his father’s eyes for a moment, as he looked up, then down at Kahil.

“Be more careful, son.” He spoke quietly, and then reached out to ruffle Kahil’s hair, making the boy laugh and duck away. “I won’t always be there to catch you.”

Kahil just smiled at him. Of course his father would always be there. Where would he go?



Life is a tapestry


Madari looked up from his paperwork to the man standing at his open office door. It was the young historian Rahama had recently engaged to write a history of the regiment.

“Hello, Mr Madaan. What can I do for you?”

“Do you have a moment?”

“Of course. Come in, sit down. How is your research going?”

“Oh, fine, sir, very well,” he said as he took a seat and put a stack of books and files on Madari’s desk.

“Did you have some more questions about my grandfather?” Madari asked.

“Not at the moment. I just happened to find…” he started to rummage in one of the files. “Now where did I put it? I was going through some archived purchase orders – to confirm when the regiment first started to use the Browning Hi-Power as standard issue…”

“Oh, that would be in the late nineteen-fifties,” Madari said. My father first purchased those in fact, when he was chief supply officer.”

“Yes, I confirmed that. But… ah, here it is! I found this too.”

He took out a piece of paper and handed it to Madari. The faded ink and the yellow tinge to the once white paper betrayed its age. But despite those, Madari immediately recognised his father’s handwriting.

“I just thought you might find it… interesting,” Madaan said, He stood up, gathering up his things and smiled at the puzzled look on Madari’s face. “Look at the name of the salesman.”

“The salesman? Oh!” He stared up at Madaan, who shrugged.

“It might only be a coincidence of names, but it’s… interesting.”

“Yes indeed. Thank you for this.”

Madaan nodded and left. Madari rose too and, taking the paper with him, went to Jahni’s office.

“Kahil,” he said. “Was your father ever in the wholesale fabric trade?”

“What?” Jahni stared, as if Madari had asked him if he’d like to go to the moon for lunch, an entirely baffled expression on his face that made Madari smile. “How did you know that?”

“He was?”

“Yes. That was one of the first businesses he owned. Before he went into the garment trade. Um, why are you asking?”

Madari gave him the paper. “It’s a purchase order, from when my father was supply officer, for fifty metres of dark green brocade. Look at the name of the salesman and the firm.”

Jahni read the paper and gasped. He looked up at Madari again. “That’s my father’s name.”

“That was his firm?”

“Yes. That’s him! What’s the date… nineteen-fifty-eight? That would fit.” He stared back at Madari. “You think our fathers met?”

“Well, they could have just spoken on the telephone. But that’s a large order and my father was very insistent on quality. I’m sure he’d have wanted to inspect the goods before he bought them.”

“My father could have been here, at the barracks.” Jahni looked around the office as if expecting to see his father here now. Or a ghost, an echo from the past.

“Or mine went to your father’s office.”

“But they met,” Jahni said. “They must have. This is…” He laughed. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s… interesting.”

“Indeed. To think they could have crossed paths when you and I were… well, you weren’t even born! I was only ten.” Madari shook his head. That day, so long ago, his father had dealt with the man who would be Jahni’s father, and then come home and perhaps read to Faris, played with him, walked in the evening sunshine with him.

“What is brocade anyway?” Jahni said.

“Hmm?” Madari said, shaking himself from his memories. “Oh, it’s a heavy fabric with raised patterns on it.”

“Like the curtains in the officer’s mess?”

Madari frowned. “The curtains…?”

“They’re green aren’t they?”


They walked into the officer’s mess, which was quiet in the late morning. The aroma of lunch wafted from the kitchens. A couple of officers sat around drinking coffee and reading newspapers, waited on by white-jacketed mess attendants.

The curtains were indeed green brocade, the patterns of stylised flower-like shapes darker than the background. They fell from brass rails and rings the top of the tall windows to just an inch or two from the carpet. Madari must have seen them thousands of times, and now he couldn’t recall how long he’d been seeing them. They were just… there.

“They can’t be from so long ago, can they?” Jahni said, as Madari stroked his hand down a curtain, the raised pattern tickling his fingers.

“Can I get you anything, sir?” It was one of the mess attendants. A young man. He’d probably know nothing, but Madari knew who would.

“Is Sergeant Hafeez on duty?” he asked.

“Yes, sir. You want me to fetch him?”


“Hafeez has been here since my grand-father’s day,” Madari explained to Jahni.

“And he was old then,” Jahni said, grinning and making Madari click his tongue at him in disapproval.

“Kahil, I’ve found it a good rule of thumb in life never to be rude about someone who has access to your food before you eat it.”

“Good rule,” Jahni admitted. “Good morning, Sergeant,” he said, with a respectful nod and smile as a white-haired man, approached them; Hafeez, the chief mess attendant.

“Good morning, sirs. You wanted me, Colonel?”

“Hello, Sergeant. I trust you are well. And your family?”

“Oh yes, sir, we’re all well, thank you for asking. How can I help you?”

“Hafeez, I want to know about these curtains.”

“The curtains, sir?” After all his years working here, Hafeez was probably used to odd requests from officers, but this one apparently took him by surprise and he looked at Madari, puzzled.

“How old are they?” Madari clarified.

“Goodness me, these have been here since your father’s day, sir. In fact he bought them.”

Madari and Jahni exchanged a glance.

“They’re still here, after all that time?” Jahni said.

“Oh yes, Captain.” He bowed his head to Madari. “Your late father was, in my opinion, the best supply officer the regiment ever had, sir. He always insisted on the best quality, whether it was food, weapons or curtain fabric.”

“Thank you. But I’m sure their longevity is as much down to how they are looked after, am I right?”

“Yes, sir.” Hafeez shook out the curtain Madari had been handling and pointed out the velvet that was sewn over the edge. “This keeps them from fraying.” He showed them the reverse of the curtain, it had a lining, dyed the same dark green, but with pale streaks where the sunlight had bleached out the colour. “The lining protects them from fading. We replace that and the edging once a year and dry clean them.”

Madari nodded. Yes, he remembered sometimes seeing the curtains gone. Hafeez motioned to gold coloured cords at the sides of the windows.

“They’re drawn with cords to minimise handling. There are moth balls placed inside the lining. Why, they could last another twenty years, barring accidents.” He chuckled. “If only I could say the same about me. But I’ll be retired long before these have to be replaced.”

“A well deserved retirement, Sergeant,” Madari said. He glanced at Jahni, to see him looking up at the curtains, one hand absently stroking the fabric. “Thank you for your help, Hafeez. Could you send us some coffee out, please?”

“At once, sir.” He hurried off to the kitchen.

“Kahil,” Madari said quietly, making him turn to look at Madari, a distant look still in his eyes. But he shook himself out of it and followed Madari to a couple of armchairs, near to a window. A junior mess attendant brought them their coffee and left them alone again. Jahni reached out to touch the velvet edging of one of the curtains.

“It’s silly,” he said. “All I can think now is how funny my father would find this if he was still here. Me sitting here with you, beside these curtains that he sold to your father before I was even born!”

Madari nodded. “My father would probably write a poem about it, using the theme of fate and metaphors about weaving, woven cloth, woven lives.”

He smiled to think of it. Could their lives have touched in other ways? Could they have passed each other on the street? Been on the same train, or in the same shop without ever knowing? Perhaps when Madari was a young man and Jahni only a boy. He wouldn’t even notice him. Just another child with his mother or father. Another face in a crowd, another voice in a chorus.

These things happened. In conversation once, they’d discovered that a restaurant Madari had visited several times while on a visit to Cairo had later become a favourite of Jahni and his student friends. They’d been in the same place, perhaps sat at the same table often, just in different times.

Small world and so many connections.

He looked up at the green curtains and imagined his father inspecting the material, with a serious look on his face. He tried to imagine Jahni’s father standing there too, but had only seen more recent pictures of him. Back then he was a young man, still unmarried, and Madari had no reference for that. The picture in his mind was really only Jahni himself. Of course that face was always in his mind.

Jahni was still holding the velvet edging of the curtain.

“You still miss your father,” Madari said, in a quiet voice. Jahni could have said the same to him.

Jahni didn’t turn, just gazed out of the window.

“I still miss him. All of them.” He looked at Madari and smiled. “But now I’ll think of him every time I come in here.”

They finished their coffee and went back to work.


Hard Act to Follow

A little banter between Madari and Karen in Zaire.

The sisters had thought the orphange children would find it very interesting and educational if members of the UN mission were to give them talks about their homelands. Madari had agreed it sounded like a useful exercise and certainly fitted with the hearts and minds part of their mission. As Karen joined him for a cup of tea after finishing her talk about Australia, Madari was now wondering if it had been such a good idea after all.

“Thank you, sir,” Karen said as he poured her a cup of tea. “I’m parched after that.”

“It was a very… interesting talk, Lieutenant. Perhaps somewhat… exaggerated in places.”

“Well I had to capture their imaginations, didn’t I? Couldn’t let them be bored.”

Madari doubted they’d been bored! “Of course,” he said. “But, I don’t think you really have spiders the size of ponies in Australia.”

“Okay,” she admitted. “Those are extinct. I stand by the ones as big as dogs though.”

“And the other wildlife. It seemed that those weren’t really snakes you were describing, more… dragons.”

“I never claimed they had wings,” Karen protested as if she was being grossly wronged.

“No, but you did claim that a 500 hundred foot, fire-breathing snake invaded a test match and incinerated the wicket.”


“And that Don Bradman slew it with his cricket bat.”

“My granddad swears he saw it happen!”

“And that Bradman went on to score a double century while the spectators barbecued the snake meat.”

“Okay, so it might not have been a double century.” She scowled at him. “Are you calling my granddad a liar?”

“I’m just saying I have heard a different story from the Brigadier about the origin of the Ashes.”

“You don’t want to believe anything an Englishman tells you about cricket.”

“I also know a lot about things grandfathers swear really happened and they saw with their own eyes.”

He drank his tea for a while, then poured another cup. “I’m also quite sure that those plants you talked about are Triffids and definitely fictional.”

“Where’d you think the writer got the idea?”

“If any of those children ever go to Australia it’s going to be a gigantic disappointment to them. Or an enormous relief possibly.”

“Oh, lighten up, mate… ah, I mean, sir. They enjoyed it.”

They had, their faces rapt–when they weren’t rolling with laughter.

“Yes, but you’ve put me in a very difficult position, Lieutenant. How am I supposed to follow your talk without… I don’t know, talking about… genies, or magic carpets.”

“Easy, sir. Just tell them some of your grandfather’s stories. You’ll put my dragons in the shade!”


Making a House a Home

A flashfic set after Faris and Kahil have moved to California.

“Faris, do we have any cream?”

Faris looked up as Kahil came into the living room, still wearing his jacket after arriving home a moment ago.

“Cream? We might have some left. Ah, Kahil, I can’t help noticing your jacket appears to be rather lively.” Was he carrying something inside the partially buttoned denim jacket?

“You never miss anything, do you?” Kahil said.

Faris rose and stared at the tiny bundle of fur nestled in Kahil’s jacket. Green eyes stared back at him.

“A kitten?”

“A man at Rainbox was giving them away for nothing. He said I could have one right away.”

Faris raised an eyebrow. “Kahil, did your parents never warn you about strange men luring you to their homes with promises to show you some kittens?”

“Given the amount of cat fur he had sticking to his clothes I decided he was telling the truth.”

The kitten made a squeaky mew and yawned a small pink yawn.

“We need to feed her,” Kahil said.

“You know it’s a female? Isn’t it hard to tell with young kittens?” He gingerly stroked the kitten’s head with only a couple of fingers. It had tabby markings in white, grey and black, reminding him of fine lace.

“The man seemed quite sure. She’s twelve weeks old, he said you can tell by then.”

“Small for her age. Does she have a name?”

“No, not yet. The guy said if he named them he’d end up keeping them all.”

“May I hold her?”

Kahil carefully extracted the kitten. He could hold her in the palm of his hand, no more than a fluffy ball, tiny tail flicking nervously. Faris took her gently, using both hands to hold her securely against his chest.

“Let’s find that cream.” Kahil led the way to the kitchen. Faris followed, cradling the kitten, stroking her back with one thumb. She’d been trembling when he took her, but quickly calmed and relaxed. She began to purr.

Kahil stopped searching in the fridge and looked over, smiling, at the sound of the surprisingly loud purring. “Well, listen to that. She likes you.” He found the cream and filled a saucer on the breakfast bar. Faris put the kitten down and she quickly began to lap the cream.

“Do you worry that I’m missing Giotto?” Faris asked.

“It’s not that. It just makes the place more homely to have a cat. And might keep those damn seagulls off the deck.”

“One of those seagulls could carry her off.”

“Maybe I’ll get an airgun too.”

“Her markings are beautiful,” Faris said after they’d watched her silently for a moment.

“The man called her a silver tabby.”

“She’ll be a handsome cat when she’s older.”

“We can keep her then?”

Faris smiled at the hopeful tone. “Of course. But you’ll have to go back out and get her some things, cat litter, a bed, cat food…”

“No problem. I’ll go now.” He fished the car keys from his pocket, smiling, looking relieved and delighted Faris had agreed to keep the cat. Of course he had. How could he resist?

“Think about names while you’re out.”

“I will.”

He was gone, eager to be back again no doubt. At least the evening’s entertainment was sorted out. He knew they’d spend hours watching the kitten exploring her new home. She finished with the cream and settled down to clean her face and whiskers. Faris bent down over the bench, resting his elbows on it, bringing himself closer to the cat’s eye level.

“What shall we call you, my little princess?” He smiled at his sentimentality. But he did miss Giotto and a new feline companion was welcome. Kahil was right. A cat did make a house more of a home. Nobody had worked harder to turn this house into their home than Kahil.

What would they call the cat? An Arabic name? Or something American sounding? He chuckled to imagine she’d soon be a muti-lingual cat, with the mix of Arabic and English they spoke. Of course the definition of a multi-lingual cat was one who ignored you in any language.

Finished with her ablutions, she began to explore the other items on the counter and protested vigorously when Faris stopped her from climbing into the toaster. Her claws were small, but sharp. He should have told Kahil to buy some sticking plasters while he was out.

He took her into the living room, where she could explore the softer and safer outer reaches of the sofa.


Bitter Brew

A drabble (100 words) about Madari’s relationship – with coffee.

Head aches with it. Head aches without it. The doctor clicks his tongue over the blood pressure reading. Cut back the coffee.

How can he when they offer it everywhere he goes? Ungracious to refuse. A man like him cannot reject even such a trivial part of his culture. Appearances matter.

He spins in this circle. Coffee keeps him awake in the day, then keeps him awake in the night, so he drinks more to stay awake in the day…


Would he sleep more if he stopped drinking coffee? But, more sleep means more dreams. Better to keep spinning.



A drabble (100 words) of a quiet moment together after a mission.

Gurgle of a shisha catches him on the cusp of sleep. Sweet smelling tobacco smoke casts him briefly adrift in time. Ahmed? No. Long since gone.

Kahil. Hazy smile in the cafe’s smoke and dim lighting. Stretched out lazily in a deep, plush chair, heavy eyelids betraying his exhaustion.

“Tired, Faris?”

Just a smile in reply. Tired, but from a good mission. No death on either side. Wish they were all that way – but that’s a dream. He calls for more coffee. They should go home to sleep, but for now – here, this. Coffee, sweet smoke, Kahil.

Who needs dreams?