Excerpt

ATMANI

I had managed to scrape my blindfold along one of the walls so it came down partly below my eyes. I rubbed it again to see if I could push it up if I needed to, if the guards suddenly returned.

Lovely accommodations. Great for cocktail party chit-chat.

“So how was Bosnia?”

“Great, stayed in a cute little cinderblock thing. Walls decorated with blood smears and feces, direct view of the chopping block when they pulled the moth-eaten rug off the window. No facilities—excuse me, wrong, it was the facilities.”

My luck with my hands was not as good. They had tied them with the some sort of nylon cord. As I said, the binding was cutting off the blood flow below the wrists but at the same time there was a locking loop and if I twisted my wrists, trying to wriggle free, it would only lock tighter. I would have to convince them to cut it off for me.

Outside I could hear the crackle of rifle fire and chattering burps from a light machine gun. I moved over to the window and tried to look out at an angle between the glass and the rug hanging beyond it. All I could see through the fading light was a piece of another building above a brick wall that itself was atop a stone base. In between the rifle fire I could hear a voice yelling in Arabic. I guessed it was telling tomorrow’s martyrs when to commence and cease fire.

I heard other noises as well: the clinking of metal cups and cutlery. Everyone seemed to be having a good time out there. Lamb and spice odors seeping under the door made my stomach growl. Forget about your hunger. They’re not going to feed you. Unrelieved hunger will affect attitude, morale and the will to survive. There, I’ve put it out of my mind, see.

Thirst. That was another matter now. I had guzzled a lot of water during the surveillance so I wasn’t too worried about dehydration. And if I wasn’t eating I wouldn’t need extra water to move the waste out of my system. Besides, I didn’t think I’d be here long. And if I was, thirst wouldn’t be the biggest of my worries. They would either buy my cover story as a tourist and let me go or conclude I was with the UN, or worse.

Another light machine gun burped, and peals of raucous laughter erupted from the mess area. Dinner time entertainment. At least it’s not me. Now, live at five, we have another taped execution from the al-Jazeera network. The knife across my throat as I kneel with a placard hanging from my neck. Foxley. Falling forward out of the range of the camera. My executioner makes a sawing motion and up pops my head. More lamb and pita for the cheering cadres.

They’ll be back sooner or later. Set up a survival pattern now. Think, old boy. I knew where I was, didn’t need a map. That’s one variable on my side. Not thirsty, not wounded, not too hungry, not tired. The longer I stayed here, the greater the risk one or more of those variables would move over to the other side of the score board. Like I said, I thought they’d either let me go or kill me.

Pain. Remember what they told you in the hostage situation seminar. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that you have an injury. No shit. You may not notice pain if your mind is concentrated on other matters. So Nevine, what are we going to do tonight? Why am I wincing? Oh. It’s just a needle being shoved up under the nail of my index finger. Understand its source and nature. The source is the wooden stick slamming into my kidneys, dear sir, and the nature is agony. Recognize it as something to be tolerated. But give them a scream once in a while, old boy. Remember, you’re just a tourist.

The laughter and sounds of eating stopped and I heard steps approaching, like a clock ticking loudly, I pressed my face against the concrete wall and rubbed the blindfold back up over my eyes. By the time the iron bolts had been unlocked and the door flung open, I was on the floor where they had shoved me, with my hands behind my back. Through the top of my blindfold I could see no light change in the open door. It was night now. Another variable on my side.

“Name!” It wasn’t a question. And it wasn’t with a crude accent. The speaker’s French was quite good.

“I already told them,” I said. Plaintive, almost whiny.

A chatter of Arabic and suddenly someone yanked me to my feet and slammed me up against the wall. My blindfold was ripped off and I was blinking, trying not to stare in his face. Atmani.