From Our Way or That Girl Again
America likes other people’s good opinion. Sometimes American governments fail to see that friendship requires a level of high level of reciprocity and that respect is a two-way matter.
Imagine standing next to a friend who is about to shoot him or herself in the foot. Will you run away or stay and risk your own foot?
From Chapter One
The little red Ford had to wait while the articulated lorry gathered speed and snaked past a slow-moving farm tractor. Once the lorry was back on its side of the road Saeed jammed his foot onto the floor and they clawed their way past this swaying obstruction which they had followed for miles of winding single carriageway.
The pine trees, twisted and alien, picked up speed alongside them and Aziz looked again at his watch.
“This ain’t Essex man. Might as well be ont’ bloody moon.”
The others said nothing while the flat landscape continued to rise and fall around them.
Ahead a town with small yellow-bricked buildings and a level-crossing barred their way. For an hour they had hurried across a foreign country coloured with the washed out greens and yellows of late summer. Now red lights flashed in front of them and Saeed banged the flat of his hand repeatedly on the rim of the steering wheel.
“Don’t do that man.”
Omar pushed his skinny arm at Saeed’s shoulder. He was in the back with Zain, desperate to get out and stretch his legs. Still the lights flashed their warning; on the other side of the tracks other people sat in their cars with their impatience and no one moved.
“Aziz, let me out man, gotta have a piss.” Just before they left the A1 near Peterborough, a hundred miles to the north of London, they had found a roadside cafe and some good tea.
To one side there was a deserted builder’s yard; the others watched Omar half tuck himself around a corner; his broomstick of a body slid from view but his black button of a head watched out to see if anyone was watching him. From somewhere there came the sound of a train that rushed past and Saeed wondered why there had been such a hold-up for one tiny train, like a little model that he had seen once in the shops in the centre of town. This town, low and flat and white, troubled him with his urge to be on his way. He wanted to be gone before this strangeness claimed him. Soon the cricket would have started and he cursed Aziz for his map reading; they’d be lucky to arrive before lunch.
The lights were no longer flashing. The car behind tried to pull past but there was a stream of traffic coming from the opposite direction. Saeed, authoritative in the driving seat leaned across Aziz to the open door and called to Omar who was facing them now and tugging at his zip. The driver behind leaned again on his horn and Saeed’s right arm raised itself out of the window and jabbed the middle finger upwards towards the sky. Aziz stepped out, quick and neat, and bundled Omar back into the car.
A long fence fell in beside them on their right. It was taller than other fences they had seen and more business-like but it looked out of place here without animals to restrain, just low flat fields of nothing.
Saeed was driving faster, anxious now, and took little notice, but the others gazed at the fence and then at the golfers who appeared soon, at their ease on the other side of the road. Peering out they could see that the fence was now topped with three runs of razor wire which curled itself in between the stanchions. Nothing to do with farming, quite unlike the broken and twisted posts and wire they had noticed earlier, where quiet cattle seemed uninterested in the possibility of escape. Here, beyond the wire, the land was manicured, like the golf course over the way, but even flatter, as if someone had not been paying attention and had given the area an especially close hair-cut than they had intended, a military number one.
Early that morning the boys had left the northern city of Bradford, slamming car doors in the quiet street and finding their way in the summer dawn out to the motorway and the south. Omar had been the last to be picked up. His mother had come out with him to the car and handed Saeed a bag of food for the journey. It had been a sudden decision – the day before Yorkshire had been playing better than expected. Their mates had called; they were already down at the game and Saeed and the others would come down in the morning. They should make Chelmsford in five hours. Only an hour away from London.
The fence seemed to go on forever, keeping up with them on the other side of the road. Soon they came up behind a white van. Twice their size it bounced along, hiding from them the lie of the road. Saeed struck the wheel and cursed. He struck the wheel again then suddenly jammed the gear stick forward while the engine roared.
“Go for it man!” Omar leaned forward over Aziz’s shoulder and watched the traffic lights come into view.
They were going to pass this bloody van; Omar watched the driver’s cab above them slide out of sight and then an articulated lorry was in front, struggling across their path towards the left. To the right the fence had retreated and left a wider space between itself and the road. Saeed watched this space grow while he pulled the wheel round.
The kerb struck them at an angle, lifting the car which bounced violently then turned over. It slid for a few yards on its right side, scarring the neat grass and splintering a large wooden sign that had welcomed visitors. The fence loomed like a large safety net, ready to embrace the car which buried itself into the steel mesh. The mesh stretched, trying to follow the car, but then snapped. Released, the car slid on for a few more yards, slowed and then finally stopped.
Aziz was the first to climb out; his dark eyes flashed as he looked around then emerged from under the door which he had somehow pushed towards a vertical position. Behind him their trail led back to the road where two cars had stopped. In front, fifty yards away, a group of men were hurrying out of a low building. He could hear his brother and the two others shouting from below and calling out to him as they struggled to undo seat belts. They were becoming desperate and the car wobbled as they tried to join him on top. From somewhere came the smell of petrol. Aziz tried to swing the door clear; it was much heavier now and he was anxious not to let go as Omar’s bullet head appeared.
Somewhere another voice was calling out. Aziz looked around but could see no one close by. The door was troubling him so he forced it round against the hinges, ignoring the sound of troubled metal until it leant the other way and he could reach down into the car. The wrecked door flapped like a damaged wing and the car remained unsteady while Aziz stretched an uncertain arm towards Omar. From below Saeed called out.
“Take yer fuckin’ boot out of me ear will yer?”
The other voice was much nearer now and it called again.
“Stay right where you are and put your hands on your heads.”
With one hand Aziz was holding onto the door and with the other he was desperately trying to pull Omar clear. He glanced quickly at the soldier who had shouted at him. He had long ago learnt how to treat people who shouted and threatened him. His challenger wondered whether the boy could hear.
Another soldier was running towards the car now and was also pointing a gun. The figure on top of the car ignored him and knelt down to retrieve something from inside the car. What was it? Was he going to blow them all to hell? The first soldier was about to fire when his comrade called out.
“You heard what he said, boy. Get your arse down here and put your hands on your head.”
Despite his helmet and the hardware that hung from around his waist the young man failed to impress Aziz. In fact the young soldier was more shaken by the sound of his own screaming than was this terrorist. This is what he had been trained to do; take no chances and protect yourself. As he shouted again the young soldier winced at the memory of his sergeant and his basic training.
It occurred to Aziz that although the man was armed there was something ludicrous about his anger, like the policemen who had once chased them away from a bonfire a few years back. Some instinct told him that so long as he did not look directly at the man he would be all right. He waved his arm in a cheerful acknowledgement of the man’s presence, as if to say, “I’ll be with you in a minute,” and continued with the work of rescuing the others.
There was something other worldly about Aziz’s wave, something detached and yet serious while his attention was fixed elsewhere. Was this a young man about to become a martyr? Was it, wondered the first of the two Americans, was it some religious gesture, some final leave-taking of this world as he prepared for the embrace of seventy virgins – or was it hookers? He never could remember.
Aziz felt the weight of the door which had managed to return towards its usual position. He looked down at Omar’s head. He shrugged his shoulders and looked back at the two other boys with their guns and their uniforms. They were not much older than him, could have been some of the kids he used to play with down at the tip or out on the edge of the moors.
“It’s his fuckin’ head like, yer know.” Omar was very still. “Let go a this door and me mate’ll ‘ave a right bloody ‘ead ache.”
The two soldiers heard Aziz this time and looked at each other. They were still pointing their guns at him, but less confidently now. Aziz was hardly defiant; the car still wobbled unpredictably and the only way that he could steady himself was to grasp the wayward door.
“What’s he say?” one of them asked. The other soldier shrugged his shoulders.
“No idea.” He looked over at Aziz. Omar was sitting in the doorway of the car and was beginning to panic. “Ain’t no kind of English I’ve ever heard.”
“Some foreign lingo then – goddam terrorists.”