For the Love of David
Click on image to enlarge.
by Sally Dixon
Description: Anna and Ben are on their first foreign posting--to Cairo. The stress of the new job, combined with the difficulties of adjusting to an alien environment, are taking their toll. However, these problems suddenly fade into insignificance in the face of a catastrophic event which turns their life upside down and which will ultimately prove to be the catalyst that reunites them--the kidnapping of their six-year-old son, David. Following more bombings and faced with the possibility of evacuation, Anna is desperate not to leave without finding David. She convinces Ben that their only option is to try and find the child themselves. The couple find themselves caught up in a web of oil company politics, set against a background of Islamic extremism.
eBook Publisher: SynergEbooks, 2007 SynergEbooks
eBookwise Release Date: August 2007
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [365 KB]
Reading time: 245-343 min.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Had she realized what might happen--the risks that were involved, she would never have stayed. She gave a heartfelt sigh as she settled back into her seat and kicked off her shoes. Given the benefit of hindsight, they would never have accepted a posting to the goddamned country in the first place. Not that it had all been bad, they'd had some good family days--but those had been overshadowed by the problems between her and Ben...
The steady drone of the plane's engines soothed her eventually and she buried her head in the small pillow the stewardess had provided, easing it so that it supported her neck. Her eyelids drooped as she let her mind drift.
A sudden change in engine note jerked her back into consciousness, her heart pounding and her mind instantly alert, conditioned by the traumas of the past weeks. She shuddered and heard again in her head the sound of the tanks as they rumbled down the street towards the hotel.
It had been the silence that had alerted them first. A gradual awareness that the all-pervading back ground cacophony of noise had eased. It was normally an ever present reminder of the sprawling city on their doorstep; a reminder that invaded even the peace of the hotel gardens. It had been the silence--and strangely enough, the smell. -
The sweet, almost sickly scent of the white blanket of jasmine, that scrambled over the high mesh surrounding the tennis courts, had an unusual clarity to it in the warm air that evening. Normally, the smell would be only faintly caught amongst the background stench of diesel, a light touch just recognized in the midst of the overwhelming shroud of pollution that tended to envelop the old city from dawn until well into the small hours of the night. That particular night it lingered in the nostrils, heavy and sensuous.
Anna's senses registered the subtle change in the air but her mind was too engrossed to take note. They had been taking their usual evening stroll around the gardens and as they paused, it was the silence that broke into her thoughts. She suddenly realized that apart from the soft, regular plop, plop of the tennis balls bouncing off racket and tarmac, for once there was very little other sound. It was not only the scent in the warm, soft February evening air which all at once imposed itself on her conscious mind but the uncanny stillness.
A low rumble alerted her further, a deep sound in the distance, not one that was a normal part of the background noise of Cairo city life. The noise was faint at first, but it was not one she recognized; definitely not something to be mistaken for the normal hum of traffic.
Next to her, Ben cocked his head, straining to hear. "What's that noise do you think? I thought it was a convoy of trucks at first but that doesn't sound anything like trucks," He paused to listen again. "It sounds more like some kind of tracked vehicles."
His face settled into the familiar scowl which had characterized his features for the past three months; the mask that she had seen too often slip into place. "For god's sake, now what?"
She had gotten used to his bad temper since their arrival in Egypt, the growing irritation with events and latterly with life in general. It had gradually invaded their ten year marriage, creeping in with a quiet insidiousness, until she had almost forgotten how their life had been before. She shrugged, running an impatient hand through her short fair hair and made to move on. "It's probably nothing; let's go see if we can look over the wall."
Levering her tall angular frame off the bench, she walked around the sandy jogging track--together with the tennis courts, ubiquitous symbols of modern, five-star hotel luxury and on across the lawns with their strange coarse drought-resistant grass, sodden and spongy where the sprinklers had been running. No use watering during the day in this climate she had been told; it evaporated much too quickly. So much was alien, so many small things to become accustomed to. She needed Ben's help. She was starting to resent his selfishness.
The wall around the gardens was high, a dusty stone and concrete barrier against the outside world. Barbed wire on the top an extra precaution against intrusion from the fellahin. Outside was the world of disease and poverty--the third world. Inside the gardens, they were in the world of the privileged where affluence and plenty were taken for granted.
There were two more stone benches next to the wall and as the rumbling sounds became louder, they ran the last few yards to jump up on them in an effort to see. Anna could only just see over as she grasped at the crumbling stone of the wall, the grit embedding itself in her fingernails. Ben was taller, long-legged and his body as yet without the additional weight attached to his sedentary office based life.
The world outside the gardens was as dark as velvet, a city lit only by dim light bulbs from small squat houses, the occasional battered street light and the flames from fires built to cook the evening meal.
Ben pointed. "Look! Down there. I think it's army tanks, but it's kind of hard to see." He squinted into the enveloping darkness. "I wonder what the hell's going on?"
Anna leaned against him, feeling the need for security, animosity temporarily forgotten. "Why would there be tanks out on the streets? Where are they going and why isn't there any other traffic?" Her voice was anxious.
"I don't know." Ben shrugged in the darkness. "But I guess they must have come from the barracks down the road."
The vehicles drew closer, the rumbling of the tracks on the tarmac deafening, vibrating the wall against which they still leant. "Yeah, you can see now," he said. "They're definitely tanks. I can see at least five or six." Anna could feel his curiosity was tempered by some innate sense that something was amiss, as he ducked back down again from the parapet of the wall, pulling her with him.
He gave an involuntary shudder. "They look sinister. Come on let's go into the hotel and try and find out what's going on." Anna's eyes widened with fear, sensing his own concern and he put a reassuring arm around her shoulders. "Hey, don't worry, it's probably nothing--an exercise or something."
"I don't think so. It's too quiet--everywhere. Haven't you noticed? It's never normally as quiet as this."
"I guess not." He hesitated for a moment thoughtfully. "We'd better check on David, in case he's been woken up." He sighed, reverting back to his previous irritability "God, we could do without this, whatever it is."
Crossing the hotel gardens, Ben undid the top button of his shirt, nervously running his finger around the collar. He glanced at Anna, who was anxiously biting her lip. "Look, there are still people by the pool. It can't be too much to worry about, so don't start panicking yet." His voice was sharp.
The previous moment of intimacy forgotten and sensing his irritation, Anna retorted: "I wasn't." Why did she feel she had to defend herself all the time? She turned away with a barely suppressed sigh of exasperation. "Go on, you ask at the desk and I'll go check on David."
They went through the swing door leading from the pool and gardens back into the hotel and up the marble staircase to the huge glass atrium, which formed the lobby and reception area. Leaving Ben to make his way to the desk, Anna took the elevator to the fifth floor where they had their adjoining rooms, one for her and Ben, the other for David. She eased the door of David's room open a crack, careful not to make a noise, hoping to see him asleep as she had left him an hour earlier, surrounded by soft toys and partly finished Lego models.
No such luck. "You're meant to be asleep, sweetheart."
He ignored her admonition. "What's that man doing on the roof over there?" David pointed with a chubby finger in the direction of the window where the drapes were not completely closed and out of which the other wing of the hotel could be seen, forming a right-angle around the pool and gardens.
Anna's heart contracted as always at the sight of him as he bounced up on his knees on the bed covers. Dark curls flopped over his forehead, pushed away with a determined small fist from Ben's brown eyes. She crossed the room and looked out of the window, easing aside the drapes to gain a better view.
She waited a heartbeat to compose herself before turning back towards the bed. "It's just a man, honey. You go back to sleep."
As usual, David was not to be dismissed so easily. "But he's got a big gun, I can see it."
"I expect he's just guarding the hotel, to make sure we're all safe." Anna tore her eyes away from the armed guard who was patrolling the roof opposite and pulled the drapes firmly closed again. She took a deep breath before turning to face her son with what she hoped was a reassuring smile.
"Come on, kiddo, it really is time for bed now. You've got a busy day at school tomorrow."
"Can Kyle come and play after school?" His dark eyes were watching her; he was no fool and knew when he'd been fobbed off.
At least Kyle would be a distraction. "Sure, honey, I'll talk to his Mom in the morning, okay."
David settled into bed once more and Anna gave him a kiss on the forehead as she tucked the covers around his small frame. His hair smelt of shampoo, clean and fresh. She brushed back a recalcitrant curl and turned to creep quietly back to the door.
"Night, sleep tight. I love you," she whispered.
Anna eased the door to and closed it quietly behind her, her heart pounding as she hurried down the softly-carpeted corridor back to the elevator.
The elevator slowed to a halt at the ground floor and the door slid open as a soft ping announced its arrival. Ben was waiting for her by the newsstand.
"Ben, have you seen? There are armed guards on the roof!"
She made no attempt to hide the agitation in her voice and Ben put up his hands as if to ward off her offensive. "I know. Hey, there's nothing to get all excited about. It's not a coup or some such; Mubarak hasn't been assassinated or anything terrible." His voice sounded patronizing, as if she was stupid to be worried. "I spoke to the guy on the desk," he added "and he says there's been some trouble with some Fundamentalists or other--some hot heads from a University someplace in the Nile Delta."
He paused to take in her reaction before continuing, his voice controlled and neutral. "Apparently one of the hotels near the Pyramids has been burnt down and they're just taking precautions that the riots don't spread up here."
"Surely that's got to be serious if they've burnt down a hotel?" She was aware that her voice now had the sharp edge of panic.
Ben gave an impatient sigh. "Not necessarily, we're a long way from the Pyramids. It's the other side of town and these guys seem to think it was just an isolated incident."
"What about the tanks we saw outside?"
"Same thing--just a precaution, especially as we are so close to the airport." He answered her dismissively. "Look, I'm sure it will have quieted down a bit by tomorrow and we can find out some more, if you are still worried, when I go into the office."
Anna pursed her lips. His attempts at persuasion had allayed her fears a little but he was always so damned sure of himself and knowing how important this new job was to him, she suspected his motives. She turned to look at the hotel lobby. There was no apparent sign of panic or impending disaster--all the lights were on, superfluous canned music played and people were milling about normally. It was almost as if they had dreamt the scene with the tanks. Then she remembered the guards on the roof. "Do you think it's safe for David to go to school tomorrow?" She countered doubtfully.
"I don't see why not; it's not far away." Ben turned away from her impatiently. "We'll phone first thing to see if the school's open and if it is then there's obviously not too much to worry about, is there?"
She nodded, acquiescent, not entirely convinced but not wanting to continue the argument. For the moment the hotel felt safe and she didn't want to rile Ben further. She met his eyes. "I guess we may as well eat."
"Sure, let's have a pizza. I don't know about you, but I don't feel like much else tonight. We could order some of the wine you liked so much the other day?" He turned towards the hotel restaurant, slipping his arm through hers, magnanimous in his victory.
The dining room seemed as busy as usual and they found a quiet table in one corner. The drone of a late evening flight arriving at the airport could be heard overhead. Everything appeared normal. The hotel felt more of an oasis than ever, but Anna couldn't help wondering if they were right to be carrying on as if nothing was really the matter or whether they were kidding themselves and should be upstairs packing instead of sitting down to eat.
Pushing thoughts of flight regretfully aside, she studied Ben over the rim of her wine glass whilst they waited for their pizzas, taking in once again his resemblance to his son. The same dark wavy hair, impatiently brushed back with long slim fingers, same brown eyes which suddenly crinkled when he laughed, just as did David's although Ben's were partly hidden behind square steel-rimmed glasses. Sadly she reflected that there was not much laughter nowadays. Was it the new job she wondered, or this place that was getting to him or had she missed something else?
Ben sensed her scrutiny and looked up at her before his glance slid away. "Was David OK, you didn't say?"
"He was awake, he'd seen the guard on the roof, but he's OK now."
They continued to eat and the silence stretched between them.
Anna's thoughts once more turned to David and she felt the corners of her mouth turning up involuntarily at the memory. She loved the fresh smell of him when she held him close. He still had that soft baby feel she remembered when she'd first fallen under his spell the moment he had been put into her arms as a newborn infant.
She knew that Ben adored his son as well and surely he would be worried about his safety. She put out a tentative hand to cover Ben's tanned one, resting on the white tablecloth.
The moment passed, it didn't seem the right time, he'd answered her sharply, as if he sensed she was going to say or ask something he didn't want to hear.
Silence again and Anna tried not to think about the tanks outside in the street, or about Ben's mood. She bit her lip as she stared down at her plate and promised herself that despite what he said, she would push the issue if things still looked uncertain tomorrow.
Looking up again and out into the darkness, through the long windows which lined one entire wall of the restaurant, Anna could see that the moonless sky was studded with stars. She thought about the passengers flying into the airport and wondered if they would be struck by the darkness of the city as they came into land, as she had been--no bright neon, and no expanses of brightly lit motorway. It had been hard to see, as she had peered out of the cabin windows, where the sprawling city blended into the surrounding vastness of desert, stretching north to Alexandria on the Mediterranean or south along the Nile to Aswan.
Feeling Ben's eyes on her in her reverie, she gave a brittle smile and looked down again at her food.