The Lonireilian soldiers threw a tent down in the dirt and the crushed grasses for us. When I could stand, I helped my parents erect it while under guard of one of the white-armored foreigners. The others ransacked our house, threw out my mother’s few books, our clothes; they threw away a fine bright shell I had found the time I had gone to Ibandran, by the sea. It broke and the pearly pieces scattered in the grass, glassy shards devoid of meaning. I had brought it to my father as a gift when I found it. He had kept it, and they’d thrown it away. My blood surged in me, but then, looking at the armored guard, my heart quailed.
Do you think I was a coward, so young, so long ago? For a long time I did. For many, many years. Now, in my old age, I understand fear a little better.
My fear could not blunt the disgust and anger I felt at my father’s acquiescence. While we raised the canvas and narrow poles of our temporary home, I watched him. He worked with his face turned toward the dirt and he said nothing.
Later, while my mother prepared food for all the company – all those interlopers and murderers – while she prepared mezakh and roasted ox and flavored it with sesame and sumac and our meagre supply of salt, the soldiers spoke to one another in their own tongue. They drank our wine and our brandy and spat it on the floor. The looked lasciviously at my mother and again my blood rushed hot to my face, and again my fearful heart quailed.
The lacquer-faced woman stood outside, looking north. The wind seemed to sigh around her although she did not move, not even with a rising and falling of the shoulders to show her breathing. She did not eat or drink. She did not move one step after leaving her mount.
Our guard, a young man, stood smoking near our tent while my father and brother and sisters ate in silence and while mother cooked beside the house. After we ate I banged my spoon down on the ground as if it was a table. The dull, quiet thud of wood on mat on grass was no proper sound and my face flushed as I stood and stomped out of the tent. The guard looked up, then upon seeing me went back to his cigarette. He dismissed me. I was no fear, no concern to him. I was nothing.
My sister, Navat, came out after me. While I kicked the grass and went around the tent, she followed. “Heshim. Heshim, come back inside.”
“I don’t want to be inside.”
“You can’t leave. They said to stay in the tent.”
“I don’t want to. Leave me alone,” I said.
She came behind me and took my hand. I turned, disgust filling me, anger burning hot in my chest and fingertips, but I pulled my hand away and saw her red eyes, her pinched black brows and trembling lip. I squatted down beside her. “I just want to be alone.”
“You aren’t leaving us, are you?”
“I just want to be outside.”
“Heshim,” she said, her black eyes scouring mine, “do you hate papa?”
“Yes,” I said. The realization shook me, but saying it was like blowing onto the base of a flame. “He let this happen.”
“It was those people. Not him.”
“He let them hurt mother. Hurt me.”
She shook her head and she put her arms around my shoulders. It smothered me and my throat clogged shut with tears. I don’t remember what she said, but when she spoke I told her to go back in the tent and that I wouldn’t be long. I should have said something else. Anything. My chance was gone. So chances and choices go, with us blind until the end is made.
I saw the guard watching me over his glowing cigarette from his place beside the tent while Navat went back inside. The sun was falling. I stood there, waiting till the tears had left my eyes, while I watched the guard watching me. The red glow of his tobacco lit his face from below like the face of a khren, from the teachings of Lord Salat, like a thing of fire and glass and smug malice.
The scent of his weed drifted to me; acrid, alluring. My parents did not smoke. I approached. “Can I have some?” I asked, unsure what else to say.
The guard stared for a moment, then reached into a pouch at his belt and produced another of the rolled up cigarettes. I took it and he lit it for me with his, and then I inhaled the smoke and struggled for all I had to keep from coughing. My lungs spasmed, like a bird was in my chest scratching to get out. I looked to the tent and my father watched me smoke with our enemy and his face went wretched, and I smiled.
“What’s your name?” the soldier asked. He was taller than me, thinner, with dark eyes that looked as if they guarded something clever.
“You’ll be Heshim il-Lonireil now.” The man spoke the same lazy, accented Serehvan as his commander did.
“I suppose so,” I said. It sounded strange. It wasn’t a proper name. I wondered then, for the first time, why we name ourselves for a place; why we draw a line around ourselves when those we dislike most are within it, with us, sharing our names.
“Nice farm.” The man spat.
“I don’t like it.”
“Why would you?” He worked his tongue about his mouth as he looked around. “This place is a shit hole. What do you do here?”
“Here, we turn shit dirt into shit-tasting grain.” He laughed at that. “We do grow poppies, though.”
“I’d give my left nut for a smoke of that.”
“A grand bargain, for certain,” I said. He laughed again, and I was about to say I could get him some poppy when screams shredded the still night. They came from the house.
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