Ad Dumayr Syria 21st February 2018
Daffi Hashmi was sitting in the café, drinking strong coffee and smoking, which was generally disapproved of, but none of the other patrons thought to question him. The windows were cracked and taped, but they still afforded a view of the main highway through the town. In the café could be heard the occasional sound of an explosion and the rattle of gunfire, coming from the north. The Syrian forces backed by Russian air power were probing the town’s defences, but he knew they wouldn’t come in force until the weather improved. He would be long gone by then.
He liked this café because he could watch the cars and other vehicles come and go. Fuel was getting difficult to come by, but there were still some supplies coming in from As Suwayda via Jordan, if you had the necessary money, acumen and power to get it. Hashmi’s reputation ensured he had no problems sourcing fuel, cars or women and most of the time he took them anyway. That morning he was waiting for one of his trusty lieutenants, Adnan, or as the locals called him, “the Bosniak.” He hailed from the Balkans and had cut his teeth and made his first kills as a boy in the wars of the 1990s.
He came into the café with his stock-in-trade Dragunov sniper rifle and sat down opposite Hashmi.
“Wa Alykom As-slam.”
The café proprietor brought across a tray of tea for the well-known and intensely disliked Bosniak and another coffee for the equally detested Hashmi.
“Are you going or have you been?” asked Hashmi in English, which Adnan spoke very well.
“Been. Going to bed. Not much happening out there last night. I managed to pot a couple of Syrian engineers who were trying to set up a listening post out by that Roman village, oh and some goat herder at long range just to keep my hand in.”
Hashmi offered his cigarettes and Adnan took one, “I should make more of an effort to go out to the lines, but my other work is so pressing.”
Hashmi’s “other work” involved illegal activities, including providing forged travel papers to ISIL foreign fighters to flee the Syrian forces further north into Jordan, then Egypt into Libya and eventually a boat to Italy or Greece. Fairly soon, Hashmi would be joining them.
“I have an interesting snippet for you. The mad English widow. I met her last night.”
“The one who is supposed to keep talking to herself? I thought she was a myth.”
Adnan shook his head, “She’s no myth. I saw her and spoke to her.”
“What did she say?”
“She told me to fuck off, in English. Just because I offered to give her some solace and help her get over the sad loss of her husband, with some internal spinal support.”
“Apart from telling you to fuck off, what else did she say?”
“She said that I should never show such disrespect to a mourning widow and that the best part of me dribbled down my mother’s leg.”
“Not very nice,” Hashmi said, “You should never let an old bat speak to you like that. I’ll have the women lift her for some re-education if you want.”
Adnan sipped his tea and stubbed out the cigarette, immediately lighting another one, “Not a good idea. For a start this English woman is a real fighter like the Russians and the Chechens. She would probably kill your women if you sent them for her. She is definitely mad enough. Secondly, she’s no old bat, Daffi. She’s a real looker.”
Hashmi laughed, “How can you tell under all of those black shrouds? A bit of an ankle, coor!”
“I tell you man, there’s a real woman under there, shapely with great tits and an arse and those eyes of hers. Mesmerising I tell you. She could make any man happy and now she’s a widow?”
Hashmi thought about this woman and then he thought about his “wife.” Well she wasn’t really a wife in the proper sense of the word, more of a concubine, one of the mayor’s young daughters, kept to ensure his ongoing cooperation and good will. He had promised to return the mayor’s daughter with her ears, nose and eyes intact if he and she behaved, but unfortunately it was too late for her virginity. Hashmi could do with a proper woman to satiate his lusts, rather than the young girl who stared blankly and expressionlessly at the ceiling while he ploughed her furrow.
“I would very much like to meet this woman, Adnan, seeing as how we are from the same country. Where does she live when she’s not fighting?”
“With the other foreign women fighters, in the old Army barracks.”
“Could you find out exactly where Adnan? Then I will send her one of my Kuffar slave girls as a plaything. It will break the ice, in a manner of speaking.”
“Do you intend to fornicate with this widow, Daffi?”
“No, I intend to marry her. I would look upon it as my Islamic duty. Does the Prophet himself – peace be upon him – not say that his Ayah contains a command from Allah to the wives whose husbands die, that they should observe a period of `Iddah of four months and ten nights, including the cases where the marriage was consummated or otherwise, according to the consensus of the scholars?”
And she will help my cover story, when I slip across the border into Jordan, he thought cynically.
Adnan chortled and asked: “And will you, Daffi Hashmi observe the period of abstinence required?”
“I don’t think it will be necessary once we meet.”
The “English Widow” slung her AK47 and clambered over a pile of rubble to the north of Ad Dumayr and crossed the northern ring road. It was mid-morning and Ripley was tired. Tired of the constant strain and tired of the constant acting. There had only been one attack during the night, a probe of Syrian troops trying to infiltrate the northern suburbs. She had no wish to kill Syrian soldiers in their own country, fighting a civil war and if unobserved, she would fire in the general direction of the “enemy.” She knew that a lot of the female fighters hated her, but they always either gave her plenty of space or accepted her madness of grief. She hadn’t had a sniff of Daffi Hashmi and Ripley didn’t know how much longer she could keep this up.
She looked around to make sure nobody was near, then said quietly: “Mary had a little lamb, its fleece as white as snow.”
One-hundred-and-twenty-five miles away and at an altitude of 28,000 feet, a Royal Air Force Raytheon Sentinel aircraft was following a loose, elliptical holding pattern over north-eastern Jordan. The flight lieutenant had been monitoring the frequency for the past two hours and she leaned forward to check the mapping display. She spoke into her microphone.
“And everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go. Hello, Ripley.” Said the vibrations in her head.
“Hello, Lambert. I’m glad it’s you.” Ripley had built up mental pictures of the three operators that she talked with on the three aircraft that flew the eight-hour shifts, two males and a female. She had given them code names after the crew of the Nostromo. Ash she didn’t like. He sounded aloof and patronising. Dallas had a warm voice with a slight amused aside, like he was constantly sharing a joke with her. But Lambert seemed to understand her fears, as though she was standing next to her. They were her guardian angels.
“Nothing. I know most of them are in the nice big blocks of flats in the centre of the town, but I don’t know what I’m looking for, or what car he drives. He may have changed his appearance. I just don’t know.”
“Where are you going, Ripley?”
“Bed. This afternoon I’ll have another look, but the bastard seems to be battle-shy, a recluse or he isn’t here anymore. Oh, hang on. There may be trouble ahead.”
“Just keep listening, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.”
“Roger. Be careful.”
Whilst she had been in Raqqa, the women she spoke with had told her about the hated Al-Khansaa Brigade, ISIl’s notorious female morality police. The UN and various liberal organisations who try and decry any criticism of the atrocities carried out in the name of Islam, have said that the Al-Khansaa Brigade never existed and is purely anti-Islamic propaganda. Ripley had met women who had been tortured by women from the Al-Khansaa Brigade and had been to the cellars and dungeons where the atrocities had taken place. She had seen the scars on their bodies. When Raqqa fell to the Coalition forces, the women of the Al-Khansaa Brigade were dispersed, many going to Homs but there were significant numbers in Ad Dumayr, plying their gruesome trade. It was interesting that the female foreign fighters fought in the dugouts and trenches of the outer defences, while the Arabic females gravitated to the morality police. For enforcing the strict code of morality and punishing women who transgressed it, they were paid the equivalent of £70 to £100 per month and were allowed to carry weapons, be out after curfew and drive a car. The foreign fighters were paid nothing. They did it for the love of Allah and the cause. The morality police kept well clear of Ripley because not only was she a widow, she was considered to be as mad as a box of frogs.
Ripley had observed two of the “sisters” beating a pregnant woman with wooden batons and strode nonchalantly over to them.
“Why are you beating a woman who is with child?” she asked in her flawless Arabic.
“You had better mind your own business and leave, you mad English bitch,” the beater-in-chief snarled, “You are a hussy and walk in an immoral manner when men are present.”
“Do I? Oh my goodness! I will give myself a good beating tonight. However, I don’t think you understand,” Ripley continued patiently, “I have asked you a question. Have the good manners to answer it.”
“Her clothing is too tight and it shows off her debauchery.”
Ripley laughed, “She is heavily pregnant and clothes tend to get tight as the two bodies expand. I never thought I would have to explain these facts to so-called, grown-up women. This woman is doing the most important thing a woman can do, she is bringing unto us a child, whom one of Allah’s angels had breathed life into. What manner of depraved minds could regard a pregnant woman as immoral? Why can’t you two desiccated and barren hags understand that?” She turned to the woman, “Go home to your family, dear. They won’t strike you again.”
The nearest morality policewoman snarled and raised her baton to strike Ripley. Ripley’s AK was of her shoulder and pointing in the woman’s face in an instant.
“If you strike me, your empty head will be spread across the road. And you,” she said to the other woman, “Will be dead with your friend before you unshoulder your rifle, let alone cock it. While you scurry around like black cockroaches, I and my sisters fight in the front lines. And you go now, dear. Go back to your family.”
The pregnant woman nodded her thanks and scurried off. Ripley lowered her AK47, “I will remember you pair, the fat little piglet and the one with the wonky eye. If I have cause to speak with either of you again, I will kill you, now get out of my sight, you repulse me.”
“We will remember you as well, you English whore,” one of them said, trying to save face.
“I hope you do.”
Ripley sighed and trudged towards the Army base and her small, dirty room in what was basically a Nissen hut, “You get that, Lambert?”
“Very risky, Ripley.”
“There was only two of them, the fucking morality police.”
“You’re supposed to be the grey woman, remember?”
“I’m in part. I’m the mad widow. I couldn’t have just let them beat her.”
“Please be careful and stay on mission.”
Ripley was woken in the mid afternoon by a knocking on the door of her hut. She pulled the Glock from under the pillow. It was already cocked. She pulled her niqab over her head but didn’t bother with the veil, hid the weapon behind her and opened the door. Two females were standing there, the woman who looked after the foreign, female fighters, a kind of matron and a much smaller young woman, possibly a girl. They were both shrouded in niqabs and stared at Ripley’s face and hair in surprise.
“Err this is for you. She says she is a gift from the Englishman called Daffi Hashmi, for you to do with as you please.”
“Who is Daffi Hashmi?”
“Another English fighter like you who came from Raqqa.”
“I don’t want her.”
“The girl started sobbing, “Please don’t send me away, or they will give me to the men and they will hurt me again.”
Ripley looked at the matron who shrugged, “She could clean for you.”
Despite the circumstances, the matron was a kindly woman and she said: “You must get over your grief and find another husband. It goes against the natural laws for a woman, the giver of life to kill. This girl can look after you and perhaps you after her, although she is a Christian.”
“Please,” said the girl.
“Ripley sighed knowing that really she had no choice, “All right, come on then.”
The inside of the hut was cold and Spartan, just a bed, a chair and a table. The AK47 was hanging behind the door and Ripley put the Glock under the pillow.
“All right, let’s have a look at you. The girl, because that’s all she was, took off her head shroud. It was difficult to ascertain her age, because she had the shaved head of a slave and large, dark, frightened eyes.
“What’s your name, child?”
“My name is Afarin. How old are you, Pela?”
“Fourteen, Miss Afarin.”
“Where are your parents?”
“They were killed.”
Ripley noticed that the girl kept twitching her shoulders and scratching her neck, “Pela, take off that niqab. Don’t be afraid. I’m not going to harm you or touch you in an inappropriate manner.”
She was extremely emaciated and her body was dotted with cigarette burns and little red bite marks.
“Pela, you’re lousy. You have lice and other parasites. Where have they been keeping you and the other slaves?”
“In animal pens by the market.”
“Bastards! Who burned you?”
“Hashmi after I tried to run away. He did other things,” The girl started to cry.
“Don’t put that back on. Stay here and I’ll find you a blanket.”
Ripley went to another hut and forced the door. The occupant wouldn’t mind. She was dead, killed by a sniper the previous day. Ripley rummaged round, found some clothes and dragged the mattress back to her hut.
“Put this blanket round you and sit on the chair. Don’t go anywhere near my bed or that mattress. I’m going out to get something to treat those lice.”
Ripley left the compound and headed towards the main road through the town. The Hadeel Hamdam Pharmacy was still open and she brought some antiseptic cream, Permethrin Nix topical cream, some Sawyer Permethrin spray for treating clothes and some carbolic soap. The items were very expensive. On the way back she stopped at a bakery and asked for two flat breads, then headed back to the compound.
“Right, Pela. I’m going to heat up some water and you’re going to wash yourself with this soap. Get a good lather up and pay particular attention to washing your hair, your armpits and between your legs. Then rub this cream over your entire body, everywhere you understand, even the soles of your feet. You must keep the cream on for at least twelve hours and we’ll wash it off tomorrow. Hopefully it will kill all of the lice in your hair and any eggs. That niqab is for you, once you’ve finished. It may be a bit big for you, but you can’t wear your old one. I’m going to burn it to kill the lice and the eggs. I’ll spray your new clothes and bedding, so you’ll just have to sit there till they dry. Then we’ll have something to eat, and I want you to tell me everything you know about Daffi Hashmi. Come on, girl, don’t be shy. You don’t have anything I haven’t seen before.”
Ripley heated some water on a hexamine stove while Pela washed herself shyly and Ripley made a point of not looking. She suspected the rich, high-fat Russian rations would make the half-starved girl sick. She would put some of the jam on a flatbread and give her that to eat. While she was treating the clothes, Ripley became aware that the girl was staring at her.
“You’re beautiful, Miss Afarin. I wish I had hair like yours. They said you had been driven mad with your sadness. I’m sorry your husband died.”
Ripley didn’t know what to say. She treated the angry burns with the antiseptic cream and later Pela was wolfing down the flatbread, “Slow down. You’ll make yourself sick. Right, now I want you to tell me everything you know about Hashmi.”
“He’s horrible. He hurts me because he can and he likes it.”
“Does he have a wife, and more importantly, where does he live?”
“A wife? Do you want to marry him?”
“No, child, but I want to find out everything you know about him.”
So Pela told her, about his sexual depravity, his corruption and the extortion rackets. The mayor’s daughter who was his concubine and how he farmed the Christian slaves out to his “business associates.” Where in the town he lived, if not the exact location. The girl was a treasure trove of information and Hashmi’s cruelty to her would be the engine of his own destruction.
After speaking for so long the girl seemed to be exhausted, although Ripley suspected that her strength had been sapped by the parasites and lack of food.
“You can sleep on that mattress Pela, and tomorrow when I go out you can clean up and give the place a good sweep. I haven’t had the time, so I’m sorry it’s such a mess. I’m very tired as well so we should sleep now.”
“What is it Pela?”
“Why are you being kind to me?”
“We’re not all bad you know.”
“I know that. We were happy living with Muslims and they seemed happy to live with us. Until the men with the black flags came. You’re one of them aren’t you? You kill like they do.”
“Only if I have to.”
“I wish you would stop. I wish everyone would stop. I miss my Mama.”
Ripley felt herself welling up and she hugged the girl, “Please don’t cry, Pela. You’re safe at the moment.”
“But one day you’ll be gone. And the men will come for me. Again and again.”
“Pela, take each day as it comes and grab whatever happiness you can.”
Much later, Ripley was half asleep and heard Pela murmur in her sleep, then the girl got up. Ripley felt her get into her bed behind her. It was simply a child wanting the comfort of being close to someone who was kind to her. She was glad that Pela trusted her and she would make sure that the girl would feel safe and contented, because in that dark recess of her mind, Ripley knew how this must end. She hoped the lice had gone.
The next morning Ripley decided that she would do some dicking before going for a stint on the defences. She gave Pela some multivitamin drops and some more bread with cheese, and plenty of water with the lemonade powder, “Stay out of the way of the other women fighters and I’ll be back this evening. If you need to go, use that bucket and I’ll empty it when I come back. Remember to wash your hands with the soap.”
Ripley put on her niqab and the girl shuddered, “You don’t look like a nice woman anymore.”
“That’s the idea, child.”
Ripley left the compound and headed towards the nicely tree-lined centre of the town. Near the Temple of Zeus Hypsistos there was a wide, open road heading south towards the central highway. As Ripley crossed it, she saw a black BMW with dark windows pull out from about a hundred metres away and head towards her. She flicked off the AK47’s safety catch. The BMW slowed to walking pace next to her and the driver’s window went down. Ripley turned slipping the rifle off her shoulders. She stared at the driver who grinned at her. It was Daffi Hashmi.
© Blown Periphery 2020
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file