It was Rosh Hashana Eve and once again, Afarin and Heyfa were alone in their apartments, as everybody else had gone home for the Jewish New Year. They had promised each other a meal out that evening and Afarin was spending the time prepping her kit. Her Tavor and Glock were cleaned and re-assembled, an exercise she found to be strangely therapeutic.
Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.
This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.
This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.
And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.
They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For today we have naming of parts.
Henry Reed Poem © with kind permission of The Royal Literary Fund
She had found a radio station that played 80s and 90s music, and she danced and cavorted to the radio, while she cleaned the apartment. Afarin was totally relaxed, just wearing briefs and a singlet, singing and dancing to Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn. She had the radio on so loud, she never heard the knocking at her open door and continued to dance and sing to the song, her eyes closed.
You’re a little late, I’m already torn, she sang to the open doorway.
Staff Sergeant Hoffman found it most pleasant watching her arse in her briefs and the singlet that left very little to the imagination. His dog sitting obediently had found it all rather bemusing.
“Oh well, better late than never,” he said to her.
Afarin’s eyes snapped open and saw the NCO standing at the door.
“I did knock, and it was already open.”
She fumbled the radio off and grabbed her dressing gown, hanging in the wet room.
“Staff Hoffman, you gave me the scare of my life.”
“And you nearly gave me heart failure, too much at my age, Tipsha. You could have someone’s eyes out with those.”
“What do you want?” she asked folding her arms.
“You are alone in a strange land. I wondered if you and your friend Heyfa would like to come for Rosh Hashana supper. I’m surprised I didn’t find the two of you in bed.”
Bloody hell! Is there nothing he doesn’t know about us?
“Thank you, but I’m not really sure…”
“My wife has suggested this. You are most welcome, and the food is halal. She is Druze you remember.”
“OK. Thank you, Staff Sergeant. I will tell Heyfa.”
“I will tell her myself. Who knows, she may be doing a spot of naked yoga with her door open. Don’t worry about finding my place, I will come and get you both this evening.”
“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?”
“Kalev? He is a combat K9 dog. I thought Muslims considered dogs to be haram?”
“I have seen my share of war dogs in Afghanistan and shared the ground while we both slept. They are warm and comforting as well as brave, so haram is a stupid concept. I like cats as well and would like one to own me, one day. Kalev is a powerful dog, so I will respect his space.”
“It will be very informal, so don’t dress up on our account. I will come for you at seven.”
He walked off and she slumped on the bed, worrying thoughts going through her mind. She peered out of the window and saw him walking back towards the married accommodation, Kalev walking obediently to heel. She pulled on some clothes and ran towards Heyfa’s apartment. Heyfa was waiting for her.
“You had a visit from Hoffman?” Afarin asked.
“Yes. I’d just come out of the shower when he knocked on the door. I thought it was you.”
“I was dancing around in my skimpies and never heard him. Did he ask you about dinner?”
“Yes, what do you think?”
“Well, we can’t not go, that would be very rude. He made the effort to ask us, so we should go.”
Afarin played with the tie of Heyfa’s dressing gown, “I think he knows about us.”
“Well, it’s not forbidden. He didn’t ask if he could watch?”
“Oh, God no. His wife will be there, so I suppose we should take gifts. What do you give a woman who is entertaining?”
“Flowers are always good for Mrs Hoffman, a bottle of good wine for Hoff.”
Afarin thought about it, “Are the shops open?”
“Most are,” Heyfa told her, “Until tomorrow when they’re all shut. We’ll go this afternoon. You buy the wine; I’ll get some nice flowers.”
“I was rather hoping that after the meal, we could….”
“There’s all tomorrow, a long, lazy day my Persian princess. Come on, what have we got to lose? He is being kind to us. He didn’t have to ask us for a meal. I like him, for what it’s worth.”
“I guess you’re right. I’ll see you at two this afternoon.”
“I’ll come round in my little car and pick you up.”
Afarin went back to her apartment and lay on the bed for a little while. She was asleep when Heyfa came to collect her, and she woke her with a long kiss.
“Come on, sleepy head. Time to do some shopping.”
Afarin sat up and hugged Heyfa, “I don’t know what I would have done without you. To be alone is horrible when you’re miles from home.”
“I haven’t got a home,” Heyfa said sadly, tears forming in the corners of her eyes.
“Oh, Heyfa. Please don’t cry. One day you will get your home back, marry the dark boy and have his children in the orange groves.”
“Do you think so?”
“We must all hold on to something. If you don’t dream, your dreams will never come true.”
“What do you dream about, Afarin?”
“I want somebody to love me for being me. I dream I’ll meet him, and he will be kind, not caring what I’ve done in the past.”
“What about your James Bond?”
“I like him a lot. I’m just not sure that I love him. Perhaps one day I will accept him into my life, not just as someone whom I have lovely sex with. There must be more.”
Afarin got dressed quickly and they headed towards Ahisamakh and a large supermarket. Afarin got in a few supplies while Heyfa bought some food and fresh fruit. In the drinks section there was a bewildering selection of wines.
“Red or white?”
“Hoffman strikes me as a red wine man. That St Emilion looks like a classy buy. I’ll go and get some flowers, lilies I think for Mrs Hoffman.”
They wheeled the trolley out to the car and carefully put the flowers on the back seat and the other groceries in the boot, then Heyfa drove round to the petrol station to fill up.
They drove back to camp, Afarin singing a Groovejet song, If this ain’t love. She really had a melodious singing voice and would sing at any excuse. Heyfa dropped her off and she got her supplies and the bottle of wine.
“Remember to put the flowers in water. See you this evening.”
Back in her apartment, Afarin spent the afternoon reading a book by Cormack McCarthy, The Road. It depressed her and she kept asking why the man and boy should find themselves in this post- apocalyptic landscape. She was glad to put the book down and get ready with a shower for the evening’s meal.
She decided to dress up a little and wore a long, silk dress with her hijab loosely wound over her hair and resting on her shoulders, in the style of Iranian women. Heyfa came round and she was wearing a below-the-knee skirt and a matching jacket
“I’m willing to bet Hoffman won’t be able to keep his hands off you, Persian princess.”
“Or you. Perhaps it’s a ruse and we’ll find ourselves in a swingers’ club. Car keys in the bowl, while Mrs Hoffman serves sweetmeats to all the punters,”
“Not very likely, is it?” Heyfa said and they both started to giggle.
“Oh shit, he’s coming. We forgot to get something for the dog.”
“To hell with his dog. It looks like a brute.”
“It’s a war dog. It’s meant to look like that.”
Hoffman knocked at the door and Afarin opened it, “Good evening, Staff Sergeant Hoffman.”
“Good evening, ladies. You look absolutely lovely, the pair of you. For this evening I would prefer it if you addressed me by name, which is Azriel.”
“Err OK… Azriel,” Heyfa said self-consciously.
“You may leave your rifles locked in the wardrobe and just take your sidearms. There is somewhere in the house you can leave them. My wife does not like guns in her home.”
He walked with them through the pine trees to the married living accommodation, a bungalow surrounded by aromatic shrubs. It was quiet and peaceful.
“Everybody is visiting their families,” Hoffman explained, “In your house please, Kalev.”
The dog whined and went into its kennel.
“Good boy. You can come in when our guests are going.”
“Why aren’t you visiting your family, Azriel?”
“Because they have severed all ties when I married Abila.”
“I’m so sorry. Religion is a terrible thing,” Afarin said.
“Please come in.” He showed them where to leave their weapons
Afarin made sure she stepped in with her right foot and took off her shoes. Heyfa followed her lead. Hoffman’s wife was a tall, statuesque Druze woman and she bowed politely to them.
“As-salāmu ʿalayki,” Afarin said formally, putting her hand on her chest.
“Wa ʿalayki s-salām,” Hoffman’s wife replied with a smile.
“How do you do.” Heyfa said awkwardly.
“Hello, fellow Lebanese woman. I am so pleased to meet someone from the old country. You are Christian?”
“Yes, Ma’am I am.”
His wife shook her head and held up a finger, “My name is Abila. Tonight, we’ll talk about the Lebanon. It’s been so long.”
Heyfa presented the woman with the flowers and Afarin gave Hoffman the wine.
“Lilies, how lovely. Thank you.”
“And St Emilion. Do you mind if I lay this down for a special occasion? I usually drink Israeli plonk.”
His wife looked at Afarin, a long look that seemed to see into her soul, “I am told you are from Persia.”
“Yes, Abila. From Afghanistan. Afghanistan is my roots, although I was born in England.”
“And you have served in Afganistan?”
“Yes, with the Special Air Service. I was their interpreter.”
“And you are still with the Special Forces?”
“I am, Abila. I am part of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment.”
Hoffman gave Heyfa a glass of white wine and gave Afarin a soft drink, “Please ladies, sit down.”
Afarin felt herself relaxing although she was conscious of Hoffman’s wife watching her carefully. She seemed completely comfortable talking to Heyfa and asked her about the Lebanon.
“I was a child when Hezbollah attacked us, to clear Christians from the area they were occupying. Both my parents died after we escaped south into Israel, and I grew up in a refugee camp near the Golan Heights. I studied hard at school and as soon as I was eighteen, I joined the Israeli Army. I am a border guard but before I did one engagement in the infantry, but I was ground down by the pointless discipline, day in, day out. I left and worked in various refugee camps. Then I decided to re-join the army and I volunteered for the Mista’arvim, I passed all the psychometric and aptitude tests, so here I am. I want my country back.”
“And what about you, aleaziz ? She asked Afarin.
“I initially joined the Royal Air Force because I wanted to fly helicopters. Then I found out I couldn’t. It was sent to Afghanistan as part of an enabling force, to reactivate a Russian airfield for our jets. The SAS must have heard that I was a Pashtun speaker and one day they pitched up and effectively hijacked me. I missed the life after they went home and volunteered for the SRR. That’s what I do now. I watch people, so effectively, I’m a spy.”
Hoffman’s wife nodded, “But why are you here?”
“Because currently relations between Israel and Britain are not so good. Anti-Semitism is rife in my country, among Labour members of parliament and of course our large, unstainable Muslim community, mainly Somalis and Pakistanis. And on a personal note, it will enable me to increase my skill sets.”
“Your views are very forthright, Afarin.”
“That’s because I loathe and detest them. They are cruel and backward and practice female genital mutilation and forced marriage. They are responsible for rape of underage white girls on an industrial scale and the government are too cowardly to do anything about it.”
“What do you feel about the Palestinians, Tipsha?” Hoffman asked.
“It is what I call Afarin and it is not meant in a derogatory way.”
“Live and let live, until they kill Israeli soldiers or fire rockets at Tel Aviv. And then, shake their world.”
Mrs Hoffman stood up, “Heyfa, could you please help me to serve dinner.”
Hoffman pulled out a chair for Afarin and then one for Heyfa and his wife when they came back in with the meal. The delicious aroma of chicken and spices came from the large, serving dish.
“I have prepared a simple meal of chicken biryani with rice and flatbreads. I hope it is to your tastes.”
Afarin and Mrs Hoffman said the Muslim version of grace, then Hoffman served them onto their plates.
The chicken was exquisite, moist and tasty and the rice was slightly undercooked to Afarin’s taste, but it was delicious. Hoffman offered Heyfa another glass of wine and he refilled his own with a bottle of red. His wife offered Afarin a dry fruit juice, which was a complimentary to the chicken.
Afarin made a point of only eating with her right hand, scooping the rice onto a flatbread. She saw Mrs Hoffman looking at her and became defensive.
“I’m sorry. That’s how we eat bread and rice at home.”
“It’s quite all right, it’s nice to see you enjoy the food. Where is your home, Afarin?”
“I live in a barrack block at Sterling Lines near Hereford, but I’m in the process of buying my own house, down near Wiltshire Plain.”
“Anywhere near Stonehenge?” Hoffman asked.
“A few miles north of it. I’m looking forward to walking along the hills when I get back.”
“Do you have family nearby?” Mrs Hoffman asked.
“I have no family, Abila. They disowned me as soon as I joined the air force. My father died last year.”
“But she does have James Bond to keep her warm at nights,” Heyfa said with a smile. They were all looking at Afarin.
“There is often a crossover between the military and the Intelligence Services. I was loaned to the Metropolitan Police when they killed that Brazilian in London. I was part of the operation to follow him and tried to tell them they had the wrong person. I refused to go along with their cover-up, so MI6 recruited me as an agent. I was working for them as well as the military in Basra.”
“Go on,” Heyfa said to her.
“Well, I’m currently living with an MI6 officer. He’s helping me to buy my house.”
“And is he like James Bond?” Hoffman asked.
“No. More like George Smiley,” she said with a chuckle. Afarin decided to change the subject, “Where did you meet Abila, Azriel?”
“In the Lebanon. We were fighting Hezbollah; some things never seem to change. We helped to evacuate a Druze village and I remember seeing a young woman, whom I thought was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. The Druze from this village went into the refugee camps in Southern Lebanon under UN protection.
“Back in Israel I kept thinking of this woman and took some leave to travel into the Lebanon, to see if I could find her again. I scoured the refugee camps and eventually found her, but she refused to have anything to do with me. I hung around for days and she eventually spoke to me. I truly did love her and still do, and we married. She was ostracised by the Druze community and my family never spoke to me again for marrying a Muslim.”
Afarin looked at Hoffman’s wife, “It must have been difficult for you, but love transcends religion and nationality.”
“To be honest with you, I thought he was a jerk initially, but he wore me down,” she said with a gentle smile.
“I saw two photographs in the hall, one of a young woman in uniform and one a young man receiving his degree. Are they your son and daughter?”
“They are. My son is a junior in a law firm and my daughter is a Seren in the Intelligence Corps.”
“You must be very proud of them,” Heyfa observed.
The meal was finished after strong coffee with convivial chat and Hoffman gave the Hebrew thanks for the food, “Birkat HaMazon.”
Heyfa helped Mrs Hoffman to clear the table. Hoffman stood up and went through to sit down and Afarin followed him.
“Abila, do you mind if I go outside and have a cigarette?” she asked quietly.
“No and I will join you for a Montecristo. One of my few vices.”
Outside it was dark and still. A balmy night, perfumed by the sap of the pine trees. Afarin lit Hoffman’s small cigar with a zippo and then her own Marlboro Light. She stared up at the stars.
“One day I will be long gone and forgotten, but those stars will still be twinkling away, never knowing that I ever existed.”
That struck Hoffman as a very sad thing to say. He sent a plume of smoke off the veranda and thought about this little Muslim girl, because that was what she was to him.
“Tipsha, whatever happens while you’re here in Israel, I want you to know that there is a reason for it. We want to give you a chance for what the future will hold. Please don’t hate us,” he patted her gently on the shoulder.
She stared at him in the darkness, wondering what the hell he meant. They finished their smokes and went back inside.
“Azriel, you’ve been smoking, and I’m surprised at you, Afarin.”
“Abila, Afarin is over twenty-one and so am I.”
They chatted once more and then Hoffman said he would walk them home, so they thanked Mrs Hoffman for her food and hospitality. Outside he gave a gentle whistle and the dog appeared to heel.
“He needs a lot of exercise,” Hoffman explained.
Hoffman walked back to their apartments and dropped Afarin off first. She waited until he had left Heyfa’s and went round to her. Heyfa was in bed.
“Oh, I’m sorry Heyfa. I’ll leave you to it.”
She was very sleepy but pulled the duvet back and Afarin stripped off her clothes and slid in next to her. She loved the soft feel of a woman’s body but longed for a man and to feel his hard body.
“You were a real hit with Abila Hoffman.”
“We are both Lebanese and what about you, Tipsha? Hoffman’s little favourite. I could really have done a spliff to go with all that wine he kept plying me with, but I doubt Mrs Hoffman would have approved.”
He said a strange thing to me while were outside smoking. He said: whatever happens while you’re here in Israel, I want you to know that there is a reason for it. We want to give you a chance for what the future will hold. Please don’t hate us. A strange thing to say.”
Heyfa closed her eyes. “It meant nothing. Go to sleep.”
Suddenly her eyes snapped open and she stared at Afarin in the darkness, “Wake up!”
“Whatever’s wrong, Heyfa?”
“Afarin, would you ever betray me and say you don’t like me any more?”
“Of course not, you silly girl. I’ll prove it to you tomorrow, now go to sleep.”
Hoffman got back to his bungalow, fed Kalev and bedded him down in his kennel. He went back inside and sat next to his wife on the sofa.
“A lovely meal, Abila. The girls enjoyed themselves and asked me to thank you again.”
Abila smiled, “They are both beautiful girls, so kind and polite. Afarin is your favourite is she not?”
“We are not supposed to have favourites, but I guess she is. What surprised me is when she got into a fight with Dan, a paratrooper. There was bad blood between them from when she first arrived, and I’ve heard he tried to sabotage one of her leads on the ranges. She decided to resolve it with a fight and they both beat each other up. The scale of their violence to one another was frightening, but the situation was resolved. If they hadn’t stopped, I think they wound have gone on until one of them was seriously injured.”
“I can see why she is your favourite Azriel. She is young, beautiful, polite, and kind. She has an air of vulnerability that disguises what she is capable of. She is also severely damaged emotionally. Those beautiful, violet eyes show a propensity for violence. She is a killer, Azriel.”
“She has killed, but in self-defence.”
“And I can’t help wondering just how much she enjoyed it.”
Aleaziz – Poppet
Seren – Captain.
© Blown Periphery 2022