The time passed very quickly and yet it felt slow. It was soon dark outside, and Afarin took the tennis ball and went out into the night. After a fifteen-minute walk she was at the car park and the VW Jetta was still in its bay. Keeping in the shadows, she went to the passenger’s door, put the tennis ball with the hole against the keyhole and hit it with the heel of her hand with enough force to trip the lock.
Inside, she turned off the interior light and with a Leatherman’s and a pencil torch, she removed the plastic covering of the bottom of the steering column. It took quite a while to find the correct wires to hotwire the car and once it started, she slid into the driver’s seat. The tank was half full, so she filled it at a garage, keeping the engine going. Back at the hotel they were ready, and Gad transferred the jerry cans into the boot and put the bottles of water and snacks on the back seat. They had a final briefing.
“We’ll go first and stop every eighty kilometres for half an hour, and you can overtake us, same routine. Give us ten minutes start. If I can’t get you on the radios or phone, we’ll double back and look for you. Split the driving. We’ll refuel at Mut, which is about halfway. Questions?”
“What happens when we get there?”
“Pull of the road and we’ll recce the place on foot. Gad and Afarin, you go first. Good luck to you all.”
They started off with Afarin driving, heading southwest on the 75 to skirt Cairo and avoid the toll roads. They drove past El Sadat City and the many blocks of apartments. The road was busy with traffic, despite it being vary late at night. They were on the regional ring road around the capital and there were still many trucks on the roads and quite a few cars.
They turned off just before 6th October City, named after the Egyptians’ cinitial defeats of the Israeli army and the crossing of the Suez Canal in 1973, an entirely new suburb of Cairo. At around eighty kilometres from Alexandria, they pulled into a truck stop and Gad used the phone to let the others know where they were. Just over ten minutes later, the Toyota drove into the truck stop. It pulled up next to their car and Dan put down the window. Gad and Afarin had changed places, Gad driving.
“How’s the car?” Dan asked.
“Good, she made a good choice, how’s yours?”
“Not too bad. A bit clunky. We’ll lead this time, give us ten minutes. No hanky-panky once we’ve gone.”
“Bloody idiot,” Afarin said as they watched the Toyota disappear until just the taillights were visible.
By daybreak they were in the heart of the Western Desert and the traffic was much sparser, just the occasional truck. By now the danger was the herds of wild camels, who had no concept of roads and rights of way. They came across a tragic event, a camel calf standing by the road, next to its dead mother, who had been hit by one of the trucks. It was crying for her to get up.
“Poor thing. The kindest thing to do would be to shoot it.”
As they drove on leaving the calf behind, Gad glanced at Afarin. She was crying silently and dabbed her eyes.
“You OK, Afarin?”
“What the hell do you think?”
“It’s just a wild camel. These things happen all the time.”
“It’s a living creature that has lost its mother. It will probably starve to death. How would you have felt at losing your mother when you were young?”
“I wouldn’t have felt I was being suffocated by the Hebrew religion. I could have done the things normal boys did, playing football, swimming with girls in skimpy costumes and exploring them, but that was disapproved of. I don’t think I’ll ever understand women.”
“Don’t try to understand us. Be kind and gentle and love us for what we are.”
He smiled at her, “Any time. It would be so easy to love you for what you are.”
“Thank you, Gad.”
They refuelled at Mut, a small town lost in the desert and waited for the other car. Afarin wanted to go and relieve herself, but the service station lavatory was so filthy, she would stop along the road.
“When we set off again, you get in the back and sleep,” she said to him, “Tiredness causes mistakes, and when you take over, I’ll have a kip.”
Dan and Aisha arrived in the Toyota, and they had a quick summary of the route and where they were going. A few hours later they were on the endless road south in the early evening gloom and it was getting dark. By now even the passing trucks were few and far between and Afarin, who was driving the lead vehicle, saw various pairs of eyes staring from the desert at the roadside. It was cold and Gad was asleep on the back seat, wrapped in a rug he found in the boot.
This was the loneliest part of the drive and up ahead she saw a large vehicle parked across the road. She started to slow down and shouted to wake Gad.
“Wake up, there’s trouble ahead!” she said, voice high with fear.
“Turn off the interior light so it doesn’t come on while I open the door.
A searchlight beam illuminated the Jetta, and as it slowed to a halt, Gad opened the rear nearside door and slipped out, using the car as cover. Afarin’s Tavor was in the front passenger footwell, and she pulled out her Glock and put it in the door pocket.
It was a surprise checkpoint, cones on the road behind an Egyptian army Nimr, High Mobility wheeled vehicle. She stopped and counted four soldiers, two manning the checkpoint and two inside the vehicle, listening to radio traffic.
As she stopped, Afarin put down the window and a soldier walked over.
“Masa’ alkhayr,” he said to her, and she responded by putting her hand on her heart.
“Where are you going?”
“Abul Simbel. My betrothed works on the dam.”
“I see,” he said with narrowed eyes, “It is late for an unchaperoned woman to be out. Where have you come from?”
“I have come from Alexandria.”
Afarin gave him an address that was on an actual road she passed, but it would be difficult for him to check.
“Is this your car?”
“Can I see the ownership documentation?” he asked looking at the light blue number plate and symbols, denoting Alexandria registration authority.
“I’m sorry. I left them at home. I was in such a hurry to meet my betrothed. It’s been a month.”
“Your accent is strange. It is not an Alexandrian accent. Are you sure you’re Egyptian?”
“Of course,” she said with faked surprise.”
He’s on to us. He knows. How do we play this?
“Have you been to El Alamein City in the past week?” the soldier asked her. He was an NCO and his suspicious eyes never left her.
“No, but I heard there was an explosion at a hotel.”
“It was Jewish terrorists. Get out of the vehicle, we need to search it.”
Fuck, my rifle’s in the front foot well.
His Sig Sauer carbine was in his right hand, leaving his left one free and the carbine was pointed at Afarin’s head. She reached inside the door for the silenced Glock. He started to wrench open her door and she shot him twice through the metal of the car door. He went down but wasn’t dead and she was out as he fired a burst. The door took the brunt, which included the toughened glass window. Afarin killed him with a shot to the head, but her problems were only just beginning. The other soldier manning the checkpoint went to fire at her and the two inside the Nimr were reacting, one coming out, the other on the radio. She was too late. The other soldier’s carbine was pointed at her and he was removing his safety catch. She went down on one knee to steady her aim and she heard automatic fire very close. She waited for the crushing impact of the rounds and knew she this really was it, to die here, tonight.
Gad had slipped out of the car door and using their car as cover, he quickly ascertained the situation. He saw Afarin kill the first soldier and how quickly the others reacted to the situation. He fired a burst over the Jetta’s bonnet and hit the second soldier. His blood was like a puff of dust in the darkness.
He doubled round the back of the Nimr and killed the third soldier as he came out of the vehicle. He wrenched open the Nimr’s front driver’s door and trying to avoid getting tangled with the body he fired a long burst inside the vehicle. Insulation from the roof and seat covers swirled in the darkness and sparks from the destroyed radio illuminated the nightmarish scene inside the Nimr. The fourth soldier lay against the shattered glass, blood glistening in the faint light.
“Oh Gad, thank you. I lost it, inexcusable and I’m so sorry.”
“Forget it. Help me get all the bodies inside and we’ll hide the vehicle somewhere.”
By the time they carried the bodies of the Egyptian soldiers, they were covered with the coppery smell of blood and Afarin was nauseated.
“I’m going to hide the vehicle off the road.” Gad said, looking at the rocks and uneven ground off the road.
“I’ll clean up and put sand down to hide the blood. The others will be coming soon.”
Gad drove the vehicle off the road and found a wadi with steep sides. He parked it with the passengers’ side close to the wadi wall and went round to the back, to see if there was anything useful. There were rolls of camouflage netting and some tarpaulins, so he covered the vehicle with one piece of netting and dragged the other roll and tarpaulins onto the road. When he left, blood was dripping out of the Nimr’s door, a truly horrible sight to a sensitive soul like Gad, but that seemed a lifetime ago. He looked upon it as his duty to look after her, to keep her safe. He was like a hero from history
Gad stuck the roll of netting and the tarps in the back of the Jetta, “I’ll drive, but we’ll wait for the others to catch up.”
Five minutes later the Toyota pitched up and Dan put down the window, “We ran into trouble.”
Dan looked at Afarin, “What kind of trouble?”
“An army checkpoint and High Mobility vehicle.”
Dan looked around, “Where?”
“Out into the desert. We stashed the bodies and vehicle out there. Gad covered it with camouflage netting.”
“You killed them all?”
“Gad did, thank God.”
Dan looked at his watch, “We’ve got just under two hours to find the airstrip and if necessary, hold the Egyptian army off. We might as well stay together because we’re nearly there.”
The road south swept round to the east, running parallel with the Sudan border. They hadn’t seen another vehicle since the Army carrier, now hidden away with its four dead occupants. The airstrip was supposed to be on their left, but nothing was visible to their north. The cars were driving slowly as they searched the area, and they noticed there was a barbed wire fence. Dan and Afarin got out and looked at it. It was old and the supports and wire were heavily rusted.
“This looks like a very old perimeter fence,” Afarin observed, and Dan agreed.
The two of them remained on foot and started to walk the length of the fence, while the cars followed at walking pace. After a few hundred metres they came across a turn off to the left of the road, which had been blocked off with oil drums. Beyond them a concrete road headed out to the north. There had once been buildings here, but only the concrete foundations remained.
“This is the old guard room,” Afarin said.
“Yes, it could be, so where’s the air strip?”
Afarin went to the car and fetched the night vision glasses. She scanned the terrain ahead of them and said, “We’re here. The runway runs left to right and over the far side are some bunds where we could hide the cars.”
They managed to move two oil drums out of the way by tipping them over and rolling them out of the way. It was a narrow gap, but large enough to get the cars through. Once the cars went in past the wire, the rolled the drums and heaved them back upright.
Dan spoke to Gad and Aisha, “Up ahead, just to the right, there are some heaped walls of some kind. Drive the cars over to them and hide them as best as you can. All equipment and weapons and water out please.”
The bunds turned out to be old, anti-blast walls, ideal for hiding the cars. By the time Gad had finished with the camouflage net and tarpaulins, the cars were hidden. Dan got everyone together for a quick council of war.
“Gad and Afarin, go out to the east and look out for any of the bad guys. We’ll go the other way and cover the south and west. Find whatever cover you can and remember, they are likely to have night vision capability. I’ve got the flashlight and I’ll start signalling at 02:00 as agreed.”
“I’ll need to get some water in me. My last piss was hot and painful,” Afarin said to Dan.
“Could you bring me some as well, please.” Gad asked.
She came back with a large bottle of water, and they shared it, lying together in a depression. It was bitterly cold, and the stars were like strings of diamonds in the sky. Gad had cut off a smaller piece of tarpaulin and they huddled together for warmth.
After about an hour and thirty minutes, they saw headlights off to the west, as a vehicle came down the road, paused and then turned round, to head back up to the north.
“I reckon that’s the Egyptian army looking for their pals in the Nimr,” Afarin said with a worried voice, “Gad. I was really stupid back there. I thought I could blag us out of the checkpoint. Thank you for having the presence of mind to get out of the car and open up with your Tavor.”
She hugged him and kissed him on the cheek, and he smiled in the darkness.
“It felt like I was doing something useful, rather than listening to radio traffic on the Syrian border. I’m so glad I’ve met you Afarin, whatever happens now.”
“I want to go home, Gad. Home, real home. That overcrowded, wet and windswept little set of Islands, off the European coast.”
“Surely England is part of Europe?”
“Not up here, Gad,” she said tapping her head. “Part of Europe, but not linked morally. Even me a child of the Helmand River, feels differently. We may be abused and cursed by the indigenous population, but we are English who wear different clothes.”
“But you worship a different God,” Gad said, confused.
“I don’t worship any God. I do not believe in the existence of a supreme being.”
“Yet you wear the clothes of your religion, when you’re not naked in bed, which is nice.”
“It’s a disguise. A protection and it makes me feel anonymous.”
Gad watched the distant taillights of the vehicle become lost in the distance, “I have a confession to make. We Jews don’t really like the English.”
“I know, we have a history of bad blood with Israel. Rather stupid because the Brits ceded your people with an area of the British Mandate.”
“No, we took it, fought for it.”
“No you didn’t. You committed terrorist acts such as the bombing of the St David Hotel and the murder of two British Sergeants. How do you think that made Jews look in the eyes of the world? You were viewed with contempt and disgust. Don’t you think a military power that had defeated the Germans, would be beaten by a rag-tag of terrorists and part time soldiers, with respect. We liberated the concentration camps, many of our nurses and medical students died of typhus looking after Jewish concentration camp victims, and the British had no stomach for fighting Jews. The sad thing is we became obsessed with the Arabs, as we have for hundreds of years.”
“But I really like you, Afarin. A lot.”
Across the airstrip by the blast walls, Dan and Aisha anxiously scanned the night skies. Dan looked at his watch and saw the time was 01:59.
“Where are they? I would have thought we’d have at least heard them by now.”
“The signal, Dan. Out to the east.”
It was Gad and his exceptional hearing who heard it first, the low drone of turbo-prop engines. He got on the radio.
“I can hear an aircraft. Are you signalling, Dan?”
“Yes, I’m bloody signalling, but I can’t see it. Where are the landing lights?”
“They are probably on NVGs, but they’re coming. I can feel it. It’s a C130.”
Suddenly a darker shadow came down out of the night skies. It came along the airstrip, flared, and touched down in a huge cloud of dust. It slowed quickly with reverse thrust and as it went past Dan and Aisha, a group of commandos exited the rear ramp, spreading out to protect the aircraft. As it turned back to its take-off position, Gad and Aisha got up and sprinted towards the C130’s rear ramp. Afarin stumbled on the high ramp and Gad pushed on board with a firm hand on her backside.
Dan and Aisha ran towards the C130 as it went past, one of the commandos pointing towards the aircraft. Aisha stumbled and twisted her ankle on the uneven ground and Dan swept her up, carrying her in his arms towards the aircraft. The loadmaster pointed Afarin and Gad to the seats forward by the cockpit bulkhead, then helped Aisha get on board. Dan looked around the darkened interior and saw Gad and Afarin, heading towards them and sitting opposite. Aisha limped to the seats and Afarin and Dan helped her bind it for support.
“Raise it,” Afarin shouted above the noise of the engines.
The C130 taxied back to the upwind take-off position and the commandos of the Airborne Combat Rescue and Evacuation Unit 669 got on board. The ramp went up and the commandos took their seats. The C130 accelerated down the airstrip, lifted off and roared over the heads of an Egyptian recce unit who had come to investigate the commotion. A few shots were fired at the aircraft, but it was gone, lost in the darkness.
The transport made a tight turn to port, heading for the Sudan border and then it dropped to very low level to avoid the radar. It was extremely bumpy in the aircraft and a couple of the commandos and Dan were airsick. As soon as the C130 reached the Red Sea, it climbed to cruising altitude and was much more comfortable. Afarin fell asleep with her head on Gad’s chest, and he looked at her sleeping face, happy and comfortable. She was a dichotomy, a woman cried because a baby camel had lost its mother and a few hours later had killed an Egyptian soldier in cold blood. Don’t try to understand us. Be kind and gentle and love us for what we are. Dan looked at him and smiled and soon they were all asleep. All except Gad who wanted to remember this moment for ever.
By the time the C130 was making its final approach to Lod Airbase, dawn had broken on a sunny day. The C130 rumbled down onto the runway and taxied towards a set of terminal buildings. Afarin yawned and sat up.
“Welcome back,” Dan said to her. They stood up and collected their kit and on the way off the aircraft, Dan spoke to the loadmaster, “Thank you for coming to get us. We are so grateful because we were in the shit.”
The loadmaster grinned at him, “All part of the service. You did everything right. Good luck and shalom aleichem.”
They trooped off the rear ramp and headed for the terminal building. Inside they got a shock, Staff Sergeant Hoffman was waiting for them.
“Where the hell have you lot been?”
“Sightseeing in Cairo,” Gad said daringly, “The pyramids were nice, and we had a camel ride.”
“Hmm, very amusing.” He hugged each one, Afarin last and his eyes seemed to smile at her “Good to see you wearing clothes for a change, now get on the minibus outside.”
He waited by the rear door for them all to get on board. Afarin was last on.
“You see, Tipsha? Nobody left behind.”
She smiled wanly at him.
“Are you all right?”
“No, I’m dehydrated, and my last piss was like razor blades.”
Hoffman went back inside the terminal building and came out with a tray of bottled water.
“Make sure you re-hydrate yourselves. I’m very sorry but there will be a hot debrief when we get back to Camp Mitkan. There will be a longer one for you tomorrow morning, Dan. Can I just say how proud of you we all are? After the de-brief the rest of you can take tomorrow off. There will be a ceremony on Thursday, when you will all be awarded your beret, badge and scroll. Best uniforms please for then. After that, you will be allocated to your units, and I will be glad to see the backs of you.”
On the way back to the base, Aisha started to sing Shalom Chaverim / Farewell, Good Friends, a haunting Israeli folk song. Gad and Dan joined in, and Afarin was struck by just how pleasant their voices were as they harmonised the words of the song.
She watched a large jet head towards Tel Aviv airport and thought, On Sunday I will be on one of those, going home, to my new house.
Back at Camp Mitkan they went straight into the briefing facility, where there was a senior officer from the General Staff and two intelligence officers. One of them recognise Gad.
“Hello, Gad. How’s it going?”
They shook hands and then sat down. The senior officer asked them to run through the operation, from insertion to extraction.
“The insertion was fine. Sub arrived precisely where we had agreed, and they put us ashore with no problems. Afarin was the lookout for the sea and Gad made sure our escape route was clear.”
“Are you sure you killed the right targets?”
Aisha answered, “Yes, but his wife was with him in the hotel, with their children.”
“That is regrettable.”
“The missile’s warhead was too large,” Aisha told them, “It caused too much collateral damage to the floor below and unspent fuel burned into the wing of the hotel.”
“Noted. And then the extraction. What went wrong?”
Afarin spoke, “An Egyptian navy corvette came into the bay and anchored. It must have picked up the missile on its radar and the crew were assisting with the rescue effort. We assume the sub couldn’t take the risk of surfacing to pick us up.”
“So, you went east?”
“Yes, we thought it would be easier to hide in Alexandria. It was Afarin’s idea to phone Staff Hoffman. We ran through the options to get out and Libya was discounted, as was going into Somalia.”
“Was the journey south uneventful?”
“No, we ran into an Army checkpoint,” Afarin told them, “I made an error of judgement by thinking we could bluff our way through. There was a firefight and we had to kill all four of them. We hid their vehicle in the desert. When we were waiting at the airstrip, we saw a vehicle looking for them along the road.”
“Right then. Anybody want to add anything?”
They shook their heads. “OK team leader, we would like to do a more thorough debrief tomorrow morning. I will need to know how you performed as a team and what if anything you would have done differently. Thank you all for now.”
As they went out, Afarin hugged Gad, “Thank you for getting me through that, Gad. I will never forget our time together.”
She trudged slowly back to her apartment, suddenly exhausted and collapsed on the bed. Twenty minutes later there was a gentle knock on her door, and she stiffly got off the bed to open it.”
“Hello, neshama sheli.
It was Heyfa, “I’ve missed you, Persian Princess.”
“Come in, Heyfa. I’m sorry but I need a shower.”
“I’ll wash you, if you can find room in the shower for me.”
Afarin smiled, “Always.”
She lay on the bed next to Heyfa and let the warm air dry her body. Heyfa looked at her, almost sadly. “We knew you were in trouble; I won’t ask you where. Seeing how this is probably the last time…” she nibbled Afrin’s nipples.
“Mmmm, that feels lovely. You’re the part of Israel I’ll miss the most, and you’re not even an Israelite. It would be a shame not to make the most of our time, so lie there and I’ll thank you for being my friend…”
Neshama sheli – my love.
© Blown Periphery 2022