She was discharged from hospital after two weeks and Jean-Claude was there to take her home and carry her kit. She was very weak and frightened like a little girl. She said the worst pain was where someone had raped her with an instrument of some kind. She told him that she was glad she killed them, to stop them doing things like that to the young girls.
“I’m thankful to be out of there. Most of the nurses were OK, some were nice, but some were horrible. There was a nurse who hated my guts. She would keep me waiting for a bed pan, until I was in agony. One night I’d had enough, so I got out of bed, I wasn’t supposed to get out of bed yet, pissed in one of those compressed paper bowls and left it in the nurses’ station. When she had a fit at me, I yelled at her: “Next time I ask for a fucking bed pan, get me one, you poisonous bitch!”
“There are other patients on this ward as well as you!”
“Well attend to them, instead of polishing that work surface with your fat arse.”
“Relations never got any better after that and it turned into a war of wills, with constant skirmishing. Could you stop at the next services please, Jean-Claude. I haven’t had a proper meal for days. The bitch would serve me non-halal food or leave it at the side, so it was cold and inedible.”
“Nurses are like people, good ones, and very bad ones. It’s obvious that you won’t get on the patient/nurse bandwagon. Some people like the feeling of helplessness and being fussed over. You obviously don’t. I’ll stop at Woodall Services. What do you want?”
“Cheese and onion sandwich a drink and chocolate please. I don’t have any money.”
While he went into the shop. He was waiting in the car when she walked slowly across the car park. She got in stiffly.
“Sorry about that. It’s like pissing razor blades. I’m sorry, Jean-Claude, much as I want to, they’ll be no jiggy-jiggy tonight.”
“That’s OK. I’m going to look after you, not hump you to death.”
They were on the M5 when he finally broached the subject, “Afarin, I’m so sorry, but Kamran Farooqi was buried two days after he was killed. It was his mother’s wish that he should be buried in the Islamic tradition.”
She sniffed and looked down to cover her tears, “We became friends. He was a good man.”
“MI5 found the camera still in the car. The SD Card was gone.”
“No evidence,” she said miserably.
“Not quite. Leeds General Infirmary had an admission of someone with eye injuries. One eye has completely gone but the other has limited sight. He is being interviewed by MI5 and will be charged with rape, assault, attempted murder, and the murder of a police officer.”
“We failed, Jean-Claude. The bastards have got away with it.”
“Not necessarily. A team from the Met is going through their headquarters like avenging angels. Jobs are likely to be lost and vested interests torn to shreds. Hopefully, your friend’s death was not for nothing. They’ve moved your insider to prevent any harm coming to her.”
“But young, white girls will still be brutalised, threatened and raped.”
She looked out of the car window at the passing Gloucestershire countryside. Despite the fresh green of the trees, it seemed grey and depressing. She thought about the cocky, happy-go-lucky man who had been her unlikely friend, smashed by a speeding van. A single tear rolled down her cheek.
It was as if he knew, “I know what it’s like to lose someone dear to you. We are the survivors, and we owe it to those we’ve lost touch with, to keep living.”
She thought it was rather an odd choice of words, but found comfort in them, nevertheless.
“Afarin, things happen, bad things happen, and they are not your fault. These events are the making of you, good or bad. You have done nothing wrong and often it seems unfair. Don’t despair, please. Build yourself up.”
She looked at him as he drove down the motorway and concluded that he was wonderful person. How she wanted to share her life with him but lacked the courage to tell him straight. Perhaps one day?
On the outskirts of Swindon, he stopped to buy items from an Asian shop and essentials in a supermarket. When he got back to the car, she asked: “What are they for?”
“To give you a decent meal. Dall with what would you prefer, rice or bread?”
“Bread please. It’s how we used to eat it.”
They arrived at Wroughton and got out of the car, stiff after the long drive. The inside of the house smelled slightly musty, because it had been empty for months. He started to open a couple of windows while she went to the toilet.
“Open a couple of windows up there,” he called to her.
“MI5 have recovered my kit from the house in Bradford. They’ve dumped it in the spare room.”
“No, that was me,” he told her, “How was it when you went to the toilet?”
“Still painful, but no drawing pain this time.”
She lay on the sofa while he boiled the lentils and prepared the sauce. It was such an easy and tasty dish, he sat next to her while the food prepared.
“I am so grateful to you, Jean-Claude, but nor too much please. After being in hospital a need to get my appetite back.”
He surreptitiously watched her eat very slowly, scooping up the Dall onto the pieces of flat bread. It took her a long time to eat the small portion, but he was glad he had seen her eat something. She belched discreetly and smiled at him.
“Thank you, Jean-Claude. Why in God’s name have you never married? I’d snap you up tomorrow.”
“Because I’m absolutely committed to my work and I’m as gay as a Christmas tree.”
She laughed and dug him playfully in the ribs.
“There’s something I’ve meant to ask a man for absolutely ages.”
“Oh hello. Better ask away then.”
“Why do men hate women? Why does masculinity go together with toxicity”
“You’ve been a Guardian columnist for too long. The vast majority of men do not hate women.”
“But there’s all those women murdered.”
“Three times as many men are murdered, compared to women.”
“But men have been cruel throughout history. What about the witch trials and the inquisition, with instruments of torture specifically designed for women, like the pear?”
Jean-Claude thought about this for a long time. “I can’t comment on Islam, although I suspect many of the reasons are similar, to do with power and subjugation. In the early days of the Christian church, the Holy Grail was thought to be a woman’s womb, the bringer of new life. Then the fairy stories of the bible were published, and woman became the bearer of original sin: that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat….
“Women were depicted with serpents. In casting woman and serpent as evildoers, Judaic writers overturned a powerful earlier tradition which associated both with wisdom and fertility. In the ancient goddess religions, snakes were the special companions of women, symbols of sexuality, linked through the shedding of their skins – which was seen as a form of rebirth – with women’s creative and reproductive powers. Early Mediterranean statues and reliefs depict lush goddesses with great nourishing breasts, generous hips, and bellies ripe with pregnancy, often with serpents entwined sensuously about their bodies.
“Genesis converted the sensual, fertile goddess into a shameful sinner. They covered her nakedness with an apron of fig leaves and punished her sexuality with pain and oppression: ‘In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee’.
“The myth was used by early churchmen as a vehicle for expressing their horror and disgust at women’s bodies: ‘What is the difference whether it is in a wife or in a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any other woman. Witches were also accused of using herbs to ease the pain of labour at a time when the Church held that pain in childbirth was the Lord’s punishment for Eve’s original sin. Look what they did to the reputation of Mary Magdalene, turning her into a whore.
“Physicians continued a long tradition of viewing menstruation as dirty and dangerous, ‘the curse’ inflicted upon women because of Eve’s sin. The new professions of gynaecology and psychology denounced women’s bodies and minds as seriously defective and used ‘scientific’ discoveries to justify excluding women from higher education and from political life.
“Now what about the myth of “toxic masculinity.” Masculinity is a good trait, and all men or boys should aspire to it. Be brave, resourceful, and tough when you have to be, but remember to be kind, gentle and thoughtful when you need to. Be a role model. Who would you rather be stranded on a Pacific Island with? Someone who cries when you do, is well in touch with his feminist side, or someone who can build a shelter, make fire and hunt for food. There is no toxic masculinity, just toxic people.
“What chance do boys have? You yourself said the traditional family has gone with the loss of the father figure. The feminisation of school and learning. No competitive sports. Everyone’s a winner when in fact everyone’s a loser.”
Afarin wrapped a blanket around her legs and cuddled into him, “Those men in Bradford, they must have absolutely hated me. They were going to kill me in a gruesome way and film it. Degenerate filth, the way they treat underage white girls is absolutely appalling, and the ruling class allow it to happen. In fact, I think they encourage it. The fucking bastards!”
“It’s just porn to them. They were frightened of you, with good reason, I’m glad to say. They were going to kill you on film, their very own snuff movie.”
“The Israeli interrogator was much different. He had a gentle voice and got the water out of my lungs. The other one begged me to tell him what he wanted to know. I got the impression they didn’t want to do this to me and if I’d told him, they would have stopped.”
“Oldest trick in the book. He was trying to bond with you, traumatic bonding it’s called. You will form a bond with your torturer. In the beginning you will hate him, but as time goes endlessly on, you will grow to love him, especially when he stops the pain.” Afarin felt sick. The whole bloody thing had been another trick. She felt used.
They watched the TV until Afarin said she was tired, Jean-Claude said he would sleep in the spare bed until she was feeling much better.
“No, you bloody won’t!” she told him, “I may not want sex, but I want to feel you lying next to me.”
“OK if you insist.”
And so, he went to bed with her, and they lay arm-in-arm, “I’m so tired, Jean-Claude, tired, mentally exhausted and so desperately sad.”
“You will recover, I promise you.”
“I can’t answer that. The answer lies in you. In here.” He said putting his hand on her head.”
“I never used to worry in Afghanistan. The days were long, but I felt protected and part of a family. People don’t understand what it is to be an SAS soldier. They imagine them stalking around forests, living off what they’ve killed. Killing someone with a rolled-up newspaper. They are decisive in the fire fight, but when not in contact they are reflective, kind at least they were to me. They have their hang-ups like all of us, they feel fear, but will go the extra mile to get a job done. How I miss them.”
Her voice was becoming faint, and she fell asleep, clinging onto him like a shipwreck victim clings to a rock. Jean-Claude felt desperately sad himself as he watched her sleeping. Get better, Afarin for me. I want the old, playful you back.
The next morning, he “borrowed” Afarin’s office and did some work. He did as much as he could but realised that he would have to go back to London to finish his work. Afarin spent her time mooching, reading a book and complained that she felt tired all the time.
“You’ll get better. Being stabbed carries a lot of mental trauma. When I get back, I’ll look after you properly and perhaps we can go somewhere.”
“Not deer hunting, please.”
He smiled, “Not deer hunting, promise. I’ll be back on Friday and pick up a takeaway. Look after yourself. I’ll send you a text.”
At Vauxhall Bridge, Jean-Clause was able to access the files he needed in the registry. He spent most of the morning and afternoon, working on a ministerial briefing for the Balkans. When he paused for a coffee, he stared down at the river and, Alan Bartlett came in to speak to him.
“That briefing paper must be with the Cabinet Office today.
“It’s OK, Alan. I’ve nearly finished it. It just needs a couple of recommendations and a proof read, if you’d be so kind.”
“Any developments in the area?” Bartlett asked
“The organised gangs seem to be getting more involved with people trafficking, moving them through Europe to Britain. Mainly women sex workers or more accurately, sex slaves. They still move guns and drugs, but the drugs are dropped off at Trieste, but the guns and the girls are headed for us.”
“I’m grateful to you to your coming in to finish that report for us.”
“No worries, Alan.”
“Is everything all right, Jean-Claude?”
“To be honest, I’m worried about Afarin, Alan.”
Bartlett pulled out a chair and sat facing Jean-Claude, “Why are you worried?”
“She seems to be tired and listless and has no energy for anything.”
“Do you mean she’s too tired for your sexual appetite?”
It was meant to be a flippant comment, but Jean-Claude looked upset and haunted, “I’m sorry, that was a foolish thing to say. Please forgive me.”
“She’s not well, Alan. She’s not the Afarin I knew. She was so tough and such a fighter, now she just sits around so listless, too weak to do anything.”
“She had an eight-inch blade stuck into a major organ. Her body is drawing in to allow itself to heal. Go back to her tomorrow after you’ve finished here and look after her, like a child. She wants to feel that someone loves her or cares very much for her.”
“Thanks, Alan. It’s good to have a sounding board sometimes.”
He patted Jean-Claude on the shoulder, “Let me know how things are progressing, but I’m sure she will be OK after time.”
Jean-Claude cycled thoughtfully back to his flat that evening and had a tin of soup and some French bread for a meal. He texted Afarin, but got no reply, which worried him. He still had plenty of work to do at Vauxhall Cross, because he ran the Balkans desk. He hoped to be finished by lunchtime, but these plans are always likely to change.
He finally finished dealing with some correspondence from the British Embassy at Sarajevo. By the time he powered down and took the secret brick back to the registry, it was nearly four PM. The cycle through the rush-hour traffic was challenging as usual, so he rode defensively. Back at his flat he had a shower and changed, got his car out of the lock-up and headed West. Once he was on the M4 he put his foot down.
He was concerned that she hadn’t responded to his two texts and he was annoyed that he hadn’t chased them up with a phone call. Dusk came quickly and then the rain and the M4 seemed unbearably slow that evening. He was glad to get off at the Wroughton turn-off and was soon pulling up outside her house. There were no lights on inside and that worried him.
He let himself in, but she wasn’t in the sitting room. In the kitchen, she had left the fridge door open, and a bottle of milk was on the side. It was now cottage cheese. With a horrible feeling of dread, he went upstairs and went into the bedroom. She was lying part on, part off the bed. There was vomit on the pillow and and all over the floor, and the horrible, cheesy smell of curdled milk and the stench of illness.
Oh God, she’s choked on her own vomit.
He bent over her, “Afarin, Afarin?” He shook her and heard her shallow breathing, rapid and frantic. He could feel the heat radiating from her body.
“Afarin, It’s Jean-Claude!”
She opened her eyes and looked at him sightlessly, “They’re in the house. They came through the roof. Mind the bodies.”
He pulled her nightdress over her head and examined her body carefully. He looked at her vulva, which wasn’t red or have a discharge anymore. He felt it but it was no hotter than the rest of her body.
He went up to the area under her breasts and the knife wound was white around the entry wound with a deep, spreading red surround that was hot. He rolled her over and she groaned with pain. She had a deep red rash on her back, that wouldn’t disappear when he put a glass on it. He pulled on a clean nightdress and wrapped her in a blanket.
“Shut up Afarin and keep still!”
He went out to the car and opened the rear door.
Sepsis. Must move quickly.
He went back up to the bedroom and picked her up in his arms. He moved carefully down the stairs and outside to the back seat of his car and as gently as he could, slid her in. The house was secured, and he drove quickly into East Swindon and followed the signs for the Great Western Hospital. The A&E was quite busty, this being a Friday night and the illuminated board said the wait was four hours.
No good. She’ll be dead by then.
He lay her on a bank of seats and the annoying gatekeeper dragon in reception called out to him, like he was some strange piece of barely human life form.
“You can’t leave her there. There are other people…”
“I need to park. She’s dying, please get a clinician.”
As he left her, he heard: “This is ridiculous. Patients strewn all over A&E.”
He parked the car, got a ticket, and ran back to A&E, where the dragon was still complaining about dumping patients off.
“Where’s the clinician?” he asked.
“I told you, there is a four-hour waiting time to be seen, and this could get longer when the nightclubs…”
“This girl has sepsis, and she needs a course of powerful antibiotics, so please get a bloody clinician!”
“How dare you…”
“She works for the government and so do I. She was injured doing the government’s work. So, you have less than fifteen minutes to get antibiotics into her. If any harm comes to her, I will hold you responsible and that glass screen won’t save you. I will find out everything about you and you will be sacked for stealing from the hospital and the mysteriously none of your credit or debit cards will work. Your accounts will be frozen, your house re-possessed so do yourself a favour, GET A BLOODY CLINICIAN!”
She looked at him with fury, but nevertheless, opened the reception door into the clinical area. She spoke to a nurse and the door to reception opened. She waved Jean-Claude though and he picked Afarin up again and carried her through.
“Put her on the trolly please. You say she has sepsis?”
“Yes. She was stabbed by a large knife two weeks ago and that seems to be the epicentre of the infection. The old wound is red and hot, she has had a change of mental state, disorientated. She also soiled herself and vomited. Her speech is slurred, she has severe breathlessness. I’m so worried for her.”
Jean-Claude wiped away a tear.
“What’s her name?”
“Afarin, Afarin Khan.”
“Are you, her employer?”
“No. We work for the same governmental organisation, but we are an item,” this time he couldn’t stop the tears and the nurse put a hand on his arm, “We’ll do our best. Take a seat and I’ll let you know what’s happening, but I need to get the registrar first. Sit down there.”
“It’s just that, that I love her. I never told her…”
“She probably knows.”
Jean-Claude sat down on the hard, uncomfortable chairs and looked forlornly at an NHS poster on reporting needlestick incidents. Someone pressed a cup of tea into his hands, and he waited.
Oh God, how much more will she have to take?
© Blown Periphery 2022