‘You think we go?’ I looked to Ahmed and he looked away. Next to me, the young girl was trembling. ‘It will be OK,’ I told her. ‘OK.’ I put up two thumbs. Tears fell down her face. I repeated, ‘OK’ and gave the thumbs up again.
Of course she was not OK. How could I get her to understand that right now we had to work together and then everything will be OK. That’s what I meant. I knew from the past that it really will be OK, in the years to come, after so much time had passed, years spent in therapy with sympathetic but impotent doctors.
‘Nadia?’ I said to her. ‘I am here with you.’ I signalled for Ahmed to translate, but when he spoke to Nadia, he spoke harshly again. She was still shaking. I asked her, ‘Can I put my arm around you?’ I lifted my arm towards her.
I sat back.
‘You speak in English.’
Nadia stared at me. The old woman began speaking rapidly at me and Ahmed. She geatured past me at Nadia. She was demanding that Nadia answer her. The old woman grabbed at my arm and shouted at me. I looked to Ahmed for a translation, but he kept his gaze away from me, his hands in his pockets, looking to the distance of bombed out houses.
Yet he did not. Instead, he turned to Nadia and barked a command at her. Nadia swallowed in air and then wailed. Instinctively, I went to hug her, but she pushed me away. She went to run to Ahmed, but he pointed for her to sit back down and he shouted, furious. It was then that I realised that Nadia’s masculine, big shoes belonged to Ahmed.
Ahmed lost it. He ran at Nadia and roughly unzipped her red puffer coat. We didn’t have to look to know that she was wearing a suicide bomber’s belt. I pushed myself between Ahmed and Nadia. Ahmed pushed me back.
‘She will go now,’ he said. ‘You make this happen. Maybe she go alive before, but now you make her die.’
I looked at Nadia. ‘No.’
Ahmed took his hand from his jeans pocket so we could all now see the detonator. My stomach lurched.
And then I lurched.
Ahmed fell underneath me. The old lady screamed and Nadia wailed again, louder and louder. Ahmed threw me off him, off the top of the first storey’s floor and onto the ground below.
It saved my life.