Burke seemed to have disappeared for only mere seconds for when she blinked he was there again. He crouched and tried to throw down his belt towards her. Hanging upon a jutting rock just below the protruding cliff, she could not reach, and even trying made her slip a little more.
‘Hang on. Hang on, okay? I’ll see— hang on!’
‘Burke, I am bloody hanging on!’ she snarled.
‘I know, I know,’ Burke seemed to panic or was thinking ferociously because he moved a bit and then came back again. ‘I think I’ve found something. Just hang on okay?’
‘If you say those words again Burke I will kill you,’ she spat at him.
‘Hey, I’m worried okay. It’s psychology, you know. When one is going through desperate measures he tends to repeat the words that make the most sense and takes the least time.’
‘I know what you’re trying to say although believe me you’ve explained it extremely badly. And it is also psychology that when one repeats one thing again and again it’s damned irritating, so shut it okay?’
‘Right. Just stay there. I’m coming.’
He dashed off as she muttered to herself, ‘As if I can go anywhere even if I wanted to.’
Burke took a long time coming this time. He finally came back with a branch and his belt. He crouched and began forming some sort of knots to link them up, and looped the belt. He threw it down. It did not reach her. He pulled it back up and looked around. He swore and got up, removing his jacket. He threw it on to the ground and unbuttoned his shirt, tearing it and tying the two pieces to add length. He then removed the branch, tied the shirt to the belt, which was pretty difficult. Once he made sure the knot was secure, he tried to tie the other end of the shirt to the branch.
‘Why you had to come here I don’t know,’ muttered Tanya angrily. ‘Are you guys programmed from birth or something? Is there some specie complex or something in the Y-chromosome that makes everyone one of you do the exact opposite of what a girl tells you? I mean is it some pact or defect in the design?’
‘I told you I was sent here.’
He threw the branch away.
Tanya scanned for any person or thing that did not fit in. Nothing. She was safe for now. She made a call to someone.
‘Hello, Burke? Yeah how long will it take?’
Burke, around 5’10’’, fair, an American, worked in a property letting agency. He looked at his file and closed it as he turned to give his full attention to the phone.
‘Uh, well, you said you had a week.’
‘Well, I don’t. I have less than 24 hours.’
‘All right!’ he raised his brows cynically. ‘Not the same vicinity, I gather.’
‘You gather right. Hey, whatever you do, do it fast. I’m running out of time.’
‘Well then you gotta be more precise here. How much time?’
She cocked a brow as she said into her phone, ‘Yeah!’
‘Jesus, woman, what you take me for?’
‘Are you saying you’re not good enough?’
‘Don’t challenge me.’
‘What if I do?’
She smiled smugly, knowing he would take it up.
‘Yeah, well how about this. I got you a studio flat in Morden.’
‘Right next to the station.’
‘Too far. Northern line southbound sucks. Better get me something good, man.’
‘Christ! I do ever wish so much that I never knew you.’
‘Hey, so do I, but let’s face it, we’re rather stuck with each other.’
‘If your father wasn’t a friend of my father’s—’
‘If your father hadn’t threatened to screw you were you not to take care of moi, you’d happily drop me like a hot coal.’
‘I’d drop you, yes. I’d never know you!’
‘Come on, Burke, this is our childhood you messing with.’
‘I wish I could,’ he sniffed. ‘And voila! I just found you your own private heaven. You cannot say no to this. And even if you did, I don’t care, you’re going there.’
‘It depends. And you’re wasting my precious time.’
‘This is bang in the middle of the London hub, and yet tucked away. You like Kensington?’
‘You’ll like Shepherd’s Bush even better. It’s right at the back of Westfield for God’s sake.’
‘I’ll see it first.’
‘You’ll take it,’ he brooked no argument. ‘I’m calling as of now, and will arrange the security and all.’
‘You know I don’t pay security.’
‘I didn’t say you were going to pay it, you idiot. I said I was gonna settle it.’
‘I love you.’
He smirked, ‘Yeah!’ and put down the phone, grimacing at it. Then he proceeded to dial the number of the landlord and secure the flat.
Tanya walked rapidly towards the nearest station and went down to catch the first train she could board. She did not have time to walk to her place. Upon reaching her flat she began immediately. She brought out her suitcase and rammed her clothes, books and shoes into it, and brought out a smaller trolley throwing in the rest of her things, like toiletries. Within ten minutes the house was empty except for the furniture. There were no cups, no salt and pepper holders in the kitchen, no sugar pot, nothing. Just the microwave, the crockery set and the bare cup stand. The bathroom seemed sterile as if nobody had ever used it. She then wore a pair of gloves and set about wiping all finger prints. In another ten minutes the whole place was wiped clean of any print whatsoever. Still with her gloves on, she stood by the door, having one last look at her flat, and then shut it firmly.
She was in a car, with Burke. He was driving it. He looked back at the seat filled with three large plastic bags.
‘You wiped your place clean, what?’
‘Yes, I did. I can’t afford to buy things again and again. And disposal takes more time, actually.’
He stared at her and smiled, ‘It sure does.’
‘What?’ then on a more serious note he looked at her and asked, ‘Tan, you all right?’
‘Of course I’m all right. Why shouldn’t I be?’
‘I don’t know. You tell me?’
She looked at him for a long time. Then she shook her head and laughed. ‘It’s nothing, really.’
‘Tan, you do know if you need me I’m there for you.’
She looked at him steadily, conflicting emotions passing her face until finally she pulled her gaze away from him. He had looked at her just once. He was concentrating on the road.
‘I know, Burke. And I appreciate it.’
‘Shit! I hate London traffic.’
‘Could’ve taken the train,’ she pointed out.
‘And carry all that load? You know, for an intellectual you sure do come up with the most stupid comments I’ve ever heard.’
‘I could say the same for you. A distinction holder in politics and logistics (never knew they taught that as a subject). And what did you do? Ditch your offer at the university and your dad’s hopes of seeing you enter the Government, and choose to settle in this country as what? A property agent.’
‘Hey, I told you fed’s not my cup of tea. I’m not my father.’
He sat grimly, staring at the traffic jam. Suddenly the cars began to move and he changed gears.
‘Yes! All right. We movin’ at last.’
He made a turn and then looked at her again. ‘Say, why did you not return to the US when you left Pakistan? Didn’t you like Pakistan, by the way? It must be hard, living there what with all the extremists and all.’
‘Actually Pakistan is quite the opposite, I must confess. It’s really very modern and in fact my point of frustration is they’ve not got any real knowledge of Islam. And the extremists? Well, they don’t exist.’
‘You kidding me, right?’
‘No. I’m serious. Nobody listens to them. And if there are groups that justify their agenda as revival of Islam it’s not, because they have no clue about religion and it’s all political, exploiting religion. On the whole, life there is more luxurious. That’s the word I’d use.’
‘Then why leave it? And why settle here of all places. It’s been what? Three years?’
‘Why did you leave America? I mean you could have settled in another city, Houston, or even Seattle—why here? This is like a bloody village compared to where you come from.’
‘And you,’ he smiled. ‘I don’t know. But I asked you first.’
‘Yeah. You know me, big on destiny. And the mentality there is most aggravating. The guys!’
He laughed. Then, ‘You know I’m surprised you weren’t tracked down and locked up as an extremist. You still say your prayers, huh?’
‘I’m not an extremist simply because I follow my religion faithfully. What’s wrong with having principles in life?’
‘What is?’ he agreed. ‘Just kidding, hun.’
‘Yeah. Wouldn’t be surprised if you came up to me and arrested me for praying five times a day and refusing to drink alcohol.’
He frowned at what she said. He changed gears again. Then he asked, ‘You really think that of me?’
Both seemed lost in their worlds, thinking, eyeing each other rather suspiciously.
‘That is why I wouldn’t go to the CI. So that I don’t have to arrest you.’
They both laughed, the tension broke. When he winked, it was as if they shared a secret. Theirs was an odd friendship in that even though they never saw much of each other, what with her shifting countries, still every time they met it was as if they were never far away from each other, as if they were always there, together. Nothing seemed to change them with each other. Soon he slowed down, as he made to park the car by the side of the street.
‘Here we are. Finally.’
‘Was beginning to get bored with you.’
‘Too long,’ she said understandingly.
He smiled at her as he led her up the short steps, and then pressed on the bell push. A lady opened the door, letting them in.
Upstairs the studio flat was lovely. Tanya fell in love with this simply furnished flat, full of light, with a glass door that slid open to a balcony. The balcony had flower pots with little pink, yellow and purple flowers. But she knew she would not nest here anymore than she did in the last apartment. Her job didn’t allow her to nest. She was used to staying with the bare minimum anyway, practising what her religion preached: not to accumulate too much. To stay within means. To live simply. To others it would be radical fundamentalism. To her it was practical. And anyway, wasn’t this what all religions preached? She looked stealthily at her friend Burke as she wondered if he also really thought of her as an extremist. He knew her since they were in school. They were always friends, even though they went to different colleges and universities. She turned to him, as she saw him grin at her.
‘You like it. I know you like it.’
‘I like it.’
‘You love it!’
‘I love it,’ she smiled at him and then gave him a quick hug. ‘Thank you.’
‘Well don’t be too comfortable.’
She shot a look at him.
He didn’t seem to notice. ‘You do have a problem with staying in one place too long. I tell you that will be the day, when you actually resort to stay in one place.’
She laughed and shrugged. ‘I know. What can I say?’
Her old flat was sitting silent, when suddenly the door opened slowly. A foot stepped in, followed by the other, until the whole man entered. He was the banker. He looked around silently, closing the door behind him. He saw the kitchen, bare except for the crockery in the cabinets. He checked the bathroom. It was completely empty. The house smelled fresh, but the windows were closed. Emptiness gaped back at him. He walked back to the door, silently, and out. He was angry. He looked at his watch as he rushed down, making sure nobody saw him. There was nobody on the stairs. Once outside, he breathed easily. He looked to his right and left subtly, then began walking, crossing the street.
As he walked on he got out his mobile and dialled a number. A lady picked it up.
‘Yes, hi, I would like to know if you have any flats left to rent out. Yes. Okay. Today? Oh, then it’s my lucky day. Didn’t you find it strange, though, her leaving suddenly? Oh, left the country, eh? I see, I see. Yes, these foreigners. No, no, thankfully I’m British!’
A short while later Dave looked up to find Terry come up with an anxious look on his face.
‘Don’t tell me we lost her again.’
Terry looked at him, then down, then at him again. ‘Uh, we did.’
‘Damn it! What the fuck do you guys think you’re doing? Obviously she’s not just anybody; she is somebody to be playing about with our agents. She killed him, too?’
‘No, no sir. He confirmed that she left her flat just three hours ago. And her flat was wiped clean of all fingerprints.’
‘Get Shafiq on the line and ask him to take over. Tell asset to sleep for now.’
‘Right, sir.’ he turned back hesitantly, to make a suggestion. ‘Sir?’
‘Why don’t we put her up on the grid? That way we can have the combined help of the authorities.’
‘We cannot, Terry, not until we affix her position. Who she really is, who she’s working for. Until then keep her off the grid.’
Back in London Tanya just finished laying out the things, making her flat look like home, when her cell phone rang. She pressed the answer key and put it to her ear.
‘Hello? Yes, sir. Can’t there be a way to keep them off me, sir? You know I work alone. No, sir.’
‘Listen,’ said the ponderous voice of her chief, Awan, the old man with the white hair. ‘You need to be kept off the radar completely. And you need protection. That’s final. I’ll have no argument on the matter. He will not interfere with your job. But for God’s sake keep it low for now.’
‘What about the NSA agent?’
‘Taken care of. Am holding Shafiq back, too. He’ll make up some story to satisfy time stays on our hands.’
She took out the card after setting the phone down on her bed as she too sat on the bed, in front of her laptop. She looked at the plastic card. She peeled the tape off and saw a small chip. This she put into a reader that she plugged into her laptop. It opened up a list of names, along with details; their family trees, current locations, jobs both front and otherwise, taxes paid and unpaid, and account numbers. Most of them were Muslims. She moved on to the next page, looking carefully at the second list of names. They were Americans, British, Russians and Germans. She recognised some of the names. They were administration of Intel networks, heads of criminal families, officers of security departments and Parliamentarians. She memorised everything just by seeing them once. She had an eidetic memory. Closing her eyes, she saw the pages in her mind; as she scrolled them she saw the names and their details appear, just as she had done with her eyes open. She opened her eyes again and scrolled further down. There was no other page.
Burke drummed his fingers on his table. His boss walked in.
‘Good work, I see you found two clients places today. Commission’s yours.’
Burke smiled, then picked his mobile and looked at the text he’d received again. He frowned at it.
‘Everything okay, Burke?’
Burke broke off from his thoughts and looked up at his boss.
‘Ah, no. Nothing at all, John. Just–I wonder, could I have a break now?’
‘Sure. I’m sure you earned it. Go ahead.’
He grabbed his coat and walked out rapidly, John staring after him.
Walking down the footpath, Burke made a call to someone.
‘Hi, yeah it’s me. What can you tell me about the Pakistan Taliban? As of now. Who remains and where and why. I need latest reports.’ He put his phone away into his pocket as he strode over to the nearest phone booth. Once inside, he closed the door behind him and picked up the phone, inserting a coin, and began to dial. He waited for the phone to be answered. Finally someone picked up.
‘Yes, it’s me. I need to speak to Alex. Now.’
He waited another minute before Alex came on the line.
‘Hey, Burke. Having a fine time there in London, I see.’
‘Listen Alex, I cannot move from my post here. You know that.’
‘Who’s moving you?’
‘You mean you don’t know? Don’t bull with me, I—’
‘Hey, calm down kid! And watch it! Nobody’s moved you. Who’s moved you?’
‘You didn’t send me the text?’
‘What text? Listen Johnny; tell me precisely what happened, who sent it and what it said.’
‘It’s coded from your system. And it says move to Rome.’
‘Rome? Why would I want you moved to Rome? And who the harry heck hacked my system? That’s not possible. You stay put and I’ll check it out. Give me five minutes.’
Burke waited in the booth. After five minutes his cell phone rang. Staying in the booth, he answered it.
‘The bastard! It was NSA.’
‘NSA? But why? What have they got to do with us?’
‘They would like to, that’s for sure. Anyway, I’ve told them to never try that on my men again, not bypassing me like that or they’ll regret it—big time.’
‘Alex, Alex, what is going on?’
‘It’s the girl.’
‘You were seen with a girl a few hours ago today. You were driving somewhere with her, and although they couldn’t follow you, you just happened to cross one of their agents on the way, when the traffic was stuck apparently. Anyway, it’s her.’
‘Her, what’s anything got to do with her?’
‘Everything, apparently. They’re investigating her as a potential threat to security.’
‘Yeah, well you know how it is, someone gets picked on the grid and all attention goes to him. She also happened to have killed one of their men.’
‘Impossible. I know her. I’ve known her since we were kids. She has nothing to do with anything.’
‘Not what our Intel says, or theirs. She’s a suspect. Most likely belongs to one of those extremist groups. Or the Taliban. Not sure. They’re trying to figure it out, thus the investigation. You being with her made them think it was best to get you out of the scene.’
‘So am I?’
‘What? Hell no! I told them to keep their noses to themselves, that you were there on a very important investigation.’
‘Uh huh,’ he suddenly felt his breathing restricted.
‘You stay put. And I’d suggest you drop that girl.’
Burke said nothing.
‘You hear me, Burke? That girl is a Pakistani, and unidentifiable at that. Plus she’s killed an NSA agent. I wouldn’t be too close to her at this moment.’
‘Bye, Alex. Gotta go.’
Alex shook his head and raised his hands, mouthing to heaven, ‘Why?’
Burke came slowly out of the booth and walked even more slowly back towards his office. He hit a lady passing in the opposite direction who glared at him. He immediately apologised and walked on a bit faster, but slowed down again. He couldn’t believe what he’d heard. How could any of it be true? Tanya? They must be mistaken. Were they really serious?
‘I bet they just followed her on the net displaying religious views, and decided to put her on the suspect list, like every other Muslim. I bet!’ he thought as he banged his fist on his palm. ‘But she isn’t every other Muslim. What are these guys doing? Have they gone so blind that they can’t distinguish between a real culprit and innocent freedom of expression?’
He kept on thinking, Alex’s words repeating themselves over and over again, in order, overlapping and finally his last sentence. “She’s killed an NSA agent.” Impossible! They were mistaken. Terribly. He had to make sure now that this mistake was not repeated. But the CI had never been wrong. And, in order to reconfirm NSA, Alex had run over her too. He said her identification did not come up. That was only possible if she were in with the government of any country or—he swallowed hard—a terrorist. He had to make sure. But how? Asking wouldn’t help. He needed to find out for himself.
Unfortunately a much used statement suffices to explain everything under the sun! It may have become a cliché but there it is:
When you read the Quran, second Chapter verse 170 God mocks the people for following their forefathers (today we proudly call it “culture”) saying “what? when they know nothing.”…you realise it applied today!
The Prophet (pbuh) said that a time will come when information will be everywhere but there will be no knowledge: we are at that time today: the world is exploding with information and yet we are still as ignorant, if not more than, as before. It is beyond sad that even in today’s era we have to fight with hypocritical “elders” who claim that just because they have grown older they are wiser and more experienced (“what? when they know nothing”), and we still fight against “norms” of society. It is beyond sad that we have educated morons who have a piece of paper that just proves how well they have roted their books and learnt how to tackle exam questions when they have earned no real knowledge, have no advancement in mental awareness or worldly awareness, and are still as idiotic and unaware and plain STUPID as ever. They still cannot tackle life’s exam.
People talk about “my approach in life is” without even realising that the very word they use displays their blind selfishness: just because it is your approach makes it true?
The Quran and the Prophet (pbuh) repeatedly stated that freedom of choice is categorical: you cannot push your brand of happiness, ideas, philosophies, thoughts and beliefs onto others: yet we do it every single minute of every single day and we have the gall to justify ourselves? Why do we always have to force ourselves onto others? Why can’t we just learn to leave well alone? Why do we think we have the right to be right?
Frankly, my own experience of growing older shows me that I still cannot live my life the way i want to. I still cannot consider myself wiser, because I still cannot choose. I still do not know many things. I still cannot help many people and many things. I still get lost…so what on earth do people 20-30 years older than me believe they have done or seen that makes them experienced and wise? When they are still blind, obstinate, not eager to correct their mistakes, shallow, hypocritical, choose religion when it suits them and bring culture when it suits them…they are still stuck in their time frame and are still trying to force others to live under their own way of life?
The fact that when I was young I had to tolerate such people in life because I had the mistaken belief that when I grew up I would be able to steer clear of such people and make my own little life, and the fact that I have spent my youth in much the same way till now I am well into the “adult” stage of my life and still have to tolerate such people around me makes me sad.
So what has changed? Other than the fact that I am sick and tired of all this BS, that I can no longer tolerate the fact that I am still wiser than the older generation, still having to fight against their stereotypes, still pointing out their narcissistic obstinacy, still having to educate them that you do not choose morals when it suits you, still having to educated them on what religion says compared to what their culture that they call religion says…the fact that I am still at it and going nowhere and my life still isn’t my own actually makes me lose faith!
It is beyond pathetic that we talk about the world being our oyster and that we choose to make our lives when we all know it is utter BS! We are still prisoners: Prisoners of war, of family, of social norms, of culture, of finances, of life, of society…of everything really. We are still not free to choose simple things in life. And everywhere we go there are people justifying everything that is wrong with this world. Because they are what is wrong with this world. It is amazing!
The more things change the more they are the same. Worse maybe. Never better.
I used some of these pictures to create my upcoming book’s cover.
Tried to capture a bit of the wildlife…but i guess it isn’t the same as actually being amongst them like my childhood frequenting the Safari in Yankari, Nigeria (my birth-home)