Time, a Stream with Two Currents
He is on his knees, his hands on the back of his head, sweat rolling down his sunburnt neck. The officers are swarming around him and he knows at least three of the men have their automatics trained on him. He suppresses the urge to cough up blood and fights his wince as his side burns. He has never seen a night this dark nor has he felt the heat emanating from baked earth so keenly before. Will his blood sizzle when it falls on the hot sand? How long before the winds wipe the only evidence of his execution away? But there is no wind, no relief from the late August heat, and, even though there are dark clouds rolling in from the west; they bring no gentle relief, only mugginess. He stares straight ahead at the mud brick apartment building, watching as the guards drag out screaming men and women. They grunt to each other and he hears a brutal laugh. Another comments about a whore. Wants first dibs. There is a minor argument. An officer cuts it short. This was supposed to be quick. In and out. More brutal laughter. He does not jump as another man is thrown to the ground next to him. The man is blubbering, pleading for mercy, and the guards respond by hitting him across the mouth with the butt of his rifle.
The man, who is crying now, rises to his knees, and brings his hands to the back of his head. He stares at the ground. The guards are growing impatient and snap at one another to hurry up. He blinks. They should have left. They should have known. He breathes for maybe the last time, his bleeding wound stabbing into his side, and wonders if she escaped or if she was somewhere nearby, being prepared for her own execution. The night is stilted, the whimpers are muted, but he acutely hears the humming of the insects. He gives a start as there is a sudden burst of machine gun fire. Are they doing it one by one? No. A fool tried to escape. A command is given. He feels the barrel of the rifle placed against the back of his head. He closes his eyes and tries to breathe in all the air in the world, enjoying the crisp oxygen as it hurts his lungs. Another command is given. He thinks of her. He does not feel any pain.
She sighs as a number of dates roll off the counter and across the sand. Of course. The one day she had to tend the fruit stand by herself would be the day the dates decide to rebel. The street is tight and the road is busy. Many of the dates are smashed by the bustling people, everyone too busy to notice a young girl struggling to collect her fruit. She grabs five dates and uses her skirt to hold them, but there are three dates farther away. She grumbles as a man leading a mule pushes her aside, but keeps her head down. That is simply the way it is around here. She stumbles forward and gasps as she nearly tumbles into him. He is tall and handsome. His curly black hair tumbles down his sunburnt face and his green eyes shine. She takes a step back, bows her head, and mumbles an apology. He laughs and hands her the dates. Her eyes widen as she takes them from him. He smiles and she melts inside. He asks about her fruit stand and she takes him to it, only to find that someone has stolen some of her fruit. Her father will be angry, but she is too distracted to care. He picks out some fruit and as he hands her the money, their hands touch. She does not know if he did it on purpose and he does not say anything. Maybe he didn’t notice. Even though he has his fruit, he seems hesitant to leave. She holds her breath and wonders why, but quickly pushes the question aside. She doesn’t care. She is glad he is still there. He haltingly says he has to go, but makes no sign of moving. She nods her head and bites the inside of her mouth. He opens his mouth, but is interrupted by one of his friends. She pulls away and helps an elderly woman pick out fruit. The friend drags him away, but their eyes meet and she knows he will return.
He races home, gasping for air, blood rolling down his side and splashes onto the sand, and pulls himself up the stairs towards their apartment. He has thrown his gun to the side yards away and his head is spinning. He breaks the door open and realizes with dread mingled with relief that she is not here. Where could she have gone? Had they taken her? Their apartment is dark and he does not recognize it. The hairs on the back of his neck stand on end as he struggles to walk into the living room, like a swimmer treading through ice cold water. He still has a revolver tucked into the back of his pants and wonders if it will be enough. They should have left. What hadn’t they seen the signs? Too late now, besides how could he abandon the others? They needed him in the front. Still…He searches the room, afraid to turn on the lights, and trips into their bedroom. The walls are ice cold and he is drowning. He looks around the dark room once more before dropping to the ground and pulls a battered bag from under their bed. It is already packed. It is always packed. But what to do? Sit here and wait for her? Too risky. The guards would be here any minute and he could not hold them off for long. But he could not leave her. What if she is already captured? What if she is dead? Then he has no reason to continue living. They should have left. They should have seen the signs. But they had fought so hard…how could it end like this? Maybe she is alive. Should he go and search for her? What if she returns and they find her? He slowly sinks to the bed and sighs. His head is spinning and his blood is all over the room. He doubts he could run very far in the condition he is in. What to do? What to do? He jumps as the door is kicked down. Too late.
She gasps as he runs up to her. It is late. The stars are out and twinkling in the hazy atmosphere. Candles and fires highlight the crowded and tight streets while children laugh and their mothers chase after them. Flies and mosquitos buzz around them, but she hardly notices. He is here. She stops and waits for him, aware that others are watching and aware that they will tell her father. He smiles and runs a hand through his hair once he catches up to her. She tells him she is walking home, but invites him to join her. He accepts and they slowly walk through the street, each trying to talk and one laughing as the other interrupts. Her heart is fluttering and she tries to keep her breath steady as he tells her his name and that he is a student at the university. She, who never learned how to read or write and can only do basic arithmetic, is amazed. He asks for her name and she tells him with a thrill. He smiles. They walk the next block in silence as she secretly admires him. She asks what does he study and he replies business. What will he do with business? He will open his own shop. What will he sell? He does not know, maybe fruit, and maybe she could work for him. She gasps and he flushes. He apologizes, but she stops him by placing her hand on his arm. They pause and stare and now she flushes, but she does not remove her hand. He eventually says that it is getting dark and she nods her head. She has to get home. They turn a corner and he asks if he can see her again. She tells him she can always find her at the fruit stand. He frowns. That’s not what he meant. She blushes again, but agrees. He walks her to the door and she bids him goodnight. He hesitates before kissing her cheek and running away. She brings her hand to her cheek with a gasp, but smiles nonetheless.
The street explodes in a fiery fury as a RPG slammed into a building. He is covered in dust as debris tumbles around him. His head is ringing and his side is burning. The world spins around him as he crawls into a screaming and furious Hell. His comrades huddle down and cling to fractured remains of buildings as the enemy bombards their position. The once crowded streets are nothing but rubble, the citizens are either sprayed across the road or hiding somewhere all too near. He groans as another RPG flies overhead. He clutches his rifle and tries to ignore his spinning head and his burning side. Blood is running down his side and creating a puddle around him. He has to get up. If they fail here, everything will be lost and their sacrifice will have been for nothing. Using his rifle as a crutch, he painfully rises and coughs up dust and blood. He stumbles towards the main line and falls behind the remains of a stone wall. He draws himself into a ball as an explosive slams into another building, showering them with dust and rubble. The ground shakes and his ears ring with screams and the shrieks of the RPGs and the ear shattering cracks of the tanks. He cannot raise his head to fire a shot and he cannot move to a safer position. He is trapped. The ground shakes as he hears the tanks roll closer and closer to their position and he watches as some of his fellow fighters rise and run away. Many are sprayed by the enemy’s artillery, their blood and remains decorating the dusty and cracked streets. He hears screaming, but cannot tell if they are orders or wild screams of pain. He watches as more and more of his fellow rebels stream away from the front and the grumble of the tanks grows louder and louder. Oh, God, the enemy has broken through. He hisses as he rises and runs away. His side feels like it is on fire, but he does not have time to worry about that. He has to make it to center of the city and collect his wife. They would have to run away. They have failed. Dear God, it was all for nothing.
She can barely contend her excitement and joy as they kiss. He holds her close and the kiss is long and smooth. She can tell he has been waiting for this for a long time. When he pulls away he blushes and she smiles. She can barely hear the priest announce them man and wife. Instead she stares into his eyes and smiles so widely, it almost splits her face in half. They trip as they walk down the aisle and towards the party her parents put together in their backyard. She barely notices anyone who is there. The only person she sees is him, the love of her life, and now her husband. They are bound together, now and forever, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. She laughs as his friends share stories about him and she is swept off her feet as he dances with her. There could have been nothing more perfect than being in his arms, the world watching as they celebrate their love. Then her father walks up and she is nearly brought to tears as she dances with him. It will be the last time she is a girl. From this day forward she will be a woman married to the best man in the world. The rest of the party is a blur as she stands by his side and basks in his presence. She cannot believe they are married. She cannot believe they will spend the rest of their lives together. It is strange to think that yesterday she was a child and today she is a grown woman and tomorrow she will be in their new apartment with him. What more could she want?
He enters the apartment and is scared by how dark her face is. The fighting used to be far away in the major cities, but has traveled closer and closer to their home. The rebels have been through town and are setting up camp. The government will be here any day now and then there will be hell to pay. She rushes to him and hugs him. She has been so afraid that something has happened to him. Things are so chaotic right now. They did not know which day will be their last. He leads her to the couch and tells her they need to make a decision. She shakes her head, but he persists: They could not sit back and do nothing, not anymore, not when the war is on their very doorstep. She understands his point, but why do they have to fight? They are not warriors. He snaps that the rebels are in the city. They will be in the fight sooner or later and he would rather die fighting than be killed just by crossing the street at the wrong time. Tears run down her face as she sputters: but joining the rebellion was treason. If they were caught, they would be brutally killed. He sighs and runs a hand through his hair: The city would most likely be razed to the ground if the government is able to defeat the rebels, besides there was no guarantee that the government would care about who was loyal and who wasn’t. She fights her tears as she realizes he has already volunteered. He looks away and rubs his hands together. She throws herself around him and cries into his shoulder. He wraps his arms around her and holds her close.
She sighs as she sits on the couch, the room dark and cold. He had left early that morning to join the rebels in the beginning of town, leaving her in their apartment. He had begged her to leave, to go to one of the refugee camps nearby, but how could she leave him? Besides where would she go? She had heard that they were turning people away at the camps. Besides, this is their home. This is where they had met, had fallen in love, and had gotten married. Their life is here. She spends most of the day switching from their couch to their bed and constantly looking out the window, waiting for either his return or the government forces swarming the city. She gets up and tries to make something to eat, but stops halfway through cutting a cucumber and returns to her couch before realizing that he will be hungry when he returns. She gets up and walks into the kitchen again and laughs at herself. Will he even return? And if he does, will he have time to eat? Are they eating at the front? She swallows as the distant sound of combat echoes throughout the city. Her stomach tights and she swallows. Please protect him. She throws her knife in the sink and returns to her couch. She hates this. She hates waiting. She had asked to fight, but he would not allow it. It is better this way, he had said. Well, he does not know what it is like to sit and wait for his loved one to return. She shudders as the city shakes. She cannot handle this. She rises and grabs her bag before leaving to visit her friend.
He cannot take his eyes off of her, in her long, beautiful dress and her long black hair braided with flowers intermingled in her locks. She is blushing and he is sure he is too. He knows he cannot stop smiling and he feels like an idiot. He barely hears the words the priest is saying. The only words that truly make an impression is when he is told he could kiss his bride. It is long, but too short for his tastes, and he knows the others are laughing at him, but he does not care. He is now married to the most beautiful woman in the world. What does he care about being proper? This is their day. Nothing else matters. They stumble down the aisle as they cannot not keep their eyes off of each other and she is laughing and giggling like a fool. They walk into the garden and the band starts to play. The party is a blur as their friends and family members come up to them to congratulate them. He does not hear what they say and barely notices who they are. All he notices is that she is there by his side, wearing his ring, and smiling. He has never seen her so happy before. Eventually he takes to the dance floor and they clasp onto one another as the band starts to play. Around and around they go, the world disappearing into the music, until they are the only two people remaining. He holds her close and breaths in her perfume and tells her he loves her. She giggles and returns his love. They dance for what simultaneously seems like an eternity and a second, but he must let her go to dance with her father for one last time. He knows that her eyes are swelling with tears as she is a girl for one last moment. Her father is a good man and has raised a beautiful daughter. They do not always get along, but he is thankfully the old man has accepted him into his family. The dance ends and her father kisses her on the forehead and she returns to him, trying to fight her tears. He embraces her and kisses her.
She keeps her head down as the city shakes. People are steaming into the streets, dragging their loved ones and possessions with them. She is jostled every which way as she tries to reach her friend’s apartment. Everyone here had refused to believe that the government was truly coming. They had said the fighting would not reach this small, insignificant town, and yet here it is and her husband is one of the rebels. She knows that if he is captured, he will not return. They will slaughter him and maybe even hang his remains on a tree or pin it to a wall. That is why he will not lose. She approaches her friend’s apartment and is surprised to see her dragging her children out of the building. She runs up to her and discovers that the line has broken. They have to run. She gasps. Her friends begs her to leave with them, but she cannot leave her husband behind. She bids her friend farewell and runs back to their apartment. She knows that if he is still alive, he will return there and they will run away together. The rebels will just fall back into the next town and fight there. She is running against the current now and it is hard to fight her way through the fleeing crowd. The sun is setting, but there is no relief from the oppressive heat and no wind to bring her any comfort. She gasps as a terrified man bustles pass her, knocking her into a wall. A man stops to help her and she realizes it is one of his friends. His friend tries to drag her away, but she refuses. She has to find her husband. She tears his hand off her arm and runs deep into the crowd. She sees the wounded rebels now, some setting themselves up in buildings, others blindly following the crowd. There are some who are missing limbs and one is missing an eye, blood streaming down his face. Oh, she hopes her husband is all right. Please, let him be all right.
He is walking home from a late night of studying at the university. His school work is hard, but it is his only hope. He cannot find work so he studies. Strange how that is. He is distracted and is absentmindedly wandering the streets when he sees her-the girl who he always buys fruit from. He smiles and runs towards her, calling to her. She turns and he feels his heart flutter. The sky is clear and the stars sparkle, but they pale in comparison to her beauty. The streets are crowd, so he has to push his way towards her, but once he reaches her, he blushes. Small, laughing children run pass them, but he does not notice. He is thrilled that she stopped and waited for him. He smiles and runs his hand through his hair, blushing profusely. She tells him she is walking home and invites him to join her. He gladly agrees. Together, they walk through the steamy and noisy night, pass the older men who are muttering to themselves and frantic women trying to control their children. They try to talk, but one keeps interrupting the other, and they laugh. His heart is fluttering so fast it hurts and he cannot think straight. Everything is a blur and his thoughts are muddled. He thinks he tells her his name and talks about the university. She seems impressed. He realizes he does not know her name and asks, hoping he is not being too forward. She laughs and tells him. It is a beautiful name. He smiles and is overwhelmed by how beautiful she is. They walk in silence as he admires her and is startled when she asks him a question. He answers, or so he thinks. Who knows? He cannot concentrate on anything except her in all her beauty. She asks what his plans are and he says he wants to own a business and comes up with a sudden idea. He asks her to work for him once he starts his business and she is speechless. He blushes and fears he has gone too far. He tries to stammer out an apology, but she stops him by placing a hand on his arm. They pause and a fear passes through him. What are they doing? This is ridiculous. They hardly know each other. She does not take her hand off his arm and he does not want her too. Eventually he realizes how late it is and tells her that. She nods her head and says she has to get home. They turn a corner and he is hit with another rush of courage. He asks can he see her again. She replies at the fruit stand and he frowns. That is not what he means. She stares at him before smiling and nodding her head. He walks her to the door and she bids him goodnight. He hesitates before being overcome with a reckless courage and kisses her cheek. His eyes widen and he runs away before she can yell at him. What had he been thinking?! Still, as he runs down the streets away from his embarrassment, he cannot help but smile.
She runs down the street and stops short as she sees the government troops swarming their apartment. Oh no! Her husband is in there and now…She shudders and starts to turn back, but stops. How can she abandon him now? She swore to be his loyal and loving wife and now, on the brink of death, she is going to turn her back on him? Maybe he isn’t in there. Maybe…No, he would come back for her. Oh, she should have stayed in the apartment. This would not have happened if she had been in there. If she had stayed, he would have run in and they would have grabbed their bag and run away together. Now he has been captured and they will kill him. She turns around and hears one of the officers yell at her. She stands rooted to the spot and the officer keeps yelling. He raises his gun and tells her to put her hands on her head. She does not realize it, but tears are rolling down her cheek. She thinks of him as she tumbles to the ground. Her brave husband. Please make it quick. Don’t let him suffer. The officer is walking towards her, gun pointed at her, screaming at her to get up. She stares at the sand before her. The world is spinning and she has gone strangely deaf. The officer stands before her and yells at her, but she does not know what he is saying. Where is her husband now? Where have they taken him? The officer hits her across the face with the butt of the rifle, knocking her to the ground, her blood dancing through the air, and gracefully staining the sand. The officer yells at her again, but she remains on the ground. There is a sharp crack that wretches the air apart and she knows. Tears gush to her eyes as the officer kicks her and calls her a bitch. She swallows the lump forming in her throat and pushes herself off the ground. Her husband is dead. She rises to her feet and the officer tells her to place her hands on her head. She is halfway through complying when a thought strikes her. Why? He is dead. She looks at the officer, tears streaming down her cheeks, and screams at him before charging. She doesn’t even get within an inch of him before the officer fires his rifle. She thinks of him for the last time. It is quick and painless.
He scratches the back of his head as he wanders through the crowded and dusty streets. He hates how tight these streets are. It takes an hour to get from one block to another. How can anyone live like this? He grumbles to himself as he thinks about today’s lesson. He hates his professor because he is a moron and he grumbles about his grade. He is right, he knows he is right, but his professor is too idiotic to see it. He pushes past a man with an angry mule and shakes his head. He is too distract to notice the rolling dates and is nearly walks into a trembling and young girl. She apologizes and he looks up to tell her off when he pauses. She is the most beautiful girl he has ever seen. Her long, curly black hair tumbles over her small shoulders, her blue eyes sparkle with life, and she is small and delicate. A perfect angel. He laughs and bends down to pick up the remaining dates and hands them to her. She seems surprised but takes them gratefully. He smiles. She turns to walk away, but he asks about her fruit stand. She takes him and is annoyed to see that some of her fruit is missing. She pouts in an adorable manner and he tries not to stare. He randomly picks out pieces of fruit and as he hands her the money, their hands touch. An electric spark runs up his arm and he almost grabs her whole hand, but stops himself. That is not right, but her fingers are soft and smooth. She has not said anything. Did she not notice? Is he the only one who felt the spark? She hands him his change and he knows he has no reason to stay, but he is hesitant to leave. He haltingly says he has to go, but does not leave. She stares at him and he feels courage building up in his chest. He opens his mouth, but is nearly knocked over as his friend pats him on the back. His friend talks about studying together and he tries to make his friend go away. She moves on to the next customer and his friend wraps an arm around his neck and drags him away from the beautiful girl. Their eyes meet and he knows he has found her. This is the girl he is going to marry.