"That was rather how I found it." Graves's face pinched with fresh
discomfort. He sighed, then seemed to go paler. His eyelids were sweaty. Graves
stepped toward the Corolla searchingly, arms out, and lowered himself onto the
bumper. "Think I need a rest." The driver fetched a straw-covered red
blanket from the Corolla and wrapped it around Graves's shoulders.
They had been in Kunduz for two days when Donk noticed Graves tenderly hugging
himself no matter the heat thrown off by their hotel room's oil-burning stove.
His pallor grayed by the day, and soon he was having trouble seeing. Initially
Graves had not been concerned. They went about their business of covering the
war, Donk snapping Kunduz's ragtag liberators and the dead-eyed prisoners locked
up in one of the city's old granaries, Graves reading ten hours' worth of CNN
updates a day on his laptop and worrying over his past, present, and future need
to "file." But his fever worsened, and he took a day's bed rest while
Donk toured Kunduz on foot with the city's local commander, a happily brutal man
who twice tried selling Donk a horse. When Donk returned to the hotel a few
minutes before curfew that evening he found Graves twisted up in his
vomit-stained sheets, his pillow lying in a sad crumple across the room.
"Deborah," Graves had mumbled when Donk stirred him. "Listen.
Turn the toaster? Please turn the toaster?"
Donk did not know Graves well. He had met him only ten days ago in Pyanj,
Tajikistan, where many of the journalists were dovetailing stories by day and
playing poker with worthless Tajik rubles by night. All were waiting for
official clearance before venturing into Afghanistan. Graves-with an impatience
typical of print journalists, their eyewitness being more perishable-elected to
cast a few pearly incentives at the feet of the swinish border guards and asked
Donk if he wanted to tag along. Donk, dispatched here by a British newsweekly,
was under no real pressure to get in. His mandate was not one of breaking news
but chronicling the country's demotic wartime realities. He did not even have a
return flight booked. But he agreed.
Donk did not regret following Graves, even as he forced mefloquine hydrochloride
tablets into his mouth, crusty with stomach ejecta, and splashed in some canteen
water to chase them. Graves, Donk was certain, had malaria, even though it was
late November, a season at the outer edge of probability for contracting the
disease, and even though he knew Graves had been taking mefloquine since
October. The next day Donk convinced one of Kunduz's aid workers-a grim black
Belgian-to give him a small cache of chloroquine phosphate pills, as mefloquine
was useful mostly as a malaria preventative. The chloroquine seemed to help, and
Graves, still as shivery as a foundling, had recommenced with his worries about
filing a story. Graves was rather picky with his stories, seeking only
narratives that presented this war in its least inspiring light. Unfortunately,
Kunduz seemed fairly secure and the people weirdly grateful. Indeed, despite
predictions of a long, bloody, province-by-province conflict, 60 percent of the
country had fallen to American-led forces in this, the war's fourth week.
After they were robbed, Graves noted that his chloroquine pills were among the
missing items. As the regrouped nasties waged this morning's hopeless surprise
counterattack, neither Donk nor Graves had the presence of mind to beg more
pills before they left, though Donk was fairly certain the aid workers would
have pulled out of Kunduz too. That one could simply leave a firefight and come
back a bit later was one of the odder things about this shadowy war. Roads were
safe one day, suicide the next. Warlords thought to be relatively trustworthy
one week were reported to have personally overseen the meticulous looting of an
aid-group warehouse the next. All of this seemed designed to prevent anyone from
actually fighting. From the little Donk had seen and heard, gun battles here
seemed founded upon one's ability to spray bullets blindly around rocks and
walls and then beat a quick, spectacular retreat.
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