Back Then . . .
They came more often now, the headaches. Raging storms
within his skull, crippling pain, flashes of light. There was
nothing to do but shut his eyes and lie back, let the pain and
visions take over.
Memories and flashbacks trailed the headaches. Jack would close his eyes and see blue sky, green jungle, red road. He would try to watch the trees outside his window divesting themselves of leaves, the slow spinning fall of September, but instead he saw the leaves of the jungle, leaves so big you could sit inside them and be wholly encased, leaves which vibrated and twitched and reacted to your presence as if sentient beings. They'd arrived in the middle of a heat wave. David buckled as he exited the plane, feet planted on the stairway, the sun leaching all colour and breath from his face. He stood there and took in the burned yellow country in front of him then turned back into the plane as if the pilot had made a mistake but Jack was right there, taking his arm, leading him back out into the light, whispering in his ear We're here.
They deplaned onto the gleaming cracked tarmac, the customs hall five hundred feet away, shimmering like a mirage in the heat. The other passengers rushed past them, pushing, elbows out, as if there were a prize for the first to get to the hall.
They walked as slowly as they could, savouring the air, the unfamiliar sky those first moments when you land in a new country and feel a sudden quickening, a snapcharge rattling through your bones.
Their friends were in India, Peru, Vietnam. They were sitting on beaches, cocktails in hand, watching the surf break against the sand, waiting for the night, the drugs, the screaming music and torrential sex.
'Everybody goes there,' Jack had protested after David suggested a trip down the Ganges. 'We'll be on a boat in the middle of nowhere and we'll bump into everyone we know.'
It had been the afternoon of their graduation. They still wore the robes and mortars, still wore the smiles they'd flashed for the cameras, degrees in hand, or parents held close, each trying to outgrin the other. Now the parents were gone, the degrees stuffed into a desk somewhere, the beer and cigarettes flowing.
'Jack's right,' Ben replied, sipping a pint, his fingers playing with an unlit cigarette. Unlike Jack and David, Ben had worn a proper suit underneath the gown and now seemed out of place and out of age in this noisy student pub. 'We might as well stay here as go to India.'
'Just because everyone goes there doesn't mean it's a bad idea.'David slumped back into the booth, his hair draped like a shawl around his shoulders, the button-down shirt and drainpipe jeans a strange contrast with those long black locks.
'Doesn't mean it's a good one either,' Ben replied as he spread out a map of the world in front of them.
Jack moved the glasses away so they could have more room. 'Uganda.' He pointed to a bright orange square halfway up the map. 'Cheap, safe, guaranteed sun, and no chance of bumping into anyone we know.'
They stared at it as if ensnared, the mass of multicoloured land that delineated the African continent, the regimented lines of borders, the names of countries they hadn't even known existed until they saw them printed on the map.
That was all the decision there was to it. David, as usual, acquiesced. That they would be together was more important than where they went. They all knew this would be the last time. Summer was approaching fast and then would come autumn and jobs and careers and the beginning of something, the end of something else.
They went through customs without a hitch. They caught a cab and threaded through sunburned fields, the driver speaking English so fast and fractured he sounded like a man drowning. They nodded their heads, mustered an appropriate yeah every now and then, but their faces were turned away, staring through the grimy windows, watching the plains of East Africa roll by, a landscape of tall grasses and spindly trees, skeletal cattle and dark beckoning mountains punctuating the distant horizon.
Excerpted from A Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez. Copyright © 2013 by Stav Sherez. Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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