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THE CONSUMMATION






 

A day before he was due to cross the border, the leader of the N.L.F. band that was going to take him came to the Generals house. The General listened carefully. Theyre planning to attack an airfield, he told the Young Man. Is that acceptable to you?

Sure, the Young Man said, a bit uneasily. That sounds very interesting.

But they must go to Islamabad to get ammunition. It will be another five days.

On the fourth morning the General put down his paper. Yesterday in Parachinar they fired at the Tribal Agent, he said.

The Young Man was eating a boiled egg. Everyone else in the household had to be finished eating and drinking shortly after four a.m., when it was light enough to distinguish white thread from black. But the Young Man never got up until seven or even later, and then they prepared for him a breakfast which they could not touch, with their own prized honey for his tea.

Who fired at him? he said, not understanding.

The Generals good manners forbade him from showing the disgust that this bit of ignorance deserved. The K.G.B., Young Man. I had best ring up and find out the situation. If there is too much unrest in the border areas it might not be possible for you to go.

He made a phone call. Somebody has been killed, he told the Young Man. We had best put it off.

They put it off for another three days.

The Young Man listened to the sound of the fan, which seemed pitched to remind the user that every second was costing money. The three days passed. So did the fourth. On the fifth day he picked a lime from the Generals tree, and squeezed it into a glass of cold water. It tasted so good to him that he did it again after breakfast. He had gotten the idea from the Brigadier, who the day before had walked ten miles in the heat, observing Ramazan the while, searching for the man who should have come back from Islamabad with the ammunition to take the Young Man to the border. But the Brigadier did not know exactly where the man lived, and never found him. He came back silent. As soon as darkness was ruled official that night, the family went in to break their fast, but the Brigadier seemed unable to quench his thirst. He was an old man. An hour later, he came to the guest room and mixed himself a glass of fresh lime water. Very thirsty, he said to the Young Man, whom he had adopted as his son. Ramazan very difficult. Yes, said the Young Man. Very difficult.



The man never came.

Tomorrow, said the Young Man to the Brigadier, I will ask the other parties for help.

When he got up in the morning, the Brigadier was wringing his hands. I no sleep last night, he cried. Heno come. I am party leader, but now you write: Brigadierwrong, wrong man. My party BROKEN, my work here all broken then.

The Young Man felt very sorry for him. On the other hand, what kind of party leader was he? He promised to wait until ten-thirty, when the Brigadier would return from another search for the ammunition man. After that no-doubt-unsuccessful mission, the Young Man would have the pleasure of going out in the midday heat.

He had come to dread the sun in Pakistan.

The General was very angry with the Brigadier. Bloody bastard, he said. The Afghans dont want to be helped! They just want money. This commander has broken a gentlemans agreement. His father and grandfather come from respectable families, I assure you. And now this fool and the Brigadier have made me lose face with you.f

A little after eleven, the Brigadier came with his man. The next morning, dressed in Afghan clothes, with his cameras and tape recorders in a gunnysack, the Young Man was headed for the border.



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