WHEN FARA learned that Jane and Jean-Pierre would be leaving with the next convoy, she cried for a whole day. She had developed a strong attachment to Jane and a great fondness for Chantal. Jane was pleased, but embarrassed: sometimes it seemed as if Fara preferred Jane to her own mother. However, Fara seemed to get used to the idea that Jane was leaving, and the next day she was her usual self, devoted as ever but no longer heartbroken.
Jane herself became anxious about the journey home. From the Valley to the Khyber Pass was a 150-mile trek. Coming in, it had taken fourteen days. She had suffered from blisters and diarrhea as well as the inevitable aches and pains. Now she had to do the return journey carrying a two-month-old baby. There would be horses, but for much of the way it would not be safe to ride them, for the convoys traveled by the smallest and steepest of mountain paths, often at night.
She made a sort of hammock of cotton, to be slung around her neck, for carrying Chantal. Jean-Pierre would have to carry whatever supplies they needed during the day, for - as Jane had learned on the journey in - horses and men walked at different speeds, the horses going faster than the men uphill and slower downhill, so that people got separated from the baggage for long periods.
Deciding what supplies to take was the problem that occupied her this afternoon, while Jean-Pierre was at Skabun. There would be a basic medical kit - antibiotics, wound dressings, morphine - which Jean-Pierre would put together. They would have to take some food. Coming in, they had had a lot of high-energy Western rations, chocolate and packet soups and the explorers' perennial favorite, Kendal Mint Cake. Going out, they would have only what they could find in the Valley: rice, dried fruit, dried cheese, hard bread and anything they could buy on the road. It was a good thing they did not have to worry about food for Chantal.
However, there were other difficulties with the baby. Mothers here did not use diapers, but left the baby's lower half uncovered, and washed the towel on which it lay. Jane thought it was a much healthier arrangement than the Western system, but it was no good for traveling. Jane had made three diapers out of towels, and had improvised a pair of waterproof underpants for Chantal out of the polythene wrappings from Jean-Pierre's medical supplies. She would have to wash a diaper every evening - in cold water, of course - and try to dry it overnight. If it did not dry, there was a spare one; and if both were damp, Chantal would get sore. No baby ever died of diaper rash, she told herself. The convoy certainly would not stop for a baby to sleep or be fed and changed, so Chantal would have to feed and doze in motion and be changed whenever the opportunity arose.
In some ways Jane was tougher than she had been a year ago. The skin of her feet was hard and her stomach was resistant to the commoner local bacteria. Her legs, which had hurt so badly on the incoming journey, were now used to walking many miles. But the pregnancy seemed to have made her prone to backache, and she was worried about carrying a baby ail day. Her body seemed to have recovered from the trauma of childbirth. She felt she would be able to make love, although she had not told Jean-Pierre this - she was not sure why.
She had taken a lot of photographs, when she first arrived, with her Polaroid camera. She would leave the camera behind - it was a cheap one - but of course she wanted to take most of the photographs. She looked through
them, wondering which to throw away. She had pictures of most of the villagers. Here were the guerrillas, Mohammed and Alishan and Kahmir and Matullah, striking ludicrously heroic poses and looking fierce. Here were the women, the voluptuous Zahara, wrinkled old Rabia, and dark-eyed Halima, all giggling like schoolgirls. Here were the children: Mohammed's three girls; his boy, Mousa; Zahara's toddlers, aged two, three, four and five; and the mullah's four children. She could not throw away any; she would have to take them all with her.
She was packing clothes into a bag while Fara swept the floor and Chantal slept in the next room. They had come down from the caves early to get the work done. However, there was not much to pack: apart from Chantal's diapers, just one clean pair of knickers for herself and one for Jean-Pierre and a spare pair of socks for each of them. None of them would have a change of outer clothing. Chantal had no clothes anyway - she lived in a shawl, or nothing at all. For Jane and Jean-Pierre, one pair of trousers, a shirt, a scarf and a pattu-type blanket would suffice for the whole trip, and would probably be burned in a hotel in Peshawar in celebration of their return to civilization.
That thought would give her strength for the journey. She vaguely remembered thinking that Dean's Hotel in Peshawar was primitive, but it was difficult to recall what had been wrong with it. Was it possible she had complained that the air-conditioner was noisy? The place had showers, for God's sake!
"Civilization," she said aloud, and Fara looked at her inquiringly. Jane smiled and said in Dari: "I'm happy because I'm going back to the big town."
"I like the big town," Fara said. "I went to Rokha once." She carried on sweeping. "My brother has gone to Jalalabad," she added in a tone of envy.
"When will he be back?" Jane asked, but Fara had become dumb and embarrassed, and after a moment Jane realized why: the sounds of whistling and a man's foot-
steps came from the courtyard, there was a tap on the door, and Ellis Thaler's voice said: "Anyone at home?"
"Come in," Jane called. He walked in, limping. Although she was no longer romantically interested in him, she had been concerned about his injury. He had remained in Astana to recover. He must have come back today. "How do you feel?" she asked him.
"Foolish," he said with a rueful grin. "It's an embarrassing place to get shot in."
"If embarrassed is all you feel, it must be getting better."
He nodded. "Is the doctor in?"
"He's gone to Skabun," Jane said. "There was a bad bombing raid and they sent for him. Anything I can do?"
"I just wanted to tell him that my convalescence is over.''
"He'll be back tonight or tomorrow morning." She was observing Ellis's appearance: with his mane of blond hair and curly golden beard he looked like a lion. "Why don't you cut your hair?"
"The guerrillas told me to grow it, and not to shave."
"They always say that. The object of the exercise is to make Westerners less conspicuous. In your case it has the opposite effect."
"I'm going to look conspicuous in this country regardless of my haircut."
"That's true." It occurred to Jane that this was the first time she and Ellis had been together without Jean-Pierre. They had slipped very easily into their old conversational style. It was hard to remember how terribly angry she had been with him.
He was looking curiously at her packing. "What's that for?"
"For the journey home."
"How will you travel?"
"With a convoy, as we came."
"The Russians have taken a lot of territory during the last few days," he said. "Didn't you know?"
Jane felt a chill of apprehension. "What are you telling me?"
"The Russians have launched their summer offensive. They've advanced over big stretches of country through which the convoys ordinarily pass/'
"Are you saying the route to Pakistan is closed?"
"The regular route is closed. You can't get from here to the Khyber Pass. There may be other routes - "
Jane saw her dream of returning home fade. "Nobody told me!" she said angrily.
"I guess Jean-Pierre didn't know. I've been with Masud a lot so I'm right up-to-date."
"Yes," Jane said, not looking at him. Perhaps Jean-Pierre really did not know this. Or perhaps he knew but had not told her about it because he did not want to go back to Europe anyway. Whichever it was, she was not going to accept the situation. First, she would find out for certain whether Ellis was right. Then she would look at ways of solving the problem.
She went to Jean-Pierre's chest and took out his American maps of Afghanistan. They were rolled into a cylinder and fastened with an elastic band. Impatiently, she snapped the band and dropped the maps on the floor. Somewhere in the back of her mind a voice said: That may have been the only rubber band within a hundred-mile radius.
Calm down, she told herself.
She knelt on the floor and began to shuffle through the maps. They were on a very large scale, so she had to put several of them together to show all of the territory between the Valley and the Khyber Pass. Ellis looked over her shoulder. "These are good maps!" he said. "Where did you get them?"
"Jean-Pierre brought them from Paris."
"They're better than what Masud has."
"I know. Mohammed always uses these to plan the convoys. Right. Show me how far the Russians have advanced."
Ellis knelt on the rug beside her and traced a line across the map with his finger.
Jane felt a surge of hope. "It doesn't look to me as if the Khyber Pass is cut off," she said. "Why can't we go this way?" She drew an imaginary line across the map a little to the north of the Russian front.
"I don't know whether that's a route," Ellis said. "It may be impassable - you'd have to ask the guerrillas. But the other thing is that Masud's information is at least a day or two old, and the Russians are still advancing. A valley or pass might be open one day and closed the next."
"Damn!" She was not going to be defeated. She leaned over the map and peered closely at the border zone. "Look, the Khyber Pass isn't the only way across."
"A river valley runs all along the border, with mountains on the Afghan side. It may be that you can only reach those other passes from the south - which means from Russian-occupied territory."
"There's no point in speculating," Jane said. She put the maps together and rolled them up. "Someone must know.
"I guess so."
She stood up. "There's got to be more than one way out of this bloody country," she said. She tucked the maps under her arm and went out, leaving Ellis kneeling on the rug.
The women and children had returned from the caves and the village had come to life. The smoke of cooking fires drifted over courtyard walls. In front of the mosque, five children were sitting in a circle playing a game called (for no apparent reason) Melon. It was a storytelling game, in which the teller stopped before the end and the next child had to carry on. Jane spotted Mousa, the son of Mohammed, sitting in the circle, wearing at his belt the rather wicked-looking knife his father had given him after the accident with the mine. Mousa was telling the story. Jane heard: "... and the bear tried to bite the boy's hand off, but the boy drew his knife ..."
She headed for Mohammed's house. Mohammed himself might not be there - she had not seen him for a long time - but he lived with his brothers, in the usual Afghan
extended family, and they, too, were guerrillas - all the fit young men were - so if they were there they might be able to give her some information.
She hesitated outside the house. By custom she should stop in the courtyard and speak to the women, who would be there preparing the evening meal; and then, after an exchange of courtesies, the most senior woman might go into the house to inquire whether the menfolk would condescend to speak to Jane. She heard her mother's voice say: "Don't make an exhibition of yourself!" Jane said aloud: "Go to hell, Mother." She walked in, ignoring the women in the courtyard, and marched straight into the front room of the house - the men's parlor.
There were three men there: Mohammed's eighteen-year-old brother, Kahmir Khan, with a handsome face and a wispy beard; his brother-in-law, Matullah; and Mohammed himself. It was unusual for so many guerrillas to be at home. They all looked up at her, startled.
"God be with you, Mohammed Khan," Jane said. Without pausing to let him reply, she went on: "When did you get back?"
"Today," he replied automatically.
She squatted on her haunches like them. They were too astonished to say anything. She spread out her maps on the floor. The three men leaned forward reflexively to look at them: already they were forgetting Jane's breach of etiquette. "Look," she said. "The Russians have advanced this far - am I right?" She retraced the line Ellis had shown her.
Mohammed nodded agreement.
"So the regular convoy route is blocked."
Mohammed nodded again.
"What is the best way out now?"
They all looked dubious and shook their heads. This was normal: when talking of difficulties, they liked to make a meal of it. Jane thought it was because their local knowledge was the only power they had over foreigners such as she. Usually she was tolerant, but today she had
no patience. "Why not this way?" she asked peremptorily, drawing a line parallel with the Russian front.
"Too close to the Russians," said Mohammed.
"Here, then." She traced a more careful route, following the contours of the land.
"No," he said again.
"Here - " He pointed to a place on the map, between the heads of two valleys, where Jane had blithely run her finger over a mountain range. "Here there is no saddle." A saddle was a pass.
Jane outlined a more northerly route. "This way?"
"There must be another way out!" Jane cried. She had a feeling they were enjoying her frustration. She decided to say something mildly offensive, to liven them up a bit. "Is this country a house with one door, cut off from the rest of the world just because you cannot get to the Khyber Pass?" The phrase the house with one door was a euphemism for the privy.
"Of course not," said Mohammed stiffly. "In summer there is the Butter Trail."
Mohammed's finger traced a complex route which began due east of the Valley, proceeding through a series of high passes and dried-up rivers, then turned north into the Himalayas, and finally crossed the border near the entrance to the uninhabited Waikhan Corridor before swinging southeast to the Pakistani town of Chitral. "This is how the people of Nuristan take their butter and yogurt and cheese to market in Pakistan." He smiled and touched his round cap. "That is where we get the hats." Jane recalled that they were called Chitrali caps.
"Good," said Jane. "We will go home that way."
Mohammed shook his head. "You cannot."
"And why not?"
Kahmir and Matullah gave knowing smiles. Jane ignored them. After a moment Mohammed said: "The first problem is the altitude. This route goes above the ice line.
That means the snow never melts, and there is no running water, even in summer. Second is the landscape. The hills are very steep and the paths are narrow and treacherous. It is hard to find your way: even local guides get lost. But the worst problem of all is the people. That region is called Nuristan, but it used to be called Kafiristan, because the people were unbelievers, and drank wine. Now they are true believers, but still they cheat, rob and sometimes murder travelers. This route is no good for Europeans, impossible for women. Only the youngest and strongest men can use it - and even then, many travelers are killed."
"Will you send convoys that way?"
"No. We will wait until the southerly route is reopened."
She studied his handsome face. He was not exaggerating, she could tell: he was being dryly factual. She stood up and began to shuffle the maps together. She was bitterly disappointed. Her return home was postponed indefinitely. The strain of life in the Valley suddenly seemed insupportable, and she felt like crying.
She rolled her maps into a cylinder and forced herself to be polite. "You were away a long time," she said to Mohammed.
"I went to Faizabad."
"A long trip." Faizabad was a large town in the far north. The Resistance was very strong there: the army had mutinied and the Russians had never regained control. "Aren't you tired?"
It was a formal question, like How do you do? in English, and Mohammed gave the formal reply: "I'm still alive!"
She tucked her roll of maps under her arm and went out.
The women in the courtyard looked at her fearfully as she passed them. She nodded at Halima, Mohammed's dark-eyed wife, and got a nervous half-smile in return.
The guerrillas were doing a lot of traveling lately. Mohammed had been to Faizabad, Fara's brother had gone to Jalalabad. . . . Jane recalled that one of her patients, a woman from Dasht-i-Rewat, had said that her husband had been sent to Pagman, near Kabul. And Zahara's brother-in-
law Yussuf Gul, the brother of her dead husband, had been sent to the Logar Valley, on the far side of Kabul. All four places were rebel strongholds.
Something was going on.
Jane forgot her disappointment for a while as she tried to figure out what was happening. Masud had sent messengers to many - perhaps all - of the other Resistance commanders. Was it a coincidence that this happened so soon after Ellis's arrival in the Valley? If not, what could Ellis be up to? Perhaps the U.S. was collaborating with Masud in organizing a concerted offensive. If all the rebels acted together they could really achieve something - they could probably take Kabul temporarily.
Jane went into her house and dropped the maps in the chest. Chantal was still asleep. Fara was preparing food for supper: bread, yogurt and apples. Jane said: "Why did your brother go to Jalalabad?"
"He was sent," said Fara with the air of one who states the obvious.
"Who sent him?"
"I don't know." Fara looked surprised that Jane should ask such a question: who could be so foolish as to think that a man would tell his sister his reason for a journey?
"Did he have something to do there, or did he take a message, or what?"
"I don't know," Fara repeated. She was beginning to look anxious.
"Never mind," Jane said with a smile. Of all the women in the village, Fara was probably the least likely to know what was going on. Who was the most likely? Zahara, of course.
Jane picked up a towel and headed for the river.
Zahara was no longer in mourning for her husband, although she was a good deal less boisterous than she used to be. Jane wondered how soon she would marry again. Zahara and Ahmed had been the only Afghan couple Jane had come across who actually seemed to be in love.
However, Zahara was a powerfully sensual woman who would have trouble living without a man for very long. Ahmed's younger brother Yussuf, the singer, lived in the same house as Zahara, and was still unmarried at the age of eighteen: there was speculation among the village women that Yussuf might marry Zahara.
Brothers lived together, here; sisters were always separated. A bride routinely went to live with her husband in the home of the husband's parents. It was just one more way in which the men of this country oppressed their women.
Jane strode quickly along the footpath through the fields. A few men were working in the evening light. The harvest was coming to an end. It would soon be too late to take the Butter Trail anyway, Jane thought: Mohammed had said it was a summer-only route.
She reached the women's beach. Eight or ten village women were bathing in the river or in pools at the water's edge. Zahara was out in midstream, splashing a lot as usual but not laughing and joking.
Jane dropped her towel and waded into the water. She decided to be a little less direct with Zahara than she had been with Fara. She would not be able to fool Zahara, of course, but she would try to give the impression that she was gossiping rather than interrogating. She did not approach Zahara immediately. When the other women got out of the water, Jane followed a minute or two later, and dried herself with her towel in silence. It was not until Zahara and a few other women began to drift back toward the village that Jane spoke. "How soon will Yussuf be back?" she asked Zahara in Dari.
"Today or tomorrow. He went to the Logar Valley."
"I know Did he go alone?"
"Yes - but he said he may bring someone home with him."
Zahara shrugged. "A wife, perhaps."
Jane was momentarily diverted. Zahara was too coolly indifferent. That meant she was worried: she did not want
Yussuf to bring home a wife. It looked as if the village rumors were true. Jane hoped so. Zahara needed a man. "I don't think he has gone to get a wife," Jane said.
"Something important is happening. Masud has sent out many messengers. They can't all be after wives."
Zahara continued to try to look indifferent, but Jane could tell she was pleased. Was there any significance, Jane wondered, in the possibility that Yussuf might have gone to the Logar Valley to fetch someone?
Night was falling as they approached the village. From the mosque came a low chant: the eerie sound of the most bloodthirsty men in the world at prayer. It always reminded Jane of Josef, a young Russian soldier who had survived a helicopter crash just over the mountain from Banda. Some women had brought him to the shopkeeper's house - this was in the winter, before they moved the clinic to the cave - and Jean-Pierre and Jane had tended his wounds while a message was sent to Masud asking what should be done. Jane learned what Masud's reply had been one evening when Alishan Karim walked into the front room of the shopkeeper's house, where Josef lay in bandages, and put the muzzle of his rifle to the boy's ear and blew his head off. It had been about this time of day, and the sound of the men praying had been in the air while Jane washed the blood off the wall and scooped up the boy's brains from the floor.
The women climbed the last stretch of the footpath up from the river and paused in front of the mosque, finishing their conversations before going to their separate homes. Jane glanced into the mosque. The men were praying on their knees, with Abdullah, the mullah, leading them. Their weapons, the usual mixture of ancient rifles and modern submachine guns, were piled in a corner. The prayers were just finishing. As the men stood up, Jane saw that there were a number of strangers among them. She said to Zahara: "Who are they?"
"By their turbans, they must be from the Pich Valley and Jalalabad," Zahara replied. "They are Pushtuns -
normally they are our enemies. Why are they here?" As she was speaking, a very tall man with an eye patch emerged from the crowd. "That must be Jahan Kamil - Masud's great enemy!"
"But there is Masud, talking to him," said Jane, and she added in English: "Just fancy that!"
Zahara imitated her. "Jass fencey hat!"
It was the first joke Zahara had made since her husband died. That was a good sign: Zahara was recovering.
The men began to come out, and the women scuttled away to their homes, all except Jane. She thought she was beginning to understand what was happening; and she wanted confirmation. When Mohammed came out she approached him and spoke to him in French. "I forgot to ask whether your trip to Faizabad was successful."
"It was," he said without pausing in his stride: he did not want his comrades or the Pushtuns to see him answering a woman's questions.
Jane hurried alongside him as he headed for his house. "So the commander of Faizabad is here?"
Jane had guessed right: Masud had invited all the rebel commanders here. "What do you think of this idea?" she asked him. She was still fishing for details.
Mohammed looked thoughtful, and dropped his hauteur, as he always did when he got interested in the conversation. "Everything depends on what Ellis does tomorrow," he said. "If he impresses them as a man of honor, and wins their respect, I think they will agree to his plan."
"And you think his plan is good?"
"Obviously it will be a good thing if the Resistance is united and gets weapons from the United States."
So that was it! American weapons for the rebels, on condition they fought together against the Russians instead of fighting one another half the time.
They reached Mohammed's house, and Jane turned away with a wave. Her breasts felt full: it was time for Chantal to be fed. The right breast felt a little heavier, because at
the last feed she had started with the left, and Chantal always emptied the first one more thoroughly.
Jane reached the house and went into the bedroom. Chantal lay naked on a folded towel inside her cradle, which was actually a cardboard box cut in half. She had no need of clothes in the warm air of the Afghan summer. At night she would be covered with a sheet, that was all. The rebels and the war, Ellis and Mohammed and Masud, all receded into the background as Jane looked at her baby. She had always thought small babies ugly, but Chantal seemed very pretty to her. As Jane watched, Chantal stirred, opened her rnouth and cried. Jane's right breast immediately leaked milk in response, and a warm, damp patch spread on her shirt. She undid the buttons and picked up Chantal.
Jean-Pierre said she should wash her breasts with surgical spirit before feeding, but she never did because she knew Chantal would not like the taste. She sat on a rug with her back to the wall and cradled Chantal in her right arm. The baby waved her fat little arms and moved her head from side to side, frantically seeking with her open mourn. Jane guided her to the nipple. The toothless gums clamped hard and the baby sucked fiercely. Jane winced at the first hard pull, then at the second. The third suck was gentler. A small, plump hand reached up and touched the round side of Jane's swollen breast, pressing it with a blind, clumsy caress. Jane relaxed.
Feeding her baby made her feel terribly tender and protective. Also, to her surprise, it was erotic. At first she had felt guilty about being turned on by it, but she soon decided that if it was natural it could not be bad, and settled down to enjoy it.
She was looking forward to showing Chantal off if they ever got back to Europe. Jean-Pierre's mother would tell her she was doing everything wrong, no doubt, and her own mother would want to have the baby christened, but her father would adore Chantal through an alcoholic haze, and her sister would be proud and enthusiastic. Who else? Jean-Pierre's father was dead. . . .
A voice came from the courtyard. "Anybody at home?"
It was Ellis. "Come in," Jane called. She did not feel she needed to cover herself: Ellis was not an Afghan, and anyway he had once been her lover.
He came in, saw her feeding the baby and did a double take. "Shall I leave?"
She shook her head. "You've seen my tits before."
"I don't think so," he said. "You must have changed them."
She laughed. "Pregnancy gives you great tits." Ellis had been married once, she knew, and had a child, although he gave the impression he no longer saw either the child or its mother. That was one of the things he would never talk about very much. "Don't you remember from when your wife was pregnant?''
"I missed it," he said, in that curt tone he used when he wanted you to shut up. "I was away."
She was too relaxed to respond in like manner. In fact she felt sorry for him. He had made a mess of his life, but it was not all his own fault; and he had certainly been punished for his sins - not the least by her.
"Jean-Pierre didn't come back," Ellis said.
"No." The sucking eased as Jane's breast emptied. She gently pulled her nipple from Chantal's mouth and lifted the baby to her shoulder, patting the narrow back to make her burp.
"Masud would like to borrow his maps," Ellis said.
"Of course. You know where they are." Chantal belched loudly. "Good girl," Jane said. She put the baby to her left breast. Hungry again after burping, Chantal began to suck. Giving in to an impulse, Jane said: "Why don't you see your child?''
He took the maps from the chest, closed its lid and straightened up. "I do," he said. "But not often."
Jane was shocked. I almost lived with him for six months, she thought, and I never really knew him. "A boy or a girl?"
"She must be ..."
"My God." That was practically grown up. Jane was suddenly intensely curious. Why had she never questioned him about all this? Perhaps she had not been interested before she had a child of her own. "Where does she live?"
"Don't tell me," she said. She could read his face. "You were about to lie to me."
"You're right," he said. "But do you understand why I have to lie about it?"
She thought for a moment. "Are you afraid that your enemies will attack you through the child?"
"That's a good reason."
"Thank you. And thanks for these." He waved the maps at her, then went out.
Chantal had gone to sleep with Jane's nipple in her mouth. Jane disengaged her gently and lifted her to shoulder level. She burped without waking. The child could sleep through anything.
Jane wished Jean-Pierre had come back. She was sure he could do no harm, but all the same she would have felt easier if he had been under her eye. He could not contact the Russians because she had smashed his radio. There was no other means of communication between Banda and Russian territory. Masud could send messengers by runner, of course; but Jean-Pierre had no runners, and anyway if he sent someone the whole village would know about it. The only thing he could possibly do was to walk all the way to Rokha, and he had not had time for that.
As well as being anxious, she hated to sleep alone. In Europe she had not minded, but here she was frightened of the brutal, unpredictable tribesmen who thought it as normal for a man to beat his wife as for a mother to smack her child. And Jane was no ordinary woman in their eyes: with her liberated views and her direct gaze and her says-who attitude she was a symbol of forbidden sexual delights.
She had not followed the conventions of sexual behavior, and the only other women they knew like that were whores.
When Jean-Pierre was there she always reached out to touch him just before falling asleep. He always slept curled up, facing away from her, and although he moved a lot in his sleep he never reached out for her. The only other man she had shared a bed with for a long period was Ellis, and he had been just the opposite: all night long he was touching her, hugging her and kissing her; sometimes while half-awake and sometimes when fast asleep. Twice or three times he had tried to make love to her, roughly, in his sleep: she would giggle and try to accommodate him, but after a few seconds he would roll off and start snoring, and in the morning he had no recollection of what he had done. How different he was from Jean-Pierre. Ellis touched her with clumsy affection, like a child playing with a beloved pet; Jean-Pierre touched her the way a violinist might handle a Stradivarius. They had loved her differently, but they had betrayed her the same way.
Chantal gurgled. She was awake. Jane laid her in her lap, supporting her head so that they could look directly at one another, and began to talk to her, partly in nonsense syllables and partly in real words. Chantal liked this. After a while Jane ran out of small talk and began to sing. She was in the middle of Daddy's gone to London in a puffer train when she was interrupted by a voice from outside. "Come in," she called. She said to Chantal: "We have visitors all the time, don't we? It's like living in the National Gallery, isn't it?" She pulled the front of her shirt together to hide her cleavage.
Mohammed walked in and said in Dari: "Where is Jean-Pierre?"
"Gone to Skabun. Anything I can do?"
"When will he be back?"
"In the morning, I expect. Do you want to tell me what the problem is, or do you plan to continue talking like a Kabul policeman?"
He grinned at her. When she spoke disrespectfully to him he found her sexy, which was not the effect she
intended. He said: "Alishan has arrived with Masud. He wants more pills."
"Ah, yes." Alishan Karim was the brother of the mullah, and he suffered from angina. Of course, he would not give up his guerrilla activities, so Jean-Pierre gave him trinitrin to take immediately before battle or other exertion. "I'll give you some pills," she said. She stood up and handed Chantal to Mohammed.
Mohammed took the baby automatically and then looked embarrassed. Jane grinned at him and went into the front room. She found the tablets on a shelf beneath the shopkeeper's counter. She poured about a hundred into a container and returned to the living room. Chantal was staring, fascinated, at Mohammed. Jane took the baby and handed over the pills. "Tell Alishan to rest more," she said.
Mohammed shook his head. "He's not frightened of me," he said. "You tell him."
Jane laughed. Coming from an Afghan, that joke was almost feminist.
Mohammed said: "Why did Jean-Pierre go to Skabun?"
"There was a bombing there this morning."
"No, there wasn't."
"Of course there wa - " Jane stopped suddenly.
Mohammed shrugged. "I was there all day with Masud. You must be mistaken."
She tried to keep her face composed. "Yes. I must have misheard."
"Thank you for the pills." He went out.
Jane sat down heavily on a stool. There had been no bombing at Skabun. Jean-Pierre had gone to meet Anatoly. She did not see quite how he had arranged it, but she had no doubt whatsoever.
What was she to do?
If Jean-Pierre knew about the gathering tomorrow, and could tell the Russians about it, then the Russians would be able to attack -
They could wipe out the entire leadership of the Afghan Resistance in a single day.
She had to see Ellis.
She wrapped a shawl around Chantal - the air would be a little cooler now - and left the house, heading for the mosque. Ellis was in the courtyard with the rest of the men, poring over Jean-Pierre's maps with Masud and Mohammed and the man with the eye patch. Some guerrillas were passing around a hookah, others were eating. They stared in surprise as she walked in with her baby on her hip. "Ellis," she said. He looked up. "I need to talk to you. Would you come outside?"
He got up, and they went out through the arch and stood in front of the mosque.
"What is it?" he said.
"Does Jean-Pierre know about this gathering you have arranged, of all the Resistance leaders?"
"Yes - when Masud and I first talked about it, he was right there, taking the slug out of my ass. Why?"
Jane's heart sank. Her last hope had been that Jean-Pierre might not know. Now she had no choice. She looked around. There was no one else within earshot; and anyway they were speaking English. "I have something to tell you," she said, "but I want your promise that no harm will come to him."
He stared at her for a moment. "Oh, shit," he said fervently. "Oh fuck, oh shit. He works for them. Of course! Why didn't I guess? In Paris he must have led those motherfuckers to my apartment! He's been telling them about the convoys - that's why they've been losing so many! The bastard - " He stopped suddenly, and spoke more gently. "It must have been terrible for you."
"Yes," she said. Irresistibly her face crumpled, tears rushed to her eyes, and she began to sob. She felt weak and foolish and ashamed of herself for crying, but she also felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from her.
Ellis put his arms around her and Chantal. "You poor thing," he said.
"Yes," she sobbed. "It was awful."
"How long have you known?"
"A few weeks."
"You didn't know when you married him."
"Both of us," he said. "We both did it to you."
"You mixed with the wrong crowd."
She buried her face in his shirt and cried without restraint, for all the lies and betrayals and spent time and wasted love. Chantal cried, too. Ellis held Jane close and stroked her hair until eventually she stopped shaking, began to calm down and wiped her nose on her sleeve. "I broke his radio, you see," she said, "and then I thought he had no way of getting in touch with them; but today he was called to Skabun to see to the bomb-wounded, but there was no bombing at Skabun today. ..."
Mohammed came out of the mosque. Ellis let go of Jane and looked embarrassed. "What's happening?" he said to Mohammed in French.
"They're arguing," he said. "Some say this is a good plan and it will help us defeat the Russians. Others ask why Masud is considered the only good commander, and who is Ellis Thaler that he should judge Afghan leaders? You must come back and talk to them some more."
"Wait," Ellis said. "There's been a new development."
Jane thought: Oh, God, Mohammed will kill somebody when he hears this -
"There has been a leak."
"What do you mean?" Mohammed said dangerously.
Ellis hesitated, as if reluctant to spill the beans; and then he seemed to decide that he had no alternative. "The Russians may know about the conference - "
"Who?" Mohammed demanded. "Who is the traitor?"
"Possibly the doctor, but - "
Mohammed rounded on Jane. "How long have you known this?"
"You'll speak to me politely or not at all," she snapped back.
"Hold it," said Ellis.
Jane was not going to let Mohammed get away with his accusatory tone of voice. "I warned you, didn't I?" she
said. "I told you to change the route of the convoy. I saved your damn life, so don't point your finger at me."
Mohammed's anger evaporated, and he looked a little sheepish.
Ellis said: "So that's why the route was changed." He looked at Jane with something like admiration.
Mohammed said: "Where is he now?"
"We're not sure," Ellis replied.
"When he comes back he must be killed."
"No!" said Jane.
Ellis put a restraining hand on her shoulder and said to Mohammed: "Would you kill a man who has saved the lives of so many of your comrades?"
"He must face justice," Mohammed insisted.
Mohammed had talked about if he comes back, and Jane realized she had been assuming that he would return. Surely he would not abandon her and their baby?
Ellis was saying: "If he is a traitor, and if he has succeeded in contacting the Russians, then he has told them about tomorrow's meeting. They will surely attack and try to take Masud."
"This is very bad," said Mohammed. "Masud must leave immediately. The conference will have to be called off - "
"Not necessarily," Ellis said. "Think. We could turn this to advantage."
Eilis said: "In fact the more I think about it, the more I like it. This may turn out to have been the best thing that could possibly happen. ..."