The heat present all day, every day, for the last week, did not relent during the night. It drained their energy and the lethargy it created only added to the general boredom of the camp. It was nearly 11PM, still light, and still oppressively hot. There was not even any breeze from the sea.
When Stefan pulled up, Joram climbed into the front seat, the three boys clambered in the back. It hit like when you open the fridge door, the cool of the air conditioning floated around their sweaty bodies.
Tonight they get to meet Rushid and the stage is set for making another video. They talked about it a lot after Stefan made the proposal. Only Amar was not in favour, but the other two were all for making some money.
Samir persuaded Amar to agree; Firas secretly harboured a fantasy featuring Joram, and needed no convincing. Then, there was the money. But they hadn't reached any agreement on what they would do afterwards. Should they leave? Pay somebody to take them across Europe? It was possible, or it would be, when they got paid.
They pulled up behind a red Audi, outside the warehouse, Stefan's studio. The street was deserted; there were no other buildings anyone used. A long wall on the far side was some kind of warehouse or disused factory; it had no windows, no doors onto the street. Each side of the studio building was empty wasteland. Nobody lived or worked here except Stefan.
“Rashid wants to see you first,” Stefan half turned in his seat to look at Samir. “The rest of you can stay in the car, or wait outside.”
“Why can't we all just go in?” Amar wanted to know.
Joram got out of the Mercedes and so did Firas.
“Because it’s like that,” Stefan didn't hide his irritation at being questioned. It had not escaped his attention it was always the same one asking questions, not agreeing to things, ‘Amar was trouble,’ he told himself.
Samir, who had been squeezed in the back between the other two, followed Firas, sliding out the opposite side to Amar.
“Just go on up,” Stefan nodded, leaving no time for any more objections from Amar.
There was a loud crack and the night sky was suddenly lit up by a bright electric streak of lightning.
Samir raced up the stairs, opened the doors and entered the studio alone. It was dimly lit, just momentarily brightened by the lightning from outside. Rashid was sitting in the armchair in front of the foot of the bed, smoking a cigarette. A wisp of curling grey blue smoke spiralled upwards, caught in the sudden intense light.
Samir approached the armchair and as he did so Rushid stood up. He was a well-built, powerful man. Samir stood in front of him as the man looked at him. Rushid moved close, took hold of the boy's chin and moved his head upwards to look him in the eyes. His other hand came around Samir, he felt it rest on his buttocks.
They were standing facing each other, inches apart. Samir could feel his heart beating against his chest. Roughly, the man discarded Samir's chin, pushing his head away. The hand dropped in front of him and grabbed at the boy's crotch, gripping and squeezing.
“Ow, that hurts!” Samir hadn't said anything until now.
Rushid squeezed his balls tighter. “You like it, I can tell.”
Samir could feel the adrenalin beginning to flow through his veins. He had a terrible sense of foreboding.
Amar was pacing up and down outside the front entrance, watching the door. Firas was talking to Joram. What about? Amar paid no attention. Stefan was in the car with the radio on and the windows wound down. The sound drifted out and into the dark street. Thunder grumbled in the distance.
“Take your clothes off,” Rushid ordered, which took Samir by surprise. “Do it!”
Samir felt trapped. He pulled his t-shirt off over his head and discarded it on the bed.
“And the rest!” Rushid sat back down in the armchair. “I want to see what I'm paying for. Sample the goods.”
Samir's foreboding was turning to anxiety.
“I need to use the bathroom.”
“Don't fuck with me!” Rushid warned him, but nodded.
The bathroom was right next to the stairs. Samir didn't hesitate for one minute. He went straight past the bathroom and out of the room. As he took the stairs two at a time he heard Rushid shouting at him.
“I'm gonna fucking kill you! You little bastard!”
He reached the front door, threw it open. Rushid was right behind him, at the top of the stairs. Samir just got through the front door as a loud thunderclap echoed behind him. Only it wasn't thunder.
Amar saw the door fly open, he'd been watching it, waiting. Large droplets of rain spattered against the dry pavement. Lightning cracked the sky.
“He's got a gun!” Samir shouted as he turned and ran up the street past the parked cars. Amar was behind him. Firas and Joram looked up in shock.
The sky opened to a torrential downpour. Samir was a hundred metres up the dark street, Amar was close behind him. Joram grabbed Firas and pulled him back against the wall. Rushid came out the front door holding something in his hand.
He stopped, took aim. The rain was in his eyes. BANG! The explosion mixed with the noise of the storm. It was a wild shot, he had no real chance of hitting his target.
He pulled open the door of the Audi. The engine boomed alive, Rashid was possessed like a crazy man. Firas caught a glimpse of his contorted features and recoiled.
The Audi lurched out into the street.
Samir splashed through the flooded gutter, heading across the street that was now like a dark river, the water glistening in the light from the only working lamppost. Amar was still right behind him. He turned at the approaching roar of the car.
“Samir!” He shouted.
Samir turned to see the headlights piercing the rain. He slipped, fell, hitting the ground with one arm out to break his fall. Amar rushed into the street reaching Samir as the Audi roared towards them.
He grabbed hold of Samir, pulled him off the ground.
The white light filled his vision. He pushed him with all his strength, a force greater than you might believe possible.
Samir went sliding across the wet street.
Amar was floating free.
He never heard any sound. He never felt any pain. It was as if the storm had picked him up and carried him. He only heard a whooshing sound in his head.
Samir saw the car swerve. He heard the crack, as loud as the thunder, as deadly as the gun shot. Everything was brilliantly clear in the darkness. The shape of the body flying through the air. The shouts from Joram and Firas as they came running towards him.
A screeching of brakes. Two bright red lights, like the terrible signals of danger, lit the darkness, and then slowly disappeared as the engine revved and the car shot away down the street.
Suddenly things came back, the scene sped up. He was up and running. Soaked by the heavy rain, he reached the dark bundle. The scrunched up body. The light reflected off the wet street.
He looked down. The rain was washing a river a blood across the tarmac. He knelt down. Rain mixed with the tears that flooded down his face. He reached out to touch Amar.
“Amar,” he said in the vain hope that he might stir, look around, and get up. But he didn't reply, he didn't move.
Joram and Firas were there now, standing over them.
“Call an ambulance, quick!” Samir screamed.
Firas pulled the phone from his pocket and hit 112.
The rain had all but stopped. They stood together, Samir, Firas, and Joram. The street now almost deserted. They watched as the ambulance, blue lights flashing, sped off into the darkness.
They were ushered into a waiting police car, locked together in the back seat. Each of them had a blanket. Samir was shaking, he wasn't cold, even soaked through to the skin, he wasn't cold. ‘How could it end like this? Why does god punish me? What did I do wrong?’
He buried his head in his knees as he sobbed, comforted by Firas who had an arm around him.
They spent all day at the police station, locked together in a cell. They were interviewed, one at a time, and they told what happened. But what did happen? All Samir could think of was that he ran away from a monster, and Amar saved his life. ‘Why? Why did he do that? It was all my fault.’
All day he cried, stopped, thought about what happened, and cried again. He shook without reason, he shed tears like a normal person breathes, not even Firas or Joram being there could break the spell. That was what it was – he had been cursed – ‘he should never have been born. He was evil. He had killed his family, his brother and sister, his parents, and now he had killed Amar. He was evil. He should die. He should not be alive.’
Firas knew there was something terribly wrong with Samir. He was crying and shaking, and he wouldn't speak. The interpreter brought in by the police had asked why he didn't talk, if there was something wrong. Before the day was over, a doctor came and took Samir away.
The police left them at the main gates to the port, they had been kind, sympathetic. There was the language barrier, but they still felt it from how they were treated.
Joram walked with Firas across the vast expanse of concrete, towards the railway. He had been a tower of strength for Firas, they had become friends in adversity. Firas knew he was not the one for him, but he was a friend he could rely on, and that counted for a lot.
The heat was intense, the sun beat down unrelentingly, Firas had to squint against the brightness. When he looked around as they walked together, he saw nothing had changed. It was as if nothing had happened.
“Where have you been?” Halil asked when he saw Firas.
Rifat looked at Joram, “And Amar and Samir?”
Firas couldn't look at him. He burst into tears. Joram hugged him close, sat him down, and gently stroked his hair. Then he began to tell them what had happened. They sat in silence, not once interrupting, just listening.
As he reached the end of the events, he explained that Amar was badly injured, they had been told this by the interpreter. He was in a coma, on life support, and it would be a miracle if he pulled through. Those were her exact words – “It would be a miracle” – she had kissed the little gold crucifix she wore on a thin gold chain around her neck.
Samir had suffered a breakdown, his mind had closed down, he couldn't speak, he shook uncontrollably and cried. He cried all the time. He was in hospital, that was all she could say. The police were looking for Rushid and Stefan.
“I told you all I know about Samir and Amar. I just don't know any more. If I hear something I will tell you, of course. And you do the same, okay? Firas... he’s been through a lot. Just look after him. Be kind. That's all.”
“Of course we will,” Halil replied. “He's like a brother.”
“I have to go. I have my family to see, and I've been missing more than a day. They will be worried.”
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