She smiled at last, a half-smile, and asked, ‘Do you have a gun?’
They smoked a joint and listened to music and after a while Nadia tried again to make Saeed have sex with her, not because she felt particularly sexy but because she wanted to cauterize the incident from outside the bank in her memory, and Saeed succeeded again in holding back, even as they pleasured each other, and he told her again that they should not have sex before they were married, that doing otherwise was against his beliefs, but it was not until he suggested she move in with his parents and him that she understood his words had been a kind of proposal.
She stroked his hair as his head rested on her chest and asked, ‘Are you saying you want to get married?’
‘To anyone, really.’
‘Yes,’ he said, rising and looking at her. ‘To you.’
She didn’t say anything.
‘What do you think?’ he asked.
She felt great tenderness well up in her for him at that moment, as he waited for her reply, and she felt also a galloping terror, and she felt further something altogether more complicated, something that struck her as akin to resentment.
‘I don’t know,’ she said.
He kissed her. ‘Okay,’ he replied.
As he was leaving, she saved his office details and he saved hers, and she gave him a black robe to wear, and she told him not to bother stashing it in the crack between her building and the next, where previously he had been hiding the robes he exited in for her to collect, but rather to hold on to it, and she gave him a set of keys too. ‘So my sister can let herself in next time, if she arrives before me,’ she explained.
And both of them grinned.
But when he was gone she heard the demolition blows of distant artillery, the unmaking of buildings, large-scale fighting having resumed somewhere, and she was worried for him on his drive home, and she thought it an absurd situation that she would have to wait until she went to work the following day to discover whether he had traversed the distance to his home safely. Nadia bolted her door and laboriously pushed her sofa against it, so that it was now barricaded from within.
That night, in a rooftop flat not unlike Nadia’s, in a neighbourhood not far from Nadia’s, a brave man stood in the light of a torch built into his mobile phone and waited. He could hear, from time to time, the same artillery that Nadia could hear, though more loudly. It rattled the windows of his flat, but only in a gentle way, without any risk, at present, of them breaking.
The brave man did not have a wristwatch, or a flashlight, so his signal-less phone served both functions, and he wore a heavy winter jacket and inside his jacket were a pistol and a knife with a blade as long as his hand. Another man had begun to emerge from a black door at the far end of the room, a door black even in the dimness, black despite the beam of the phone-torch, and this second man the brave man watched from his post beside the front door but did nothing visibly to help.
The brave man merely listened to the sounds in the stairwell outside, for a lack of sound in the stairwell outside, and stood at his post and held his phone and fingered the pistol inside the pocket of his coat, observing without making any noise.
The brave man was excited, though it would have been difficult to see this in the gloom and in the customary inexpressiveness of his face. He was ready to die, but he did not plan on dying, he planned on living, and he planned on doing great things while he did.
The second man lay on the floor and shaded his eyes from the light and gathered his strength, a knock-off Russian assault rifle by his side. He could not see who was at the front door, just that someone was there.
The brave man stood with his hand on his pistol, listening, listening.
The second man got to his feet.
The brave man motioned with the light of his phone, pulling the second man forward, like a needle-jawed anglerfish might, hunting in the inky depths, and when the second man was close enough to touch, the brave man opened the front door of the flat, and the second man walked through into the quietness of the stairwell. And then the brave man shut the door and stood still once again, biding his time for another.
The second man joined the fighting within the hour, among many who would do so, and the battles that now commenced and raged without meaningful interruption were far more ferocious, and less unequal, than what had come before.