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By May 30, 2022June 6th, 2022No Comments


Saltanat stood in the doorway, arms folded, and I didn’t need to read body language to sense her mood.

‘Always have to be the white knight, rescuing the hapless damsel, right?’ she said, ‘Packing me off to Moscow while you go and face the bad guys alone?’

‘You’re pregnant,’ I said, trying to excuse my actions, ‘Or at least, you were?’

I’ve said more foolish things to women in my time, but I think that one wins the prize.

“I’m still carrying your child,’ she said, ‘Although I wish to hell you weren’t the father.’

‘You’ve come all the way back from Moscow to see me; I’m touched.’

‘Idiot. You really thought I’d sit on a crowded train for seventy two hours? How do you think you got here?’

I muttered something about how the woman at the museum kiosk must have heard the shots, called an ambulance and the police.

Saltanat shook her head.

‘I never got on the train. And that reminds me, I couldn’t get a refund on the ticket.’

I shrugged, winced at the pain in my side.

‘How did you know I’d gone to Ata-Beyit?

‘I went to the Kulturny, had a quiet chat to the barman. He didn’t want to tell me anything at first, then he decided having all his fingers broken wouldn’t help his career prospects.’

‘You broke his fingers?’ I said.

‘Only two of them. And only the little ones.’

‘So he told you about my conversation with Aliyev?’

Saltanat stared at me: I wasn’t sure if I’d ever seen a more scornful expression.

‘You hit your head on something when you got shot?’ she asked, ‘Of course he did. Even down to the long pauses. So I knew where to go, and who you were going to meet.’

Saltanat shut the door behind her, sat down on the bed, put a hand to my face.

‘I appreciate your concern for me, and the baby. Honestly. But you know I’m more than capable of looking after myself.’

‘You shouldn’t have been involved in any of this. I shouldn’t have asked you to come to Bangkok. I wasn’t thinking straight.’

‘That’s history now, you can’t rewrite it; learn, remember, move on.’

‘You followed me to Ata-Beyit?’

‘Just in time to see you and Aliyev play gunslingers. I saw you both go down, made sure he was dead, got my team to load you into the back seat then drove to the nearest safe house.’

‘I can’t have been that badly hurt,’ I said, ‘Although I feel as if I’ve been hit by a falling elephant.’

‘You almost died on us twice in the car,’ Saltanat said, face serious, ‘We keep medical supplies with us when we travel, plasma, bandages, antibiotics. We managed to keep you alive until we got to the safe house to treat you properly.’

I said nothing.

‘Has anyone told you the damage?’ Saltanat asked. I shook my head.

‘The finger on your right hand, but you obviously know about that. Good thing you’re left-handed. Two broken ribs, a third completely shattered One bullet deflected off a rib, drilled a hole in your spleen. It couldn’t be repaired so the surgeons took it out. You lost a lot of blood, and your heart stopped a couple of times. But basically, you’ll live.’

I looked up at the window, saw it had started snowing again; great white flakes that swirled and danced and clung to the glass. I thought of past evenings sitting in my apartment watching snow fall, soothing and silent, Chinara quiet beside me, a world away in one of her poetry books. Life moves on, but I’m not convinced it gets any better.

‘So when can I get out of bed and go home?’ I asked. I pointed at the falling snow. ‘Don’t worry, I won’t walk, I’ll get a taxi.’

Saltanat looked at me, shook her head.

‘That might prove a little expensive. You see, you’re not in Bishkek.’

It took me a few seconds to register what she’d just said.

‘Well, where am I?’

Her face gave nothing away, as she reached over, took my hand in hers, cool and smooth.


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