"STOP! - I said stop and I meant stop".
His voice echoed off the whitewashed compound walls. Tanned and reddened mothers and wives looked up from their sun loungers watching through their trendy wide rimmed sunglasses. Some looked vaguely disapproving at the disturbance, others sympathetic, he felt his face flush under their stares, he hated making a scene. The four year old boy stopped, briefly, and then sensing a moment of hesitation from the red faced man, dive bombed into the swimming pool. The man attempted to remain stern faced but couldn't stop the flicker of a smile as the kid came back to the pool surface spluttering water and laughing. Moving quickly he scooped the boy from the water. The boy's laughter stopped abruptly and his lower lip began to quiver, the boy took a large gulp of air. "Cut it out" the man said gently as strong arms embraced the boy "we have to go". The boy exhaled slowly, he was wide eyed and excited his instincts told him it was time to submit, but his nature was to fight.
The boy forced his knees between the man and himself, then arched his back over the water and pushed his feet against the man's chest. He felt fingers on his arm dig in painfully and then release. He fell backwards into the pool and gasped in surprise, but sucked in water and started gagging. He was disoriented and wasn't sure which way was up and which down. Desperate for air the boy squirmed and twisted until could see the surface and two shadowy figures above him. He twisted his body around so his feet touched the bottom and pushed up with all his strength. His head surfaced, he took a deep breath and grabbed for the pool edge. He rubbed the stinging chlorine from his eyes and looked up to where his father had been, there was no one there. The boy heard feet approaching and turned, squinting into the glaring sun light, he was surprised to see a portly Arabian man looking directly at him."Boy" the man shouted, "Out of the water, we must hurry" The sunbathers were visibly curious, "Get out quick" said the fat man, "Your Dad is gone I will take you to him" The boy was confused, how could his Dad be gone, he rubbed his arm it still had red prints on his skin where his Dads fingers had been a few seconds ago.
One of the sunbathers approached and smiled at the boy, turning to the fat man she said "he can stay with me. I'm sure his Dad will be back in a minute, he only just left with the other gentleman". "Come with me boy" he said ignoring the bikini clad women. The fat man bent over surprisingly agilely and grabbed the boy in two hands, straightening his back he lifted the boy out of the water and up against him. The boy squirmed, he tried to break free like he had earlier, but he couldn't get his legs up past the man's belly. The woman from the compound feeling a little bewildered by the speed of events stepped back a bit and with the boy in his arms the fat man strode away from the pool. He jolted down a few steps and out the door of the compound into the street. An old car was sitting in the street, engine running, windows tinted so he couldn't see in. The fat man grappled with the door and the boy found himself being shoved roughly into the back seat. His Dad was sitting there, arms twisted awkwardly behind his back, blood running down the side of his head and staining his shirt collar red.
There was another man in the driver's seat, the boy was horrified to see he had a large pistol gripped in his hand and was pointing it vaguely towards his father. The passenger door opened and the fat man began to squeeze himself into the seat. "Wait!" shouted a woman's voice, "You can't take the boy." The fat man waved her away but she had a grip on the car door. "What's going on?" she demanded. "There is no problem" the fat man tried to tell her, but was abruptly cut off as the boy's father, taking advantage of the distraction, yelled "Get James out of here!" and kicked both feet through the side window. It smashed with a thunderous bang sending glass exploding out across the pavement. For a moment the boy thought the gun had gone off, but then his father's feet roughly shoved him out through the broken window. "Get out James, run, don't look back, don't stop"!
Twenty years later the boy, now a grown man stood at the same spot where the old car had driven off with his father. At first the police thought it was mistaken identity and the abductors would release him, but they never did. The car was found burnt out in a rundown Shi'a area. No-one had seen it arrive; no-one had seen anyone leave again. They had simply disappeared in broad daylight. Most nights he woke up with those words haunting him, "run, don't look back, don't stop". He felt tears swell in his eyes, he brusquely wiped them away and with them any childish emotion, he must be strong for what lay ahead, there could be no more tears.
He knocked on the door to the compound, after a few moments he heard the sound of a heavy bolt shifting against rusted brackets, an ageing Security Guard motioned him in, the door opened a little further before it caught on the uneven concrete floor. James squeezed through the gap, stepped up the short flight of steps into the courtyard. It was much smaller than he remembered; the small pool was still there, looking very tired with a scummy surface. A few worn out plastic sun loungers ringed the pool, but the sunbathing ladies he remembered so fondly were no longer tanning themselves. James walked across the courtyard and into the dark interior of the building. An elderly Indian man sitting behind a small counter spoke into a phone, then looking at James said "Please go up to room 312, he is waiting for you".
The door was open, light shone in from a window across the room; he could just make out the silhouette of someone sitting in an armchair. James stood just inside the doorway until his eyes adjusted and he could see an old man with a grey beard looking directly back at him. The old man smiled, revealing brown and broken teeth, but his eyes were empty of emotion and gave the impression they had been that way for a very long time.
The old man raised himself out of his arm chair and limped over to some old kitchen shelving on the wall, "How did you find me?" James stayed where he was and said nothing, he didn't know what to say and was glad the old man was doing the talking. Instead James took out a carefully rolled sheet of paper and smoothed it out on a small table, pinning the rolled edges down with a dirty cup and saucer. At the bottom were two words. James finally spoke, "I found this painting when going through Mums things after the funeral". The old man turned away and started for the kettle, he changed his mind and opened a kitchen cupboard pulling out a bottle. James continued "I recognized this compound. I have stared for hours on end at this drawing and those two words at the bottom - Please come - and the big heavy full stop - like the pen stayed there for an age going round and round on the one spot". Two tumblers from the draining board were half filled, the old man handed one to James , raised the other up in a silent toast, and downed the drink in one go. James followed suit. The burning sensation gave way to euphoric warmth from deep within. He felt himself loosen up a little the tension dropped from both men. The old man smiled again this time revealing a glimmer of warmth in his eyes. James cleared some old newspapers from the vacant armchair and sat down. The old man spoke "I thought she never got it, I sent it to her hoping she would recognize it, I didn't know what to write after all this time, I started Please come, but ran out of words, ultimately it was everything I needed to say." his voice trailed off.
After a few moments silence James got up and walked to the window "Its time you knew the truth", he said looking out at the drab but busy little street below, full of people and cars negotiating their way around each other, past the street traders and around the large potholes and crumbling pavements. He watched them getting on with their everyday lives, envying them for their carefree movements, wishing he could simply walk away now and not say another word. But he had come this far to put things straight and he couldn't stop. "She couldn't face seeing you again; you made her life hell, dragging her out to live in this hot dirty little island away from everything and everyone she knew. Leaving her for weeks on end while you went off on executive trips with the Sheikhs and the Oil Barons drinking and whoring. I heard all about it over the years. What I only found out though as she lay dying in her bed was that she planned the whole thing. She thought she would get rich from the ransom and that you would leave this God forsaken country for good. Only the company wouldn't pay ransoms and the kidnappers cut all communication with her. She lived with the guilt all her life. I think it killed her in the end. Every day of my childhood I wished you would return, but it's too late now, you destroyed each other's lives and I want no more of it. Good bye father".
As James strode for the door he glanced back, he hadn't meant to look back he had resolved to say what needed to be said and to walk out, now he hesitated, unable to look away as a single tear rolled down his father's cheek. The old man picked up the painting. "I have other pictures too, of you and your mother I drew them in my head, practicing the shape of your mouth, your eyes, the details of your ear, the sparkle in your eye," his hands smoothly tracing each shape in the air, his eyes focused on some invisible point in front of him, he laughed humorlessly. "It kept me sane. Twelve years locked in a cell and then one day out on the streets of Tehran fighting for scraps of food with the homeless and the orphans. The company brought me back here, the home I had drawn in my head over and over and over, the home that no longer was. They pay me to be quiet, not to scare off investors, but I have nothing to tell, no more anger, just a longing to hold my boy in my arms again'.
The old man had unsteadily got closer and closer as he spoke, finally wrapping his skinny arms around his son. James stood there powerless to resist, his arms wrapped around his Dad, he was 4 years old again and hugging his Dad with all the unconditional love of a child. He had never forgotten that last embrace and this time he didn't want to break free ever again.
Thanks for reading, please leave your comments.