tagRomanceHomeward Bound Ch. 01

Homeward Bound Ch. 01


This is the translation of a novel I have written in my language. Though there are some love and sex scenes (not in this chapter), I guess it would be improper to call it an "erotic story with a broader scope", so it does not fall in the field of "novels and novellas". There is some love line, so it can be a "romance", but don't expect any "chick lit" stuff. There is a mad world of death, blood and fire, in a word, there is war. So let's call it "a hard-boiled romance", and that's all.


Homeward Bound,
I wish I was homeward bound.
Where my though's escaping,
Where my music's playing,
Where my love is waiting,
Silently for me...
("Homeward Bound", Simon and Garfunkel)

Let them go, let them go,
Let them go to their dances of the dead.
("Drive all night", Bruce Springsteen)

Prologue: northern Italy, summer 2001.


The man with the book raised his head and looked at the two newcomers in the compartment. A couple: he and she. They seemed normal people, polite, even a bit afraid to bother him. Yes, he was alone, till then, but he did not reserve the whole compartment (he loved the old trains which had the compartments yet), so they had the right to get in and sit, of course. So he smiled and answered their greeting.


"May we?"

"Of course!"


They put the luggage in the proper places, above the seats, took of their coats and sat in front of him. The woman seemed excited, looked at the window smiling, as if she was in a dream come true. She kissed her man on a check. He smiled at the man, quite awkward, as to apologize. The man with the book, smiled.

"Just married?"

"Not really, "Just"," the other man said. "We are coming back from our wedding trip. we have gone around throughout Europe by train. My wife doesn't like to fly... "

The man with the book, nodded smiling. The best moment in the life of a man. The woman you have chosen, and who has chosen you. And with a bit of luck, the whole live ahead, together. Or at least, you want to believe it, and you have the right to do it... A reason to live, to work, to fight... And to Hell with all the rest...

"Excuse my curiosity, sir... Your wife... it looks like she is not Italian, right?"

"Russian!" said the woman, pointing an index finger at herself, and smiling. His man smiled with a bit of embarrassment, again. As if there was something wrong to marry a Russian woman... Of course, she can be the wrong woman, as any other one: all is possible, nothing is granted... But maybe he too was in a dream come true. And he felt himself so happy that he was ashamed for it. Not all the people are so lucky... A sensible person...

The man with the book, smiled. He figured that couple in some hotel room the night before. Some kisses... How said Isaak Babel, to describe the strength of a young man? "You could spend the night with a Russian woman, and the Russian woman would be satisfied if you"... Yes, he knew about it... And not only from the books...

"Eh... I too have known a Russian lady, once upon a time..."

"Where?" the other man asked. "In Moscow?"

"In Leningrad?" the Russian lady asked. "That is, in Saint Petersburg?"

"No... " the man with the book said, smiling and shaking his head no. "You would never guess... "

Chapter 1: springtime 1988. Somewhere north of Kyber.

The man had to wait till his eyes adjusted to the darkness, after the midday sun out of the house. Then he saw well his bag packed already, close to the rope he used to tie the wounded men to the table, since when the supplies of anesthetic were exhausted. He sat on the ground, with the light from the window on his right hand side, took the notebook from the pocket of the backpack, opened it and read the last thing he had written.

"The most unpleasant thing in this war is, that we had to blame some European guys."

He snorted, took his pen from the pocket of his shirt and added:

"And to agree with people who believe that a war can be holy."

He thought a bit, then he cancelled the last phrase. The sense was clear, all the same. The genius is to know how to limit yourself.

The most unpleasant thing. If not, it would have been a war as any other. With the difference that he was inside of it.

Some time before, he would have never written such things, besides the strictly medical notes. But some time before, Francoise was still there. And she would have not left the next morning, with him. She had left and gone away already. And the "European guys" were not to blame at all, about it. Hell no...

Yes, he had remained there, then. He had even come back the next year. And they had sent him another assistant. And she too had died. And that time, the "European guys" messed with. But please, don't add apples and oranges! She had had what she was looking for! Fools die!

She was American. Blond, beautiful and beyond recognition stupid. A crusader with the wrong chromosomes. There were a lot of crusaders like her, in Peshawar, lately. And with them, things had only got worse. In 1986 there were serious persons there, doctors, real doctors, but then, they came... They were not there to help people, they were there to see the war in the front row. But sometimes, in the front row, some stray bullets come too...

And Jesus Christ, if you INSIST to go and see an ambush, then you WANT a stray bullet for you, really! Francoise would have NEVER asked it, but that crusader DEMANDED it! And the chief of the "aul", of the village, had surrendered: "inshallah", come, as you please. She wanted to see the "shuravi" die. But for once, the "shuravi" had had their lucky day. And she didn't. They shot first, and better. And she was there. That's all.

Fools die, all as it takes. If only they could be the only ones to die, then the wars would be good for something. He had gained a good reputation in the "aul", a reputation of stern, strong man, because he did not cry when he saw her dead. But why in the hell should have he cried? She was nothing, for him. He was very sorry because even the chief of the aul was dead: he was not a bad person. And the new chief was mediocre, compared to him. But not "mediocre" as her...

No, he was not an anti-American. He loved American movies, American songs. Before to meet her, he liked to speak with the American people, when he met them at home. But she was another deal, definitely. He was there for the third time, he got used to the lay of the land. She was a Jenny-come-lately, she didn't understand a damn. He was the veteran, she was the rookie. And SHE wanted to teach HIM how the things went on!

He shook his head. Think "here", think "now", no vain efforts. Next day, he would have gone home, farewell to all that jazz. To the dead, to the wounded men that cried as damned souls, to the girls, as beautiful as untouchable, on pain of death. Yes, he had thought to come back, after the war, because people don't die only by bullets, especially down there. But now, no more. Enough to the mountains, he had seen too much in those mountains. Give me a hill, a plain, a lake, an Ocean, and I will die in peace...

To die. The foolish, horribly easy way the people died. He went there to avoid it, or at least, to limit that easiness. Blow it. Rule number one, in a war, people die a lot. Rule number two, the doctors cannot abrogate the rule number one.

It was really SO easy. Someone raised his head too early, and go. Another one remained with his mag empty at the wrong moment, and go. Another one put his feet where it was better not to, and go. And before the Stingers, when the helicopters ruled the ball, it was even easier. And before the Stingers, when the helicopters ruled the dance, it was even easier. A blast of 12,7 bullets, a salvo of rockets, a rain of shrapnel grenades hung to small parachutes, and go, go, go...

But after all, who cared? The mothers for their kids, yes. And the kids died more with starvation than with napalm, more with diseases than with bombs, more with infections than with mines. If they did not get any "green parrots", those anti-personnel mines who could look like toys, built for wounding rather than killing, and it was even worse...

But the men... "Insh Allah", and this was it. They REALLY believed that to get killed in battle gave you the entry ticket for a garden of earthly delight. And they seemed to think that to get it living properly and dying with age was not the same.

It was better than doping, and it had been invented a thousand and a half of years before. From a genius. What can be the desires of a man who lives in the desert, or thereabouts? Water, shadow, trees, music, women. Just get him to think that he can have them all, forever, if he just follows you, and he will follow you, wherever. Should he die to get there? Not too bad. To die in battle? Sorry, where the front is?

Really, if it's true, it's a boon. And if not, who comes back to say it?

The man snorted. The irony, the sarcasm, was his one and only drug: a narcotic and a tranquillizer. It was organic, free, legal and always at hand. And it was working again. He was smiling. Not the kind of smile he and Francoise exchanged there, in the past. More a grin, indeed. But a grin is better than nothing. Better than getting crazy at all...

He was still grinning, when someone threw something in the house. Something that was someone. Someone who hit the backpack and made some things fall from it and roll away in the house.

Someone who was a Russian.

"Well, look at this!" he said. He stood and went away to retake the things which had fallen from the backpack. "Welcome to the Kyber Pass Hotel, buddy. Though I guess your stay here will be short... At least as a living man... "

The Russian was looking at him. He did not seem scared. Maybe he didn't realize what a hell of a trouble he was in. It was strange he was alive yet, but maybe this was a part of his problem, not of the solution. for him. Coming to think of it, what solution?

"Yeah, it will be very short... " the medic said, turning his back to the Russian. He had his hand tied, no shoes, what could he do to harm him? "And don't look at me: there is nothing that I can do..."

"I know... " the Russian said.

The man turned his head. His face was very, very surprised.

"You... you speak... "

"Yes, quite well... University... Second year... "

"Ah... and why... "

"Why have I studied it? To become an interpreter, to travel... to work in tourism..."

"Eh... " the medic said, almost cheerfully. Then he recalled where they were, and why. "Yeah..."

"Do you really think they will kill me?" the Russian asked. He spoke calmly, as if he didn't care.

"Yes... But you are lucky. Here they JUST kill. As a rule."

The Russian nodded. He had got the nuance. No tortures, no mutilations, or something even worse, for a man... Yes, a luck, after all.


"Why will they kill you? Well, you know, they have no food to give you, they have no opium for to stone you, they don't know with whom they could exchange you... And then, what can I say... " The medic looked at the Russian: "They like it... "

"HM... " the Russian nodded. "But then, why am I still alive?"

"I have no idea," the medic shrugged. "Maybe they wanted to take a picture of you... to sell it to the first reporter who passes by... Or maybe they want to interrogate you... or maybe they want to try to convert you... But I would not bet on it..."

"Hmm," the Russian nodded again. "What can happen if I convert myself?"

"Maybe they don't buy it," the medic said. The Russian snorted. Of course, it was a hoax. And if there was no chance it could work, there was no use to try. "Or else, they will force you to fight, to prove your conversion. I've told you, they are quite short of food. No free meals... "

The Russian thought about it. To fight. That means, to shoot his comrades, his brothers in arms. And why? To live some days more. But how many days? And was it worthwhile? Damned if you do, damned if you don't. There were worse things than dying... maybe...

"May I ask you a favor?" he asked.

"All I can do." the medic answered. He could not help him to run away, and the Russian knew that. He was not obliged to risk his life for him.

"There is something on my back, under my collar... "

The medic went behind him and poked his finger between the jacket and the neck of the Russian. He felt something like a thick paper sheet. A photograph, sticked to the jacket with a Scotch tape. He took the photograph carefully out of there. A girl, of course. In a garden, or some city park. A nice smile, a healthy body, light blue eyes.

"Take it away from here. I don't want they to put their hands on it!"

The medic understood it all right. He was figuring the Afghans laughing at his girl, joking about her, after having killed him... And the med thought the same thing. He put away the photograph in his shirt's pocket.

"No worry. They will not."

"Thank you."

The medic breathed. Really could he do just so little? Was there something else to do, to say?

"I would want to do something more... "

"And what?" the Russian said. It was strange to look in the eyes of a man, a junk man who was going to...

"Yes. What?"

The only thing he could do was to leave that boy alone. Maybe so he could let it go, let loose, even cry, maybe. He had all the right to do it. But he had not the time to leave the place. A man come in, raised his hand with a gun, the Russian closed his eyes, and he...


Everyone in the "aul" knew everything there was to know, about what it had to happen. So nobody came to see the show. And it was good.

Because there was not the show there had to be...

The Russian kept his eyes close for almost half a minute, before to be sure to be still alive. Then he looked around. And he saw the man lying down on the floor, and the medic feeling his pulse touching the neck.

"Well, I did not break his neck. But he will stay on the sideline for a while," he mused. Then he took a knife from the belt of the man lying down and come to him.

"Why you did it?"

"Because I'm sick and tired of all that jazz. I thought to go away tomorrow, anyway, If I have to go now, it's not too bad. Now undress him and wear his dress upon yours. Even his shoes, better large than tight. Then tie him as better as you can and stuff something in his mouth. You don't need to kill him. We just need time to go!"

It was midday on Friday. The most important prayer of the most important day. And the longest too. Everyone was at the mosque of the "aul". They slipped out of the house, unseen and undisturbed They walked slowly, talking with each other. It was mostly the medic who talked.

"If some sentinels see us, maybe they will think that I want to visit an "aul" around here. They are used to that. Let's pray they mistake you for that guy in the house. They will think "he" wants to accompany me..."

"If not, I had taken a gun and a dagger to that guy... with two mags... Where are the ammo dumps?" the boy said, the adrenaline in his voice. Now he had retaken the taste for living. Even too much...

"Keep it cool, killer! The ammo and the explosive are dispersed, or else, if some of your planes hit the right place, then the whole "aul" blows up... However, there's no need for fireworks... We have to go as far as we can, before someone gets the picture... "

"However, if someone looks too long at us, he could see that... "

"And then he will have it coming to him. Let's go!"

A sentinel had it coming to him, a dagger got dirty, and an AK 47 changed hands.

Nobody heard anything.

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