The Things Inside Our Hearts


"Have you ever tried doogh before?" Nell placed both glasses on a nearby table and gestured for Carrie to take a seat.

"No," replied Carrie dubiously. "Have I been missing out?"

Nell scrutinised her seriously, and looked set to deliver another explanation of local life, but at the crucial moment her expression softened and a warm smile broke out across her full lips. "Probably not." She suppressed a giggle - "There are times when I can't imagine how anyone could miss out on anything to do with this country, except… well.... But try it – it is made of yoghurt and it's supposed to be good when you are thirsty."

Never one to shy away from the unfamiliar, Carrie raised the glass to her lips and took a small, cautious sip. It was a fruit-flavoured drink - smooth, sweet, creamy and slightly fizzy, like an ice cream float that had gone slightly rancid. Its one saving grace was that it was indeed thirst quenching, but for all Carrie cared it could have consisted of anything because her attention was now fixed firmly on the beautiful enigma sitting before her.

As a person, Nell was utterly unplaceable. Her skin was smooth and gave the impression of being a person who'd never done a hard day's work. She wore several silver rings on each hand, as well as an expensive-looking pair of studs in her ears. But as her eyes grew accustomed to the light, Carrie couldn't help but notice the dark, barely perceptible shadows beneath her eyes. Her neck was long and almost swan-like in its elegance, and as Carrie's eyes moved down it, she drank in every gentle contour of the woman's bronzed skin. Around her neck was a silver cross, and beyond that a gentle dip where her collar bones met. Now unable to stop herself, Carrie's eyes roamed lower. She was now gazing directly at the firm curves of Nell's breasts, imagining how they would feel and how they would taste should she have half the chance to experience them; and it was with these thoughts in mind that Carrie lost herself for a few seconds, not realising what she was doing until she heard the woman clear her throat slightly.

Appalled by her actions, Carrie looked up quickly and blushed under Nell's steady gaze.

"So where do you come from?" she blustered after an awkward silence. "I couldn't quite work out from your accent…"

Nell smiled and leaned back in her chair like she didn't have a worry in the world. "I am from the Netherlands – and I'm the only Dutch person in the country, if you must know. What about you?"


The statement seemed to confuse Nell. Carrie watched her eyebrows knit together and then rise as she processed this new piece of information - "But you don't sound like any of the British workers I have met."

"That's probably because I'm not," ventured Carrie. "I don't come from the same background – geographically or socially – and I guess it shows. I probably shouldn't even be here…" The disenchantment of her situation bit in hard once again, and Carrie's voice trailed off.

In a sudden wave of compassion, Nell reached out to take Carrie's hand. "Hey, nothing happens unless there is a reason," she said softly. "The world often has a strange way of working things out. For example - if you weren't here then maybe we'd never meet."

Carrie didn't answer. She was trying hard not to read between the lines, but the feeling she got from this woman's touch was truly breathtaking.

"So what do you do here?" she asked after an awkward pause.

"Well, I always used to think of myself as a humanitarian worker," began Nell.


Nell glanced sadly towards the door. "But not so much anymore. Times change. I do my best, but it's very difficult, especially when I don't even work for my own country."

Carrie sensed that she was treading on dangerous ground, but was drawn to the topic like a moth to the flame and felt an endless supply of questions burning inside her. Eventually she settled on just one - "Which government do you work for then?"

Nell looked away. "In this day and age I don't think it matters anymore. On one side there are the Haves and on the other, the Have Nots. I work for a Have. Which particular one is quite beside the point. They are all horribly similar and they do as little as they can to make the world a better place."

A strange expression flashed across Nell's eyes, its intensity causing Carrie to catch her breath. She thought back to her day at work – to the conversation with Forster and the knee-jerk deportation order. Nell was playing a dangerous game and Carrie felt honour-bound to warn her about it. As the young woman spoke, Nell reached in her bag for a packet of cigarettes, and lit one, blowing a plume of blue smoke into the shadowy room, before holding out the packet by way of an offer.

"No thanks, Nell. I gave up last week."

Undeterred Carrie continued to draw on her cigarette, taking her time to formulate the words, her mind evidently a million miles away.

"Forget your job, Carrie," she began, blowing out a thin stream of smoke. "Forget saying yes to things you don't agree with, and look at the situation as a person. Who are we when we cannot say the things inside our hearts?"

Carrie shook her head, knowing that what the Dutchwoman said was true. Whatever spin the media put on it, the facts were there as clear as day. Despite a new era of democracy within the country, the lifting of sanctions and the steady rebuilding of its ruined cities, the terrorist cells were still alive and kicking – just like the grinding poverty. The two went together like a hand in a glove and now, in this supposed time of peace, the situation was just as dangerous as it had ever been.

"What do you think, Carrie? If this man's idea is so crazy and totally removed from the truth, why do we want to lock him up and stop anyone else from hearing about it? A little extreme, don't you think?"

"I don't know… It's common practice these days."

"But are you happy that it is common practice? Think about it, Carrie. Freedom – the thing that's waved like a carrot in front of our donkey noses. But who has taken away the most during the last few years? The people who commit the atrocities, or the people who claim to be preventing them?" She paused, her eyes glittering with intensity, then lowered her voice – "If you ask me, they're all as bad as each other. All I'm saying is that you should just think about it. Maybe not accept things so quickly. There's nothing wrong with being different – and regardless of what anybody says, there's nothing wrong with asking questions. At the end of the day when everything is said and done, questions are the things that keep us human. Don't lose that part of yourself, Carrie."

"What exactly do you do, Nell?" asked Carrie after a loaded silence.

"I don't suppose that you have heard of P20G?"


"Give it time. You will, Maybe not today, or tomorrow, or next month or even next year, but you will and I doubt very much whether you will be so happy to have known me and to have sat and shared a drink with me."

Carrie hesitated, and the silence reached a crescendo. For as long as she could remember, she had always had an aversion to secret organisations and agendas. Her choice of career had in itself been a last ditch effort to reconcile herself with the idea of a fair world – and already the dream was fading fast. She caught Nell's eye and a spark of something flashed between them. Under normal circumstances the veiled revelation would have propelled Carrie straight back out through the door, but like herself, Nell was different, and what had passed between them was the spark of two kindred spirits seeing each other for the very first time.

The realisation coursed through Carrie's veins like a powerful drug, and without quite knowing why she began to crave this woman's touch even more than before. Her mind became fixated on the moment when their fingers had made contact – the softness and the electricity - but this time, inappropriate as it was, she felt a trickle of wetness escaping out into her panties.

"Are you ok, Carrie?" frowned Nell. "You're quiet."

"I'm fine. Just… thinking." Carrie ran her fingers through her hair, dislodging a couple of tangles in the process as her eye fell by chance into Nell's lap and the ripple of creases that led her to the point where the fabric met. The rush of pleasure, however, was fleeting. Carrie dared not lead herself any further in that direction. Her face had always been a window to her thoughts, and at this moment in time they were thoughts that were better kept to herself than shared. She needed a decoy and as she raised her eyes to a brightly-coloured painting above Nell's head, she saw her opportunity.

It was a picture of a woman - bold, naked, voluptuous and oozing temptation as her scarlet lips closed around a ripe peach. For a culture that preferred to keep its women shrouded the level of detail was awesome - from the semi-erect nipples to the way the shaved pussy glinted with the faintest hint of moisture gathering around its smooth velvet edges. Caught in her own erotic spell, she seemed oblivious to the cataclysmic scenes unfolding around her – the flowers dying, the bolts of lightning that came crashing from the sky and birds that fell to the ground like pieces of burnt paper. At the lower right hand corner of the painting were three half-starved men, crawling through the destruction and flailing towards the Venus-like figure with expressions of terror twisting their faces.

Startled, Carrie directed her gaze back towards Nell. "What's that about?"

Nell shot a glance over her left shoulder and surveyed the painting in question. "As for those of your women who are guilty of lewdness, call to witness four of you against them. And if they testify to the truth of the allegation then confine them to the houses until death take them or Allah appoint for them a way. It's from the Book of Women. As you can see there are only three men in the painting. The fourth is yet to come, and in the meantime… well, as you can see – the entire world begins to die. The theme isn't unusual – even in our own culture. Most people interpret it as a reminder of woman's evil, but I think I like to see it as a testimony to their power. If you look closely, you'll see that it is on the men's side of the picture that the flowers are dying."

Carrie gave the painting another cursory scan, but before she could realise it her eyes were on Nell's breasts again, watching as they heaved and relaxed in a rhythm that all but hypnotised her.

"Carrie," said Nell in a half whisper, "I know I said that there weren't many things to miss out on in this country, but there is one – a place..." She suddenly looked uncertain of herself – "I'd like to take you there."

It would have made no difference had Nell invited her to the burning pits of hell, as Carrie was in the grip of the most powerful crush she had ever experienced, and the offer to spend that much more time in the company of this enigmatic beauty had come like a gift. "When? Now?"

"Well, I suppose there is no time like the present. Do you have the time?"

"I have all day – and all night." Carrie had added the last comment in complete innocence, but the implications weren't lost on either of the women, who both started to blush. "How far is it?" asked Carrie quickly.

"About thirty miles – up in the mountains - but it really is worth it."

They smiled at each other, and without the need for further words an agreement was reached.

Nell had parked down a shady back alley just behind the coffee house. As with most of the foreign-owned cars, hers was an air-conditioned jeep with tinted windows and a strong enough suspension to withstand the ruts and potholes that littered the roads of the region.

By now the sky was ablaze with a stormy sunset. Streaks of pink, orange and a deep purple ran across the western landscape, but around them hovered dark clouds, closing in on the embers of the day with quiet menace. With the slow-moving winds it seemed unlikely that the weather would break until much later on that night, but in this light the bold red paintwork of Nell's car took on an eerie glow that unsettled the young Brit far more than the prospect of any coming storm.

Somehow Carrie had never expected her new friend to drive around in one of the more common muted shades. She was a woman who demanded acceptance for who she was - too independent and far too free to conform to any expectation. It was what Carrie admired most about her – although the accompanying risks were about to speak for themselves.

Carrie's eye hadn't been the only one to be caught by the bright scarlet of the car. Around it lounged a small group of men, three in all, leaning against the hot panels as they smoked cheap cigarettes and jeered at the approaching women. Carrie froze and remembered with horror that her head was still uncovered. At this time of day it was only inevitable that they'd come across some of the locals, but in the presence of her beautiful new friend, Carrie had forgotten everything. Nell, on the other hand, hadn't so much forgotten as simply stopped caring.

"Let me deal with this," she said, placing a hand on the Carrie's shoulder while she slipped on a pair of sunglasses and approached the predatory group. Carrie watched, holding her breath. Her heart was now pounding so hard that she half expected her ribcage to shatter from the heavy force. Running away would have been the sensible option, but somehow the total self-assurance of Nell was proving something of an inspiration and Carrie decided to stand her ground.

In the long-run their diplomatic immunity was ample protection from the sound lashing dictated by religious law. But that was assuming that the men didn't decide to execute their own brand of punishment in the meantime. It wasn't unheard of and had a reputation for being more severe than anything a prayer book could produce to placate the wrath of the gods.

Carrie watched with some relief as two of the men moved away, taken completely aback by the spirit of the advancing Dutchwoman. The third, however, proved more defiant and didn't so much as blink as he stubbed his cigarette onto the gleaming paintwork of the car.

"Hey there, Yankee woman!" he leered, "How much you charge?" Nell ignored him and continued her approach. "Hey! I talk to you! I want to know how much you charge for a big fat dick in your whore's –." He was cut off in his tracks by the realisation that Nell hadn't been deterred by his words. She was now towering over him, all 5ft8 of her, while he shrunk back over the bonnet, aghast that he could have been manoeuvred into such a position of defeat – by a woman.

"Get off my car," said Nell in a dangerously soft tone. Her adversary looked back at her, stupefied. "I said get off my car! Are you deaf or do you want me to pick you up and throw you off!"

The other men laughed. They were backing off slowly, and secretly enjoying the sight of their loud-mouthed friend having to face the music for once. It was an interesting situation, but judging by their movements, not one in which they wished to play any further part.

The ringleader had woefully underestimated the tenacity of the dark-haired temptress, and looked as though he'd swallowed a wasp. "Whore!" he growled, his jaw muscles clenching as his hands began to tighten into fists. He was about to explode, and Nell was standing directly in the line of fire. Another deep rumble tore from the skies and reverberated around the small courtyard while Carrie held her breath. Several seconds later a bolt of lightning forked across the sky, sinking one of its white-hot prongs into a distant point of the horizon. It was at this moment that the man made his move.

In the time it took for the flash to appear and fade, he sprang from the car like a puma. A blocked right hook, a blocked left hook, a failed grapple and a kick that saw him arc into the air and land with a thud on the concrete. The jaws of the other men dropped. Nell wasn't even out of breath. A faint flush of anger across her cheeks, but aside from that nothing at all to suggest she'd been in any physical encounter.

Spitting a mouthful of bloodstained spit into the dust the ringleader got to his feet, dusted himself off and then launched himself at Nell one more time. This time he was floored by a blow that sent an instant stream of blood gushing from his nose. He got to his feet, less steady this time, clutching his face with both hands and muttering guttural Arabic curses. His friends were already gone, terrified by the devil woman whose courage and strength had exceeded that of any man they'd ever known.

Nell waited for her limping assailant to disappear around the corner, before brushing the ash off her car and disabling the central lock.

"Well?" she asked, turning to face her only remaining spectator, "Are you going to get in, or would you prefer to run behind the vehicle?"

Carrie walked towards the car in a stunned silence, and got in at the passenger side, careful not to slam the door, drop crumbs on the seat, or do anything else that might incur the wrath of this feisty woman. For the first few seconds neither of them said a word. Nell was tight-lipped and clearly still annoyed about what had just passed, Carrie, on the other hand, felt it better to maintain the silence until things had simmered down.

"That was pretty impressive," she said once the car had pulled out on the main street. "Is that kind of thing part of your work?"

"Part of my life, yes; part of my work, no. We live in a technological age, but as you can see it is always useful for a woman to know how to defend herself when the time comes."

Carrie nodded, her mind still reeling from this woman's display. "I noticed you can speak Arabic, too."

"I can."

"And I suppose that's part of your work?"

"I speak several languages, Carrie, and they're not all work-related. I enjoy studying, that's all."

Carrie sensed that it was time to switch the topic to something that didn't involve fulfilling her own burning curiosity, but struggled to come up with anything different.

"So I have let most of my skeletons out of the closet. What do you do for a job, Carrie?" asked Nell as soon as the silence grew embarrassing.

"I'm at the embassy."

"I see. And how do you find it?"

"Truthfully? I don't know…" Carrie searched for the words. "It's not really… me. The whole atmosphere there leaves me cold."

"No friends yet?"

"No." Carrie hung her head in embarrassment. She'd never been what you'd call a social animal, often preferring her own company to that of other people. But in the past there had always been someone to fall back on, a close-knit circle of family and friends who were always there to back her up when the chips were down. Here she had no one, and the loneliness was beginning to bite.

"Then I repeat my earlier comment about being glad that we met. At least I've saved you the agony of death by Middle Eastern ice cream!"

Carrie forgot her self-pity in an instant and found herself laughing at the Nell's dry wit. "So how come the locals aren't dropping like flies if there are so many bugs in the ice cream?"

"Simple, darling. They don't eat it. It's not as popular as it is in other countries. And most of them couldn't afford it. It's a luxury product. I expect you witnessed the peace-keeping triumph at the marketplace today. As you can see, most of the people here are more concerned with making sure that their families don't starve."

"Hence the violence."

"Yes, hence the violence." Nell paused. "These are people who have so little that there is nothing left to lose apart from their own lives. Car bombs, suicide bombs, hijackings. It's all the same – their lives are so wretched that they are easily seduced by promises of the beautiful beyond."

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