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         They took their time going back to the girls. They fished and talked, and traveled slowly. And Chess felt relaxed enough to tell Gryff a few things about the game. He told him the story of the barmons, and also about the chase that had ended with Woolf’s men, and about Razor.
         Thinking back to that time, Chess could not quite believe that he had lived at Razor’s compound for so many weeks, without getting killed or going insane. It had been his work on the computers that had kept him useful to Razor, and focusing on it had kept him from getting too scared. He wondered if he would ever manage to get near a computer again.
         And Sariel, of course, had gotten him through it. And Ileana. He suddenly missed them with an emotion that felt like pain. But he did not say anything about that to Gryff.
         “Seriously,” Gryff muttered. “That’s what my parents always figured the world would become: ruled by armed gangs. They made all us kids train on weapons and self-defense since we were small.”
         “Yeah, but… I’m not sure my having a gun would protect me from someone like Razor,” Chess said, trying to quell a shudder. “I’m not sure anything could.”
         Gryff leaned back and reeled in the fishing line a bit. “I’d have a go at him,” he growled.
         Chess started to shake his head, but then he frowned at Gryff. “You know,” he ventured, “We’re about the same size, but you’re way stronger. That first night: I couldn’t stay off the ground.”
         Gryff tugged upward on the bending fishing pole. “I’ve been trained to fight since I was really young,” he repeated. “Didn’t they teach you that stuff in the army?”
         “Yeah, they tried,” Chess groaned. “I was too busy having stomach cramps to pay much attention. When faced with a threat, my best bet has always been to run.”
         Gryff snorted derisively. “Self-defense is mostly about maintaining your center of gravity and throwing your opponent off his. I can definitely show you the basics.” Suddenly, Gryff tipped his head, narrowing his eyes at Chess. “So… you wanna wrestle with me?” His expression was the closest Chess had ever seen him come to smiling. “Well,” Gryff said, shaking his head, “that’s something, I guess.”

         Chess managed to learn some of what Gryff knew about fighting, without feeling too much anxiety or getting too many bruises. He pictured trying to roll Razor to the ground, though, and nearly laughed at the idea. Of course, if he could manage to do it, the look on the guy’s face would be priceless. Then Chess took a deep breath and pushed the image out of his mind. If he ever saw Razor’s face again, it would probably be the last thing he would ever see.
         They lay out under the stars, the last night, with probably almost a day of travel still between them and the girls. It had been rainy earlier in the day, but the sky was clearing now.
         “My family says that some of those stars up there are satellites,” Gryff said. “They think the government – or whoever has the power – can use them to see everything we do. Do you believe that?”
         “Uh, yeah, sure,” Chess answered, watching a cloud move across the field of blue-black above them. “There are definitely lots of satellites out there… drones, too. But, really, I don’t think much attention is paid to anything besides known dissident camps.” And as long as they couldn’t identify him, Chess thought, he didn’t care, either. Like Ileana, he hoped never to come to anyone’s notice out here.
         Gryff was silent for a while, and then he asked, “Couldn’t you see doing this? Just the two of us, I mean? We could find a safe village to leave the girls at, and we could go off on our own.” He raised himself on one elbow and looked at Chess. “Have some adventures out there.”
         For a moment, Chess actually found himself thinking about it. What if, he wondered… what if he started acting as if he was doing stuff on purpose, instead of always reacting, being constantly buffeted by chance? But, no, he could never do it. He could not imagine leaving the girls -- or ever losing either one of them. But Chess grinned at Gryff while he shook his head, and silently wondered how the hell he had managed to screw up so badly and yet get so lucky, ending up with all these friends.
         When they finally got back, toward evening the next day, the girls were nowhere to be found.

Continued next page...


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Fighting for Freedom

“Well, I’m in the moment now, and at the moment I’d like to beat the crap out of him.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“Oh, what? I’m supposed to want to BE the crap I beat out of him?”
“Yes, Biff,” Joshua said somberly. “You must BE the crap.”
- Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

         After yet another quote from writer Christopher Moore, who took me right off the subject a while back, I would like to return to the book A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. On its surface, this is a novel about two women who face hardships and dangers in Afghanistan, not only from the violence of the conflicts there, but also from the customs that are a part of the regional culture.
         However, running as a backdrop to the story, which begins in 1974 and spans three decades, is the recent history of the country. What I found most interesting about the book was the perspectives of the citizens at the various time points. Although the characters are fictitious, they offer viewpoints that might never occur to those of us watching from a great physical distance and an even greater cultural distance.
         The first major example of perspective is evident in the descriptions of the Soviet occupation. As Americans, we know that the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and battled for almost ten years against Afghan rebel forces that were called, collectively, Mujahideen. With the assistance of the U.S.A. and other countries, the Mujahideen eventually were victorious, winning freedom from the Soviet occupiers. However, one of the characters in the story views this differently:
“Women have always had it hard in this country, Laila, but they’re probably more free now, under the communists, and have more rights than they’ve ever had before. ... Of course, women’s freedom” -- here, he shook his head ruefully -- “is also one of the reasons people out there took up arms in the first place.”
By “out there” ... he meant those regions where men who lived by ancient tribal laws had rebelled against the communists and their decrees to liberate women...
- A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini



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