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         Chess felt panic rising as he ran through the empty house where the girls should be waiting for them. He berated himself. Why had he ever left them? The old familiar voice of failure, which had been subdued lately, suddenly got loud: it was all his fault. He dropped his bag and stood, helpless. And going off with Gryff these past few days had felt more like a vacation than anything, he thought, his mind racing. A vacation from the girls -- and now they were lost somewhere. Maybe gone forever.
         He opened his mouth to speak, but Gryff shushed him. “Listen!”
         In the distance, just at the edge of his hearing, Chess made out sounds that were rhythmic, like the cries of geese, like voices. And then, definitely, he heard the sound of laughter.
         Stealthily, he and Gryff moved around the abandoned houses toward the sounds. After a few minutes, they rounded the corner of one last building and saw an open, grassy area spread before them. A short distance away, at the top of a gradual hill, Chess saw two large vehicles and a crowd of people.
         Gryff pulled out his binoculars. “I see the girls,” he muttered, and handed the glasses to Chess.
         Chess tried to hold the binoculars steady as he gasped for air. “I’m sure those are Razor’s trucks,” he said hoarsely. “Yeah.” He thought he recognized a few faces. “We have to get them out.”
         “Out of that mess?” Gryff hissed. “Look, how do you know she wasn’t just waiting for us to leave so she could call this guy to come pick her up?”
         Chess lowered the binoculars and reluctantly considered the possibility. What if Gryff was right, Chess wondered. What if Ileana had just been waiting for Chess to be safely away? He stared at the figures in the distance. Ileana would not be harmed, but what about Sariel? “No,” he decided, speaking breathlessly. “This was not planned. We know Razor’s men have been out looking for us. You’ve seen them, yourself.”
         “Okay,” Gryff sighed. “But Ileana’s not going to be hurt,” he reasoned, “from what you’ve told me. And she’s not going to let anything happen to her girlfriend, either. Right?” He shrugged off Chess’s frown. “So, we follow them back to old Razor’s and try to sneak in, maybe. But getting them out of here would be impossible.”
         Chess listened to Gryff’s words, let them crash around inside his panicked brain. They sounded reasonable. He gaped at the scene before him: the wall of people between him and the girls, and the hilltop advantage that they held. But there was no way of knowing what Razor would do. The girls were here, now, still unhurt. And he could not let them out of his sight again.
         With effort, he tried to clear his mind of all other voices, and he took a deep breath.

         “Okay,” Chess said quietly, measuring his words. “There’s a dozen of Razor’s men there, all armed with either rifles or handguns. The girls are sitting in the center of the camp. They don’t look like they are hurt or restrained, so I assume they could run.” He swallowed hard. What else did he see? “Uh, a few of them look like they’re building a fire, so they are all probably staying here for the night…”
         He glanced briefly at Gryff, and saw that the guy was staring at him intently.
         Chess raised the binoculars to his eyes again. “Okay, what else? The trucks are at the edge of the camp, kind of making a border. Surrounding the camp are tall weeds, some stands of trees… and at the far side, there’s what looks like…” He searched his memory. “Uh, I’m gonna say it’s a gazebo.”
         “Gazebo?” Gryff hissed, his eyes suddenly wide. “We better destroy that before anything else!”
         “What?” Chess stared at Gryff in utter confusion. “It’s just a gazebo.” He handed the binoculars back to Gryff and pointed at the structure. “I’m guessing this was probably a park or the center of town at one time. Uh… yeah…”
         “Oh…” Gryff looked relieved. “I thought it was… never mind.” He lowered the binoculars.
         Chess took another deep breath and realized that focusing his mind was helping him to feel calmer. “We… we have one semi-automatic rifle… a knife… a couple of grenades and some other explosives… and the advantage of surprise.” In the depths of his brain, a plan was beginning to form.

Continued next page...


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The More You Know

B.A.: And standing on a small hill overlooking the garden is a gazebo.
Three players together: A gazebo?!! ...
Bowman: Is it running away? Is it attacking? ...
Magic-user: I’m launching another volley of fireballs!!
- Knights of the Dinner Table: Lair of the Gazebo

         In A Thousand Splendid Suns, another notable perspective on current events is the different viewpoints that the characters give of Ahmad Shah Massoud, “the Lion of Panjshir.” He is the Mujahideen leader whom I first read about in Sebastian Junger’s Fire. In the interviews of that book, Massoud seems old and tired and fighting rather hopelessly against the Taliban in 2000-2001. Junger revealingly titled that section The Lion in Winter, conjuring images of an old Peter O’Toole playing a way-past-his-prime Henry II, whereas in A Thousand Splendid Suns, Massoud is in the prime of his life -- like Peter O’Toole in the earlier movie, Becket (1964). However, Massoud still comes across as noble: someone who has dedicated his life -- to the detriment of his own comfort and his own family -- to fighting those who would occupy the country and institute their own ideals.
         When he is fighting against the Taliban, from our western perspective, Massoud indeed seems heroic. And earlier, at the end of the war with the Soviets, he does appear to be the best leader when the country begins its slide into chaos:
It was dizzying how quickly everything unraveled. The leadership council was formed prematurely. It elected Rabbani president. The other factions cried nepotism. Massoud called for peace and patience... Accusations flew. Meetings were angrily called off and doors slammed. The city held its breath. In the mountains, loaded magazines snapped into Kalashnikovs. The Mujahideen, armed to the teeth but now lacking a common enemy, had found the enemy in each other.
- A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

         But after getting a different perspective on the Soviet occupation, which I mentioned last blog, there are suddenly varied dimensions to his motives. And, as Margaret Atwood’s character states in The Handmaid’s Tale: Better never means better for everyone... It always means worse, for some.



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