ELLIS WAS HURRYING to catch a train, and he was panicking even though he knew he was dreaming. First he could not park his car - he was driving Gill's Honda - then he could not find the ticket window. Having decided to get on the train without a ticket, he found himself pushing through a dense crowd of people in the vast concourse of Grand Central Station. At that point he remembered that he had dreamed this dream before, several times, and quite recently; and he never caught the train. The dreams always left him with an unbearable feeling that all happiness had passed him by, permanently, and now he was terrified that the same thing would happen again. He shoved through the crowd with increasing violence, and at last reached the gate. This was where he had previously stood watching the rear end of the train disappear into the distance, but today it was in the station. He ran along the platform and jumped aboard just as it started to move.
He was so delighted to have caught the train that he felt almost high. He took his seat, and it did not seem at all strange that he was in a sleeping bag with Jane. Outside the train's windows, dawn was breaking over the Five Lions Valley.
There was no sharp division between sleep and wakeful-ness. The train gradually faded until all that was left was the sleeping bag and the Valley and Jane and the sense of delight. At some point during the short night they had zipped up the bag, and now they lay very close together, hardly able to move. He could feel her warm breath on his neck, and her enlarged breasts were squashed against his ribs. Her bones prodded him, her hip and her knee, her elbow and her foot, but he liked it. They had always slept close together, he remembered. The antique bed in her Paris apartment had been too small for anything else anyway. His own bed had been bigger, but even there they had slept entangled. She always claimed that he molested her during the night, but he never remembered it in the morning.
It was a long time since he had slept all night with a woman. He tried to recall who was the last one, and realized it was Jane: the girls he had taken to his apartment in Washington had never stayed for breakfast.
Jane was the last and the only person with whom he had had such uninhibited sex. He ran over in his mind the things they had done last night, and he began to get an erection. There seemed to be no limit to the number of times he could get hard with her. In Paris they had sometimes stayed in bed all day, getting up only to raid the fridge or open some wine, and he would come five or six times, while she just lost count of her orgasms. He had never thought of himself as a sexual athlete, and subsequent experience proved that he was not, except with her. She freed something that was imprisoned, when he was with other women, by fear or guilt or something. No one else had done that to him, although one woman had come close: a Vietnamese with whom he had had a brief, doomed affair in 1970.
It was obvious that he had never stopped loving Jane. For the past year he had done his work, dated women, visited Petal and gone to the supermarket like an actor playing a part, pretending for the sake of verisimilitude that this was the real him, but knowing in his heart of hearts that it was not. He would have mourned her forever if he had not come to Afghanistan.
It seemed to him that he was often blind to the most important facts about himself. He had not realized, back in 1968, that he wanted to fight for his country; he had not realized that he did not want to marry Gill; in Vietnam he had not realized that he was against the war. Each of these revelations had astonished him and overturned his whole life. Self-deceit was not necessarily a bad thing, he believed: he could not have survived the war without it, and what would he have done if he had never come to Afghanistan other than tell himself he did not want Jane?
Do I have her now? he wondered. She had not said much, except I love you, dear, sleep well just as he was falling asleep. He thought it the most delightful thing he had ever heard.
"What are you smiling about?"
He opened his eyes and looked at her, "I thought you were asleep," he replied.
"I've been watching you. You looked so happy."
"Yes." He took a deep breath of the cool morning air and raised himself on his elbow to look across the Valley. The fields were almost colorless in the dawn light, and the sky was pearl-gray. He was on the point of telling her what he was happy about when he heard a buzzing noise. He cocked his head to listen.
"What is it?" she said.
He put a finger to her lips. A moment later she heard it. In a few seconds the noise swelled until it was unmistakably the sound of helicopters. Ellis had a sense of impending disaster. "Oh, shit," he said feelingly.
The aircraft came into view over their heads, emerging from behind the mountain: three hunchbacked Hinds bristling with armament and one big troop-carrying Hip.
"Get your head in," Ellis snapped at Jane. The sleeping bag was brown and dusty, like the ground all around them: if they could stay under it they might be invisible from the air. The guerrillas employed the same principle in hiding from aircraft - they covered themselves with the mud-colored blankets, called pattus, they all carried.
Jane burrowed down into the sleeping bag. The bag had a flap at its open end to hold a pillow, although there was no pillow in it at the moment. If they got the flap above them it would cover their heads. Ellis held Jane tight and
rolled over, and the pillowcase flopped over. Now they were practically invisible.
They lay on their stomachs, he half on top of her, and looked down at the village. The helicopters seemed to be descending.
Jane said: "They aren't going to land here, surely?"
Ellis said slowly: "I think they are. ..."
Jane started to get up, saying: "I've got to go down - "
"No!" Ellis held her shoulders, using his weight to force her down. "Wait - just wait a few seconds and see what will happen - ''
"But Chantal - "
She gave up the struggle, but he continued to hold her tightly. On the roofs of the houses, sleepy people were sitting up, rubbing their eyes and staring dazedly at the huge machines beating the air like giant birds above them. Ellis located Jane's house. He could see Fara, standing up and wrapping a sheet around herself. There beside her was the tiny mattress on which Chantal lay hidden by bedding.
The helicopters circled cautiously. They're aiming to land here, Ellis thought, but they're wary after the ambush at Darg.
The villagers were galvanized. Some ran out of their houses, while others ran in. Children and livestock were rounded up and herded indoors. Several people tried to flee, but one of the Hinds flew low over the pathways out of the village and forced them back.
The scene convinced the Russian commander that there was no ambush here. The troop-carrying Hip and one of the three Hinds made their ungainly descent and landed in a field. Seconds later, soldiers emerged from the Hip, jumping out of its huge belly like insects.
"It's no good," Jane cried. "I'll have to go down now."
"Listen!" said Ellis. "She's in no danger - whatever the Russians want, they're not after babies. But they might be after you."
"I must be with her - "
"Stop panicking," he shouted. "If you're with her she will be in danger. If you stay here she's safe. Don't you see? Rushing to her is the worst thing you could possibly do."
"Ellis, I can't - " "You must." "Oh, God!" She closed her eyes. "Hold me tight."
He gripped her shoulders and squeezed.
The troops encircled the little village. Only one house was outside their net: the home of the mullah, which was four or five hundred yards from the other houses, on the footpath that led up the mountainside. As Ellis noticed this, a man came scurrying out of the house. He was close enough for Ellis to see his henna-dyed beard: it was Abdullah. Three children of different sizes and a woman carrying a baby followed him out of the house and ran behind him up the mountain path.
The Russians saw him immediately. Ellis and Jane pulled the sleeping bag farther over their heads as the airborne helicopter veered away from the village and came to hover over the path. There was a burst from the machine gun low in the nose of the helicopter, and dust exploded in a neatly stitched line at Abdullah's feet. He stopped short, looking almost comical as he nearly fell over, then he turned around and ran back, waving his hands and yelling at his family to return. When they approached the house another warning burst from the machine gun prevented them from entering, and after a moment the whole family headed downhill toward the village.
Occasional shots could be heard through the oppressive beat of the rotor blades, but the soldiers appeared to be firing into the air to subdue the villagers. They were entering houses and driving out the occupants. The Hind that had rounded up the mullah and his family now began to circle the village, very low, as if looking for more strays.
"What are they going to do?" said Jane in an unsteady voice.
"I'm not sure."
"Is this a ... reprisal?"
"What, then?" she persisted.
Ellis felt like saying How the fuck should I know? but instead he said: "They may be having another try at capturing Masud."
"But he never stays near the scene of a battle."
"They may hope he's getting careless, or lazy; or that he might be wounded. . . ." In truth Ellis did not know what was happening, but he feared a My Lai-style massacre.
The villagers were being herded into the courtyard of the mosque by soldiers who seemed to be treating them roughly but not brutally.
Suddenly Jane cried: "Fara!"
"What is it?"
"What's she doing?"
Ellis located the roof of Jane's house. Fara was kneeling beside Chantal's tiny mattress, and Ellis could just see a little pink head peeping out. Chantal appeared still to be asleep. Fara would have given her a bottle at some time in the middle of the night, but although Chantal was not yet hungry the noise of the helicopters could have wakened her. Ellis hoped she would stay asleep.
He saw Fara place a cushion beside Chantal's head, then pull the sheet up over the baby's face.
"She's hiding her," said Jane. "The cushion props open the cover to let air in."
"She's a clever girl."
"I wish I was there."
Fara rumpled the sheet, then draped another sheet untidily over Chantal's body. She paused for a moment, studying the effect. From a distance the baby looked exactly like a hastily abandoned pile of bedding. Fara seemed satisfied with the illusion, for she went to the edge of the roof and descended the steps into the courtyard.
"She's leaving her," said Jane.
"Chantal is as safe as she could possibly be in the circumstances - ''
"I know, I know!"
Fara was pushed into the mosque with the others. She was one of the last to go in. "All the babies are with their mothers," said Jane. "I think Fara should have taken Chantal. ..."
"No," said Ellis. "Wait. You'll see." He still did not know what would happen, but if there was going to be a massacre Chantal was safest where she was.
When everyone seemed to be within the walls of the mosque, the soldiers began to search the village again, running in and out of the houses, firing into the air. They were not short of ammunition, Ellis thought. The helicopter that had stayed in the air flew low and scanned the outskirts of the village in ever-increasing circles, as if searching.
One of the soldiers went into the courtyard of Jane's house.
Ellis felt her go rigid. "It'll be all right," he said into her ear.
The soldier entered the building. Ellis and Jane stared fixedly at the door. A few seconds later he came out and quickly ran up the outside staircase.
"Oh, God, save her," whispered Jane.
He stood on the roof, glanced at the rumpled bedding, looked around at the other nearby roofs, and returned his attention to Jane's. Fara's mattress was nearest to him: Chantal was just beyond it. He poked Fara's mattress with his toe.
Suddenly he turned away and ran down the stairs.
Ellis breathed again and looked at Jane. She was ghastly white. "I told you it would be all right," he said. She began to shake.
Ellis looked at the mosque. He could see only a part of the courtyard inside. The villagers appeared to be sitting down in rows, but there was some movement to and fro. He tried to guess what was going on in there. Were they being interrogated about Masud and his whereabouts? There were only three people down there who might know, three guerrillas who were from Banda and who had not melted into the hills with Masud yesterday: Shahazai Gul, the one