The men scaled the brick wall and dropped into a courtyard behind a line of two story buildings. Rubble and twisted iron lay strewn about. The mercenaries picked their way through the rubble and sat down along the building in the shade. In the distance machine gun fire crossed the city, large vehicles moved about with a loud groan and jets streaked across the sky. The men were making their way across town but had been caught in a crossfire between troops and rebels.
“Which way to get across to the bank?” the first man, Ahmad asked.
“I don’t know,” Omar answered.
“You are supposed to know,” Ahmad answered, thumping him on the side with his fists. Omar ignored him and watched a wall that had a massive crack running down it.
The third man, Mohammed, was holding his gun tightly and biting his lip. He was the ugliest man in the group and they called him dog-boy. Even his two friends called him that. He did not speak very much.
Ahmad looked across to the wall Omar was watching. “What is it?” he asked.
Omar ignored him.
“What is it?” he yelled again.
“I thought I saw a hand on top of that wall there, the whole wall shook, like someone was trying to climb it.”
“I don’t want to kill anyone, I just want to get to the bank and do the job. I had to do a lot to get us that job guarding the bank.”
“If someone comes over that wall with a gun we have to shoot them.”
“Lets just get out of here.” Ahmad said.
“No lets wait, I need to get my breath back.”
A machine gun echoed in the street behind them, nearby dust rose into the sky. The noise of the gun was a constant hammering and it scared them.
“Dog-boy, you OK?”
Dog-boy did not speak.
“Any one got any water?” Ahmad asked.
“Dog-boy has some bottles in his back pack.”
“Dog-boy, give me a drink.”
Dog-boy looked at Ahmad and smiled. His mouth was full of purple gums, he did not have many teeth and those left were black.
“In Australia they have toothpaste that grows back any teeth you have lost,” Ahmad said.
“In Australia,” Omar said. “You been to Australia dog-boy?”
Dog-boy smiled again and laughed.
“We should call you monkey-boy,” Omar said and laughed. “In Australia they would shoot you dog-boy, as soon as you arrived.”
Dog-boy smiled and nodded at him. No one was sure if he understood anything.
“They would not shoot him,” Ahmad said, “it does not work that way in the West.”
“All I know is that if I were in Australia I would not have come back here to fight.” Omar said.
“I am going back when I can. In Australia you can make as much in a month than you can all year here.”
“In Australia, in Australia,” Omar mocked him.
They sat in silence.
“This money better be good to guard this bank.” Omar continued.
“It is good.”
“It better be.”
The wall rocked again and the men looked over toward it. From another part of the wall a machine gun slid over the top and opened fire on them. The bullets hit the bricks all around them, masonry and dust exploded all around them. Omar and dog-boy ran around the corner of the house, Ahmad fell over on his side, a bullet had entered him and hit his spine. He lost all control over the lower half of his body. He lay quietly in surprise and watched as the shooter looked over the fence and then dropped down and disappeared.
Ahmad was alone. There was no pain, but the absence of pain was even more terrifying. He felt strangely free, like he was numb and floating.
“Omar,” he called out. His hands clenching in the dust around him pulling himself across to some bricks and blocks that lay about. “Omar! Mohammed!”
There was silence. It was very quiet. The wall rocked again but Ahmad could not look about to see, it was probably the wind.
He closed his eyes and then remembered his gun. He searched around blindly for it, but he could not lay a hand on it. He had nothing to clutch except dust.
“They will come back for me,” he said to himself. Even he was not certain if he meant his friends or the shooters.
He closed his eyes for it was the only comfort he could give himself. He remembered Australia. He worked in a laundry. It was hot work, heavy and uncomfortable. The people about him were all stupid people, the type that take the worst jobs but the money was good, he could often work overtime. He was allowed to do delivery work and he liked that, because he could be on his own and out in the world.
In Australia, he thought, there are rules, order. He had not known much about the Middle East except what his parents had told him.
He thought back to last summer, he had spent it in Port Macquarie, on the beach. He had fallen in love with a girl who had blonde hair and they spent their days in the water and on the sand.
“You are so funny Ahmad,” Sarah said to him.
“You swim funny, the waves scare you.”
“The waves don’t scare me,” he answered.
“You have to duck them, swim under them and don’t let them hit you.”
“I can take the waves,” he said.
At night they would go down on the beach and sit with her friends, they were all her friends. They had been kind to him.
“Ahmad? Where are you from?” someone asked him.
“My parents are from Syria.”
“A pretty bad place isn’t it?”
Ahmad had been offended, “No, it is very nice.”
They hired a car and he had driven down to the caves that formed out of sandstone up north. He remembered the road winding its way up the coast and the view of the waves as they crashed in. They had walked down to the rock pools. They saw a small octopus in a pool. Ahmad lifted a rock and smashed it down on the animal and it was crushed.
“Don’t do that!” Sarah had screamed. “That’s terrible.”
Ahmad laughed, “I saved your life, that was a killing octopus.”
“A killing octopus? That was cruel it was just sitting there.”
They had left and Ahmad had felt badly. He was sorry she had become so upset over an animal. As they drove back to town he wondered if he should apologize, maybe it would soften her but she had leaned against him and allowed him to put his hand over her shoulders.
“Ahmad, Ahmad,” someone said and shook him.
Ahmad opened his eyes and could see Omar shaking him. “Lets go, lets go.”
Ahmad closed his eyes again and tried to picture Sarah once more, her soft body and long blonde hair. It was so far from this place now.
“Why are you sleeping? Lets go.”
Omar rolled Ahmad over and could see the blood on his chest.
“Oh shit, you’ve been shot, can you stand up?”
Ahmad opened his eyes again. “I can’t get my legs…” he said.
Behind them the brick wall collapsed. Omar spun around but there was nobody there. It may have just fallen down.
Omar dragged Ahmad over to the house where he was hidden. He gave him the rifle he had dropped.
“I will be back,” Omar said and ran out of the courtyard.
The sound of gunfire erupted again but it was so close Ahmad could not tell where it was coming from, it was everywhere.
He closed his eyes again and pictured the beach.