Poppies were springing up in the fields beyond Castelnau like bright-red drops of blood staining the countryside. Seeing the flowers, Gabriella Madison took a deep breath. Lifeblood and hope eternal.
She closed her eyes and felt a stinging sensation inside her chest. Poppies reminded her of David. And poppies reminded David of her. But now he was in Algeria, perhaps already in the company of Ophélie’s mother, Anne-Marie. How Gabriella wished he were standing here beside her instead.
Ophélie’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Bribri, do you think it will be today that Papa and Mama get back?”
Gabriella shook her head, her red hair glistening like sun on the river. “Not today, Ophélie. But very soon.”
Were they even now laughing together, reliving old times, catching up on seven lost years? Was David explaining what had been happening here in lazy Castelnau? Had he even mentioned her name to Anne-Marie?
They had been walking, Gabriella and a whole troop of chil¬dren, toward the edge of Castelnau, where the village fanned out into farmland and vineyards. The children trailed behind their young maîtresse in pairs, holding hands and chattering excitedly.Gabriella glanced back to see Sister Rosaline, red faced and out of breath, waving from the end of the line.
“All here,” the nun called out happily in her singsong French. “All forty-three.”
Gabriella waved back, smiling at the children. “Do you want to go a little farther? We’re almost to the park.”
A chorus of Oui, Maîtresse sang back to her, so they proceeded down a narrow dirt road into a grassy sanctuary enclosed by tall cypress trees. At the far end of the field were several seesaws, some monkey bars, and an old swing set.
This walk outside the orphanage had become a daily ritual after lunch, weather permitting. Mother Griolet had hesitated at first. What if people began to question? After all, the population of the orphanage had doubled in a few short months. But Gabriella and Sister Rosaline had insisted. The new arrivals were loud, afraid, and restless. Together the children acted like pent-up animals, and they needed to be uncaged in a space larger than the courtyard inside St. Joseph.
In truth, Gabriella worried for Mother Griolet. With David away and all the new children here, the old nun’s predictable schedule had come tumbling down.
“It’s always this way at first,” she had reassured Gabriella. “During the Second World War we scrambled for a while, but we eventually settled into a routine.”
But Gabriella was not convinced. Over fifteen years had passed since that war, and Mother Griolet was no longer young. Still spry, yes, but she was suddenly looking quite old beneath her habit. Her face looked more wrinkled, and her green eyes had lost some of their sparkle.
Forty-three orphans and forty-two American college women would be plenty for an energetic young woman to handle. Perhaps too much for a woman of seventy-two.
Presently Ophélie left her friends to join Gabriella.
“Bribri,” the child began, fiddling with Gabriella’s long red curls, “what will it be like when Mama, Papa, and you are all here together?” She scrunched up her nose, her brown eyes shining and sincere.
Gabriella cleared her throat and stroked Ophélie’s hair. “It will be a wonderful reunion, Ophélie. An answer to prayer.”
“And who do you think Papa will choose? You or Mama? And who will I live with?”
Gabriella bent down beside the little girl. She hoped her voice sounded light and carefree. “Dear Ophélie. Your papa will not choose your mama or me. He will choose you! He will pick you up and swing you around, and the whole orphanage will ring with your laughter. Don’t you worry now. Don’t worry.”
Take your own advice, Gabriella thought as she sent Ophélie off with a soft pat on the back. Two days ago David Hoffmann had kissed her—really kissed her—and then he had left on a humanitarian mission to a country gone mad. She did not want to dwell on it, for the possibilities were too frightening. Better to think of the children.
A fight broke out between two boys, and Gabriella dashed over, yelling, “Eh! Ça suffit!” She pulled the children apart, scolded them playfully, and began chasing several of the smallest boys, tagging one and calling, “You’re it!” A few minutes into the game she stumbled, out of breath, to the side of the field, crushing a red poppy beneath her feet.
David Hoffmann stood at the bassin de la Joliette in Marseille. Amid the huge ferries, paquebots, and steamships, he spied a comparatively small black-and-white sailboat. The Capitaine was empty now, except for a grisly old Frenchman at the helm.
The wharf was awash in families debarking with trunks and suitcases. Adults and children alike looked confused, sad, hopeless. David shook his head. One little orphanage in the south of France sheltering a handful of pied-noir and harki children was a drop in the bucket. These people were French citizens, but where would they go? Did France want them? David knew the answer was no.
He slipped onto the Capitaine and greeted the rough sailor with a handshake.
“Bonjour,” Jacques replied. “You sure you want to go back there now? It’s a bad situation and is only going to get worse.”
“Yes, I’m sure. I have to go.”
Jacques looked at the ground. “I can’t go back, M. Hoffmann. There’s nowhere for me to dock. The ferries are taking up all the room. Thousands of pied-noirs are running away faster than the mistral gusts down the Rhône. If you’re sure you have to go back, I advise you to take a ferry. It’ll be a lot safer, and I guarantee you there’ll be room—nobody’s going back to Algeria.”
David frowned, contemplating the sailor’s words, then shrugged. “I understand, Jacques. Thank you for all your help. There are many children in Castelnau who are grateful to you.”
The two men shook hands.
“Bonne chance, M. Hoffmann. You be careful now. Raving crazy, that country is. Raving crazy.”
David stood on the deck of a huge empty ferry, his tall frame silhouetted against the night sky. The wind whipped across the sea. His hair blew back, his eyes squinted against the wind, and his jacket billowed and filled with air. He gripped the railing with his good hand, his other shoulder and arm bandaged and tucked inside his leather jacket.
The whitecaps rose up to touch the sky, and a thousand stars blinked back, as if flirting with the water. The sea air smelled fresh and strong. He wished briefly that Gabriella were snuggled beside him, then pushed the thought away.
He had twenty-four hours alone before he would step into a world of chaos, and he wanted to spend this one night well. The scene before him reminded him of a night on the beach one month ago. The night of his surrender, he called it in his mind. His surrender to the God of Gabriella.
There was no doubt that something inside of him had changed. In that moment he had actually felt forgiven, and too many coincidences had happened lately to deny intellectually that God seemed to be up to something in his life. He was twenty-five years old, yet he was somehow new. A new man. A new conscience. A Presence was with him. He had a suspicious feeling he would never be able to get rid of this God now even if he wanted to.
It was midafternoon at the Place du Gouvernement in downtown Algiers. The great Cathedral of Saint Philippe formed an imposing barrier between the steep, narrow roads of the Casbah and this tree-filled square that teemed with people shopping, sipping mint tea at a café, and milling about in carefree jubilation. There was a feeling of peace and security among the population of Algiers. The cease-fire to end Algeria’s seven-year war for independence from France had gone into effect two days before.
The noise from the square was merry, loud, jovial. This was the Algiers Hussein remembered and loved. Seven years of war had stolen his boyhood away. At fourteen, he had seen more violence than many a soldier. He secretly longed for peace. Beyond the war, beyond the hatred.
Now was the time to breathe openly, to relax, to hope. No piednoirs had ventured out into the sunshine today, Hussein mused with grim satisfaction. Ali had predicted they would leave en masse before official independence was declared on July 2. Algeria would be rid of the filthy French and their colonial ways.
Yet Hussein still wished he could find the woman, Anne-Marie, to placate Ali’s fury. Ali Boudani was a man obsessed with revenge.
He was at one moment delirious with joy, the next moment brooding with contempt. Algeria was independent, but Ali’s personal mission was not over.
Hussein glanced up at the sky, hearing a noise that sounded like a plane overhead, or maybe a missile being launched. Then his body tensed. He stood transfixed in the shadow of a building as, above him, one, then two bright flashes exploded with a terrible boom in the center of the Place du Gouvernement. Debris from the street, chairs from cafés, and bodies seemed to dance on the tips of the bright flames before his eyes. For a brief moment the deafening roar of the explosions silenced the screams coming from everywhere in the square.
Clutching one another, panic on their faces, people clambered toward the shadows of the buildings, some fleeing in the direction of the cathedral. Dead and maimed lay in the center of the square; a shrill cry of agony pierced through the din of confused voices. Everyone stopped; no one dared move. Would more bombs follow?
Then almost at once, the masses surged forward to help the wounded. Arab FLN terrorists worked alongside the French police for perhaps the first time in Algiers’ bloody history. Hussein watched it all. An old woman, bloodied and disfigured, collapsed against the stones of a building. Three men lay dead. The peaceful leafy square of five minutes earlier resembled a battleground. Hussein turned on his heels and fled.
It was a lie! There was no peace for Algeria! Up the layers of tangled, dilapidated buildings of the Casbah Hussein ran, until he stumbled into the one-room office where Ali sat.
Already the Casbah was ringing with cries of indignation and fury.
“Ali! The Place du Gouvernement! Explosion!” Hussein choked on his words and took in gulps of air, his lungs burning.
Ali rose and stepped into the street as young men poured forth from their whitewashed stalls.
Other members of the FLN were already holding men back, some of them forcefully.
“Not yet! Don’t run to your deaths. This is what the OAS is waiting for. Hold your ground. It’s their last effort to win back Algeria.”
Ali grabbed Hussein by the shoulders. “It’s not over yet. You aren’t afraid of bloodshed, my boy?”
Hussein gazed at him and shook his head, knowing all the while that the fear in his eyes betrayed him.
“Go then, and tell me what you see. Go to Bab el-Oued and wait. Take it all in. We must be ready.”
Hussein turned and escaped through a narrow alleyway. Tears ran down his cheeks. Oh, for peace. For even a moment of peace. Then he could play as he had when he was seven and war had been only a handful of toy soldiers on the floor of his room.
A ricochet of bullets sounded in the street below the building where Anne-Marie Duchemin was staying with fellow pied-noir Marcus Cirou. She watched Moustafa hurry a young man into their building, and she quickly limped to the mirror that hung on the flaking wall. She felt a pang of despair as her reflection stared back at her. Her black hair drooped loosely upon her shoulders. She cringed at the way her protruding cheekbones accentuated her deep-set and dull eyes. Her skin looked pale and almost yellowish. She turned away.
A thick gray sweater hung impossibly over her thin frame, but she felt completely naked. David Hoffmann was about to walk back into her life, and she was not ready. Her heart belonged to Moustafa. With him, she was not afraid to be sick and disheveled. She read devotion in his eyes. But David! Her lover when they were but adolescents. She had not seen him in so long.
Suddenly she felt afraid. He was risking his life and wasting his time to help her. Why? Would he be angry to see what she had become? A pitiful, withered flower …
The door swung wide, and David stood in the opening and paused. Anne-Marie swallowed hard and met his eyes. His six-foot one-inch frame had filled out so that he looked every bit the grown man he was. His black eyes were softer than she remembered, and the tenderness she saw in them scared her even more. His coarse black hair was swept back away from his face, but one wisp tickled his forehead. A black leather jacket hung loosely over his shoulders. As he leaned down to set a suitcase on the floor, she noticed his bandaged arm. He straightened up, not moving forward, as if waiting for her invitation.
His mouth whispered Anne-Marie without making a sound.
Oh, you are a beautiful man, she thought, fighting to stand her ground, willing herself against running into his arms, forcing herself to forget that last embrace seven years ago when he had kissed her good-bye even as the tiny seed of Ophélie was forming in her womb.
David cleared his throat. “Anne-Marie.” He said it almost reverently, and then he moved toward her, slowly, taking long strides. He reached out and touched her frail hand, then brushed her face. “My dear Anne-Marie.”
She heard the sorrow, the groan of pain in his voice, the hurt for her suffering. She bit her lip and closed her eyes, but she could not keep the tears from flowing. She rested her head against his chest and let his strong arm enclose her as she sobbed like a terrified child who had been rescued at last.
Somewhere inside she watched the years of horror and death, killing and running for life, the years that had followed her happiest moments with David. If only … if only … The questions of a lifetime swam before her in liquid reality until they ran down her cheeks. Her feeble energy was spent. And though she had not uttered a word, she had the feeling that David Hoffmann understood perfectly everything she felt.
David was not prepared for the emotions that surfaced in him as he held Anne-Marie in his arms. He had been playing happily in his little university world while this woman lived in hell. He hadn’t known. He had cared, and yet … Even the smuggling operation in France, with all its dangers, could not compare with what he saw in Anne-Marie: true human suffering. The weight of guilt pulled on his shoulders and bound him more tightly than the sling in which his arm rested. A sick, painful anger welled up in his soul as he held her, this woman who was no more than a dried twig fallen from a branch.
God, forgive me, he prayed as she sobbed into his shirt. I had no idea. She looked more like an aging grandmother or a malnourished child than a twenty-four-year-old woman. She didn’t want pity, David was sure, but pity overwhelmed him anyway. A fleeting thought crossed his mind. If only … if only she had left with him for America. Ophélie would have been born there. They would have made it, somehow. If only …
And then the angry why? Why? Why did life twist and turn and torture?
He stepped back from Anne-Marie and let his good arm fall to his side. A searing pain shot through his shoulder, and he grimaced.
“What happened?” Anne-Marie whispered. She touched his bandaged arm.
Silence engulfed them.
Anne-Marie wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her sweater. “I’m sorry.”
“Perhaps we could sit down for a minute?”
“Yes, of course.” Anne-Marie shot him a weak smile. “I’m sorry. I’m afraid I … I’m so glad to see you, David. Thank you for coming. It’s the worst time.”
He gently took her arm and led her out of the room. “Moustafa is waiting for us in the kitchen.”
“Yes, yes. You must be tired after your trip. Let me fix you some mint tea.”
The small kitchen was dark. Moustafa Dramchini stood with his back toward them, already preparing the tea. He turned and greeted them with sullen eyes. David helped Anne-Marie to her seat as Moustafa set a tray on the table. He rested his hand on Anne-Marie’s back and eyed David suspiciously.
“When do you plan to leave?”
“It’s your call, Moustafa. As soon as you can arrange it.”
Anne-Marie looked up. “Tell me of Ophélie. How is she?”
David relaxed and smiled. “She’s fine. She’s a beautiful, happy child who misses her mother very much.” He reached into his pocket. “She sent this for you.” He held out a drawing of a rainbow with the words I love you, Mama written in the cursive of a six-year-old.
Anne-Marie’s eyes filled with tears. She ran her fingers lovingly over the picture and then pressed it to her breast. She closed her eyes and let the tears trickle down her cheeks. “Ophélie.”
The men watched her in silence. Finally she spoke, her voice catching. “I’ve clung to the hope for all these months. I’ve forced myself to believe, to be strong. But to know for sure that she is safe. To dream of holding her in my arms again soon. Now I can cry, and I don’t know if it’s joy or fear or sorrow. Now I can believe that we’re going to be okay.”
David put his hand inside his leather coat and felt for a gold chain, which he handed to Anne-Marie. “Ophélie sent this as well. She wanted me to have it, to keep me safe. She said it has kept her safe, and now it will bring you back safely to her also.”
Anne-Marie held the chain with the small Huguenot cross on it as if it were a priceless jewel. “My father’s cross. I’d forgotten how beautiful it was. Thank you.” She traced its outline with her finger and then slipped it around her neck. “Ophélie never realized the real significance of it?”
David smiled. “I don’t know if I would say that. She has learned an awful lot about the cross and what it stands for in the time she has been at the orphanage. But she never understood why it was so important for us.” He closed his eyes, picturing his daughter. “She’s a secretive child. Do you know she kept your letter hidden and learned to read so she could know what you were telling her?”
Anne-Marie shook her head. “How did you find it?”
“I didn’t. It was Mother Griolet, the nun in charge of the orphanage. I had no idea.”
He explained how he had found Ophélie, a terrified and wounded child, in Paris and of his decision to bring her to the orphanage. “I had no idea what to do with a small child. But I knew Gabby would.”
David’s face reddened against his will. “Gabriella Madison. She’s a young woman on the exchange program who helps out with the orphanage.”
“The woman with the red hair,” Moustafa volunteered.
“That’s the one,” David answered. He didn’t want to talk about Gabriella now. There would be time later to tell Anne-Marie and time to understand what he was reading in the angry eyes of Moustafa.
Darkness blanketed the streets of Algiers as Moustafa slipped outside. “I’ll be back shortly.” His soft brown eyes, filled with distrust, met David’s.
“Good.” David nodded. “Then we’ll discuss the plans for leaving.”
David watched him go into the street. He was eager to get Anne-Marie to the port and out of the war-ridden city. They would cross the Mediterranean, and then life would resume. Anne-Marie would be with Ophélie. Her health would improve. And he would be back with Gabriella.…
The sound of a chair being dragged across the floor startled him, and he turned from the window. Anne-Marie stood by the kitchen table, a thick robe now pulled around her thin frame.
“I didn’t mean to surprise you. Would you like some more tea?”
He pulled out a chair, and they both sat down. “No, I’m fine.”
The silence was heavy. A hundred questions raced through his mind. Where to begin?
Anne-Marie played with the ties on her robe, twisting them in her hands. Her head was bent, and for a brief moment he remembered her as a radiant, rebellious adolescent. His heart ached.
“Are you feeling strong enough to leave?” he asked, breaking the quiet.
She did not look up but still wrapped the ties around her hands.
“I’m sorry I never answered your letters,” she said. “How could I answer? How could I write you and keep silent about what was happening to me?”
David reached over and took her hand. “What did your parents say when they found out you were pregnant?”
Anne-Marie looked up. “They did all the right things. They got angry. Papa ranted for a while. Then they apologized. They listened. We talked. We cried a lot. They asked me to let you know, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t put that on you.” Her eyes wore the saddest of expressions. “I knew you would come back—just to hurt your father. You’d come back for all the wrong reasons.”
David stiffened and set his jaw. She was right. Perhaps he would have come back to Algeria out of rebellion and not love. Intellectually he had loved her. Physically he had loved her. But emotionally? He could not say.
“I cared deeply about you, Anne-Marie.”
“I know that.”
He winced inwardly at the stabbing guilt he felt.
“Mama was a saint about it. I broke their hearts, and they for¬gave me. And oh, how they loved Ophélie. Captain Duchemin, the staunch, strong military man! I wish you could have seen him cooing at his granddaughter.” She smiled at the memory. “He rocked her to bed every night and sang her the most beautiful songs. We were a happy, odd family for a while. Until Ali Boudani ripped everything apart.” She stared at him, and her face grew hard and determined. “You know the rest.”
“Perhaps not everything,” he whispered. “Tell me about Moustafa.”
Anne-Marie looked angry. Then she smiled. “Dear Moustafa. My childhood friend, the one who helped me escape to France, then betrayed me to Ali.” Her voice was barely audible. “The one who loves me.”
“And do you love him?”
She closed her eyes and withdrew her hand from his. He was sorry that he had asked her so soon.
Softly she answered, “I love him, David. I love him, and every time he leaves this filthy apartment, I’m terrified I’ll lose him. I am so afraid that he will be found in some back alley with his throat slit, like the other harkis. Like his father. These Arabs have remained loyal to France and fought alongside the French soldiers. But they aren’t French, and they’re seen as traitors by their own people. What hope is there for the harki families?”
She stood and held on to the back of the chair. “I love him, and I wish I didn’t. What future is there for us? An ostracized Arab and a pied-noir. And he’ll stay for his people. He won’t come to France, I know. I’m so afraid that in a few days he will walk out of my life forever. And it hurts so much. It hurts like … it hurts the way …”
She stopped, but David knew the end of the sentence. It hurts the way it hurt when you walked out of my life seven years ago.
David woke abruptly, his body drenched with sweat. He pulled the sheets off and struggled to remember where he was. Algiers … Anne-Marie.
He swallowed hard and propped himself up on the mattress with his good arm. He remembered listening to the locusts chirping in the summer nights long ago. Then he would lie awake for a long time, thinking of Anne-Marie and their clandestine encounters where their passion was spent.
He closed his eyes to the memory. They had been teenagers. Rebellious kids. His first experience of love. He had not known what had happened to her when he returned to the States, and yet he felt responsible now, housed in the same apartment. It was not lust that made him want her again. Perhaps it was pity. Or the desire to protect. For a moment he considered slipping into her room, holding her in his arms, kissing away the pain.
Moustafa lay a few feet from him, asleep. The young Arab loved her fiercely, David could see. His eyes burned with it. But Anne-Marie was right. No pied-noir would marry a harki. It would mean ostracism from both societies.
Why was life so complicated? he wondered angrily. Why was there an angelic redhead waiting for him on the other side of the Mediterranean with the taste of his kisses on her lips? Yet he was not afraid for Gabriella. She had the spunk and the faith to pull her through a long line of disappointments. Yes, the faith.
He groaned to himself. Anne-Marie did not need him. She had lived through hell, and though scarred, she would come out fighting.
But Ophélie. Surely he owed it to his daughter to give her an intact family. He rolled over and closed his eyes, listening again to the heavy, encumbering silence. Maybe if he listened long enough, this strange new God would tell him something.
By the time he finally drifted back to sleep, the first light of dawn was peeking over the horizon.
He awoke to Moustafa shaking him and saying, “Listen! Do you hear it?” David squinted and blinked, his eyes adjusting to the morning light. The sound of gunfire peppered the air. “What is it?”
“The OAS. You know, the secret group made up of dissenters from the French army. They’ve taken over the neighborhood during the night. It could get very bloody.”
“Right here in Bab el-Oued?” David was incredulous. “How do
you know?” Moustafa met his eyes with his own somber gaze. “I know.” David quickly dressed himself. “Should we tell Anne-Marie?” “She’s already up.” David nodded, brushing his fingers through his hair. “What do you think we should do?” “There’s nothing to do but wait.”
Anne-Marie entered the room, a thick, oversized bathrobe pulled around her. Moustafa took her hand.
“The OAS has set up a military fortress in Bab el-Oued. They think they can oppose the French army.” He cursed. “Trouble is coming to our doorstep. Mark my words.”
Hussein slipped down the alleyways of the Casbah into the streets of Bab el-Oued in the early morning. Hiding behind an old building on rue Christophe Colomb, he peered down the street to where a group of pied-noir teenagers had surrounded two army corps trucks. The youths held submachine guns, pointing them arrogantly at the soldiers. For a moment it seemed the soldiers would easily relinquish their arms. Then one of them made a move, and a pied-noir opened fire, spraying the two trucks with bullets. The driver of the first truck slumped forward until his forehead touched the shattered windshield.
Hussein’s eyes grew wide as he watched two other soldiers, wounded, fall from the truck. The youths grabbed the guns of the dead soldiers and fled down the street. Hussein retreated into the shadows of the building, his heart thumping wildly. More blood! And this time the blood was spilled between Europeans. The piednoirs—French citizens themselves—were firing on the French army. The army would no doubt fire back. This was news for Ali.
Hussein felt like a small boy watching a war movie as he wit¬nessed the battle of Bab el-Oued. Now fidgeting in the boulangerie on the neighborhood’s main shopping street, he watched several tanks rumbling down the street, spewing a steady stream of bullets from their turrets. From atop a roof a man fired a bazooka, missing the tanks but smashing into an approaching ambulance.
Hussein glanced up as the whirring sound of a helicopter was drowned out by the sound of the grenades it dropped, exploding on the roof where the sniper had been.
War. War between the Europeans.
Sporadic shelling continued throughout the afternoon. Hussein dodged in and out of the small streets of the neighborhood, adrenalin pumping through his small frame, his eyes glazed, impersonal, as he observed another day of murder. He was nothing but a reporter, doing his job. He repeated it time and again in his mind. A reporter for Ali.
By late afternoon he could tell the French army was winning. Four T-6 training planes zipped through the sky, launching rockets and diving toward several snipers who were still visible on rooftops. The OAS would not hold Bab el-Oued.
No pied-noirs were venturing out of their apartments. Hussein had not seen Anne-Marie Duchemin or Moustafa Dramchini. But he had seen plenty else. It would have to be enough for now.
David stared from the balcony as tanks rumbled through the street, sending vibrations like a herd of wild elephants on the march. Their guns shifted in a circular pattern, pointing toward the apartment buildings.
“Are you crazy!” Moustafa scolded, pulling David back into the bedroom. “The army has made its stand clear. They want order, and if anyone opposes, they’ll fire, at Arab, pied-noir, or American.” The last word he pronounced as if it were a spoon of thick, foul-tasting medicine.
Darkness had fallen, and the whole quartier of Bab el-Oued appeared to be in a state of shock. Marcus Cirou had rushed into the apartment and was now furiously smoking and pacing in the den, sliding his fingers through his slick gray hair. He announced the verdict to his three houseguests.
“There must be over a hundred dead or wounded among us,” he said. “The army has blockaded the neighborhood. No one can get in. No ambulances, no doctors. The wounded are being hidden in homes. Bloody, catastrophic mess.” Sweat beaded on his forehead as he blew smoke into the air, his eyes fiery with anger and fear.
Without warning, the entrance door to the apartment splin¬tered open and two gendarmes forced their way inside, brandishing pistols and shouting for everyone to lift their hands. While one of the French police, young and gloomy, held his pistol on the four people in the kitchen, the other, older and heavyset, tramped his way through the apartment. He threw open closets, smashed in the television, yanked clothes off their hangers, then came back to the kitchen, livid with rage.
“Are you traitors too? Filthy OAS! Murdering your own countrymen. Do you want to know how we feel about that?” He jerked Marcus by the collar, the pistol butt thrust under his chin.
Anne-Marie clutched Moustafa’s arm, terrified. The officer noticed, looked confused for a moment, then snickered. “What are you anyway? Crazy swine! The OAS, hiding Arabs in Bab el-Oued!
Let’s have a look at you there.” He moved forward, grabbing Anne-Marie and shoving her to stand alone beside the second officer. His breath reeked of liquor.
She trembled before them.
“Did you hear me?” he screamed. “Undress! What other secrets are you hiding, woman!” Forcefully the heavy officer yanked at her sweater, laughing cruelly as the collar ripped, exposing her bare shoulder.
“Please!” Moustafa stepped forward, looking the officer in the eye.
“You’re right. These good people have taken me in. My father fought with you. Lieutenant Dramchini, a harki. Perhaps you knew him. He was murdered by the FLN, and now I’m hiding. These people are not traitors. I’m the traitor. The traitor to my people for you. Surely you won’t deal with us in the same manner as the FLN.”
The officer’s lip twitched uncomfortably. He released Anne-Marie, who fell toward David. He caught her and held her tight as Moustafa continued.
“We’re trying to escape to leave this madness. Please, don’t harm her.”
The officer gave a disgusted grunt and shook his head. “You’ll never get out of this hellhole, harki boy. Passage is for pied-noirs first. And after tonight, I guarantee you there’ll be a whole mass of them fleeing like scared rabbits.”
They spun on their heels and walked out of the apartment, leaving the door standing wide open.
The next day it rained, a gray, drizzly cold rain that stayed in the bones and caused one to shiver unconsciously. Seated at the table in Marcus Cirou’s dingy, mold-covered kitchen, Moustafa watched the gloomy weather. The entrance door had been forced shut and bandaged, but the wounds were deep in Bab el-Oued. Sipping mint tea, Moustafa brooded while David stared out the single kitchen window onto the street below.
“Quarantined? Is that what Marcus called it?” David asked.
“Yes, for a week. All telephone communications are cut off. The roads are barricaded. The women can leave the house one hour a day to shop for groceries. The French army wants Bab el-Oued to think long and hard before it stages another insurrection.” Moustafa slammed his fist on the table and cursed. “A week! I want Anne-Marie out of here now! But as it is, our best chance is for the thirtieth.”
“So we must wait.” David pronounced the words resignedly.
Moustafa looked up quickly. “I don’t like it any more than you do, M. Hoffmann.”
“Call me David, please.”
“David then. What does it change?”
“It makes things less formal.”
“Less formal. Ha! And what do you want? To be my pote? I don’t need a friend like you, David Hoffmann. If I could get Anne-Marie out of here safely myself, believe me, I would never have asked you.” He looked away.
Moustafa could not remember when he had first started loving Anne-Marie. Was it when they were schoolchildren, playing outside on her father’s farm? For three generations the Dramchinis had worked for the Duchemins on the plot of land outside Algiers.
They had been employees and also neighbors. Moustafa had grown up beside the Duchemins’ only daughter, and their friendship had been natural.
She was the mischievous one, always taking risks, pulling her Arab friend along. She had never seen the difference, never under¬stood the wall that stood between her culture and his. He had first loved her for that. Her wild, beautiful naïveté.
She had not guessed for the longest time, not until her fourteenth year, when somehow it was no longer appropriate to hold hands and drag each other along through the orange groves just for fun. Their last run through the groves had ended with a kiss that Moustafa had planted squarely on Anne-Marie’s lips.
She had pushed him back, surprised. “Now why in the world did you do that?”
He shrugged, turning his eyes down, hidden beneath the unkempt black curls that tumbled to his shoulders. Why indeed. He had known then, at twelve, that Anne-Marie would never understand. He had sworn, though, that he would love her and protect her as far as it was in his power for the rest of his life. A boyhood dream …
He realized suddenly that he was smiling and remembered David’s intrusive presence. The tall American’s back was turned to him. Moustafa felt the smile leave his face. What right had this cocky American teenager had to take away Anne-Marie? Steal her heart and leave her with a child. David Hoffmann was the kind of man who got his way. The kind that women looked at twice, giggling and blushing. He had money and wits and a long list of other qualities that were sure to charm. He was the kind of man Moustafa hated. A man with no loyalties. Why be loyal when he could be free and taste the honey from many a hive?
And he was an American. A free man from a superpower. What had brought him back to this tangled mass of cultures? Was it after all a desire to possess Anne-Marie again?
“I’m glad you said what you did last night, Moustafa. You saved Anne-Marie further humiliation,” David commented, his back still turned.
Moustafa winced at the sound of the other man’s voice—calm, controlled, condescending. “For how long?” he seethed. “There is no telling who will crash through the door tomorrow to level us all.”
“Do you support the OAS?” David asked, turning slowly.
Moustafa laughed. “I support my people, plain and simple. And Anne-Marie.” He rose and walked over to where David stood, and both stared out the window. Moustafa watched the rain on the window sliding into little puddles on the frame. “I don’t disapprove totally of the OAS, you must understand. You know what the piednoirs say?” He didn’t wait for a reply. “They say the OAS is like the Resistance during the other war. How can they sit idly by while their people are massacred arbitrarily? The FLN started this war seven years ago—a handful of terrorists who wanted Algeria to be free. Terrorism has always been the FLN’s way. It’s not war. It’s not combat. It’s cold-blooded murder, instilling fear. Anyone and everyone is in danger.
“But now, when the OAS strike back, they are considered murderers. The FLN is pardoned of its years of barbaric acts, and the OAS are the assassins. Who can make any sense of it? A son finds his father slaughtered. An Arab maid is given a choice—either she cuts the throats of the pied-noir children she has helped raise, or the FLN will cut her children’s throats. What do you do in a country gone mad? Where you could just as easily be blown up at a sidewalk café in the middle of the afternoon as shot to death in your apartment in the middle of the night. It is past understanding.”
David, his forehead against the window, seemed lost in thought. In barely a whisper he asked, “And what will happen to your people once independence is declared in July?”
Moustafa’s answer was matter-of-fact. “It will be a genocide. A complete genocide of harkis. And the world will never blink an eye.”
Moustafa watched a play of emotions cross David Hoffmann’s face. It looked like a pained anger, as if something from deep within him were welling up and threatening to spill over. Perhaps there was depth to this man after all.
David turned abruptly from the window. “Do you still have family here in Algeria? Who is still alive for you, Moustafa?”
“My mother, two sisters. And my older brother who is in the French army. A real harki. They are all here. I ran away once to France because I was afraid. I won’t do it again. I’ll stay with them and die. You must take Anne-Marie on the thirtieth. Give her daughter back to her. Then she will forget me. Then one day she can love again.”
Moustafa walked out of the kitchen, feeling once again like a traitor. He had betrayed his country; he had left his family. And soon his loyalty to Anne-Marie would be but a stained memory of an unfulfilled dream.
David could not sleep. In his mind he saw the curly black hair of Moustafa shaking back and forth; Moustafa appeared as a man resigned to a fate of certain death. David reached toward the suitcase that lay at his feet and brought out the Bible Gabriella had given him. He let the large book fall open to where a folded paper had been tucked between its pages. David unfolded it and stared at the picture in the moonlight.
Six different-colored ponies, drawn in the uncertain hand of Ophélie, were running toward the sun. He closed his eyes and remembered Ophélie’s explanation. I’m the pink one. I’m leading us to Jesus. He’s in the sky, in the sun. And the red pony is Gabriella, because she has such long, pretty red hair. And then after her comes Mother Griolet. She’s the gray pony there, see? And you are the black one. You’re catching up with us and running to the sun. And the beautiful white pony with the black mane and tail is Mama. She is far behind, but she’s coming with the brown pony. That’s Moustafa.
How he wished she was right. But the word genocide throbbed like a migraine in his mind. And he wondered if the brown pony would make it after all.