He was waiting for her, sitting on a bench in the garden of St Paul’s, and he seemed to be watching the cathedral roof where three dirty white doves squabbled noisily. Mary was dressed for the office, in her tweed skirt and winter coat. She hoped her appearance would make him forget, for a moment, how she must have seemed the first time he saw her. As she approached, he stood up, squinted in the bright, heatless sunshine. He was tall and broad and dressed in his blue bus driver’s uniform. As he smiled she forgot about the cold and found herself smiling back, in spite of how nervous and embarrassed she’d been.
When they’d arranged to meet, he’d signed his text messages “Jakob”, which now he pronounced “Yakob”.
They shook hands. Mary introduced herself.
“Listen,” she said. “Thank you so much for meeting me.”
“No problem,” he said. “I made arrangements to work later, so it’s a nice break for me.” His accent was Eastern European, maybe Polish.
“You don’t expect anyone to reply when you text a lost phone.”
“It’s good karma,” he said.
She looked at the rucksack he held over his shoulder, and he seemed to remember, suddenly, why they were here. “Yes, so. I have it.”
The phone he produced was cheap, bulky, yet for the messages it contained it was her most precious possession.
Her memories of the night it had fallen from her pocket were not clear, for she’d had a lot to drink before taking the bus. She’d been in an argument with a Somali girl. Mary accused her – and everyone else on the bus – of being an illegal immigrant. There was cheering when the police took her away. She woke in the taxi outside her house.
Mary remembered being at the bus stop, staring at the blurred faces in the windows, when Jakob came to the door and asked if she was all right. The next day, she wondered why he’d shown her any sympathy. She’d seen drunks on the bus many times before; somehow she’d become one of them, the sort of person who destroyed the calm of the journey and made you shrink in your seat.
“Thank you,” she said, now. “I really appreciate it.”
“It’s no problem. You have to go back to work?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“I’m sorry about the night you lost your phone,” he said. “I felt bad about how the police treated you. I wanted to say – I understand.”
Mary wasn’t sure what he meant, but she smiled, this time with some effort.
“Would you like to come for coffee with me?” he added.
Somebody brushed by her shoulder, a man with a briefcase, running.
“I’m actually already a bit late for work.”
“Maybe I will see you again,” said Jakob. “I drive the bus tonight.”
She looked over her shoulder as she walked away. He was still there, watching her leave.
Mary hurried down the aisle of the sales floor, a large open-plan office with rows of desks for the staff to share. Mary had been given her own desk, as much out of consideration and compassion as for her achievements within the company. She sat down at her desk and switched on her computer. She listened with some relief to the hollow music of the office: telephones ringing, polite voices. Laughter.
Switching on her mobile phone, she scanned over the old messages from her boyfriend, Rick. Then she switched it off, and all it contained became all it was on the surface: an old mobile phone with a crack in the screen.
Four years ago, on the morning he was killed, Mary and Rick were lying in bed, in that miserable space between waking and rising for work, and were talking about having children. Mary was certain that neither she nor Rick wanted children, not now, nor in the foreseeable future, but this morning she’d woken suddenly, the idea in her mind.
“I’m no good with kids,” said Rick. “I try to shake hands with them.”
“You can just be that awkward, distant father,” said Mary.
“With a study,” he said.
“Now, children,” said Mary, “you know not to disturb your father when he’s in his study.”
“Drinking,” he said, dryly.
“Drinking in your study in front of the fire.”
Around this time in her life, ideas like having children, notions of drastic changes of circumstance, came to her uninvited. She imagined leaving London and going abroad – perhaps with Rick, perhaps alone. Sometimes these thoughts – a myriad visions and possibilities – floated in her mind as though they were harmless and of equal bearing.
Rick’s alarm rang.
“One hour,” he said. “One hour and I’ll be on the phones.”
Mary wrapped her arms around his hips with something close to desperation. They were silent, and then Rick cleared his throat.
“You aren’t worried, are you?” he said.
“About having kids.”
“No,” she said, “I was just thinking.”
“We’re not old enough to worry about that. Not just yet.”
They faced each other. It changed something in the air when he looked as grave as that, the sound and texture; it brought out the sadness in the drone of the traffic. He wanted the world to believe he was cynical, that he saw the good in life as a surprising bonus. But Mary knew this was just an image, that in fact he was essentially happy, and that his happiness was as fragile as her own.
“You’re all right?” he said.
“I’m all right.” She kissed him, then sank beneath the sheets.
His hand was warm as he stroked her head, hypnotising her into sleep.
When she re-emerged from the covers, Rick was no longer in bed. There was the rushing sound of the shower, small fragments of sunlight blinking on the wall. She lay back against the pillow, defeated, neither happy nor sad.
After the police had confirmed Rick was on one of the trains, Mary became obsessed with watching the news. She could not connect these images – the headlines, the bloody faces of survivors – with the fact that he would not be coming home. A terrorist attack: it was an invasion from another reality. Watching the news – debates about the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan – Mary felt as though his death was a case of mistaken identity; a narrative more potent than that of their own little lives had swallowed him up.
After they had completed their Masters degrees at Nottingham University – Mary in Fine Art, Rick in Creative Writing – they moved to London in search of new inspiration. They rented a grotty old Georgian house in Tottenham, in a rough, rather dangerous area, and with a front garden the locals used as an open garbage site, the patio stones peppered with empty fried chicken boxes and beer cans.
Rick worked as a tele-fundraiser, charming old women into giving five pounds per month to save snow leopards from extinction, while Mary got a job pulling pints at the local pub. She hated the work, the scores of obnoxious drunks at night, the lonely old men in the afternoons. She could tell Rick hated his job too; but they had needed to find employment quickly, and the flexible, part-time hours meant they could work on their artistic projects.
Sometimes, Rick skipped whole days of work so he could write (his schedule was more flexible than hers), and this caused arguments between them. It wasn’t fair, she said, when they were pooling their money together, barely able to cover the rent. During their first year in the city, they had little success with their art. Mary had one of her old landscapes featured in a small, group exhibition; Rick had one short story published in an obscure online journal.
One night, the city entombed in early December ice, Rick was mugged as he walked home after an evening shift at the call centre. He escaped with his wallet and a bloody lip; they had taken his bag, which contained nothing but a copy of Elements of Style; but still – he’d been humiliated. He wondered what it was about him that had made him a target. “I’m small at the moment,” he said. “All writing and no food. I need to be bigger.” The next day, as if in an act of vengeance, Rick quit his part-time job and applied for a full-time account manager’s position. He was accepted. In the mornings, there were times when she saw him frown at himself in the mirror as he straightened his tie – the same frown, she felt, that he wore when he wrote poetry.
Over time, Rick seemed to become invigorated by the challenges of work; he went for drinks with colleagues; he was sent here and there for conferences, meetings. He talked with relish about the London commute, the absurdity of rush hour, the strange intimacy of all those bodies crammed into such a small space.
Mary was struggling with London as a subject. She didn’t know it as well as she knew the Midlands. She didn’t know it at all, really. About a month after Rick took his sales job, Mary found a similar position, a job in marketing with a financial media company. And it was clear they were cut out for such a life. They were both efficient and popular with their colleagues. They made good commission. In bed, at night, they spoke about the compliments they received from their superiors. They looked at each other with this new, amorous gaze, one of congratulation.
At last, they had money. They began to enjoy the city together, eating out most nights and taking trips to the theatre or the opera.
One evening in particular stood out. It was the summer before Rick died. They met after work. The day had been very hot. Mary was waiting for him outside Covent Garden tube station. She watched the crowd in a kind of daydream, the listlessness of people seduced by the evening, ties removed; shirts open to the value of two buttons, cleavage showing, couples sitting at little tables in front of cafés, drinking cold wine; the sky was silver blue, the air thick with the sweet pollution of sweat and fried food, perfume, lager, and cigarette smoke. And then he came out of the station, emerged from the crowd with his suit jacket held casually over his shoulder. They went to a Japanese restaurant where they could watch through a glass divide the chefs slicing raw fish into neat little cubes. Mary noticed, then, how handsome Rick had become. He’d put on weight since they arrived in London, muscle rather than fat, and he kept his hair very short. He’d started to look like one of those boys from school she openly loathed but secretly desired. He closed his eyes dreamily, and said how hard it was to remain devoted to art when the office yielded such simple bliss, such security and a sense of dignity. He was being ironic and yet he meant it; she could tell by the way he looked at the Japanese chefs – more with pride than ironic distance, and she felt, then, their new life emerging, a world to which they were losing themselves.
It was when she saw the video of the man behind the terror attacks that things began to make a strange sort of sense. He was sitting cross-legged before the camera, wearing red and white robes; his Northern accent reminded her of their home – it was the sound of home before London. In his message he spoke about Allah, the afterlife, and the spiritual logic of martyrdom. Mary thought about what it meant to believe in something so absolutely it could lead to your destruction. The man’s eyes, dark and solid as obsidian, appeared whenever she closed her own, while his words were as pure and inaccessible as some of Rick’s favourite poetry: at first beautiful, then haunting; eternally out of reach whenever she tried to access their true meaning.
She had been thinking of Jakob’s eyes throughout the day, the coldness of their pale blue, which she’d seemed to feel, somehow, on her skin. And his words, what he’d meant when he said he understood.
As her colleagues left the office, they asked if she’d join them for a drink; but, as always, she declined. She had her own ritual. She’d go home, turn up the heating, run a bath and listen to Chopin. She’d bathe and then eat dinner, and then get to bed. Now, on her way across the square, Mary stopped to look at the Christmas tree that had been erected outside St. Paul’s Cathedral. A young man and woman wrapped in winter coats stood beside her in a romantic embrace, their faces lit red and green in the glow of the lights.
She wondered about the journey home. Most nights, even though it was expensive, she took a taxi. She merely tested, from time to time, her ability to take public transportation, for it still made her anxious. A journey on the Underground could bring on a panic attack. But something in her now, something different, took her on across the square to the bus stop, her desire concealed by this simple act of walking through the city at night.
When the bus arrived, Jakob was behind the wheel. They said hello, she scanned her Oyster Card and sat in the seat opposite. The lower level of the bus was otherwise empty. Jakob said something, but Mary couldn’t make it out. She went and stood beside him, holding on to the railing as the bus weaved through the streets.
He asked her how her day had been.
“Fine,” she said.
“It’s my shortest day,” said Jakob, “so I’m happy.”
He stopped the bus outside a row of Halal shops. A group of hooded teenagers came aboard, swearing as they ran and stomped upstairs to the upper level of the bus. Jakob muttered something in another language.
“What language was that?” said Mary.
“Bosnian,” said Jakob. “I said something not very nice.”
“You’re from Bosnia?”
“Yes,” he said.
The word conjured images of buildings in flames, news reports of old women in headscarves weeping for lost sons.
She asked him how long he’d been living in England.
“Five years,” he said. “Not long.” He’d grown up in Sarajevo, moved to Paris after the war. He’d come to England to study Computer Animation.
“I want to make movies,” he said. “I used to be a cameraman in Paris, working on short films. But then I learned how to use computers for special effects. It’s really amazing how you can create a new – environment – with computer graphics.”
“It must be stressful,” said Mary, “working and studying. This isn’t an easy job, is it?”
“It is hard. But I work hard. And I do not sleep much.” He spoke more of his love for cinema, describing films of which she’d never heard.
For some reason she’d always liked the sight of a man talking whilst driving, this looking away from her and yet still engaged.
“I know a little about Bosnia,” she said, “but now I can’t picture Sarajevo.”
“It’s beautiful, especially when it snows. There is a lot of culture, and very different architecture – Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian.”
“Is it safe to visit now?”
“Oh yes, it is safe. There are problems. A lot of unemployment. But still good for tourists. A nice place to go with a boyfriend or husband.”
He stopped at the lights, turned to face her.
“It’s romantic?” she said, looking away into the darkness.
“Yes,” he said. “But be careful if you go with your lover to the woods. There are landmines.” He laughed faintly.
He told her that because there were still landmines in the woods around the city there were now new species of animal living there – wolves, poisonous spiders. The forests had returned, at least to a small degree, to nature before human beings.
“I think it’s interesting,” said Jakob. “Without human life, the place goes back to how it used to be in prehistoric times.”
They came into Stoke Newington. Outside, an Orthodox Jewish family walked along the pavement. The father was pointing out something to his wife, the children fighting. Mary had often thought it strange that you could look out at these streets at night and feel thankful for being aboard a moving vehicle, and yet see these families walking as if at the park on a nice afternoon, wandering through the city as if immune to its dangers. She was sure that she often saw Orthodox Jewish boys as young as ten years old walking these streets alone.
Jakob asked her what she did when she wasn’t working. She told him she used to paint. “Used to?” he said. “You don’t anymore?” She said she needed to get back into it, and he agreed. He said he had the feeling she was a very good painter.
Mary asked Jakob about his route tonight, the journey he would have to take. He said he would now go back into the City and switch places with a colleague. He lived in Hackney, so he would either get back aboard the same bus and ride home, or he would stay in the City for a drink.
“Like I said – this is my day off.”
“Hardly a day off,” she said.
“I normally go home and work, but I feel like a drink tonight”. Would you like a drink?” he said, frowning at the galaxy of lights.
She felt something in the pit of her stomach, sharp and strong and purely physical, a feeling that might have been fear, excitement or both.
“Would you like to?” said Jakob. “You don’t have to, if you don’t want.”
“I should buy you one drink,” she said, finally, “for bringing me my phone back.” She put her hand into her pocket, relieved to find it still there.
After a while, they passed Mary’s stop. Jakob turned the bus around and headed south, back in the direction they had come.
With all the disembodiment of nightmares, Mary watched herself walking with Jakob across the square. And yet there was nothing of her fear in the way she spoke. “I know a nice pub on Fleet Street,” she said.
Inside, they sat at a booth near to an Italian couple, a distinguished old man and much younger woman who were obviously talking about their English puddings. Mary and Jakob tried to deduce their verdict from their expressions, gestures.
“I don’t think they are happy,” said Jakob.
“Our food doesn’t have a very good reputation,” said Mary.
After her first drink, she felt lucid, the alcohol having only taken away her fear. She bought them another round. After her second, Mary adjusted comfortably to the situation. She saw herself as any woman in her mid-thirties having an after-work drink with a handsome, slightly older man. He’d removed his bus driver’s shirt; he was wearing a tight black T-shirt. He leaned his muscled arms against the table like weapons on display.
“How old were you during the Bosnian War?” she said.
“Nineteen, when it started,” said Jakob.
“Do you mind talking about it?”
“I will not say something, if I don’t want to say.”
“Did you fight?”
Milošević exploited tensions between ethnic groups in Yugoslavia, he said, to build his Greater Serbia. Croatia and Slovenia wanted to leave Yugoslavia. They fought for their independence. Slovenia was the first, the most successful. The Bosnian people, the Muslim people, also wanted their independence. But the Bosnian Serbs would not let this happen.
“They were very brutal,” he said, “imposing their power. This is why you see Karadzic on trial at The Hague. For war crimes.”
She looked into his eyes, and began, perhaps, to associate the paleness of the blue with the enigma of death.
“It was not only territorial,” said Jakob. “They used, how do you say it – ethnic cleansing. This is a strange term, but – you know what I mean?”
“Which ethnicity was being…cleansed?”
“Muslims. The war was for territory, but also an attack on Muslims.”
Mary hadn’t known these details, or perhaps she’d known once but had since forgotten. She glanced at the others in the pub. The Italian couple were laughing, the old man held the woman’s hand and kissed it, then turned, looked at her, and smiled.
“Are you Muslim?” said Mary.
“I am not religious,” said Jakob.
“I hope you don’t mind me asking these things.”
He finished the last of his pint. “I do not mind,” he said. “I think it’s good to get to the heart – what should I say? The heart of things. You know, conversation, it’s mostly not this. Just noise. In the war, we told a lot of jokes. In war, sometimes you don’t want to get to the heart of something.”
Mary escaped, for a moment, into the sweetness of her wine.
“I wanted to ask you about that night,” he added. “That night when you were on my bus. And then they took you off the bus.”
His gaze, direct, solid, was almost threatening.
“A man came to me afterwards, told me what happened.”
“I don’t really believe those things I said.” Mary tried to drink from her empty glass. Her hands were shaking. “I was just very, very drunk.”
Jakob looked out of the window.
“I think people are interesting,” he said. “I don’t like to judge. Sometimes, behaviour is strange – strangers in the city, some behave very differently. But I don’t like to judge. I want to know. I always want to know, if I see somebody who goes outside of the crowd. I want to know what happened.”
“I agree,” she said. “I agree with that.”
“I had to look at your phone,” said Jakob, “so I could contact you. It seems like you lost somebody important. Rick.”
“You went through my messages?”
“I looked at some.”
She was stunned. “I’m not sure what to say.”
He leaned back in his chair, folded his arms. “Rick was your boyfriend?”
“My partner,” she said. “Yes. We were practically married.”
“How did he die? Will you tell me?”
Mary began to feel hot. She understood what was going on here; this was why she associated male seduction with psychiatry. It was brutal; it was a way of controlling women, invading those parts of the mind that were private.
“He was killed in the London terror attacks,” she said, severely. “The bombings on the Underground.”
Jakob looked at the table, seemed to wince.
“Did you kill anybody during the war?” she said.
“Did you lose anyone?”
The Italian couple laughed, their eyes and faces glistening with the sweat and tears of enjoyment.
Jakob changed the subject. He asked her what sort of art she liked. She found herself able to answer without revealing the extent of her anger. “Impressionism,” she said. He said Warhol. She said, “Loathe him.” And they went on talking about mostly trivial things – yet it was here, the effect of their talk about death, or, as Jakob had put it, the heart of the thing. Occasionally the way he looked at her changed. It was like the way two actors might look at one another when they notice something amusing, slipping out of character.
They thanked the barman as they left the pub. Jakob lit a cigarette; Mary watched him try and fail to light it in a sudden wind; she drew close, helped him guard against it, and as she looked up at him, as he held it in his mouth, his eyes shining in the glow of the street lamps, she felt that pang again, that dull, indecipherable signal from body to brain.
Mary stepped back. “Well,” she said. “I think I’m going to go home.”
They approached St. Paul’s Underground station and the bus stop across the road. She asked him when the next bus would be. He told her it would be quicker to get the tube.
“You are on the Victoria Line?” he said.
“Yes, Seven Sisters.”
“Want to come? We go the same way.”
He looked hopeful. He might have known it could be difficult for her; she felt again that he was guiding her into her subconscious. She told herself she would resist, that it would be her in control.
“Fine,” she said. “Let’s go.”
Nothing of rush hour remained. There was a slow atmosphere about the station, a man walking and reading a newspaper at the same time. They scanned their Oyster cards and took the escalator down into the bowels of the earth. And it was then that she felt something, her blood thinning, heart racing. It was the way she thought of the Underground, this vast cavern beneath the city. It was prehistoric. She thought of the way cave paintings had been inspired by hallucinations brought on by the absence of light. She thought of the rats. There was a hooded busker playing a djembe at the bottom of the escalator, the violent sound rising, rising.
As they entered the tunnel, she pulled Jakob by the shoulder.
He turned to her. “Are you okay?” he said.
She looked into his eyes, the blue standing out from the fading darkness around her. He leaned into her for a kiss, but she moved away.
“I’m fine,” she said.
Once they boarded the train, he sat opposite her, and she found herself able to relax. She yawned; he smiled. And she allowed herself to smile back.
The carriage was quiet. A young man wearing headphones dozed off, now and then, his head lolling as he fell almost into sleep. A woman with dark red hair squinted hard at her book as if she’d forgotten her glasses. Jakob, his hands behind his head, was looking far into the darkness over her shoulder. Mary tried to think about his past life, about her own, and what it all meant, but then began to fall asleep. Before she drifted off, she noticed an advertisement for a dating website on the wall above Jakob’s head. There was a photograph of a young man and woman who looked remarkably like brother and sister – brunette and thin and locked in a mutual gaze so silly they’d broken into laughter. The train came to the last station, and Jakob began to leave.
She clutched his forearm.
“Wait,” she said.
The place he was renting was just like her own: a terraced house, red brick, Georgian. He shared with some other people; he called out to them half-heartedly though nobody replied. Mary followed him upstairs. His bedroom was large and cluttered. There was a double bed and a tall window with the blinds drawn. There were maps pasted to the wall, a bookshelf filled tightly with books, more books in boxes in the middle of the floor. A Bosnian flag hung above a filled-in fireplace. In one corner of the room stood a camera on a tripod, and in the others several boxes of films and CDs.
Jakob messed with the stereo; classical music flowed from the speakers.
“You want something to drink?” he said.
She nodded. “But not alcohol,” she said.
“Tea?” said Jakob.
After he’d gone, Mary explored the room. She looked over the bookshelf. English novels. Books she assumed were in Bosnian. Then she noticed, lying on the tops of the old hardbacks, a magazine; on its cover were two half naked women in an amorous embrace, the sight of which made her feel vaguely afraid.
Scanning the bookshelf from left to right, she came across a copy of the Koran. She took it out and examined it. The book was brand new, not at all dog-eared. As she went to put it back, she noticed an envelope in the space where the Koran had been, its open side facing her. It was filled with photographs. She drew out the first – it was Jakob. He was slumped against a wall beside a window. He looked exhausted, yet he was smiling. The world outside the window was bright; she could make out the bright green of the trees. He was wearing a dark green military uniform. A rifle leant against the wall beside him. She took out another photograph. Here he was standing in a field with two other men. They were all wearing a sort of white headdress, which she recognised, remembered, in a way that made her light-headed, the white cloth secured by a black headband, the trail of Arabic writing along its centre.
Jakob came in holding two cups of tea in one hand. He must have seen her putting the photographs back into the bookshelf, though he looked away as if he’d caught her stepping out of the shower.
“I made English tea,” he said, placing one on the desk beside her.
He sat down on the bed. He opened his bedside drawer and took out a little tin.
“Do you smoke?” he said.
“I haven’t in years.”
“I don’t smoke often. Sometimes it is nice.”
“I like this music,” she said.
He told her it was a Bosnian cellist.
“I was just looking through your books,” said Mary.
Pinching the paper between his fingers and thumbs, he smiled.
“There are photographs of you wearing some sort of Islamic headdress.”
He nodded. “Some of my friends were Mujahidin.”
“What is that?”
“People doing Jihad. But they were from abroad. When they saw what was happening to Muslims in Europe, they came to help. One was from here, you know, from the United Kingdom.”
He lit the joint and began to smoke.
“But I was not religious before the war. We defended our homes against invaders. We had to be Muslims – we had to be more Muslim than before – because so many in the towns were Muslim, but there were Christians, Croats fighting as well – not many, but some. There were different people defending Bosnia. Yes, it was mostly Muslims. My friends from abroad saw the struggle; it was for them a religious struggle. For some of us it was just territory. For me…”
He relit the joint, puffed on it lightly.
“Both were a struggle for me,” he said. He took a long drag, exhaled a cloud of smoke, which he wafted into fragments. “But it became real, victory, God, as we were fighting. We were fighting for these things to become real – I thought.”
Jakob put his head against his pillow. They listened for a while to the music.
“It’s all a struggle,” said Mary.
She listened to the deep, winding sound of the cello.
“It is a struggle for me,” said Jakob, “always – to stay awake.”
His hand fell slightly. Mary sat up, took the joint from between his fingers. He grunted an apology. His eyes were closed, though he was still smiling politely. She took a drag from the joint – not enough for it to have much of an effect, but she enjoyed the sharpness of its taste, and the act was nostalgic.
In fact, the whole scene was familiar. Rick lying on his bed in his dorm room, smoking his joint and telling her, “I think I prefer Sartre to Camus.” She smiled. She hadn’t known him at that point, but she’d seen him in the lecture hall of their philosophy class, and she’d felt something the moment he approached her at the end of the lecture. She’d been far more afraid than she’d let on, getting into his bed that same day. She’d thought herself too old to be a virgin.
Again, Mary took Jakob’s photographs from the envelope. She looked once more at the photograph of him sitting by the window and the other of him wearing military Islamic dress. The next was of five men, dressed in that same uniform, kneeling in prayer.
She sat back in the office chair and wondered if she should leave. She looked at Jakob in his black T-shirt. She looked at his room; there was a poster of the movie The Godfather, another of Andy Warhol with a quote that said, “I Think Everybody Should Like Everybody.” There was an acoustic guitar lying in the corner, an old pizza box. It was, on the surface, the bedroom of a student – and in this way, the details seemed self-conscious, cultural artefacts drawn awkwardly together. She thought, overall, it was the bedroom of a young student, for it reminded her of so many rooms in which she’d spent her university years. She was nineteen then, the same age as Jakob when he fought in the Bosnian War. And, she realised, the same age as one of the men responsible for Rick’s death.
Mary had often tried and failed to place herself in the mind of that man. He was determined, she’d thought, beyond what was humanly possible. She’d revered him, the way she’d revered the deeply religious, the way she’d revered anyone with infallible convictions, in God or in love. Even in art – in painting, or in poetry. Now she imagined his walking to meet – not his destiny, but merely his destination. She imagined his fear. He struggled to believe, for true belief was not possible. And in an agony of doubt he activated the explosives.
What she’d feared was that the feeling that had first taken her, as she walked with Rick through the empty lecture hall and across the campus, crisp and barren and beautiful in winter, had faded over time and so had proved to be an illusion. But now she knew that it had not been an illusion, but a struggle, for this was what it meant to love and to live.
Jakob was sitting upright against the pillow, his head sagging slightly to the side. He looked peaceful, if not comfortable. He was snoring. Mary sat beside him on the bed. Beyond the faint smell of sweat and smoke was something she could not comprehend – a gentle scent, which meant what it was to know him. She nestled her head against his neck and waited, defiant in her fear, for him to respond or lay still.