A Spy in Exile: Chapter 61


LIVERPOOL, FEBRUARY 2015

 

They both woke at the same time, their faces almost touching, the soft thick blanket covering them to their necks, the dreams of the night yet to fade completely from their memories, their soft hair spread across the pillows. Ann smiled and Helena gently caressed her face. Ann’s fingertips weren’t slow to respond and trailed along the line of Helena’s thigh, pausing at the delicate join between her upper leg and calf.

“Good morning,” Ann whispered.

“Good morning.” Helena stretched, her hands now above her head. “It really is a good morning,” she added, rolling over and bringing her face up close to Ann’s, a huge smile on her lips.

“That was my first time with another woman,” Ann said. “Well, if we forget about that one clumsy night at boarding school. In any event, that doesn’t really count.”

“I’m sure my high school was very different,” Helena said.

“We’re not in high school now,” Ann responded. “I’m married and you have a boyfriend.”

“Yes, but I heard once that different rules apply when you’re overseas,” Helena remarked.

“As two people who came from abroad . . .” Ann started to say, but then fell silent.

Helena glanced at her sideways, wondering what Ann was thinking through their light chatter. She was painfully aware of her naked body. Ann had touched a place buried deep in her soul, a place made up of nothing but fragile truths.

“Okay, you may be right,” Ann concluded, brushing the blanket off herself. “Let’s not talk about it. Not yet, okay?” she said, looking at Helena imploringly now.

“Sure. Shhhhhhhh. No talking.” The silenced words were soon replaced by Helena’s arms reaching out and drawing Ann toward her.

 

  • • •

 

In the late afternoon, at the café at the Tate Liverpool, the northern branch of the renowned London art museum, three women sat and stared at one another in silence. To an onlooker from the side, they might have appeared to be old friends. A keen-eyed observer would have been able to recognize the tension between them.

When Ya’ara told Michael she had to meet someone, he didn’t ask questions. He was still carrying a hint of Ya’ara’s scent, as if their shared slumber was imprinted on his person. He let her go, knowing that if he were to follow her himself, she’d have no trouble spotting him. Ya’ara left the hotel and headed to her meeting with Helena and Ann only after making sure she was alone.

 

  • • •

 

For her part, she was pleased to see them. She viewed Ann and Helena as leading cadets on her team—quick, sharp, cosmopolitan. She was surprised by the cold reception she encountered from them. Offended, actually. She couldn’t work out where the tension in the air was coming from, but quickly gathered herself. It doesn’t suit you, she scolded herself, you’re their commander and they’re just cadets. Don’t be so sensitive.

“Even though it wasn’t a clean operation, and yes, despite the young girl who was killed,” she said to them, “your mission achieved its objective. All in all, you did great work.” She tried to read their faces.

Helena’s face was blank. Ann’s lower lip was trembling slightly. “How can you say that?” Helena asked, seemingly speaking for both of them. “An outcome like that means we didn’t plan things well enough. That you didn’t plan things well enough. We adopted a course of action that ended in disaster. We’ve just begun our training, and we’re relying on you. And look what happened!”

“What happened,” Ya’ara said quietly, voicing each syllable in a manner that clearly testified to her pent-up anger, “is that a hate-mongering preacher was liquidated. The world is a better place without him. Your planning of the operation was exemplary. What happened was unavoidable. Tragedies occur sometimes, but you have to move on from them. There’s no such thing as a sterile war.”

“Those are empty words,” Helena responded. “How many more tragedies are we going to encounter? Is that what awaits us?”

Ann lightly touched Helena’s hand, trying to quiet her.

“I’m not sure I’m suited to this business,” Helena continued, ignoring Ann’s touch. “I’m not sure it suits us.”

“Do you feel the same?” Ya’ara asked, focusing her gaze on Ann. She realized a new bond had formed between the two cadets, and she wasn’t convinced of its benefit to the cause.

Ann shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “I don’t know. It’s normal for us to feel a little down, right? I need some time to take it all in. To lie low. To allow these two weeks to pass quietly.”

Ya’ara wondered if Ann was being evasive. From an operational perspective, the decision to keep the team in England was the right one, but from the moment she made the call, she feared it could exact a heavy price. Ann and Helena were very green cadets, not experienced fighters. Sayid was in a similar position, despite appearing to be holding up pretty well. He was very pleased to see her when they met up, and seemed at ease and well-balanced. When she asked him about the death of the young girl, he gazed up into space but his words confirmed he was okay. These two weeks, cut off completely from the other cadets, could undoubtedly undermine the motivation of the two young women, their sense of duty, their willingness to cope with year after year of the never-ending seesaw between the elation that comes with the operations and the disheartenment that follows in its wake. And still, insofar as Helena was concerned at least, there was clearly something more. She showed Ya’ara a photograph on her phone of the young Yasmin wrapped in the arms of her father.

“See that?” she said. “That’s a living girl. That’s what she looked like when she was alive.” Ya’ara told her to turn off the phone and please calm down.

She didn’t know what else to say. After all, they weren’t children. They were dealing in matters of life and death; there was no room for unnecessary drama.

“Look,” she eventually said, her gaze shifting back and forth between Ann’s lowered eyes and Helena’s defiant expression, “this thing we’ve got ourselves into really is a serious and taxing affair. There’s a price to pay when you’re on the front line. It’s the real thing. And coping with it isn’t always easy. We’ll have a lot more time to talk about what happened, but our mission now, your mission now, is to deal with the coming days. To get through them peacefully and quietly, without making a fuss or falling apart.

“We don’t have to—can’t—solve every problem or answer every question right now. And I can’t tell you what to think or how to think. That’s your responsibility, to make the best of everything you’ve been through. Because ahead of us lies a long road that only very few can follow. I’ve already told you, it’s a great privilege to be selected, but no one can force you to follow that road. And personally, I’ve no interest in anyone who doesn’t want to follow that road. All I can say is that there’ll be more ups and downs, more victories and, yes, more crashes. And just as I am, you, too, will be accompanied throughout by that same sense of mission and duty that gives me meaning and allows me to feel, despite all the pain, that my life has a reason.” Ya’ara smiled. “There you have it, just the kind of grandiose statements I didn’t want to make. They must sound meaningless to you.”

Ann looked at her with her big eyes, attentive and serious. She felt she had gotten to her. “We’ll be okay, Ya’ara,” Helena said. “We’ll meet up in Berlin as arranged. We can make all our decisions then.”

It was as if a door had been slammed shut in her face. Her cadets were looking at her, forming a united front. Something had happened between them, and Ya’ara knew she had to think out her next move carefully after they had been the ones to decide to end the conversation.

Evening had fallen, and dismal yellow lights were casting a weak glow over the street visible from the café’s windows. She thought of Aslan walking along the length of Hadrian’s Wall, pitching his tent somewhere sheltered from the wind, snuggling into his sleeping bag, waiting for the long night to pass. She tried to think of what Aslan would say to them and remembered his well-known penchant for silence. She thought about Michael. She hadn’t planned on being a parental figure for her two cadets. It was not what they needed and wasn’t something she could offer.

She stood up and left, nodding farewell to the two women. Ann responded with a faint smile; Helena looked at her blankly.

Standing there in a foreign city in the cold evening air, after closing the door behind her, Ya’ara suddenly felt incredibly lonely.


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