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Xenolith, Page 56

A. Sparrow

  Chapter 48: Convergence

  Morning light filtered through gaps in the eaves, illuminating struts of smoke and dust in the close air. Frank lay on a thin mat on the dirt floor, shivering under a blanket too short to cover him entirely. Tezhay sat erect beside him, his face as still as the bottom of a deep well.

  Spasms gripped Frank’s stomach as faint hints of cook fires seeped in through the porous walls. In Liberia, the shantytown that grew outside of the old Franks Field air station during World War II was known as Smell-No-Taste, named by the poor Liberians who had woken up morning after morning downwind of the USAF galleys with no hope of ever accessing their culinary delights. Frank found a new appreciation for their plight.

  “Oh man, smell that food,” he said. “At this point, I’d be grateful for a slop pile like the one they brought us at the pen.”

  “Don’t worry. The guard will bring something to eat,” said Tezhay, softly. “He always do.”

  “He didn’t last night.”

  “Ah, but that is my fault. I tell him we no need … we eat with Eldest Brother.”

  Frank sat up abruptly. “You told him, not to bring anything?”

  “I am sorry. I promise, you eat today.”

  Frank spread the blanket over his chilled legs. He rubbed his eyes, his hand brushing against his beard, marveling at how thick it had become. But for the occasional weekend bristle, he had avoided significant facial hair most of his adult life. The ridicule drawn by an experimental mustache at seventeen had cured him of the urge.

  He opened his eyes to find Tezhay staring at him placidly. “You would like to go home, yes?” said Tezhay.

  “You mean out of this camp? Ubabaor?”

  “I mean, back to your world,” said Tezhay. “Maybe not Belize, but some place maybe you know.”

  “But I thought you told me: ‘once an exile, always an exile.’”

  “Maybe is special case,” said Tezhay. “Maybe you promise never talk … never look for stone? You … would want go back?”

  The proposition threw him. The hope that Liz lived somewhere in this world had already sprouted. Captivity had stunted its growth, but still it persisted. If freed, was he capable of wrenching it up by the roots before he had a chance to see what fruits it might bear? Could he abandon her a second time?

  After all it was visions of Piliar, not Bethesda, which sustained him during the dark, sleepless hours. No doubt, he had romanticized and Disneyfied Piliar into some sort of expatriates’ paradise, but it didn’t matter how crude or bizarre the place really was, as long as it contained the chance of Liz’s survival. The world he had come from held no such possibility.

  “I’m not sure … I’m ready,” he said. “Why are you asking this?”

  The hasp and chain on the door rattled. The door swung open to reveal their guard silhouetted against a bright square of reflected sunlight. A dented metal pot with two bowls lay on the ground.