Out of Africa

The Hollow Men

"I will not say, do not weep, for not all tears are an evil."
~J.R.R. Tolkien.

June 2008. Tel Aviv, Israel.

Yonah Zamir quickly slammed her helmet onto her head as she jumped into the Jeep—over the radio, the dispatcher gave the address, and her heart sank. She recognized it—the address was in the vicinity of a day care that she and her husband had considered sending their daughter to.

She told herself that she could be mistaken, but the stone in her stomach did not lie.

The first responders arrived at hell on earth—it had been less than fifteen minutes since the first bomb had exploded, and chaos was in full swing.

Sirens wailed, smoke and fire billowed, shouts of pain and terror filled the air. People were rushing madly in every direction—blood-stained and stricken-faced survivors away from the smoking debris, medics and police and brave citizens towards it.

Her helmet was quickly replaced with an oxygen mask, and she pushed her way through a wall of thick, cinereal smoke. The rubber soles of her boots found purchase on the gritty chunks of concrete, but the concrete itself suddenly slipped. Bile rose in her throat when she realized why—because a human arm rested beneath the rubble, bloody and blackened with soot.

She didn't have to check for a pulse. She knew.

The hand was clutching another hand—a smaller hand, a hand chubby with childish softness.

Again, she knew. And her entire body trembled with the urge to fall to her knees and dig this dead child from the rubble, but she reminded herself that there were still-living children that needed her.

She motioned for the people behind her to go around. It was the least she could do, affording these bodies the dignity of not being trampled.

She forced her legs to keep pushing, keep moving forward. She heard the screams and wails of children, the shouts of rescue workers.

Who could ever do such a thing? Her mind pounded with anger and sorrow. But again, she pushed that thought aside. The damage was done, and her job was to save as many as she could.

She scooped up the first child she saw, a heartspring of hope welling in her chest when she realized the little boy was still alive. She slipped off her oxygen mask, placing it over his face for a few seconds before returning it to her own, an action that she continued on her trek back to safety. She knew that she wasn't supposed to (the smoke inhalation could cause her to pass out, at which point she'd be helpful to no one), but she couldn't stop herself. All she could see was her own daughter in her arms, tiny chest fluttering as she struggled to breathe through the thick clouds of dust and destruction.

This pattern continued for many hours, though the number of live children began to dwindle.

Then Zamir found it—the child, burned beyond recognition, but still alive, against all odds. She clutched the toddler to her chest, a lump forming in her throat when she felt the child's fingers curl instinctively around the fabric of her jumpsuit.

She took off her mask, though she knew better than to place it on the child's face—the skin was already so badly burned, the mask would only make it worse. Instead, she spoke quietly to the babe, her voice low and reassuring, just like when she soothed her own toddler from nightmares or over skinned knees.

She sang a lullaby her mother had taught her, gingerly navigating her way through the debris. The child was still whimpering, but she could feel its body relaxing slightly, somehow comforted by her efforts.

Once they reached an ambulance, a medic rushed forward, his face contorted in compassion. He yelled for a stretcher before turning back to Zamir.

"This isn't going to be easy," he informed her. "The child is badly burned—you shouldn't have held on so tightly."

"I…I didn't want to drop it," Zamir stated dumbly, suddenly realizing what he'd meant—the child's burned flesh had been so firmly pressed against the rough fabric of her jumpsuit that it was sure to tear.

And it did, which elicited a shriek of agony from the small body being transferred onto the stretcher.

Someone else was sobbing too, loudly and uninhibitedly. Zamir suddenly realized it was herself.

September 2013. Nairobi, Kenya.

Zamir had never found out what had happened to the child—in retrospect, she wished that she had, if for nothing else other than closure.

Despite feeling a measure of satisfaction in knowing that she'd been part of the effort that ended in Wasaki's capture and death, she knew that her memories of that child and that day would never fade away, not even in the slightest.

She sighed again, looking down at her fingernails as she quietly waited.

"You can see her now," the nurse's gentle voice interrupted her thoughts.

Zamir blinked back tears, nodding silently as she rose to her feet.

Constance Connelly was sitting up in her hospital bed, face filled with expectancy.

"Thank you," Zamir spoke immediately. "I…I was never sure that this day would come, and you have made it a reality—I owe you a debt that can never be repaid."

Constance smiled, "I didn't do it for you. I did it for all the lives he would have slain, if he'd been allowed to survive. The future, Rav Seren. I did it for the future."

Zamir's hand went to her abdomen, "Well, the future thanks you."

Constance's eyes widened in understanding, "You are…?"

"Yes," Yonah smiled. "I had no idea until yesterday—it is the reason I tried to save you."

Now it was Constance's turn to give a grateful smile, "Then I thank the future in return."

There was a beat of silence, both women simply observing each other.

"Why are you here, Zamir?" The older woman asked, her tone neutral, unaccusing.

"I'm not sure," she admitted, looking down at the floor. "I suppose…I suppose it's because I don't know what will happen to you—"

"That makes two of us," Constance interjected wryly.

"Whatever happens, I want you to feel…to know that it was worth it," Zamir looked up at her again.

"Of course," Constance looked stunned, as if she couldn't imagine viewing the present situation in any other light. Then she gave a timid smile, motioning to Zamir's stomach, "May I?"

The younger woman nodded, moving closer. Constance reached forward, her hand gently resting over Zamir's, which was still covering her womb. With a quiet reverence, she recited the Shehecheyanu blessing, "Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam, she'heheyanu v'kiy'manu v'higi'anu la'z'man ha'z."

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this season.

Zamir smiled softly at the familiar blessing—one often used to commemorate the births of children, but seeing as Constance Connelly would not be present at the child's birth, it seemed fitting.

"It's going to be a boy," Constance quietly informed her. She pulled her hand away. "I never had children—I wanted them, but the stars never really aligned in my favor on that front."

"They would have been very lucky, to have a mother like you," Zamir informed her.

"Perhaps." Another smile, this one cryptically cat-like. Then, shale-blue eyes flicked up to meet Yonah's as she asked, "Would you…would you do me a favor?"

"Anything," Yonah promised, and she meant it, with every fiber of her being.

"Name him James." Constance's expression became soft, nostalgic. "That was my father's name. He was the kindest, strongest person I've ever known. The only one who really ever took the time to see me. I always thought that if I had a son, I would name him after my father."

Yonah's hand instinctively returned to the place that protected the growing life within. "His name shall be James."

The older woman gave a curt nod, still smiling shyly in a way that made her cheeks glow and her face seem decades younger.

"Will you continue? This work, I mean." She easily changed the conversation with a slight sweep of her hand.

Now it was Yonah's turn to smile softly. "I think I have given enough to my country. It is time to give my dedication to my family."

"Truly?" Constance quirked her brow in curiosity.

"Yes," the younger woman took a deep breath. "This work…it tires me much more than it used to. And I think…I think, perhaps, I have done what I was meant to do. I should like to end this part of my story on a good note."

"Wise woman," Constance gave a small nod of approval. With a sudden seriousness, she added, "You do know how grateful we are for your service and sacrifice, don't you? You were just rising through the ranks back when I was in Jerusalem, but even then, they knew you were going to be one of the greats. If anyone had any doubt of that, you've certainly proven it over the past few days."

Yonah smiled shyly, shaking her head, "I did no more or no less than anyone else in my position would have."

"I know plenty of people at Ha-Mossad who would have kept me dark and let me find my own fate. Don't discount your courage so easily," the older woman chided gently.

"I know the full measure of what I have given for my country," she assured her.

"Good," Constance gave another curt nod. Then she looked out the window with a sigh, "When does your flight leave?"

Zamir instinctively looked at her watch, "Three hours. I suppose I should get going."

"Thank you, Zamir."

"Thank you, Azriel," Zamir leaned forward, giving Constance's hand a tight squeeze of gratitude. "We owe so much to you—the past, the present, and the future."

The Irishwoman smiled at this, returning the pressure of Zamir's grasp. "Safe travels. Go and enjoy your family. You've earned a season of rest and peace."

"We both have."

Constance merely smiled in agreement.

Yonah Zamir left as quickly and quietly as she came. The door had barely closed behind her when it swung open again and Clyde Easter breezed into the room.

"Lovely of you to knock," she rolled her eyes in feigned disapproval (Clyde Easter was never a man to knock, and nothing would change that, she knew).

He duly ignored the comment, "The nurse told me that someone was already in your room—for the life of me, I'm not sure I'd ever guess it was Rav Seren Zamir."

"Why not? We have a lot in common." Constance turned to the window again.

"What did she want?"

"To thank me, and to say that whatever my fate, she hoped that I knew it was worth it." She returned her gaze to the man standing at the foot of her bed. "Which brings us to the question of the hour, Mr. Easter—what is my fate?"

It was his turn to sigh and look to the window.

"The case is wrapped up with a neat little bow—all of the ANAM members have been identified, the victims' bodies have been released to their loved ones, Interpol is adding Andwele Ade to our most wanted list, although you and I and a select few know that he'll never appear again, and the CIA and Interpol are working with Nairobi's Criminal Investigative Division to continue gathering intel on Al-Noor al-Muhijadeen. It's all going just as smoothly as one could hope—except for the matter of you."

She fought the urge to look downward, instead keeping her eyes focused on his profile. She knew that Clyde was still venting his frustration and his sense of betrayal, but she wouldn't back down from her belief that she'd done the right thing, even if that had meant lying to him.

He turned to look at her again, the hurt evident in his eyes he quietly declared, "Your mother is going to die—again, and this time, the people in your life are going to know about it. That will be your reason for leaving Interpol and returning to Killrea. You are going to tell Beverly some semblance of the truth—for your own sake and sanity, not hers. You are going to go back to your roses and your quiet walks in the park and your books."

"And what are you going to do?" She asked, her voice lined with compassionate concern.

His expression contorted again, "I'm going to try to forgive myself for being such a damned fool."

Her heart broke for this man, who despite all his cleverly crafted artifices was one of the tenderest hearts she'd ever known.

"Clyde, please," she reached for him, but he did not move towards her. Still, his refusal would not stop her—she tossed her covers to one side, swinging her legs over the edge of the bed.

He rushed to her without thought, trying to stop her from getting onto her feet—too late he realized his mistake, for Constance's thin fingers clutched onto his arms with surprising strength, pulling him further inward so that her head could rest against his stomach, holding him in a fierce embrace.

"First you were angry at me because you thought I'd pretended to be someone else," she murmured. "And now you're angry at me because you realized that I'm still the person I've always been. But through it all, you've been more heart-broken than anything, and that's the part I can't stand. I can live with being the person who made you angry, but I'll never forgive myself for being the one who broke your heart."

With every fiber of his being, he wanted to refute her assessment—but he knew that it was true.

She pulled back slightly, wincing at the pain in her shoulder caused by her actions. Then she looked up at him with pleading eyes, "I know this is where our story ends…but for all that's good and holy, Clyde, don't let it end like this."

After a heavy beat of consideration, he nodded in agreement, and she slowly slipped back onto the bed, patting the space beside her. He obliged, lying on his side as her uninjured left arm slipped around him, his head resting against her shoulder.

"Whoever thought this case would end with us back in bed together?" She quipped, and he chuckled in response.

"I am sorry it had to be like this," she added, lightly running her fingers through his hair in a soothing gesture.

"Me, too," he admitted. Then, after a beat, he said, "Perhaps I'll come see you again. Visit that lovely garden."

She gave a small hum. "Perhaps. But we both know you won't."

He merely made a noise of agreement.

"How did you do it?" His natural curiosity got the best of him. "Lead two different lives, for so long?"

She was thoughtful, "I suppose I never really saw it as two different lives—they were just facets of who I was, who I am. I never felt like I was lying, not really, not about the things that truly mattered. I suppose it's a lot like the roles we all play—you're a lover to your lover, a child to your parent, a friend to your friend…they're all different aspects, but they're all part of your true self. If I had seen them as entirely separate, I think I would have gone mad a long time ago."

He hummed in understanding, and for several minutes silence reigned. She actually wondered if he'd fallen asleep.

"Thank you," he suddenly broke the quietness.

"For what?"

"For telling me the story of your scar."

She smiled softly. "You're the only person alive who knows that."

He sat up, leaning in to gently kiss the mark above her lip. "Goodbye, Constance."

"Goodbye," the word was a whisper, nearly drowned by tears.

He rose to his feet, gently smoothing out the lines of his shirt and slacks. "I'll box your things from your office and send them to you. There will be no need for you to return to the London office."

She nodded, silently accepting this small punishment—she would have no chance to say farewell to her team, who'd been the closest thing to friends she'd had in the past three years.

"I'm sorry," she couldn't stop the words from tumbling off her lips. "I'm sorry for breaking us this way."

He gave a soft, sad smile. "Everything is as it is meant to be, remember? It's the price you pay—that we both paid, a long time ago."

This did nothing to stop the tide of tears rising in her eyes, hot and filled with regret.

"We're not broken," he gently assured her. "Just changed."

She nodded in agreement, turning her gaze to the ceiling. "Changed irrevocably?"

"For now," he patted the top of her foot. Then with a slight bow and a flourish of his wrist, he intoned, "Forever and forever farewell, Dearest Constance. If we do meet again, we'll smile indeed. If not, 'tis true this parting was well made."

Shakespeare, again. A line from Julius Caesar, but he'd put her name in the place of Brutus'—a substitution that did not miss her scrutiny, and the comparison between her and the infamous traitor did not fail to wound her heart.

Still, she forced a smile, returning with Brutus' reply from the play, surprised at her own clear memory, "Why then, lead on. Oh, that a man might know the end of this day's business ere it come!—But it sufficeth that the day will end, and then the end is known."

The words and references were too poignant for their current state, and Clyde merely gave a curt nod of approval, his own eyes glimmering with unshed tears and he turned and left.

And then the end is known.

Their end was known, and this was it—her freedom, and her banishment from his life. The former did not bring the relief it should, and the latter brought more pain than she'd imagined.

"The axe forgets, the tree remembers."
~African Proverb.

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