Mahmoud. He knew that without remembering anything more. There was no chink, no lifting corner. Nothing that took him out of the hospital, away from Uncle Mahmoudâs dying. It was seamless. Even Nooni, who must have been standing beside him next to the iron bed, was erased. Why was it that his memories were stripped from him? Mr Hosni, sleeping now with jagged childlike breaths, was indecent with the grief of his memories. Dhurgham looked down at his benefactor. He felt the weight of that head in his lap and he imagined it dead, brains rotting under the thin hair.
âThat boy will turn on you, you know,â Mr Hilton said softly to Mr Hosni as he watched Dhurgham serve them. âHeâll add it all up one day soon and probably stab you in your bed.â There was a certain smugness to his voice that made Mr Hosni dismiss what he had said. âYou are jealous. The boy loves me. He is my nephew.â âHeâs not your nephew. Youâve told me as much yourself. Who calls a child âDhurghamâ these days anyway? Heâs an upper-class Baghdadi, who arrived at your doorstep laden with money. No doubt in Syria illegally. What does that make him, Hani? âYou tell me.â âA liability. Get rid of him before he grows to manhood and takes a close look at you.â Mr Hosni laughed. But later he worried over Mr Hiltonâs words. Mr Hilton was no Damascene. He was one of those strange British men who had travelled all over, including, in Mr Hiltonâs case, Baghdad, and who then stayed semipermanently, settling in to a world in which their outsider status and diplomatic connections were just enough for them to live outside the law; and their knowledge, experience, contacts and practised Arabic were enough to give them access to subterranean circles. He was a procurer, a man who gave other westerners tours. Mr Hosni had kept Dhurgham well away from that circle, protecting him from such men, and Mr Hilton was, he was sure, offended. But Mr Hilton knew more than he was letting on. Maybe he even recognised the boy. Maybe Mr Hilton would try to poison his birdieâs mind against him. And Mr Hosni was startled to realise that he had never really thought about what would happen when Dhurgham grew up and thought about everything. Would Dhurgham really see it his way? Could the boy hate him for what he had done? There was the moneyâbut what was money when it came to love? He could not desert the boy. He had never felt such love for anyone. Did his boy love him in return? He thought hard about it. The reaction to his announcement that the money was gone had always irked him. If the boy loved him, would he have cared so much? Birdie had really failed that test. Mr Hosni had always comforted himself that the other suggestion had triggered it and had been cross with himself for bringing that up at the same time. But what if some vestige of the boyâs past still tainted him? Mr Hosni worried for three nights. The problem of Dhurgham grew in urgency the more attention he gave it. What would happen? Could Dhurgham creep into this room in the darkness with a shining knife in his hand? Mr Hosni felt a frisson of delicious, sensual fear. Then he felt spooked. After the romantic image, there would of course be the plunging knife, again and again, the convulsion and then â¦ oblivion. His motherâs tears. He lay quiet, thinking more coldly. If not the knife, then what? The Police? This thought filled him with a cold, leaden fear. There was nothing sensual about al Mazzeh prison. He had to get rid of him. But the boy would be better off dead than cast out. Unwanted and betrayed. No. That would be too cruel. And he had sworn he would never cast him out. In the early hours of the third morning he almost screwed up his courage to organise the boyâs disappearance. But it was a phantom. As soon as he put the proposition seriously to himself, he knew that he couldnât