THE FIVE LIONS RIVER was never warm, but it seemed a little less cold now, in the balmy evening air at the end of a dusty day, when the women came down to their own exclusive stretch of the bank to bathe. Jane gritted her teeth against the chill and waded into the water with the others, lifting her dress inch by inch as it got deeper, until it was up to her waist, then she began to wash: after long practice she had mastered the peculiar Afghan skill of getting clean all over without undressing.
When she had finished she came out of the river, shivering, and stood near Zahara, who was washing her hair in a pool with much splashing and spluttering, and at the same time carrying on a boisterous conversation. Zahara dipped her head in the water one more time, then reached for her towel. She scrabbled around in a hollow in the sandy earth, but the towel was not mere. "Where's my towel?" she yelled. "I put it in this hole. Who stole it?"
Jane picked up the towel from behind Zahara and said: "Here it is. You put it in the wrong hole."
"That's what the mullah's wife said!" Zahara shouted, and the others shrieked with laughter.
Jane was now accepted by the village women as one of them. The last vestiges of reserve or wariness had vanished after the birth of Chantal, which seemed to have confirmed that Jane was a woman like any other. The talk at the riverside was surprisingly frank - perhaps because the children were left behind in the care of older sisters and grandmothers, but more probably because of Zahara. Her loud voice, her flashing eyes and her rich, throaty laughter dominated the scene. No doubt she was all the more extroverted here for having to repress her personality the rest of the day. She had a vulgar sense of humor, which Jane had not come across in any other Afghan, male or female, and Zahara's ribald remarks and double-meaning jokes often opened the way for serious discussion. Consequently Jane was sometimes able to turn the evening bathing session into an impromptu health education class. Birth control was the most popular topic, although the women of Banda were more interested in how to ensure pregnancy than how to prevent it. However, there was some sympathy for the idea, which Jane was trying to promote, that a woman was better able to feed and care for her children if they were born two years apart rather than every twelve or fifteen months. Yesterday they had talked about the menstrual cycle, and it transpired that Afghan women thought the fertile time was just before and just after the period. Jane had told them that it was from the twelfth day to the sixteenth, and they appeared to accept this, but she had a disconcerting suspicion that they thought she was wrong and were too polite to say so.
Today there was an air of excitement. The latest Pakistan convoy was due back. The men would bring small luxuries - a shawl, some oranges, plastic bangles - as well as the all-important guns, ammunition and explosives for the war.
Zahara's husband, Ahmed Gul, one of the sons of the midwife Rabia, was leader of the convoy, and Zahara was visibly excited at the prospect of seeing him again. When they were together they were like all Afghan couples: she silent and subservient, he casually imperious. But Jane could tell, by the way they looked at one another, that they were in love; and it was clear from the way Zahara talked that their love was highly physical. Today she was almost beside herself with desire, rubbing her hair dry with fierce, frantic energy. Jane sympathized: she had felt that way herself sometimes. No doubt she and Zahara had become
friends because each recognized a kindred spirit in the other.
Jane's skin dried almost immediately in the warm, dusty air. It was now the height of summer, and every day was long, dry and hot. The good weather would last a month or two longer, and then for the rest of the year it would be bitterly cold.
Zahara was still interested in yesterday's topic of conversation. She stopped rubbing her hair for a moment to say: "Whatever anyone says, the way to get pregnant is to Do It every day."
There was agreement from Halima, the sullen, dark-eyed wife of Mohammed Khan. "And the only way not to get pregnant is never to Do It." She had four children, but only one of them - Mousa - was a boy, and she had been disappointed to learn that Jane knew of no way to improve one's chances of having a boy.
Zahara said: "But then, what do you say to your husband when he comes home after six weeks with a convoy?"
Jane said: "Be like the mullah's wife, and put it in the wrong hole."
Zahara roared with laughter. Jane smiled. That was a birth control technique which had not been mentioned in her crash courses in Paris, but it was clear that modern methods would not arrive in the Five Lions Valley for many years yet, so traditional means would have to serve - helped, perhaps, by a little education.
The talk turned to the harvest. The Valley was a sea of golden wheat and bearded barley, but much of it would rot in the fields, for the young men were away fighting most of the time and the older ones found it slow work reaping by moonlight. Toward the end of the summer all the families would add up their sacks of flour and baskets of dried fruit, look at their chickens and goats, and count their pennies; and they would contemplate the coming shortages of eggs and meat, and hazard a guess at this winter's prices for rice and yogurt; and some of them would pack a few precious possessions and make the long trek across the mountains to set up new homes in the
refugee camps of Pakistan, as the shopkeeper had, along with millions of other Afghans.
Jane feared that the Russians would make this evacuation their policy - that, unable to defeat the guerrillas, they would try to destroy the communities within which the guerrillas lived, as the Americans had in Vietnam, by carpet-bombing whole areas of the countryside, so that the Five Lions Valley would become an uninhabited wasteland, and Mohammed and Zahara and Rabia would join the homeless, stateless, aimless occupants of the camps. The rebels could not begin to resist an all-out blitzkrieg, for they had virtually no anti-aircraft weapons.
It was getting dark. The women began to drift back to the village. Jane walked with Zahara, half listening to the talk and thinking about Chantal. Her feelings about the baby had gone through several stages. Immediately after the birth she had felt exhilarated by relief, triumph and joy at having produced a living, perfect baby. When the reaction set in she had felt utterly miserable. She had not known how to look after a baby, and contrary to what people said, she had no instinctive knowledge at all. She had been frightened of the baby. There had been no gush of maternal love. Instead she had suffered weird and terrifying dreams and fantasies in which the baby died - dropped in the river, or killed by a bomb, or stolen away in the night by the snow tiger. She still had not told Jean-Pierre about these thoughts in case he should think her mad.
There had been conflicts with her midwife, Rabia Gul. She said women should not breast-feed for the first three days, because what came out was not milk. Jane decided it was ludicrous to believe that nature would make women's breasts produce something that was bad for newborn babies, and she ignored the old woman's advice. Rabia also said the baby should not be washed for forty days, but Chantal was bathed every day like any other Western baby. Then Jane had caught Rabia giving Chantal butter mixed with sugar, feeding the stuff to the child on the end of her wrinkled old finger; and Jane had got cross. The next day Rabia went to attend another birth, and sent one
of her many granddaughters, a thirteen-year-old called Fara, to help Jane. This was a great improvement. Fara had no preconceptions about child care and simply did as she was told. She required no pay: she worked for her food - which was better at Jane's house than at Fara's parents' - and for the privilege of learning about babies in preparation for her own marriage, which would probably take place within a year or two. Jane also thought Rabia might be grooming Fara as a future midwife, in which case the girl would gain kudos from having helped the Western nurse care for her baby.
With Rabia out of the way, Jean-Pierre had come into his own. He was gentle yet confident with Chantal, and considerate and loving with Jane. It was he who had suggested, rather firmly, that Chantal could be given boiled goat's milk when she woke in the night, and he had improvised a feeding bottle from his medical supplies so that he could be the one to get up. Of course Jane always woke when Chantal cried, and stayed awake while Jean-Pierre fed her; but this was much less tiring, and at last she got rid of that feeling of utter, despairing exhaustion which had been so depressing.
Finally, although she was still anxious and unselfconfident, she had found within herself a degree of patience she had never previously possessed; and this, though it was not the deep instinctive knowledge and assurance she had been hoping for, nevertheless enabled her to confront the daily crises with equanimity. Even now, she realized, she had been away from Chantal for almost an hour without worrying.
The group of women reached the cluster of houses which formed the nucleus of the village, and one by one they disappeared behind the mud walls of their courtyards. Jane scared off a flurry of chickens and shoved aside a scrawny cow to get into her own house. Inside, she found Fara singing to Chantal in the lamplight. The baby was alert and wide-eyed, apparently fascinated by the sound of the girl's singing. It was a lullaby with simple words and a complex, Oriental-sounding tune. She's such a pretty baby,
Jane thought, with her fat cheeks and her tiny nose and her blue, blue eyes.
She sent Fara to make tea. The girl was terribly shy and had arrived in fear and trembling to work for the foreigners; but her nervousness was easing, and her initial awe of Jane was gradually turning into something more like adoring loyalty.
A few minutes later Jean-Pierre came in. His baggy cotton trousers and shirt were grimy and bloodstained, and there was dust in his long brown hair and his dark beard. He looked tired. He had been to Khenj, a village ten miles down the Valley, to treat the survivors of a bombing raid. Jane stood on tiptoe to kiss him. "How was it?" she said in French.
"Bad." He gave her a squeeze, then went to lean over Chantai. "Hello, little one." He smiled, and Chantal gurgled.
"What happened?" Jane asked.
"It was a family whose house was some distance from the rest of the village, so they thought they were safe." Jean-Pierre shrugged. "Then some wounded guerrillas were brought in from a skirmish farther south. That's why I'm so late." He sat down on a pile of cushions. "Is there any tea?"
"It's coming," Jane said. "What kind of skirmish?"
He closed his eyes. "Usual thing. The army came in helicopters and occupied a village for reasons known only to themselves. The villagers fled. The menfolk regrouped, got reinforcements and started to harry the Russians from the hillsides. Casualties on both sides. The guerrillas finally ran out of ammunition and withdrew."
Jane nodded. She felt sorry for Jean-Pierre: it was a depressing task to tend the victims of a pointless battle. Banda had never been raided, but she lived in constant fear of it - she had a nightmare vision of herself running, running, with Chantal clutched to her, while the helicopters beat the air above and the machine-gun bullets thudded into the dusty ground at her feet.
Fara came in with hot green tea, some of the flat bread
they called nan, and a stone jar of new butter. Jane and Jean-Pierre began to eat. The butter was a rare treat. Their evening nan was usually dipped in yogurt, curds or oil. At midday they normally ate rice with a meat-flavored sauce that might or might not have meat in it. Once a week they had chicken or goat. Jane, eating for two still, indulged in the luxury of an egg every day. At this time of year there was plenty of fresh fruit - apricots, plums, apples, and mulberries by the sackful - for dessert. Jane felt very healthy on this diet, although most English people would have considered it starvation rations, and some Frenchmen would have thought it reason for suicide. She smiled at her husband. "A little more Bearnaise sauce with your steak?"
"No, thank you." He held out his cup. "Perhaps another drop of the Chateau Cheval-Blanc." Jane gave him more tea, and he pretended to taste it as if it were wine, chewing and gargling. "The nineteen sixty-two is an underrated vintage, following as it did the unforgettable sixty-one, but I have always felt that its relative amiability and impeccable good manners give almost as much pleasure as the perfection of elegance which is the austere mark of its highbrow predecessor.''
Jane grinned. He was beginning to feel himself again.
Chantal cried, and Jane felt an immediate answering twinge in her breasts. She picked up the baby and began to feed her. Jean-Pierre carried on eating. Jane said: "Leave some butter for Fara.''
"Okay." He took the remains of their supper outside, and returned with a bowl of mulberries. Jane ate while Chantal suckled. Soon the baby fell asleep, but Jane knew she would wake again in a few minutes and want more.
Jean-Pierre pushed away the bowl and said: "I got another complaint about you today."
"From whom?" Jane said sharply.
Jean-Pierre looked defensive but stubborn. "Mohammed Khan."
"But he wasn't speaking for himself."
"What did he say?"
"That you have been teaching the village women to be barren."
Jane sighed. It was not just the stupidity of the village menfolk that annoyed her, but also Jean-Pierre's accommodating attitude to their complaints. She wanted him to defend her, not defer to her accusers. "Abdullah Karim is behind it, of course," she said. The mullah's wife was often at the riverside, and no doubt she reported to her husband everything she heard.
"You may have to stop," said Jean-Pierre.
"Stop what?" Jane could hear the dangerous tone in her own voice.
"Telling them how to avoid pregnancy."
That was not a fair description of what Jane taught the women, but she was not willing to defend herself or apologize. "Why should I stop?" she said.
"It's creating difficulties," said Jean-Pierre with a patient air that irritated Jane. "If we offend the mullah grievously we may have to leave Afghanistan. More important, it would give the Medecins pour la Liberte organization a bad name, and the rebels might refuse other doctors. This is a holy war, you know - spiritual health is more important than the physical kind. They could decide to do without us."
There were other organizations sending idealistic young French doctors to Afghanistan, but Jane did not say that. Instead she said flatly: "We'll just have to take that risk."
"Shall we?" he said, and she could see that he was getting angry. "And why should we?"
"Because there is really only one thing of permanent value that we can give these people, and that is information. It's all very well to patch their wounds and give them drugs to kill germs, but they will never have enough surgeons or enough drugs. We can improve their health permanently by teaching them basic nutrition, hygiene and health care. Better to offend Abdullah than to stop doing that."
"Still, I wish you hadn't made an enemy of that man."
"He hit me with a stick!" Jane shouted furiously. Chantal
began to cry. Jane forced herself to be calm. She rocked Chantal for a moment, then began to feed her. Why couldn't Jean-Pierre see how cowardly his attitude was? How could he be intimidated by the threat of expulsion from this godforsaken country? Jane sighed. Chantal turned her face away from Jane's breast and made discontented noises. Before the argument could continue they heard distant shouting.
Jean-Pierre frowned, listening, then got up. A man's voice came from their courtyard. Jean-Pierre picked up a shawl and draped it over Jane's shoulders. She pulled it together in the front. This was a compromise: it was not really sufficient covering, by Afghan standards, but she refused point-blank to scuttle out of the room like a second-class citizen if a man walked into her house while she was feeding her baby; and anyone who objected, she had announced, had better not come to see the doctor.
Jean-Pierre called out in Dari: "Come in."
It was Mohammed Khan. Jane was in a mood to tell him just what she thought of him and the rest of the village men, but she hesitated when she saw the strain on his handsome face. For once he hardly looked at her. "The convoy was ambushed," he said without preamble. "We lost twenty-seven men - and all the supplies."
Jane closed her eyes in pain. She had traveled with such a convoy when she first came to the Five Lions Valley, and she could not help but picture the ambush: the moonlit line of brown-skinned men and scrawny horses stretched out unevenly along a stony trail through a narrow, shadowy valley; the beat of the rotor blades in a sudden crescendo; the flares, the grenades, the machine-gun fire; the panic as the men tried to take cover on the bare hillside; the hopeless shots fired at the invulnerable helicopters; and then at last the shouts of the wounded and the screams of the dying.
She thought suddenly of Zahara: her husband had been with the convoy. "What - what about Ahmed Gul?"
"He came back."
"Oh, thank God," Jane breathed.
"But he's wounded."
"Who from this village died?"
"None. Banda was lucky. My brother Matullah is all right, and so is Alishan Karim, the brother of the mullah. There are three other survivors - two of them wounded."
Jean-Pierre said: "I'll come right away." He stepped into the front room of the house, the room that had once been the shop, and then the clinic, and was now the medical storeroom.
Jane put Chantal down in her makeshift cradle in the corner and hastily tidied herself up. Jean-Pierre would probably need her help, and if he did not, then Zahara could use some sympathy.
Mohammed said: "We have almost no ammunition."
Jane felt little regret about that. She was revolted by the war, and she would shed no tears if the rebels were obliged for a while to stop killing poor miserable homesick seventeen-year-old Russian soldier boys.
Mohammed went on: "We have lost four convoys in a year. Only three got through."
"How are the Russians able to find them?" asked Jane.
Jean-Pierre, who was listening in the next room, spoke through the open doorway. "They must have intensified their surveillance of the passes by low-flying helicopters - or perhaps even by satellite photography."
Mohammed shook his head. "The Pushtuns betray us."
Jane thought this was possible. In the villages through which they passed, the convoys were sometimes seen as a magnet for Russian raids, and it was conceivable that some villagers might buy their safety by telling the Russians where the convoys were - although it was not clear to Jane just how they would pass the information to the Russians.
She thought of what she had been hoping for from the ambushed convoy. She had asked for more antibiotics, some hypodermic needles and a lot of sterile dressings. Jean-Pierre had written out a long list of drugs. The organization Medecins pour la Liberte had a liaison man in Peshawar, the city in northwest Pakistan where the guerrillas bought their weapons. He might have got the basic
supplies locally, but he would have had the drugs flown from Western Europe. What a waste. It might be months before replacements arrived. In Jane's view that was a far greater loss than the ammunition.
Jean-Pierre came back in, caning his bag. The three of them went out into the courtyard. It was dark. Jane paused to give instructions to Fara about changing Chantal, then hurried after the two men.
She caught up with them as they approached the mosque. It was not an impressive building. It had none of the gorgeous colors or exquisite decoration familiar from coffee-table books about Islamic art. It was an open-sided building its mat roof supported by stone columns, and Jane thought it looked like a glorified bus shelter, or perhaps the veranda of a ruined colonial mansion. An archway through the middle of the building led to a walled yard. The villagers treated it with small reverence. They prayed there, but they also used it as a meeting hall, marketplace, schoolroom and guesthouse. And tonight it would be a hospital.
Oil lamps suspended from hooks in the stone columns now lit the veranda-like mosque building. The villagers formed a crowd to the left of the archway. They were subdued: several women were sobbing quietly, and the voices of two men could be heard, one asking questions and the other answering. The crowd parted to admit Jean-Pierre, Mohammed and Jane.
The six survivors of the ambush were huddled in a group on the beaten-earth floor. The three uninjured ones squatted on their haunches, still wearing their round Chitrali caps, looking dirty, dispirited and exhausted. Jane recognized Marullah Khan, a younger version of his brother Mohammed; and Alishan Karim, thinner than his brother the mullah, but just as mean-looking. Two of the wounded men sat on the floor with their backs to the wall, one with a filthy, bloodstained bandage around his head and the other with his arm in an improvised sling. Jane did not know either of them. She automatically assessed their wounds: at first glance they appeared slight.
The third injured man, Ahmed Gul, was lying flat on a stretcher made from two sticks and a blanket. His eyes were closed and his skin was gray. His wife, Zahara, squatted behind him, cradling his head in her lap, stroking his hair and weeping silently. Jane could not see his wounds, but she could tell they must be serious.
Jean-Pierre called for a table, hot water and towels, then got down on his knees beside Ahmed. After a few seconds he looked up at the other guerrillas and said in Dari: "Was he in an explosion?''
"The helicopters had rockets," said one of the uninjured. "One went off beside him."
Jean-Pierre reverted to French and spoke to Jane: "He's in a bad way. It's a miracle he survived the journey."
Jane could see bloodstains on Ahmed's chin: he had been coughing blood, a sign that he had internal injuries.
Zahara looked pleadingly at Jane. "How is he?" she asked in Dari.
"I'm sorry, my friend," answered Jane as gently as she could. "He's bad."
Zahara nodded resignedly: she had known it, but the confirmation brought fresh tears to her handsome face.
Jean-Pierre said to Jane: "Check the others for me - I don't want to lose a minute here."
Jane examined the other two wounded men. "The head wound is just a scratch," she said after a moment.
"Deal with it," said Jean-Pierre. He was supervising the lifting of Ahmed onto a table.
She looked at the man with his arm in a sling. He was more seriously hurt: it looked as if a bullet had smashed a bone. "This must have hurt," she said to the guerrilla in Dari. He grinned and nodded. These men were made of cast iron. "The bullet broke the bone," she said to Jean-Pierre.
Jean-Pierre did not look up from Ahmed. "Give him a local anesthetic, clean the wound, take out the bits and give him a clean sling. We'll set the bone later."
She began to prepare the injection. When Jean-Pierre
needed her assistance he would call. It looked as if it might be a long night.
Ahmed died a few minutes after midnight, and Jean-Pierre felt like crying - not with sadness, for he hardly knew Ahmed, but with sheer frustration, for he knew he could have saved the man's life, if only he had had an anesthetist and electricity and an operating theater.
He covered the dead man's face, then looked at the wife, who had been standing motionless, watching, for hours. "I'm sorry," he said to her. She nodded. He was glad she was calm. Sometimes they accused him of not trying everything: they seemed to think he knew so much that there was nothing he couldn't cure, and he wanted to scream / am not God at them; but this one seemed to understand.
He turned away from the corpse. He was weary to his bones. He had been working on mangled bodies all day, but this was the first patient he had lost. The people who had been watching him, mostly relatives of the dead man, came forward now to deal with the body. The widow began to wail, and Jane led her away.
Jean-Pierre felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see Mohammed, the guerrilla who organized the convoys. He felt a stab of guilt.
Mohammed said: "It's the will of Allah."
Jean-Pierre nodded. Mohammed took out a pack of Pakistani cigarettes and lit one. Jean-Pierre began to gather up his instruments and put them into his bag. Without looking at Mohammed he said: "What will you do now?"
"Send another convoy immediately," Mohammed said. "We must have ammunition."
Jean-Pierre was suddenly alert, despite his fatigue. "Do you want to look at the maps?"
Jean-Pierre closed his bag, and the two men walked away from the mosque. The stars illuminated their way through the village to the shopkeeper's house. In the living room, Fara was asleep on a rug beside Chantal's cradle.
She awoke instantly and stood up. "You can go home now," Jean-Pierre told her. She left without speaking.
Jean-Pierre put his bag down on the floor, then picked up the cradle gently and carried it into the bedroom. Chantal stayed asleep until he put the cradle down, then she began to cry. "Now what is it?" he murmured to her. He looked at his wristwatch and realized she probably wanted feeding. "Mama's coming soon," he told her. This had no effect. He lifted her out of the cradle and began to rock her. She became quiet. He carried her back into the living room.
Mohammed was standing waiting. Jean-Pierre said: "You know where they are."
Mohammed nodded and opened a painted wooden chest. He took out a thick bundle of folded maps, selected several and spread them on the floor. Jean-Pierre rocked Chantal and looked over Mohammed's shoulder. "Where was the ambush?" he asked.
Mohammed pointed to a spot near the city of Jalalabad.
The trails followed by Mohammed's convoys were not shown on these or any other maps. However, Jean-Pierre's maps showed some of the valleys, plateaus and seasonal streams where there might be trails. Sometimes Mohammed knew from memory what was there. Sometimes he had to guess, and he would discuss with Jean-Pierre the precise interpretation of contour lines or the more obscure terrain features such as moraines.
Jean-Pierre suggested: "You could swing more to the north around Jalalabad." Above the plain in which the city stood, there was a maze of valleys like a cobweb stretched between the Konar and Nuristan rivers.
Mohammed lit another cigarette - like most of the guerrillas, he was a heavy smoker - and shook his head dubiously as he exhaled. "There have been too many ambushes in that area," he said. "If they are not betraying us already they soon will. No; the next convoy will swing south of Jalalabad."
Jean-Pierre frowned. "I don't see how that's possible.
To the south, there's nothing but open country all the way from the Khyber Pass. You'd be spotted."
"We won't use the Khyber Pass," said Mohammed. He put his finger on the map, then traced the Afghanistan-Pakistan border southward. "We will cross the border at Teremengal." His finger reached the town he had named, then traced a route from there to the Five Lions Valley.
Jean-Pierre nodded, hiding his jubilation. "It makes a lot of sense. When will the new convoy leave here?"
Mohammed began to fold up the charts. "The day after tomorrow. There is no time to lose." He replaced the maps in the painted chest, then went to the door.
Jane came in just as he was leaving. He said "Goodnight" to her in an absent-minded way. Jean-Pierre was glad the handsome guerrilla no longer had the hots for Jane since her pregnancy. She was definitely oversexed, in Jean-Pierre's opinion, and quite capable of letting herself be seduced; and for her to have an affair with an Afghan would have caused endless trouble.
Jean-Pierre's medical bag was on the floor where he had left it, and Jane bent down to pick it up. His heart missed a beat. He took the bag from her quickly. She gave him a mildly surprised look. "I'll put this away," he said. "You see to Chantal. She needs feeding." He gave the baby to her.
He carried the bag and a lamp into the front room as Jane settled down to feed Chantal. Cartons of medical supplies were stacked on me dirt floor. Already-opened boxes were arranged on the shopkeeper's crude wooden shelves. Jean-Pierre put his medical bag on the blue-tiled counter and took out a black plastic object about the size and shape of a portable telephone. This he put in his pocket.
He emptied his bag, putting the instruments for sterilization to one side and stowing the unused items on the shelves.
He returned to the living room. "I'm going down to the river to bathe," he said to Jane. "I'm too dirty to go to bed."
She gave him the dreamy, contented smile she often wore when feeding the baby. "Be quick," she said.
He went out.
The village was going to sleep, at last. Lamps still burned in a few houses, and he heard from one window the sound of a woman weeping bitterly, but most places were quiet and dark. Passing the last house in the village, he heard a woman's voice raised in a high, mournful song of bereavement, and for a moment he felt the crushing weight of the deaths he had caused; then he put the thought out of his mind.
He followed a stony path between two barley fields, looking around constantly and listening carefully: the men of the village would now be at work. In one field he heard the hiss of scythes, and on a narrow terrace he saw two men weeding by lamplight. He did not speak to them.
He reached the river, crossed the ford and climbed the winding path up the opposite cliff. He knew he was quite safe, yet he felt increasingly tense as he ascended the steep path in the faint light.
After ten minutes he reached the high point he was seeking. He took the radio from his pocket and extended its telescopic antenna. It was the latest and most sophisticated small transmitter the KGB had, but even so the terrain here was so inimical to radio transmission that the Russians had built a special relay station, on a hilltop just inside the territory they controlled, to pick up his signals and pass them on.
He pressed the talk button and spoke in English and in code. "This is Simplex. Come in, please."
He waited, then called again.
After the third try he got a crackly, accented reply. "Here is Butler. Go ahead, Simplex."
"Your party was a big success."
"I repeat: The party was a big success," came the reply.
"Twenty-seven people attended and one more came later."
"I repeat: Twenty-seven attended and one came later.''
"In preparation for the next one, I need three camels." In code that meant "Meet me three days from today."
"I repeat: You need three camels.''
"I will see you at the mosque." That, too, was code: "the mosque" was a place some miles away where three valleys met.
"I repeat: At the mosque."
"Today is Sunday." That was not code: it was a precaution against the possibility that the dullard who was taking all this down might not realize it was after midnight, with the consequence that Jean-Pierre's contact would arrive a day early at the rendezvous.
"I repeat: Today is Sunday.''
"Over and out."
Jean-Pierre collapsed the antenna and returned the radio to his pocket, then he made his way down the cliff to the riverside.
He stripped off his clothes quickly. From the pocket of the shirt he took a nailbrush and a small piece of soap. Soap was a scarce commodity, but he as doctor had priority.
He stepped gingerly into the Five Lions River, knelt down, and splashed icy water all over himself. He soaped his skin and his hair, then picked up the brush and began to scrub himself: his legs, his belly, his chest, his face, his arms and his hands. He worked especially hard on his hands, soaping them again and again. Kneeling in the shallows, naked and shivering beneath the stars, he scrubbed and scrubbed as if he would never stop.