Sad Drama Friendship

Gunfire rattled intermittently outside the conference room. Whenever the shots sounded the ministers looked at the doorway, hoping that wasn’t the moment the fight would spill inside. The tables and lecterns they normally sat behind had been pushed against the door to serve as a barricade. Allen Willard knew that the plywood and plastic would be no more than a moments protection against the bullets of an assault rifle. As a tall, skinny man, he wasn’t much of a target but that was little comfort to him.

            He looked at the other men and women who had been shedding layers since the power had died and the air conditioning with it. As darkness fell, they saw by the light of their phones in the darkness but none of them had any signal to make a call.

            Allen felt guilty that soldiers were fighting and dying outside to save his life. From the sour expressions on other faces, he knew that other people felt the same.

            The meeting to discuss trade agreements had been interrupted by violence hours before. The recent ceasefire was not to everyone’s liking. Those burning down the world outside had plenty of gripes about suits like Allen shaking hands and signing documents.

            “Does anyone have any food?” Agriculture Minister Boreanaz asked. Her stomach had been rumbling for half an hour. Hers wasn’t the only one.

            Boreanaz was a small woman in every sense but personality. Her hair was a no nonsense buzzcut. All she wore for makeup was barely noticeable lipstick to show off her golden skin. Simple silver stud earrings somehow suited her perfectly.

            “I have a few breakfast bars in my briefcase,” Fishing Minister Al-Baghdadi said. He opened his briefcase and set the four unopened breakfast bars out on the carpet in the centre of the room where the stepped floor hid them a little from the doorway.

            Al-Baghdadi was the second oldest of them. His hair was as grey and black. From the lines on his face it was obvious he smiled and frowned in equal measure. His suit was expensive but simple. He wore the best but didn’t need to show it off.

            “I have half a bottle of water,” said opposition Chief of Agriculture, Selena Argento.

            Argento was average in height but towered over Boreanaz. She had long silky black hair which had been tied up. She liked to wear more colour than any of them. Her suit was a deep blue. The shirt she wore was a sky blue to compliment it. In each ear she gold earrings with a blue stone Allen guessed were sapphires.

            “You have anything Chief of Fisheries?” Allen asked David Coulter, the opposition counterpart to Al-Baghdadi. Coulter was a rugged looking man with tattoos visible beneath the collar of his shirt. Allen had seen old photos of the man with his arms covered in tattoos that supported the armed rebellion which had split the country for decades at the cost of thousands of lives.

            Allen Willard knew that both sides had been monstrous. Both sides had been accused of war crimes by foreign nations over land either side of a river. It all seemed so ridiculous to fight about when the ink was dry on the peace treaty.

            Coulter took almost two minutes to acknowledge that Allen had spoken as the sweaty man stared off into space. When his head snapped around, he nodded that he had something.

            “Care to share?” Allen asked.

            “No. I don’t,” said the man coldly. He didn’t quite make eye contact with Willard who was unbuttoning his shirt more. Temperatures outside were around 42 degrees Celsius and starting to catch up with that inside.

            Allen’s shirt was sticking to him. He didn’t want to imagine what he would smell like to anyone else. They all looked a mess. Anyone wearing makeup looked like a clown in the rain. The oldest of them, Chief of Finance Mitchell, was asleep. Allen hoped it wasn’t heatstroke.

            Mitchell was the only one of them older than the civil war. He probably couldn’t remember a time before the conflict, but it was a nice token of peace to have him there anyway. He was a thin man as well with a slight gut that was perfectly respectable for a man in his late seventies. All his hair was white and as far as Allen knew it had been for years. He was a kind man until someone crossed a line with him, a dog with a bone if he thought someone was trying to cheat his people.

            Fisheries Chief Coulter eventually pulled a packet of roasted peanuts from one pocket and some melting boiled sweets from another. He threw the food into the pile in the middle of them.

            “Should we eat? Or wait a bit longer?” Selena Argento asked. She had long black hair bound up into a bun. Her hairline was shimmering from the sweat on her scalp. A simple gold band adorned her marriage finger and a gold chain with a crucifix hung from her neck. She’d pulled the cross out where everyone could see it when she first heard gunfire. As it had been driven further away from the embassy, she had stopped praying with her eyes closed.

            “It’s been like this for five hours now. Who knows how long it will last?” said Minister Boreanaz. She took off her glasses to clean them as she had continually to soothe herself.

            “The army will be here soon. One way or another this can’t last much longer,” said Al-Baghdadi, smiling slightly as if it gave him hope.

            “Is that a good or a bad thing? It just means more idiots with guns outside,” David said, he scratched the short grey hairs on his head. He looked at his sweets with hunger in his eyes. He let out a grunting sigh. “Perhaps our Chief of Finance has the right idea. Waking up to this being over wouldn’t be so bad. Sleeping through our execution wouldn’t be the worst thing either.”

            “Pessimist,” said Argento. “God will see us through.” She touched her cross again and looked at the ceiling.

            “Plenty of the kids I went to school with believed in god. It didn’t stop them from dying in battle. I don’t think God takes sides. I don’t think he exists either.” Argento gasped at the statement and turned away as if to hide her golden crucifix from the blasphemer.

            “Philosophy aside what are everyone’s thoughts on eating?” Allen asked. His stomach was making a bubbling sound. Whatever it was saying he agreed.

            As Mitchel passed wind in his sleep Argento began laughing as Boreanaz made a face and covered his face with his sweaty sleeve.

            “Most interesting thing he’s said all day!” Argento laughed. Despite himself the Chief of Fisheries cracked a smile.

Bang! Crash. The sound of glass breaking outside made every head turn. Somewhere nearby, someone had fired a gun towards the building and destroyed one of the artful stained-glass windows which had been rescued from a condemned church.

            Everyone pressed themselves to the floor. Allen tasted sick in his mouth, wondering if he was about to die. He hoped he wasn’t about to wet himself and be found in a puddle of his own blood and piss.

            Quiet. Perfect silence but for the breathing of the fearful and the snoring of the old man who had somehow slept through the shot. After a while the sleeper had all eyes on him, all of them disbelieving.

            “How could he sleep through that?” asked the Chief of Agriculture, still clutching her crucifix. She shook her head. Then she said they should all make an agreement right there and then to spite the people killing each other outside.

            Allen was all for it. Minister Al-Baghdadi shrugged as if he couldn’t think of anything better to do. There were no more sounds of gunfire. David Coulter, Chief of Fisheries for the opposition agreed. Agriculture Minister Boreanaz said he would talk if they could eat first.

            Everything was counted and divided six ways. Selena woke her Chief of Finance by shaking him gently and explaining that they had agreed to continue the trade negotiations after food.

            Javier Mitchell yawned as he nodded his agreement. He groaned as he stretched and rubbed his back. Selena was joined in saying grace by Boreanaz, Coulter and Mitchel. Al-Baghdadi said a du’a. Watching them all, Allen saw some judgement from the believers, divided as they were between different faiths but united in seeing him as faithless.

            Hoping his hands were clean, Allen broke the four breakfast bars into three pieces as equally as he could. All of them ate, eyes swivelling around and nodding to Fahad Al-Baghdadi for the most nourishing portion of the meal.

            As he ate Coulter rolled up his sleeves to reveal more of the tattoos. When he caught them looking at the writing, he rolled the sleeves up further and rolled his arms to show everyone. They could see the raw pink of his skin where he said he was having the tattoos removed with laser surgery.

            After finishing four little bites of cereal bound together by honey David Coulter admitted he had a pocket full of boiled sweets. He placed the opened bag on the floor and counted them out in their multi-coloured wrappers. There were nine remaining. Coulter suggested that Boreanaz, Al-Baghdadi and Willard get an extra each as a show of good will. Argento and Mitchell agreed.

            Nodding and muttering thanks Allen and his fellow ministers took two sweets while the opposition took one. Allen’s first boiled sweet was lemon flavoured. Despite normally being the one he hated most the energy from it alone made it taste miraculous. He was thankful that the second was grape flavoured and that he could smile genuinely as he let it dissolve slowly in his mouth.

            Allen’s packet of mints had been in the pile from the beginning. They had all agreed that mints should be eaten after everything else for the sake of taste. It was from eating those and too little else that Willard was so thin in the first place.

            Fanning himself with his sodden shirt as he asked how they would divide Selena’s half bottle of water. The mention of swigging it brought a grimace to the faces of Al-Baghdadi and Coulter. All of them had been given bottles of water. Allen’s was still in the drawer of his desk, pressed against the door. He pulled it from the drawer and let out a cry of joy to see a cup inside that he had not noticed before. As he searched the other drawers, he found a cup in each.

            Argento measured out water for each of them as they held out their cups. Little by little she filled them with a drip and a drop, face screwed up in concentration. Like the rest of them Allen thought that there was more water soaked into her shirt than left in the little bottle.

            All of them raised their plastic cups as if making a toast and drank their share of the water. It was gone too soon. All of them had looks of concern on their face as they stared at their empty cups.

            Once again Al-Baghdadi said that the army would arrive soon. He popped a mint into his mouth from the pile and gave a little smile and shrug.

            Argento told them all that after high school she had considered joining the rebel army which had been fighting the government for decades. She flushed with shame as she said so. Mitchel reached across the circle of ministers and placed a wrinkled hand on her shoulder, telling her that there was no point in worrying about things she might have done.

            “The war went on forever. It took my cousin. Some of my friends.” Selena had a distant look in her brown eyes as she spoke. “It was a waste. Pointless.”

            “All war is pointless,” said Mitchell, “it’s over now, even if the idiots outside wish it wasn’t.”

            “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent,” said Allen. All eyes turned to him, and he shrank back.

            “Who said that?” Mitchell asked. “Ghandi?”

            “Isaac Asimov,” said Willard, giving a wry smile as five faces frowned at him.

            “You’re one of those then?” Boreanaz asked.

            “I guess so.”

            “What do you think Asimov would do just now?” Selena asked.

            “Write you as a man for one thing,” said Allen. “There aren’t many women in his stories.” He shrugged to say he thought it was a bad idea as well.

            “There are only two women here. That’s not so great either,” she said. “We still have a long way to go for equality.”

            “I’d drink to that if there was any water left,” said Boreanaz. She checked her phone again. The long sigh she let out afterward said clearly that there was still no signal.

            Having eaten they retrieved the papers which had been scattered in the scramble to bar the doors. In their sweaty shirts, tired and still hungry despite the small meal. They hammered out agreements for two hours.

            There was less arguing than there had been. Haggling over rates of tax and import and export limits was more forgiving because somehow it seemed they had become friends. They couldn’t formalise the agreement, but it was down on paper at least.

Night fell. One by one they fell asleep. Allen saw Selena checking her phone again without a hint of joy as his eyelids locked down for a few hours.

            When he woke there were soldiers banging on the doors. He rushed to help the others move the barricade out of the way. As the doors opened the six ministers let out a gasp of horror, seeing the mess outside.

            Windows were smashed. Furniture had been ripped up by the mob. Threats and slogans were written on the walls. Spray paint called them traitors, to which side they didn’t know. There were splashes of blood here and there, though the bodies were gone.

            Tanks sat amidst the chaos of the car park outside. Every car had been set on fire. Most were still trailing smoke into the sky. Placards lay broken on the ground. There seemed to be more glass than there had been windows. 

            Bullet holes pocked the brickwork. Soldiers swarmed to make a wall around them and herded them into an armoured vehicle before the heavy doors were slammed shut.

            They drove through the city for another hour. When they stopped at last the light outside seemed blinding. As Allen’s eyes adjusted he saw his three new friends being handcuffed by the soldiers and dragged away.

            “What are you doing?” he shouted.

            “Arresting them,” said a soldier who was pushing Allen in the opposite direction.

            “What for? We have a peace treaty. They’re ministers in the new government.”

            “They broke the peace. The junta is in power now. They’re prisoners. You’re civilians. No more peace.” He spat the word peace as if it was the worst blasphemy to stop killing. He was a young man, early twenties if he was out of his teens.

            Allen looked back and saw Coulter and Mitchell’s heads disappearing beneath black sacks and heard Argento’s scream from beneath her hood as she was lifted off her feet kicking and screaming by more grim-faced soldiers.

            “This is bullshit,” Allen roared. “They have rights. I am the finance minister. Let them go.” The air in his lungs was whipped out as a fist hit him in the gut. Another punch from a different man broke his nose sending a warm fizz of pain across his face.

            Falling hard to the ground Allen saw the dance of light between the camouflage of trousers and felt the hard steel caps of booted feet hitting him in the stomach. He curled up into a ball and felt the sting of kicks for several minutes as he counted in his head. They called him a traitor. Some of them spat on him.

            Eventually the soldiers seemed bored. He lay on concrete ground, turning over. His head was spinning. One eye would not open. When he looked at his hand, he saw blood more than his own skin.

            Allen saw Al-Baghdadi in his own pool of blood, but the man wasn’t moving. Crawling along the ground he pulled himself towards the man who had fed them with breakfast bars. Trying to check for a pulse Allen wasn’t sure who’s pulse he really felt.

He looked around. The boys with guns were still there, mocking the bloody men. Boreanaz was gone. Where had they taken her? Why were teenage boys allowed to have guns?

Hearing a scream Willard whipped his hear around towards the noise but the motion made him sick and after throwing up blood and teeth he felt darkness take him as the sound of a gunshot echoed off nearby walls.

June 29, 2021 13:33

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Moon Lion
16:21 Dec 16, 2021

Despite the obviously grim situation awaiting all of them, the story was really fun to read as it showed each character and flowed with well written dialogue. I don't know why, but I think this is actually one of the first stories I've ever read about government officials in these kinds of moments, which made it all the more interesting.


Graham Kinross
21:22 Dec 16, 2021

Thank you. I was thinking about peace deals and anti-arms treaties that have been thrown away by short sighted people. There’s been a lot of that recently.


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Shahnaz Parveen
09:01 Jul 08, 2021

Great story line


Graham Kinross
23:02 Jul 08, 2021

Thank you.


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