This story is from Paul Worthington, Born July 1980 in South Wales U.K. Lives with partner and two children in the South Wales Valleys. He writes novel-length work but prefers short fiction particularly in the Horror, Sci-fi, Crime and Post-apocalyptic genres. Follow him on Twitter @werthyp or WordPress.
Some people say that he’s almost eighty years old although to my eyes I’d say he looks about seventy, maybe seventy two at a push. He certainly moves like someone younger than eighty, very lithe and supple, not creaking at the joints or as stiff as a board. After all age is just a number and a person is only as old as they feel, as long as you feel young then that spring in the step can be held onto for a little longer.
The sides and the back of his white hair have been neatly trimmed to a short length while the top has been carefully combed from a side parting, an equally white goatee beard is also clipped short and completes the distinguished look. The nostrils and ears are free from the guilty fuzzy hairs that arrive on most men of a certain age and the deep brown eyes remain sharp and clear, they hint at a hidden edge that takes no prisoners.
It is almost seven thirty A.M. which means that breakfast will soon be ready, he poaches the perfect eggs and the toast is never burnt, ever. I usually allow coffee to go cool and then gulp it down greedily but I sip the old man’s so as to enjoy, to savour each exquisite mouthful as it waltzes along the taste buds to my gullet. I do not force him to cook for me and in fact I did not even ask for any food, and not just today but any day since we arrived here two weeks ago. He likes to be busy and loves to cook and in turn, as long as the food is this delicious I will continue to devour what he serves up each day.
He is the most watchable human being that I have ever encountered and in this time of strife and madness his calm manner is certainly a welcome distraction. He glides from the worktops to the sink in relative silence, thick socks and comfy slippers helping to masque the already carefully placed steps. Slow, methodical hand movements ensure that even when chopping vegetables with an imposing kitchen knife the sound is barely audible. He seems to live his entire life at a level that never exceeds seventy five decibels. He is the most peaceful, contented man that must surely exist on the whole planet.
Sometimes he gets lost in the past and he calls me Khalil, It’s close but my name is Khalid. Out of respect I do not correct him when he makes this mistake. Khalil is Grandpa’s nephew, tall and wiry with a mop of hair, he looks like me and we are similar in age which is probably at the root of the confusion between names. Over the days and weeks I answer to both names without batting an eyelid.
I don’t even have to get up from the table to fetch my plate, he wafts over and sets my breakfast down gingerly in front of me whilst slipping a knife and fork into my right hand with the dexterity of a seasoned pick pocket. During the days and evenings we converse about a range of topics, or rather he speaks profoundly and intelligently while I listen and learn but meals are conducted in the kind of silence that would make a monastery abbot proud. We sit opposite each other and just eat, no chit chat as though we are a tired couple who have grown apart over the years and have no conversation left, only a silent contempt for the other. Every day I offer to do the dishes and clean the kitchen but each time he shoo’s me away, rolls up the sleeves of his crisp, pressed shirt and sets to work.
Surprisingly, and this is a testament to his good character I think, he asks about me. My life before the war, my family and friends and about the tiny village where I grew up. A simple life, an ordinary existence by any measure. A story that constitutes my nineteen years on this Earth and to me is not much of a tale to tell. Certainly not as exciting as the exploits spun by Grandpa but he loves to hear my mundane stories. When we talk of such things I get the feeling that he’d happily swap his time at the head of our country for a chance at the mundane.
There were many stories told to me about the old man before I got here but after spending time with him I find the most extreme tales very hard to believe. They say he embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of his quarter of a century in office but I cannot imagine what he would want all that money for. He has shown absolutely no signs of being the materialistic, self-indulgent egotist that others have painted him to be.
Many people call to this modest residence on a daily basis, they say they want to see how I am but they are liars. They want to see the old man for themselves and they want to be sure that I still have him in custody! I ask these people about how things are in the outside world and what they say troubles me. Since the old man came here this country has fallen into chaos, the turmoil that he was supposedly causing has escalated to alarming levels since his fall from office. The power vacuum has sucked a multitude of unscrupulous characters and their private armies out from under their respective stones and all are fighting amongst themselves for a shot at the highest office in the land.
During the brief time we have spent together I have longed to ask him about the rumours that I have heard. I want to look into his eyes when I mention the years of corruption, the totalitarian system of governance he’d implemented and of course the slaughter that he sanctioned when the civil war began. The press did not offer any criticism when he was still in power, that precarious task was left to the bloggers to utilise the many unregulated forms of social media, but how reliable are those stories really? After people power ousted the tyrannical president from office the newspapers and the television news let rip with impunity, trashing the old man’s reputation daily. I cannot link these horrific tales of barbarism to the sweet old man that makes me breakfast each day.
He should be a wreck, he should be a terrified mess of a man considering the barbaric things that some people in this country are demanding as a fate for Grandpa. If he is at all frightened then he hides it well, he should have been an actor. If his wife, children and grandchildren were still in the country I think he would be afraid for them, for their safety but knowing that they are safe on foreign soil brings him all the comfort he requires. I think he knows that very soon his time will be up, I just hope they make it quick for him, he deserves that. An instant, dignified end is what should happen. All that matters to the revolution is that he dies to atone for his crimes. Prolonging his suffering or humiliating him does not make him pay any more!
He’s not my real Grandpa of course but there was a time many years ago when he swept to power that he was Grandpa to us all. The Royal family lived a life of luxury while the rest of the country eked out an existence on the very brink of starvation. Dissent was met with arrest, torture and execution and with the army behind them, the Emir seemed unstoppable.
Grandpa, or Colonel Aalam Al Bahonar as he was known then, one day he saw enough. Quietly he raised a following and with supporters among the army he staged a coup and toppled the Emir, brutally they say but he says nothing about the Royal executions. Like the Tsar and his family in 1918, the Emir and his entire family were executed at an unnamed place and at an undisclosed time. Grandpa triumphantly announced that the Royals were gone but gave no details, robbing them of the chance of martyrdom in the minds of their stubborn followers.
I was only a child but even then I could see it, every time he appeared on the television people stopped to soak up every word, gazing at their screens with genuine love in their eyes. Tears, actual tears dripped from the eyes of the toughest of men when he deposed the last dictator and saved us. Even my own father cried, he did not cry the day I was born but on seeing the new saviour of our country he broke down and wept!
Many amongst the revolutionaries volunteered to keep watch over Grandpa, clambering over each other to get themselves in the frame. I was chosen precisely because I am not a desperate volunteer, not some glory hunting wannabe who would probably have killed the old man one night and made up a story about him trying to escape. He has been no threat to me at all and unless he is lulling me into a false sense of security, which I don’t think he is, I don’t think he will ever be a threat to me. My reliable old AK is at my side and has been since the brief civil war which ousted Grandpa but not once have I had to brandish it in his dignified direction.
Mostly I am here to keep Grandpa safe from the angry civilians that turn up here with retribution on their minds. We get at least one visit per day, mostly families who have lost a father or an eldest son. I feel their pain as I saw the war in all it’s cruel ugliness but I have a job to do and I must keep him safe until the time is right. I hate having to chase off these grieving wrecks with my rifle in hand but I have no other choice. I am becoming too comfortable here and am enjoying his company too much, when the time comes to hand him over I know that my mind will be filled with conflict.
The days and nights passed and our enforced double occupancy brought the two of us together, allowing us to converse about what had brought us to this particular place, at this time. My confidence grew enough to ask about the past, about the alleged abuse of power and the war crimes. He took the questions in his stride and seemed unfazed at the frankness of my inquiries. The answers he gave were hard to argue with and made a lot of sense and forced me to see things from the other side of the table, a different perspective that did not show us as the patriotic heroes we imagined ourselves to be.
In his eyes we were the war criminals and I have to admit that there were certain elements of the rebel forces that were far from inline with the Geneva convention. Atrocities were committed by both sides and to be fair what sort of leader would Grandpa have been if he hadn’t tried to defend his supporters and his family. His family are staying with relatives and not in the mansion he has had built with embezzled funds, a place that does not exist except in the pages of the tabloid press. The millions that have allegedly been wired to foreign accounts do not exist, or so he says. He is hard to call a liar, such is the sincerity in his voice and words.
The reports on the television are becoming increasingly alarming, apparently the old man still has a fervent and willing following who have taken up arms to fight the many factions that are vying for control of this country. I’d imagined that he’d be overjoyed that his supporters are rising up but the reports brought only sorrow to his aging mind and body. Before bed I heard him praying for an end to the violence before sobbing himself to sleep. Whether he has always been a sympathetic soul I cannot be sure. He may have been the evil despot the media claims in the past but has now mellowed with age but I doubt it, nobody changes that much even over many decades.
The fighting escalated and the casualties mounted day by day and videos were released calling for the release and reinstatement of Grandpa to the highest office in the land. That was never going to happen though and the only sentiment that these actions did raise was that Grandpa should be tried and executed even earlier than planned. If there had been a legitimate government then maybe the trial could have been organised but with chaos at the very top the civil war reignited and the deaths and maimings continued.
The people had enough and resolved to put an end to Grandpa themselves. He saw the procession of flaming torches coming down the road before I did and knew the reason for their visit. With a hand on my shoulder he thanked me for keeping him safe these last few weeks, a warm smile spread across his face as he did so. There was no fear in him, none, not even hidden deep down. He seemed resigned to his fate, glad even. This would be no quick hanging or bullet to the back of the head, a hate filled mob would tear him to pieces and I told him as much.
I had not carried my AK for several weeks as a threat from Grandpa had not been present. While I watched the death procession approach I heard the old man pottering around behind me, I turned to find him with the rifle in his hands. At first I froze but then he extended both arms and told me “Take this Khalid, you know what to do.”
The mob hammered at the door and barked threats, I turned back to Grandpa and he was on his knees with his back to me.
“Please young man do this for me, this one last thing. Just make it quick. I deserve that.”
This situation I had dreaded for weeks, I knew it was coming but was powerless to halt it. With tears in my eyes I aimed at the crown of his head but could only croak “I can’t do it I…”
Grandpa bowed his head and calmly stated “You must, I’ll be out of the picture and you’ll be a hero of the people. It’ll bring peace, if you let them parade me for the world and punish me in public my supporters will go on fighting until there’s nothing left. It’s for the best, it has been a pleasure, take care my friend.”
I steadied my aim and curled a finger around the trigger and then with the mob forcing the front door I forced my eyes shut and…