1982 and Sami is far from home, trapped in war-torn Beirut, a city under siege by the Israelis. All he wants is to go home to his family in Sri Lanka but in order to stay alive he must learn to kill.
David, a captain in the Sri Lankan army, is sent to the steamy jungles in the north of the country as punishment for an indiscretion and is thrown into the brutal insurrection by militant separatist Tamil Tigers.
As civil war erupts in Sri Lanka and tears this once peaceful nation apart, David's love, the beautiful Priyani makes a difficult choice and the paths of these two men cross on opposing sides of the struggle. They must plumb the depths of their courage and question their beliefs about right and wrong.
Sacred Tears, the first in a trilogy, is a powerful and evocative depiction of Sri Lanka's great beauty and recent tumultuous history. It will take you inside the story of this ancient nation and into the heart of a gripping human struggle.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.94(d)|
Read an Excerpt
By Roderic Grigson
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Roderic Grigson
All rights reserved.
They reached the coast at midnight. The two military trucks turned off the main highway onto a neglected gravel track which wound through rows of orange trees. From where he sat perched in the back of the second truck, Sami saw the fruit reflected in the headlights like glowing yellow eyes.
After bumping slowly around deep potholes, the trucks pulled up at a cluster of five old wooden huts around a clearing. In a huge open-sided shed, empty wooden crates were stacked untidily from floor to ceiling.
Sami still felt sick from the winding drive down the mountain. He had sat on the men's rucksacks and kept a tight grip on the three rubber dinghies beside him as the truck lurched around the tight bends. He'd had to take slow deep breaths to stop himself from throwing up.
Captain Baqar, the leader of the Fidayeen Commandos, jumped down from the first truck and looked around. A short, bear-like man with a temperament to match, he took every opportunity to assert his authority.
'Everyone out,' he yelled in Arabic. 'I want an armed guard watching the trucks! These bloody locals, I don't trust them.'
The commandos climbed out of the two trucks and stretched their legs after the long drive. One of the officers, a tall, lean-faced man, pointed at the shacks across the clearing. 'Move your gear into those two huts.'
Sami helped the men unload their kitbags from the back of the truck and helped carry bedrolls across to the huts. Captain Baqar stood smoking with the other two officers, speaking in urgent tones about the mission. Sami knew that their target was an oil storage depot which supplied the northern Israeli military outposts. It sounded as if the officers were afraid they might be detected as they approached the depot by sea.
After the last bag was unloaded, Sami stretched his aching back and took a deep breath. The salty air and the sound of waves washing up on the nearby beach reminded him of his parents' home in Colombo. His father used to lead Sami and his brother across the railway tracks to the sand, where they would search for seashells among the rocks and run from the waves that chased them up the beach. Normally Sami tried not to think about his family and the fact they had no idea where he was. It just depressed him.
The captain turned to Sami. 'Don't stand around sniffing the air like a dog. Get my bags in there and make sure we have somewhere to sleep.'
Sami picked up the captain's bedroll and rucksack and ran towards the hut. It didn't pay to be around the captain when he was in a foul mood.
The hut door wouldn't open. Sami shoved it hard with his shoulder. The hinges groaned as the door opened. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light he saw old faded posters of Hollywood movies curling on the dirty scuffed walls. A layer of fine sand covered everything and crunched under Sami's feet as he crossed to open the window. The room smelled of rotten food and piss. Rubbish lay in the corners and a pile of unwashed plates was stacked on the floor against the back wall.
Sami didn't want to be there. Only that morning he had been called from his hut in the mountain camp and ordered to accompany the commandos down to the Israeli border. His job would be unloading the boats the men would use to approach their target the next night. It sounded simple but he'd heard stories from other servants of previous raids into Israel going horribly wrong.
Sami's ribs still ached where the captain had kicked him when Sami said he didn't want to go with them down to the coast.
'You worthless piece of shit, who are you to question me?' It was not the first time the captain had hit him. He yelled and threw things at all the servants in the camp.
Most of the Palestinian officers treated Sami like an animal. But it was better than that filthy Saudi gaol where they found him. Sami owed the Palestinians for getting him out of the clutches of the Afghan gang. He couldn't stop himself thinking about what had happened in gaol. It slipped into his thoughts hundreds of times a day.
The captain poked his head through the door of the hut. 'What a goddamn shithole,' he growled. 'God, I hate this country.'
Sami kept out of the captain's reach as the man stomped towards the back room. It looked like the fruit pickers had used the back room for sleeping. The room had four rows of bunk beds, each mattress rolled and tied with a cord. Sami rushed to open the two windows, letting in fresh air that smelt of the sea.
The captain looked around. 'This is better!' He flexed his head this way and that to loosen his neck muscles. He grunted and pulled one of the beds closer to a window. 'Unroll it here,' he said. 'And get rid of that filthy mattress. I don't want it anywhere near me.'
The two young officers who followed the captain into the back room looked nervous. Sami knew it was their first mission. Their eyes darted around the room, knuckles white where they clutched their weapons.
Lieutenant Shafiq nodded at Sami as they passed. Not much older than Sami, the lieutenant reminded him of his older brother. He had the same deep-set eyes that made him look serious even when he was trying to be funny.
After the officers settled in their hut, Sami sat outside on the step. The sea breeze had picked up, rustling the leaves on the fruit trees. Sami could hear the men talking inside. He knew he should get some sleep but his mind was restless. He just wanted to be back in the mountains where he felt safe.
The sentry patrolling the open area walked over. 'Hey Sami, has the captain been giving you a hard time?' He had a laugh in his voice.
Sami waved to him. 'What do you think, my friend?'
Abdul was the youngest of the Fidayeen fighters. He used to come to the kitchen hut in the camp and he and Sami had become friends. He would give them all cigarettes in return for Lebanese bread that he would smuggle away under his tunic.
Abdul grinned at Sami, and walked towards the orchards at the back of the hut.
The truck had backed up against a sloping ramp and Sami climbed it to retrieve his bedroll and bag. The torn, old canvas bag held everything that he owned: a clean thawb and a change of underwear wrapped around a toothbrush and a piece of soap. In an outer pocket a plastic card identified him as an indentured servant of the Palestinians. Everyone needed some form of identification in this security-mad country.
The canvas bag also concealed a secret: a small but growing stash of money stuffed in the lining, notes he had collected from the men's pockets when they threw their clothes at him for washing. Sami was determined to leave this place one day and the money gave him hope that he would one day walk in the front door of his parents' house.
He found a clean place to unroll his bedding on the floor of the hut and propped open the door with a piece of wood. He stretched out but could not sleep. He tried to focus on the familiar soothing sound of the waves, but all he could think about was heading back to the mountains with the trucks after the men left on their mission.
After lying awake for what seemed like an hour, Sami crept out of the hut. He took a few deep breaths of the salty night air and looked around for Abdul. He had to be careful. Abdul might mistake him for a local.
The bright moon made huge balls of cotton of the high, rounded clouds. The faint glow from the city of Sidon to the north hid some of the more distant galaxies that he could normally see from the training camp in the mountains. Sami walked into the orchard behind the hut. He could just see the dunes through the trees. The lure of the sea was strong. The sound of the waves breaking on the beach called to him. He made his way between the orange trees, the sea breeze soft on his face.
When Sami reached the beach he lay on his back and stretched out on the warm sand and at that moment a shooting star crossed the sky right above him. People back home believed that a falling star was a bad omen, predicting death or the demise of someone close. But Sami's grandfather used to laugh and tell Sami that it was a story made up by ignorant villagers.
A slow moving cloud covered the stars as tiredness finally overtook Sami and he fell asleep, lulled by the sound of the waves.
He woke suddenly, his heart thumping. What had woken him? He remained motionless and tried to remember where he was. The breeze brushing his face and the whisper of the waves reminded him.
He dug his fingers into the sand and watched a hint of dawn lighting the sky. Soon it would be time for Fajr. The men would wake for their morning prayers and Sami should already be busy preparing their breakfast of flatbread and hummus.
He was about to sit up when he sensed movement in the dunes to his right. With his eyes open wide to the dark, he strained to hear something. Over the sound of the surf he heard a muffled cough and a quick harsh command in a language he did not understand. A hot rush of fear raced through him. Breathing hard, almost gasping for air, he tried to stay calm but thought of all the armed groups in Lebanon who would shoot first and ask questions later.
Sami pressed himself deeper into the soft sand, his senses screaming with fear. He lay very still, praying that his cream-coloured thawb would be difficult to see against the white sand. A whisper of movement came from the dunes. A line of about ten men crossed the sand twenty metres from Sami. They walked quietly towards the fruit pickers' huts, their feet squeaking in the soft sand. The dark shapes, each carrying a weapon, took long minutes to pass.
Sami felt a sense of doom. He had managed to get out of the Saudi prison but had he ended up in a place even more dangerous? After a few minutes he rolled over on his stomach and lifted his head, his heart hammering. The empty dunes lay in front of him, leading back towards the orchard. He scuttled like a crab, keeping low to the ground, until he reached a tree and peered into the orchard where the men had disappeared. He had to find somewhere to hide.
Then something on the other side of the beach caught his eye and he realised it was another group of men trudging up the sand towards him. Sami gathered the thawb above his knees and darted into the orchard. A faint glimmer of light from one of the huts told him that the commandos were already waking for their prayers.
He stopped and rested his hand against the trunk of an orange tree, his breath still jagged. A strange metallic smell made him look down. At his feet a body lay crumpled, the head twisted at an unnatural angle.
Blood stained the ground under the man's head and in a terrible moment, Sami saw that it was his friend, Abdul. Oh no! Oh no! His heart thumped even louder. He was cold with sweat.
Even as he tried to scramble around the body, Sami couldn't keep his eyes off the dead sentry. This is bad, he thought. This is bad.
Flashes of light and explosions came from the camp, lighting up the fruit trees with an unearthly glow. Gunfire erupted within the orchard. Sami crouched on the sandy soil, his body shaking.
Out in the open, beside the dead sentry, Sami made an easy target. He scurried deeper into the orchard but the only places to hide were low piles of pruned branches. Bursts of automatic fire still sounded from the compound. A voice called from over near the gravel track to the camp. Another voice answered not far from where Sami crouched.
The burning trucks created a fiery pool of light. Sami's eyes searched the darkness, registering a flicker of movement. A man in a dark uniform, carrying a sub-machine gun, emerged from the direction of the huts, spotted Sami right away and in a single motion lifted his weapon and fired.
Bullets whistled past Sami and thudded into the tree trunk. A shout from the man was answered from inside the orchard. Sami scrambled back the way he came, keeping the tree between him and his attacker, his flesh cold with the anticipation of being hit. A pause in the gunfire made him look over his shoulder. He could not see anything, but knew the man would be searching for him. Sami was no stranger to trouble but he had never experienced someone out to kill him. He turned to go deeper into the orchard but tripped and crashed to the ground. It was Abdul. In his haste he had not seen the body.
Abdul's assault rifle lay on the ground, his hand still curled around the stock. Sami fumbled for the weapon. It was heavier than he had imagined. He had cleaned many of them at the camp but had never handled one with a full magazine. Although Sami felt more secure with a loaded rifle in his hand, he had never fired one. But he had seen it done many times. It couldn't be that difficult.
Sami's hands tightened around the rifle stock. The only way he could see to get out of there was to go around the camp to the main highway. He wiped the sweat from his hands on his thawb and moved parallel to the edge of the camp. He moved slowly, crouched almost double. Choking smoke and the sharp smell of explosives filled the air. Flashes of explosions and gunfire echoed loudly through the trees. The familiar slapping sound of an AK-47 firing made him look to the right. A few of the Fidayeen Commandos were fighting back. But the sporadic return fire came only from the other side of the camp.
Frightened but thinking more clearly, he reached an impassable chain link fence. He had no choice but to follow it to the far edge of the camp. He spotted a man moving around the outside of the last hut. A loud explosion rocked the building, blowing out the rear windows. The helmeted man, dressed in a dark uniform and draped with ammunition pouches, stood by a window and fired into the room. Someone screamed from inside the hut. Sami ducked behind a tree and pressed against the trunk. He prayed that the man didn't see him.
The man moved into the orchard to his right. Sami slunk away to the left, his eyes searching the area where the man had disappeared. He crept behind the hut, staying just inside the orchard and using the lower branches of the orange trees as cover. Someone shouted in Arabic from inside the camp. Flames flickered through the shattered back windows of the hut Sami had cleaned. The front of the hut was brightly lit by the burning trucks and he saw that the hut door was half open. He was almost at the corner but anyone crossing that open space would come under fire so he stayed crouched next to the hut wondering whether he should take a chance and get across to the other side.
A movement in the shadows behind Sami caught his attention. Two men stood behind a bush by the edge of the clearing and slightly ahead of him to the right. They were looking at something on the other side of the clearing.
If the men turned they would see Sami on his knees next to the tree and would not hesitate to shoot. Moving slowly, Sami steadied himself and carefully raised the rifle to his shoulder. He tried to imitate the actions of the commandos he had seen in training. Through the open sights of the weapon Sami aimed at the two men and pulled the trigger. The gun did not fire.
Sami looked down in horror, turning the gun from side to side, wondering what had happened. The safety catch was locked! Sami cursed himself. He'd watched the commandos train so many times. How could he make such a stupid error?
He unlocked the safety just as the men started to turn. One man's eyes widened in surprise as he saw Sami crouched by the tree.
Sami threw the rifle to his shoulder and pulled the trigger. He was blinded by the flash and blinked hard to clear his eyes. When he could see again, the two men had vanished. Had he hit them? Too scared to look away in case they reappeared, Sami kept the rifle on his shoulder. Someone shouted from the orchard where the men had been.
Sami turned and scrambled around the hut. Bullets thumped against the other side of the building. He crouched below the window with his back against the wall. Although hidden from whoever had fired, he was out in the open and knew he couldn't stay there too long. He remembered one of the instructors at camp telling the trainee commandoes that only constant movement during a fire fight would prevent them from being killed.
He could not go back to the orchard, so crept instead around the front corner of the building, crouching and holding the rifle low and ready to fire. Bullets hit around him, throwing puffs of sand into the air as he turned the corner. With no place to go he jumped through the open door into the hut. He slipped on the bedroll by the door and lost his balance, crashing to the floor onto his hands and knees. He scrambled away from the entrance knowing that staying there would get him killed.
Excerpted from Sacred Tears by Roderic Grigson. Copyright © 2013 Roderic Grigson. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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