Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Allegrezza Ficcione, Part 25

He was woken by Iskander. It was still dark outside.

"Umberto. The master has need of you, has asked me to bring you to Termez. You will need some clothes. It'll be cold there, & you'll be gone for a couple of days. Get some fruit from the kitchen to eat on the way. I will meet you outside."

Allegrezza threw a few things into a shoulderbag & went downstairs. No-one else was up. He got some fruit & went out to where Iskander was waiting with the motor running in the camouflage Landrover.

"What's happened?"

"I think he has found something he wants you to see. He didn't tell me much, only that I am to take you to Termez where Ibrohim will meet us & take you the rest of the way."

They drove cross-country, some of the time on roads, other times across farms & fields, arriving in Termez mid-morning. Iskander stopped in a street full of coffee-houses. "We've another hour before we meet Ibrohim. Time for a piss, coffee, something to eat."

"Fine by me," said Allegrezza. "Let's go to the backpacker place over there. I feel like a hamburger. It's been years since I last had one."

Ibrohim was waiting for them outside a godown on the road that headed south towards Afghanistan. He was driving a large khaki-coloured Toyota Landcruiser that had Pakistani plates. Umberto got out of the Landrover, walked around to the driver's side to say goodbye to Iskander. Iskander said nothing, held Umberto's hand for half a minute, seemed about to weep.

Allegrezza & Ibrohim drove south, crossing the border as if it wasn't there. "We have several hours driving ahead of us, up into the Hindu Kush," said Ibrohim & then lapsed into silence.

The views were spectacular, the road almost empty. They passed a couple of army patrols who seemed to recognise Ibrohim's Toyota & did no more than wave to him as they drove past. At one point they had to pull over to allow a convoy of trucks, head & tailed by army vehicles, to pass by. The back army truck stopped beside the Landcruiser, & the officer in the passenger seat leaned across the driver to look up at Ibrohim with a questioning expression.

"Zahir will be there to look after you," Ibrohim called out. The officer nodded, settled back, & the truck continued on after the others.

Around nine o'clock Ibrohim turned off the road, cut his headlights & headed up a path into the forest. They continued along it for another fifteen minutes until they finally came to a clearing where a cooking fire smouldered & a couple of tents were pitched. As they drove in four men armed with rifles appeared around them & then the flap of one of the tents opened & Tamur came out to greet them.

"Umberto. My apologies for not having accompanied you, but at my age I needed the head start. Come, have some coffee & something to eat."

Tamur led him across to the fire. Ibrohim stayed to talk to the men. A minute later he came across to them. "We must be careful. They have brought tanks into the Foladi Valley. Nobody knows why." Then he dished himself some food – rice & meat - & went back to the others.

Allegrezza ladled some food onto the tin plate Tamur gave him, then sat down. Tamur lit a cigarette, puffed on it for a minute & then threw it into the fire.

"I am sorry it has to end, Umberto, but we had an agreement; & even though I have total trust in you, we have found that four years is usually as long as anyone can go before they start wanting to tell the world about what they have seen, what they have read, what they have found. There are many ways we end the relationships, but this one is special, & I think you will appreciate what I am going to show you, & will go quietly, happily.

"This is the way Giovanni Allegrezza came all those years ago, following the same path that I asked Iskander to bring you on today & that Ibrohim took to bring you here. A little more slowly, perhaps – your ancestor took days where you took hours. Yes, he knew the Library though it was much smaller then. One cave. Hassan sent him there, as the next major stop after Alamut, & he stayed rather than go on to China. What was that line that von Holstein quoted? 'It is the journey, not the endpoint, that is important.' & the journey does not have to be physical. Your ancestor spent the time reading many things, mainly Arabic texts because he didn't have the grounding in languages that you have had. But he was interested in spiritual things outside of Islam, & that is why he chose this road to end his journeying."

"How do you know so much about him?"

"The Brotherhood has records, not just of names but of deeds. Some trivial, some great. It notes of Rashid al'Farah that he went willingly, on a journey that few had taken before. & not many since, I must add. Now, a final cigarette, & then we must be off. Ibrohim, could you ready the horses."

Two of the riflemen came with them. They rode through the night. Shortly after daybreak they stopped briefly to have coffee from a vacuum flask that Ibrohim had brought along. Dull thumps could be heard in the distance. "Tank fire" said Ibrohim.

Tamur reined his horse to a stop, stood up in the stirrups as if sniffing the air. "Tanks. The Foladi Valley. The Taliban. They are trying to accomplish what the centuries have failed to do. They are mad. They have corrupted the teachings of The Book. The Taliban are setting out to destroy the Buddhas of Bamiyan."

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