I let myself be talked into going to Damascus? Easy, my boss said. A nice city, actually, he said. Very interesting sites. Fascinating history. Take your wife with you, the company will pay for everything. This will be perfect to re-connect with your wife after too many business trips. We desperately need this project, he said. You´re the best man to get it done. You won´t regret it. Yeah, yeah, the usual stuff that led me to visit Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Oman recently. Why had I become our Middle East specialist? Why couldn’t I be our man for the Caribbean or at least Southeast Asia? My colleagues were raving about Paris or Florida and all I had to contribute was the amazing variation of the colors of sand in Oman. And why on earth should I take my dazzlingly beautiful wife, with her long mane of golden-blond hair, to war-torn, Muslim Syria?
So, still being a bit unenthusiastic, I made the mistake to mention it to my wife. Bad mistake. My wife was a risk-taker. Not consciously, of course. The problem was that she was an obstinate optimist. While I was usually worried about everything, nothing ever could go wrong in her eyes. Motorcycling in a bikini? No problem. Driving without a safety belt? No, she wouldn´t do that, but only because the dinging of the car gets too annoying. Walking alone through the park at night, wearing a short skirt? Come on, you´re paranoid, she said. She had never been able to accompany me on my trips before and the result of our talk should have been predictable.
“Woooohooo, great! What am I going to wear? It´s hot there, but it´s an Islamic country, isn´t it? What do women...”
“Anna, wait a moment. First, we have to decide IF we´re going to do it. If we´re going to take the risk.”
“Risk? What risk? Your boss said it´s a great opportunity, didn´t he?”
“Sure, it’s a great opportunity for him to stay home where it’s safe and the air conditioning always works.”
“Come on, you´re just being a spoil-sport worrywart again.” Did I mention how unrewarding the role as the cautious one was?
“We´ll go, okay? We´re just going to be careful.” She smiled THAT smile again and it didn´t fail to get the intended result. It never did.
“Okay,” I meekly answered, asking myself what I got myself into.
Yeah, careful my ass. At least she kept her arms and legs covered, mostly, most of the time. Her long blond mane, worn loose down her back, attracted enough attention: way too much, in my view, as the surrounding men stepped onto their tongues. She was raped in countless male minds, but was completely oblivious to it. I was getting a bit anxious, but so far, I had to admit that nothing bad had happened to us. We were currently fighting our way through a dusty, dirty, sweaty, overcrowded street that had been converted into some kind of souq. None, and I mean none of the goods on offer held any appeal for me. Still, Anna had to examine every piece of junk, every bit of food that held the certain promise of instant diarrhea, had to talk to every beggar and to every merchant. I stumbled along behind her, sweating, thirsty and regretting I had ever consented to this. To this trip, to taking her with me, to visiting this shitty souq. I felt safe enough, but my eyes burned, I was starting to get a sunburn, my feet were aching.
And then it happened.
The chess game. Neither Anna nor I play chess. I mean, we know the rules, but we never had any interest in it. I have to admit that this particular game was nicely done. It was made of two different rocks, probably marble and - I have no idea. Some other mineral that is not marble. It looked nice enough and it looked surprisingly valuable for a place like this.
“I need to have it.”
Not really the best strategy if you´re about to haggle about the price and the dealer hears what you´re saying.
“We don´t need that.”
“It´s so beautiful”
“Madam has good taste,” the dealer contributed.
“She sure has. Anna, this thing weighs about a ton. Our luggage is right at its limit.”
The dealer had heard that one before. “We send it home, sir.”
“No, no. We´ll take it immediately or we´ll leave it here.” I didn´t trust this guy.
“We´ll take it immediately.”
“Good choice, madam.”
“Wait a moment. I don´t think so. How much?”
The price didn´t sound unreasonably high, but I was sure we were about to get ripped by him.
“That´s a joke, right?”
“Madam wants it.” He smiled confidently. Bastard.
“But I don´t. I´m the one that has to pay for it and who will have to carry it around.”
“Make me good offer, sir.”
“Come on, sir. You lucky. My mum’s birthday.” Yeah, sure. “I make it fifty.”
“Thirty.” What am I doing, I thought? I don´t want this. Not for thirty and not even for three. All it would do at home was to accumulate a layer of dust.
Now I had a problem. Everyone had advised us to take not much cash with us; I guessed I had about twenty Euro left.
“Where is the nearest bank?”
“Over there. Lady can wait here.”
“In your dreams.” I turned to face my quite happy wife. “Anna, we´ll have to get some money.”
“Okay. I´ll stay here and look around a bit.”
What? I knew she was a bit naïve, but this was really over the top.
“Anna, I´m not going to leave you alone here. You either come with me or we won´t buy this damn chess game.”
“Oh. Okay, okay, no problem. Relax, honey.” I received a nice kiss, which lifted my dark mood a bit.
We found the bank easily enough and it was as if we entered another world. Everything was clean, the place was cool, bordering on cold, everything that could possibly be made of marble was made of marble. Those guys really liked that damn rock, it seemed. As sweaty and dirty as I was, I felt like an intruder into some sacred place. But nobody seemed to object, so I approached one of the counters, closely followed by Anna.
Suddenly, all hell broke loose.
Whenever I traveled in the Middle East, the speed with which things happened was hard to grasp. Most of the time, not much seemed to be happening at all. Then suddenly things got totally confusing and hectic. This was one of the latter cases. Suddenly, men were shouting things my emergency Arabic failed to grasp. At least one woman started screaming. People were running around in a chaotic frenzy. Then a shot, then another one. That silenced and stopped everyone. We turned around towards the entrance and saw the cause for all the turmoil. A group of armed and unmasked men had entered the bank, but stayed near the entrance. I didn´t know the local bank robbing traditions, but this behavior didn´t fit anything I´d expect for such an occasion. This impression was reinforced as one of the guys fired a short AK-47 salvo into the ceiling. This was not what I would call a clandestine bank job. With a feeling of dread, I watched the marble debris falling onto the marble floor. For some reason, I was relieved that whatever happened, I probably wouldn´t have to buy that damn marble chess game.
We stood there as if frozen while both security guards were dropping their pistols, somewhere a woman had resumed her screaming, a warning bell went off, one of the cashiers started to flee towards the back, one person, probably a lady, wearing a burqa was fainting. One of the intruders calmly shot the fleeing cashier in the back.
“Mark...” Anna said quietly.
“Mark, he just shot that man.”
“In the back.”
“Yeah. I think we better be quiet, okay?”
“Okay.” She seemed shocked. It seemed as though this was the first intrusion of reality into her sheltered life. I wondered how deep a dent this would make in her ubiquitous optimism.
Some Arabic commands were shouted, everyone around us lay on the floor and we thought it best to follow their example. Before I went down, I had counted six guys, all armed with AK-47s. Only one of them carried an additional RPG, which seemed a bit bizarre. But I was no expert in bank robbing in the Middle East, so maybe it made perfect sense. Generally, they seemed a little over-armed for the occasion. Either these guys were determined to take no chances or the AK-47 was at a discount at the local weapons dealer.
I heard police sirens outside, which I regarded as bad news. If the police surrounded the building, the only option open to the robbers, or whoever they were, would be to take hostages. As the only Europeans present, we were the most likely targets. For the first time, I was pondering the possibility that we might not survive this day.
“I love you, Anna.”
“I love you, too.”
She had tears in her eyes, fully understanding what I wanted to express.
A pair of highly polished shoes approached us. “I´m sorry for the inconvenience,” a voice informed us in perfect Oxford-accented English. “Please stand up.”
Warily, we stood up and looked at a handsome, tall Arab of about thirty years. He looked like a young Omar Sharif and exuded confidence. This was a natural leader if I had ever seen one. He also seemed surprisingly cultured and intelligent. I just hoped this man wouldn´t turn out to be someone I´d have to fight later. I wasn´t too optimistic about my chances. Among the more convincing reasons for this assessment were a pistol tucked in the back of his belt and an AK-47 in his hand.
“Please follow me to the back offices while my friends take care of things here at the front.”
Like lambs being led to the slaughter, we followed him without another word. After a few seconds, we heard a shot, shortly followed by two others. I turned around and looked into the dumb, expressionless face of one of “Omar´s” AK-47 carriers, who was following us. We were led into a small back office and the asshole behind me cuffed my hands to a heavy chair, making me feel even more helpless. Resisting those two armed men didn´t even cross my mind.
“I´m sorry for the inconvenience, but some things just have to be done and I deemed it better that the lady not have to witness them. Our business can be rather messy and unpleasant sometimes, you know?” He had the audacity to laugh a bit and it even seemed genuine and charming, even though obviously somebody had just been executed at his command. I realized that I disliked this slick, good looking guy. No, I already hated him.
To my horror, I saw that my Annalena obviously didn´t share that feeling. She smiled at him warmly.
“I see, thanks for being so considerate. By the way, I´m Annalena and this is my husband Mark.”
“My pleasure.” He extended his hand, she took it, they looked into each other´s eyes for quite a while and more or less ignored me from that point on. Shit, this was not going well. “So, what brings you to Damascus?”
“We´re here on business. You know, we´ve just been visiting the souq nearby. I was just about to buy a marble chess game.”
“Oh, no, please don´t do that. That stuff is just cheap Chinese fake. I know where to buy the good stuff around here...”
I zoned out a bit. I couldn´t believe that my wife was making small talk with this cold-blooded killer as if nothing had happened. I couldn´t believe how she was openly flirting with him. How she smiled and looked at him like a love-sick teenager. She even pushed out her boobs a bit as if to offer them for his inspection. He clearly wasn´t averse to this and was mostly talking to her cleavage. She didn´t seem to mind in the least.
Annalena is a beautiful woman by anyone´s standards, but with her long blond hair, she must be the total dream for an Arab. Why had she abandoned me that quickly? She was supposed to be the love of my life. Forsaking all others and all that stuff. I watched them in growing confusion.
“My dear Annalena...”
“Please call me Anna.” She smiled her best flirty smile at him. This really cut me to the core. He was better looking than I was, he was taller, he was the one with the guns, he was in charge, he appeared so wild and confident, especially compared to my more accountant-like appearance. I had always feared I would lose her to a more confident and dominant man sooner or later and sure enough, it seemed to be happening. My beloved wife was totally ignoring me and was trying to please him right in front of me. Having to watch her like this was somehow even worse than our life being at stake. I wasn´t too afraid of being killed, but my wife´s behavior really horrified me.
“Please come and sit on my lap for a while, my beautiful lady.” His voice was smooth as silk. If I were a woman, I´d probably be already in love with him, and it seemed Annalena was on her way to doing exactly that. She obediently walked over to him, swinging her hips a bit more than necessary and placed her cute bum in his lap. He leisurely massaged her shoulders and caressed her arms, while smiling calmly and looking into my eyes. She managed to ignore me completely.
This hurt, boy, did it hurt. When he started to touch her breasts and she did nothing to stop him, I lost it.
“Anna...” I croaked.
I was rewarded with someone hitting my head from behind, probably with the butt of a gun. I sensed that it hurt physically, but I hardly noticed it. I kept looking at Anna, who was now looking benevolently at me along with this asshole, while she calmly opened the top buttons of her blouse. He didn´t need any more invitation to place his hands inside her blouse and start mauling her breasts.
I watched in hurt amazement as the love of my life offered herself for the use of the guy that had just kidnapped us. I remembered there was this thing - Helsinki syndrome? No, it was something else. Stockholm. Stockholm syndrome. But that should take longer than a few minutes to set in. There was no Scandinavian capital needed to explain her behavior: this guy was some kind of dream boat and my beautiful wife obviously had come to the same conclusion. Shit. They both smiled at me mockingly, as if to emphasize that they were together, and I was on the outside looking in.
Having to watch their shameless flirting while bound helplessly to this damn chair was driving me mad, so was just closing my eyes the best solution? I gave it a try. All sensation was blocked out now, except the stench of the guy behind me, the whirring of the air conditioning, Anna´s moans and some men shouting in the distance.
“Look, infidel!” came the command. I was scared enough to follow it. Matters had not improved. Anna’s blouse was completely open, her bra was lowered so that her pretty boobs were openly on display. The guy behind me made a remark, but my Arabic was way too bad to get it. The tone told me it was something rude. “Omar”, as I called him in my mind, answered by lifting her boobs for further inspection and replied something unintelligible. They both laughed and to my amazement Anna didn´t seem to mind at all. She just winked at the goon behind me.
“You like what you see?” she even asked him. This was sickening. Nobody answered and I wasn´t even sure if the goon behind me had understood her. Damn, I wanted to punch this guy. I wanted to shout at her to stop this nonsense. But there was a reason I didn´t. That reason was called AK-47. So I had to watch in horror as she calmly removed her blouse.
“Anna, Damascus is really too hot at this time of the year.” What? Why did he start to talk about the city now? “I wish you had visited the city in spring. It´s just marvelous.” I’m sure both he and Anna saw him as a sophisticated gentleman, calmly enjoying the best life had to offer, in this case, my wife.
“Yes, I can imagine that. It´s really a beautiful city.” She played along by keeping up the bizarre conversation while removing her bra. He fondled her naked boobs while they continued the banal conversation. I felt totally humiliated and powerless. The most important thing was, I mustn’t cry. No way any of them was going to see me crying. No way.
Suddenly, she turned around to kiss him right on the lips. Not just a quick peck, but a full tongue wrestling kiss. She completely initiated it: that was hard to watch, but it at least stopped his unbearable lecture about Syrian history.
I was wondering how much more I would have to endure when some shouting in the entrance hall caught his attention. He got up to check it and to my horror, my topless wife didn’t even cover herself as she followed him like a lovesick puppy. She didn´t even look at me once as she left me alone with the goon in the small back office.
The commotion in the entrance hall continued. I heard a single gunshot. Had my wife just been killed? Even the shot didn’t stop the arguments, and the goon guarding me finally went to join the party. I tried to get myself out of the handcuffs, or at least tip over the chair, while no one was watching. Too bad for me; the goon had done his work too well. Plenty of practice, I guess.
Finally, the commotion died down and “Omar,” my wife and one of the tellers entered the small office. Although Anna was still half naked, I was immensely relieved to see her alive. Did that make any sense? No. As far as I could tell, she wasn´t mine any more anyway. Still it would have killed me to see her dead. No, she was quite well, relaxed and at ease with her new situation. “Omar” put his pistol to the teller´s head and walked behind him, while my wife clung to his side like a love-sick teenager. It was disgusting and hurtful to watch.
“Omar” spoke some Arabic stuff that I didn´t catch and the poor, frightened teller knelt down right in front of me. Another short Arabic command and he bowed his head, “Omar´s” gun still buried in his neck. This was an execution right in front of me and the thought made me sick. Anna was still sticking her boobs into this asshole´s side, relishing the power he exuded. She kissed the side of his face and nibbled at his ear lovingly.
“Come on, baby, don´t we have something better to do?” she purred. A lump formed inside my belly.
“This has to be done, darling. You can wait outside if you want.”
“Baby...” she cooed. “This would really spoil my mood.” Despite the cool air I was beginning to sweat, trying to keep my emotions under control. Don´t show any weakness, I thought. Don´t cry, don´t beg. The sweat started to run into my left eye, stinging and making it hard not to squint.
“Anni...” Anni? Really? They had their own pet names by now? “Sometimes a man ... ah, fuck, okay, let´s go. I´m horny as hell.”
I had to watch them leave the room, clinging together like newlyweds. Hey, that is my wife, I wanted to shout, but I could smell that my goon guard had taken up his position behind me, so I didn´t. Did she already know that I wasn´t going to survive this anyway and had already secured my replacement? I felt like I could scream, fear of death combined with incredible jealousy was almost too much to bear. I hardly noticed my hurting wrists and my numb hands.
I zoned out a bit by remembering how I proposed to her. I had known her for only three months at the time, but I already knew that I was totally and absolutely in love with her. We really were soul mates and as a result the sex was incredible as well. It wasn’t some kind of sporting event, like you read about; it was an intimate joining of kindred spirits. Although I had been certain that she felt the same way, I was incredibly nervous while I was kneeling in front of her. It turned out I needn´t have been: the ring was plucked from my trembling hand and placed on her finger in fractions of a second. I smiled a bit as I snapped back to the ugly reality.
They returned about half an hour later. It felt like two years. She was still topless and didn´t care in the least about it. It seemed that in such situations the normal rules didn´t apply at all. Her hair was a bit tousled. I had a horribly good idea about what they had done.
They entered the room, clinging to each other, him grinning smugly, openly fondling her boob and looking right into my eyes. She smiled confidently as well, but avoided direct eye contact with me. Was it guilt? Had she suddenly stopped loving me? I thought I knew her, but her behavior was so far out of the ordinary that I just couldn´t tell. That guy was so much more attractive than me and I knew that women were generally drawn to powerful men. In this situation, he was as powerful as God.
“You´re having a pleasant stay here?” he asked me, grinning widely. I have taken your wife and there´s nothing you can do about it, was what he really wanted to say.
“More or less, yes.”
“I´ve really enjoyed taking your wife, infidel. You want to watch the next time? Watch how a real man pleases her? A man that has taken her away from you?”
“Ah, I´ll pass on that, I think.”
He laughed. “Good choice. But maybe I´ll let you watch anyway. Just to make a point, you know. She´s mine now. She wants to be mine. Get used to it, weak man.”
Anna at least had the decency to look a bit uncomfortable now.
I was glad that one of his gorillas suddenly interrupted our less than pleasant talk by entering and talking to him animatedly. “Omar” listened to him, then gave firm orders in a quiet, but strict way, while continuing to fondle my wife´s breasts. Watching this was as difficult for me as it obviously was for the drooling idiot he was talking to. Finally, the man ran away, having received his orders. I heard a shot in the distance and didn´t really want to know who had to die this time. Anna at least jumped a bit in shock, but he calmed her immediately by placing a huge smacker onto her lips. Someone screamed in the distance, followed by another shot, which silenced the scream immediately. Shit, shit, shit. This wasn´t looking good. They were executing the hostages one by one; I had no idea why. To make things worse, a fly started to circle my head, looking for an appropriate landing spot. I hardly noticed it, until it actually landed just below my right eye. I tried to shake it off, but it took a while and certainly made me look like a fool.
After a few minutes the same idiot returned and received approving comments from “Omar”. The man smiled, obviously relieved. “Omar” was even kind enough to offer one of my wife´s boobs to the man as some kind of reward. He grinned like an idiot while he tentatively placed his hand onto her left tit. With a rough comment “Omar” grabbed his hand to show him how to properly squeeze a woman´s breast. Anna watched the whole thing smiling benevolently, as if all of this didn´t concern her at all. The situation was bizarre. Finally, “Omar” motioned the goon behind me over. I couldn´t understand what he told him, but it probably boiled down to “Here, show this idiot how to properly squeeze a tit.” Which the guy did, without as much hesitation as his colleague showed, but with the same dumb grin on his ugly face.
After the tit grabbing was done, “Omar” pulled Anna out of the room with him. After a while I heard my wife´s orgasmic scream and to make things worse, the damn fly landed on my nose again and with my cuffed hands there was nothing I could do about it. Her screams and the tickling of the fly on my nose were what broke the camel´s back. I just gave up. I sagged down in that damn chair and let the tears come. This was not how I wanted to end things, helplessly tied to a shitty chair in some bank in the Middle East, hearing the love of my life get fucked by some arrogant bastard, waiting around until he decided to kill me. Maybe dying always sucked, but this was certainly one of the less preferable ways to leave.
I changed the scenery by remembering how we had met in a crowded bar by literally bumping into each other. I looked into her eyes and I knew - this was a woman I wanted to know better. No, that I wanted to know completely. Just watching her caused my guts to tingle. She seemed to feel the same and we lived together in my apartment in no time. My wish to get to know her completely was never fulfilled as she refused to talk much about her past. I accepted it, assuming she´d had some bad experiences with the men she met before me. I was content with that. I didn´t need her past; her present and future were enough for me.
“Omar” appeared with Anna again. To my utter horror, her face was covered with sperm and she seemed to wear it proudly. She looked down on my miserable figure arrogantly while “Omar” grinned smugly. I had lost her. I saw it with total clarity. We were through. I could see it in her eyes. There was no love for me, not even compassion, only contempt. Fuck. If they were about to kill me anyway, couldn´t they have done it first and spared me this?
“Mark, I have something to tell you.”
“Anna...” I just croaked.
“Mark, I’m leaving with Hassan. The other hostages will be killed, including you, I’m afraid. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.” I searched her eyes, or what I could see of them through the sperm that coated her face, for some sign of pity, or affection, or any indication that she didn’t mean this. There was none. They were as cold and hard as her voice. I began to wonder who this woman really was, and what had become of the Anna I had fallen in love with.
“And you will find that the divorce will be very quick and uncomplicated in this case,” he laughed. “And cheap, if you ask me. All of this beauty...” he gestured towards her “for the price of just one bullet.
“Clean your face, Anni. I think we´ve made our point.”
“Don’t start the show without me, honey,” Anna simpered at him through the sperm that covered her face. She swung her hips seductively as she walked out of the room.
Hassan made a sign to the goon behind me, who untied me. “Now is your time to get on your knees and pray to whatever god you think will help you,” he stated. The goon stuck the muzzle of the AK-47 into my neck, almost knocking me over.
Suddenly, I heard a deafening boom from the entrance hall. Hassan’s goon ran in that direction, obviously thinking whatever was going on in there was more important than I was. Hassan muttered what I thought might be Arabic for “bloody fool.” He had placed the AK-47 on the table so he could use both hands on my wife and was beginning to point his pistol at my head, a small sadistic smile appearing on his face. I knew my end was near and to be honest, I was stiff with fear.