I heard a cry in the night,
A thousand miles it came,
Sharp as a flash of light,
My name, my name, my name.
It was your voice I heard,
You waked and loved me so
I send you back this word,
I know, I know, I know.
He fell in love with her just listening to her voice. But who was she?
He was in a military hospital in Germany listening to a BBC news broadcast from Jordan. Spacey on pain meds, he missed the commentator’s introduction and before the woman had finished her story and signed off with her name, his doctor had come in with a small contingent of interns to review his case.
He’d held up his hand and said, “Wait!”
The doctor, who was an Air Force major, simply reached over the bed rail and shut off the radio. Turning to his audience of bored looking trainees, the doctor began discussing him as if he were a static display on the flight line.
“This Air Force lieutenant sustained multiple injuries ejecting from his aircraft, the most serious being injury of the cervical spine, including ligament injury C5-6 and a sliding of the C6 relative to the C5. Any questions?”
He had questions, but the major wasn’t talking to him.
He wanted to know if he’d walk again. He wanted to know when he’d be released. He wanted to know who the woman on the radio was.
His injuries would heal completely in time, although he’d have neck and back pain for the rest of his life. He was released from the hospital with a neck collar the following weekend. A month later he met a medical board, was told he could no longer fly, and was given a choice of a desk job or a disability discharge without severance. He chose the latter and started looking for the woman whose voice still murmured in the silences between his far off gaze, and his late night dreams.
During the ten years that he searched for the woman he went to graduate school, earned a dual master’s degree in journalism and international affairs, became a leading newspaper’s Middle Eastern Correspondent, and traveled extensively to countries where he thought he might cross paths with the woman whose voice he knew he would instantly recognize.
During that period of his life he met numerous women, many professionals like himself, with whom he shared intimate moments, some on more than one occasion, and with some women who made it clear that they were interested in more than a superficial connection. But he was haunted by a vision of a woman he had created elementally, from the tone, the timber, the modulation, the melody of a voice, heard once, as a disembodied phantom of the electromagnetic spectrum.
He is approaching his late-thirties, his black hair is still thick and unruly, but his hairline has receded slightly, and there is just the touch of grey at the sides. He often has a three or four day’s growth of stubble on what was once a chiseled face, but now begins to look craggy and seamed from days in the hot desert sun. He looks perpetually tired, which is reflected in his hazel eyes, which seem lighter against his sun darkened skin, and there is a far off look in them that some women interpret as disinterest and others, perhaps more perceptive, see as loneliness.
On assignment in Bahrain, he is listening for her now among the babble of voices echoing across the conference room where discussions are underway about the Western media’s “unfair” reporting on the government’s treatment of its Shiite minority. Doubt begins to creep into his mind.
Inshallah, will he find her? Will she be what he has imagined her to be all these many years? Will they live happily ever after? He wonders, if he does not, if she is not, if they do not, then what is he to believe about Allah, the merciful?
Words from the Quran come unbidden into his mind. Do you worship what you have carved yourself?
The hotel in Kabul is fronted by a keep-out zone to prevent terrorists from ramming a bomb-laden car into the hotel entrance. The zone is created by a courtyard, raised beds of roses and dahlias, and a center fountain. He thinks of his father’s backyard as the heavy scent of roses opening wide in the late morning sun reaches him.
Glancing at the TV above the reception desk as he shows his identification, he sees that the correspondent’s breakfast meeting has already started. A colleague from his newspaper is summarizing the purpose of the meeting, and emphasizing the importance of shared security for journalists covering events in the Middle East. As he turns from the desk to make his way to the conference room he hears a woman’s voice on the TV that stops him cold. Her voice. She is asking a question. He listens for a moment allowing her voice to wash over him like a warm sea. Then he turns towards the TV.
He experiences the explosion as a kaleidoscope of burst ear drums, shattering glass, blinding dust, violent motion; a terrible dance that ends in disorientation, and searing pain.
He is old now. He lives in the north, where winter is never far off and where the morning cold rekindles the pain in his limbs and reminds him that he is still alive. The winds can be fierce, rattling the double pane windows of his house, but he cannot hear this sound, nor any other.
He moves slowly, feeling his way around the small house by memory. He finds his way to the porch and reaching behind, finds the arm of a chair. He sits, raises his face to the morning sun, and closes his eyes.
And he listens.