Taking Trinidad

I pondered whether I should raise my glass to God’s sense of humor or another stupid death. “To a stupid death,” I said, and drank. I’d drink to a pointless idiotic death because, unlike God, it’s something I have seen with my own eyes. The daiquiri went down well. I like to drink. It’s good to drink after a war, during a war, before a war. It is good to drink with friends, to the death of friends, to childbirth, children’s deaths, engagements and broken engagements, betrayal, quitting smoking, love. It’s always good to drink. I signaled Mustafa to make me another. I looked up, gazed at the patio umbrellas rippling in the wind, the sand-colored Cairo rooftops, and laundry hung from the windows.

The second cocktail finally washed the taste of the desert from my mouth. I took out my Blackberry and loaded the game Sid Meier’s Pirates! I thought I should keep busy, even if I had no real work. I had downloaded the game for free from the company’s site; I got it as a bonus when I reached five gigabites of downloads the previous month, 200 dollars’ worth.

I had begun to play the game the night before, to fill the six-hour trip from El Arish to Cairo. In the game you are a pirate captain. The goal is to retire with the most points by battling other pirates and marrying into aristocracy.

We got caught in a sandstorm on our way back through the desert. When this happens you can’t see anything of the road, because the air is full of dark whirling sand. Nobody was in the mood to talk, so I just played. I began the game as an English buccaneer. It was going well for a few hours, but I kept getting stuck when I tried to take Trinidad. Four frigates from my flotilla with four hundred trained pirates waited in vain to attack, unable to overcome the tricky winds the game threw at us. I tried everything I could with the touch screen, but my ships could only bob futilely in the sea as the city’s red fortress showered them with fire.

I had to take Trinidad at all costs if I wanted to end the game with maximum points. In Trinidad there was money, Spanish silver, the governor’s daughter. Everything you need to win. It bothered me that I couldn’t find a solution, because I wanted to make the game’s Hall of Champions.

I hate when I can’t finish what I start. It saddens me to think I let an opportunity pass me by.

The menu came up on the screen and I killed the sound. I loaded my saved settings and began to direct the fleet, but again the wind worked against me. My entire fleet was sunk twice. I wondered if the problem was the weight, as there must some reason the game notes just how much freight the boats carry.

Instead of frigates I need some lighter boats, I thought. Lighter boats, which maneuver quickly, even in bad wind.

“I think somebody’s looking for you,” said Mustafa, taking my empty glass. I turned. By the pool stood Alistair Bleakly, The Independent’s newly hired correspondent. He didn’t look good. He was wearing the same clothing he had on yesterday in the desert. He hadn’t shaved and his leather jacket sparkled with sand. I waved him over.

“I tried to ring you several times,” he said, and hopped up on a barstool next to me.

“I was unplugged.”

“You’re a reporter. You should have your phone on.”

“It’s my day off. Why, did something happen?”

“I was just thinking things over. We should do something.”

“About what?”

Alistair stared at me in dismay, but kept quiet because Mustafa arrived with the two whiskeys I had ordered. I looked into the boy’s bloodshot eyes. He couldn’t have slept much last night. We picked up our drinks.

“We should do something in regards to the woman.”

“What were you thinking of?” I asked, and took a drink of the whiskey. “What should we do?”

“Well, we could notify the UN. About the things that are happening in Rafah.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea. You’d have to fill out a questionnaire of at least ten pages, and you would have to supply all your information. The whole matter would get to Amn ad-Dawla .”

“I don’t care.”

“They deported people for less just last week.”

“Then we might say something to the police.”

“There are no police.”

“Then the military.”

“The military won’t care.”

“For the love of god, something should be done,” hissed the guy through clenched teeth.

“You could put a paragraph about it in your report.”

“That’s all? They killed a person.”

“It wasn’t a murder; she was executed.”

“Murder is murder. We should do something. We’re reporters.”

“You need to rest. You’re exhausted.”

“I can’t sleep.”

“I can see that.”

“How can you stay so fucking calm?”

“I drink, work out, and I don’t give a shit.”

After the imam’s pronouncement of adultery, the men of the mosque had dug a nice little pit. In it a woman was buried up to her waist. Her hands were bound so tightly behind her that she couldn’t move.
Alistair fell silent for a moment, then took one of my Marlboros and lit up. He had only just started smoking, and he had to make an effort not to cough. I used the opportunity to order two more whiskeys. I liked how they served whiskey at the Marriot, giving you the ice in a separate glass. Alistair tossed his drink back in one gulp. It took immediate effect; he probably hadn’t eaten anything all day.

“I can’t leave it like this,” he said, more relaxed now. “You think I should write something?”


“But I don’t even know the woman’s name.”

“Just write that it was a woman.”

“Would you write that?”

“Yes,” I lied.

“OK, I am going now. I need to talk with my editor.”


He stood and with quick steps started for the exit. His cigarette continued to smolder in the ashtray. I watched it for a bit, then picked it up and continued to smoke. I ordered another daiquiri.

He’ll be alright, I thought. He’ll drink a few more and fall asleep. Or find a girl.

I closed my eyes.

In Rafah a huge crowd had gathered in front of the Mohamed Ali Mosque. After the imam’s pronouncement of adultery, the men of the mosque had dug a nice little pit. In it a woman was buried up to her waist. Her hands were bound so tightly behind her that she couldn’t move. Her torso and head were covered with a flour sack, on which “UNRWA”—United Nations Relief and Works Agency—was clearly printed. It was surprising that the woman didn’t say anything or shake with sobbing. She kept obediently still in the pit. She only screamed when, from no more than ten yards, her husband threw a stone. It was a big stone. Large enough to break a bone, but not big enough that the fun came to a quick end. A red stain rose on the sack where it hit. After her husband, the judges each took a turn; then the relatives, and, finally, the men from the mosque. She withstood a surprising amount. After the first few blows she was still lucidly proclaiming her innocence, until a stone must have broke her jaw, because after that she just whimpered, then finally went quiet. The pit was tight, so she couldn’t collapse forward. The sack didn’t tear open; it just became drenched with blood. The soldiers standing at a nearby checkpoint watched the whole thing disinterestedly. It wasn’t their business to interfere.

“Do something,” I snarled at him, and massaged my temples. I took a sip of the Daiquiri, but found it sour. Mustafa had put in too much lime juice. Do something.

I turned to look around, but the bar was already empty, even the Saudis had left. Water was gurgling in the pool; the sun flushed red on the horizon.

I took my smart phone in my hand and reloaded the saved settings on the game.

Light boats,” I thought. “If I trade my frigates, I’ll be able to take Trinidad for sure.”


Sándor Jászberényi is a Hungarian writer and Middle East correspondent who has covered the Darfur crisis, the revolutions in Egypt and Libya, the Gaza War, and the Huthi uprising in Yemen, and has interviewed several armed Islamist groups. A photojournalist for the Egypt Independent and Hungarian newspapers, he currently lives in Cairo, Egypt. His first collection of short stories, ‘Az ördög egy fekete kutya’ (The Devil is a Black Dog), was published in late 2013.

M. Henderson Ellis is the author of the novel ‘Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Café’ (New Europe Books, February 2013). He lives in Budapest, where he works as a freelance editor at Wordpill Editing, and is a founding editor at Pilvax magazine.