Mel's fault!

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Try to Hide
by afrai

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The thin skin between Ali's fingers is sticky. He's sweating, even though the stale air is cold. The lights are harsh and there's an ache in his head that comes and goes in pulses. There's a potted plant opposite him and every time he tries to focus on it, he gets a blur of green and brown. There are cigarette stubs in the pot. Nothing good or clean in this city.

The doctor said he was all right. He's all right.

He's never killed a man before.

There had been a passenger who had asked him to drive him to the hotel, and when Ali had asked which one, he'd slid a knife up his neck and said, Any. Another, who had turned a gun on him when Ali asked for payment, and called him a fucking Afghan, among other things.

Ali had taken out his own gun, said something stupid and terrified about his Muslim brothers. It had scared the fucker off, because there had been fury under the terror. Ali had lived in New York for five years.

He'd gone to a university in Cairo, when he was young. He has a Masters, and he drives a cab for a living. This is not irony; this is life.

The doctor said the man might not die. If he dies, Ali will have killed a man.

Someone coughs, but Ali only looks up when khaki pants cut off his view of the plant. A white man with blond hair and a dangerous mouth stares at him. His eyes are blue -- like the sky at home, Ali thinks, the sky over the desert. He's being maudlin: they're like the sky anywhere, except in New York.

"Are you--" The man stops.

"My name is Thomas Lawrence," he says. "I'm a friend of Tafas."

Ali does not know either name, but he knows who the man is talking about. He looks away.

"They said -- I was told you hit him."

"Talk to my lawyer," Ali snaps. He came here for a better life and he found nothing. They would not recognise him in Cairo.

"He was my friend," says the man, his voice like the sudden cold of night.

"Too fucking bad," Ali says, easily.

What he'd like now, he thinks, more than anything else in the world, is a cigarette.

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