Running, running, running… Every time his feet gave up and he fell to the ground, he would gather himself up, stumble forth a pace or two and then gathering speed through some sheer contortion of the will, he was once again running fast down the hill. His cheek hurt, as if the earth had slapped him so that his body might suffer as did his ego. Thoughts, one after another, followed his mind’s eye inwards. Mission unaccomplished.
It wasn’t a first time for things to go wrong. The target escaped unscathed. His partner was nowhere to be seen. She had accompanied him against her better judgement, knowing that there was every chance she would be recognised, her disguise too feeble at short notice. He had failed her and now she was gone. Dead or worse…
He was certain that he would die of guilt before dehydration or exhaustion had a chance to finish him off. What a coward. Yet what could have been gained from staying behind? All had been lost long before he took to the road. He had to survive. If there was any chance of getting her back, he will do so. Time. It was all a matter of time. Hours, a few days at most.
Which hurt more, mattered more: loss or humiliation? Humiliation he could deal with. He had been humiliated many a time in his life. He had learnt to let it wash over, turn every knockdown into an upward step. You did not get into his shoes by wasting time on pity parties. But this he had not expected.
He thought of her name. It was seldom that he indulged in speaking it out. Ever cautious, she had forbidden it, even when alone. She became a number, a code. Just like him. She was little more than a shadow. Her past so insubstantial as to allow her to disappear at will. For a time they had worked the field apart. He didn’t like her restraint. She despised his recklessness. Alaska had changed everything. Too much perhaps. And then came the Game…
“We have to get out of here now. He knows,” she had said. She had meant it. He knew that much. It could not have been all a lie. So where did they go wrong? Had there been clues? Did she try to tell him, did she try to warn him? Had he been too wrapped up in his ego to pay sufficient attention?
Running, running, running… He was exhausted. He stumbled. He fell to the ground. The cut on his right cheek had started to burnt and now he could feel his heart pulsating in the side of his face. No. It was impossible. He must be imagining things. Hot liquid gushed unexpectedly down his cheeks. He tried to wipe them dry, his hands dirtied by the dust of the road. Shaking, he forced himself to straighten up again and looked along the road ahead and then behind him. Alone, he screamed. Once. Twice. Thrice.
It was the release he needed. All of the pain, the dull thumping tension that had been gathering strength in his chest, let out at once. He laughed. A madman, his suit ripped at the knees and covered in dust, his face slashed and bleeding, dirt mingled with blood.
After a while his laughter subsided and he breathed in deeply. It felt that he had never truly breathed before that moment. His eyes had a mad glimmer about them and the trace of a smirk was imprinted in the corner of his face. Limping slightly he continued down the hill, one step at a time, determined yet heavy. The weight of a life to be saved set on his shoulders.