Watching people rise and scatter, the suicide bomber settles into the seat by the door. He has only just come in, wearing a tatty old windcheater about which are strapped sticks of gelignite. The café is now empty apart from the table in the corner where an old woman with thick white hair cut over her ears like a helmet, sits reading a book.

Through the window the bomber sees a crowd surge forward, then away from him. A woman with a pushchair runs, dropping a trail of shopping across the square. He sees people shouting into mobile phones and then no one.

The sandwich board outside swings and comes to rest.

Well,” says the old woman. She closes her book and places it on the table. “Would you credit it, but a little girl was sitting opposite me, just there,” she points to the table next to her, “Just before you came in. And do you know what she said to me? She said, You’re very old. Why aren’t you dead yet? And I said to her, Well you know, I expect God still has an important job for me to do.

The suicide bomber stares impassively. He had an old mother once.

I’m ninety-four, you know. And the thing is, there’s no one here now, but you and me. If you’d really wanted to hurt people, you’d have set the thing off standing there in the doorway. Maximum impact.” The old woman blinks twice. Then she removes her glasses and starts to clean them. “I’ve always lived in the capital. Always felt completely safe. My neighbour says you don’t ride on the tube at night, surely not. And I say, why not?” The old woman shrugs. “What’s the worst that can happen?”

The bomber keeps his eyes on the old woman as his fingers feel for the detonator in the windcheater front pocket.

Ted and I bought our first home in Highgate at the end of the war. I’d finished the translation contract at Bletchley Park. We paid three thousand, two hundred and fifty pounds for it. A celebration really, of him coming through alive. A year later he was knocked off his push bike by a young woman opening her car door. Didn’t think. Didn’t think to look. He never regained consciousness.” The old woman takes a sip of her tea. “So of course I never had the children I wanted. In the end I adopted a boy from the Borstal near us. Peter. Some trumped up charge. He was a good boy underneath. He died last year in Turkey. Developed peritonitis whilst on holiday with his wife. Forty years married. They were on an island, you see, no medical services.”

Across the square, the bomber sees flashing blue lights. He hears the sirens.

You look a little like him, you know, around the eyes. I expect you think I’m trying to, what do they call it on those police dramas, talk you down. Well. I suppose you could look at it like that. You think I’m trying to get you to understand that life is unfair, that’s what you think, don’t you? Because whatever cause you are fighting for, it comes down to fairness, doesn’t it? And you feel cheated.”

The old woman pushes back her chair. She rises from the table with some difficulty and makes her way across the cafe. She is wearing slippers and her ankles are swollen. She shuffles towards the bomber.

But I’m not going to say that. You know that already. What I want to do is show you kindness. I want to embrace you and I want to give you my house and everything I own. I’m not leaving it to cats and dogs or the National Trust. I want to leave it to you. Will you accept it?”

The old woman approaches the bomber and she bends down and reaches her arms around the old windcheater and the sticks of gelignite, and as she does so there’s a crack as the glass is punctured by a single bullet which lodges deep in the bomber’s forehead. His eyes are open as if he is still with her but he doesn’t see her close her arms around him and sob as if her heart would break.

Annie Edge lives on the East Anglian coast. She has been previously published in the UK in Mslexia magazine and online with Short Story Library, Long Story Short and The Legendary.

This piece was inspired by the indomitable Ingrid, a dear friend of mine, a life-long Quaker and pacifist who never dwells on the whys or wherefores of anything, but believes that everything happens for a reason. At the end of each visit, I come away hoping that some of this will rub off on me.  It never does.



Copyright 2009