The screaming and the explosions… they’re fading, you know? Like they’re shifting to another room in my mind, not as intense any more. They’re still lingering, but they feel distant, almost like the echo of a movie I’ve seen far too many times. What remains however is this lingering guilt, the feeling of abandoning all that pain to the past. Still… I suppose that’s the price of acceptance — granting the departed peace while affording myself the chance to honour the living?

*    *    *

I once wore a different costume, one that led me to tread foreign soil in the name of peace. Now unfit to don that attire, I confront a different enemy—myself—on home ground. My attire now? A costume that allows me to gracefully navigate the bustling corridors of commerce, weaving stories without the need for words.

For my past sins, I am a mime act in a shopping mall.

I am reminded of the past every day, especially at this precise moment as our clunker of a car winds its way through the city streets. It’s the same tightening grip in my stomach as I had in anticipation of combat. Yet no bullets will fly today, and my only enemy is my fear of being ridiculed in front of morning shoppers. I’ve performed this act over 200 times this year, and I still get stage fright. Linh Thi constantly berates me, saying I should ‘Focus more, think less, soldier boy!’ I only wish she would follow her own advice—her driving sucks and it’s not helping matters.

The car finally arrives at the shopping mall, and Linh Thi stops the outside the entrance with a lurch, the car emits a cough that would put a consumptive to shame. It takes a few seconds to get over the jolt forward caused by Linh Thi’s late breaking. I’m on the back seated-she won’t let me ride up front. She shouts back. “Okay Beckman, its show-time. Be back here at 5pm or you’ll be waking home again soldier boy.”, she says in broken English. She has never called me by my first name, and still takes great delight in the ‘Soldier Boy’ jibe. I let it slide.

On the sidewalk, holdall in hand, I turned to face my nemesis: ‘The Regal’ shopping mall. Nestled in the underbelly of the city, it has weathered fires and riots, surviving to stand as a monument to consumerism. Today, amidst its looming facade, a small group of protesters gathers to decry our country’s occupation of their land; placards bearing titles like “End The Occupation” and “Free Our Land” are waved defiantly. Scuffles erupt with the police, resulting in numerous arrests; I witness one protester, pursued into the mall, discreetly discarding a carrier bag into the foyer trash can before vanishing into the crowd of shoppers. The scene leaves me numb, as it seems to do to the other denizens of the mall. They are consumed by their desire for shiny new things and the comfort of a TV dinner, oblivious to the plight of others. With the Regal now open and refurbished, they can once again indulge in materialistic pursuits, heedless of the sacrifices made for their convenience. The mall despite its grandiose title, ‘The Regal’ has yet to live up to its name, as its subjects are not the lords and ladies of the court, but the greedy, the uncaring and the great unwashed. It takes a lot to get their heads out of the trough of consumerism.

This is why I stand out; they can’t ignore me.

At 6’5″ and dare I say it, of a muscular build, wearing a mime costume makes you stand out in a crowd. In late 1970s America, it made you stick out like a sore thumb. The comments start at the moment I get out of the car, and usually persisted until I get back in. I’ve learned to let it slide. The only time I would react is if someone got a bit too fresh and I had to defend myself. This rarely happened because, at 6’5″ and combat trained- well… people can see it in your eyes.

It’s strange how we end up where we are, isn’t it?

Over a year ago, I was in deep trouble mentally and on the brink of facing prison. My wife had left me, taking our child with her. My salvation came via a letter sent to my old commanding officer, which I later found out was from my wife. He had contacts with a certain organisation that rehabilitated people. Now, it’s easy to point fingers at them for my current circumstances, but blame doesn’t really matter when you consider how their methods transformed me. This place, outside the mall, always brings back memories of our first meeting. The entrance was the first hurdle I had to get over; if I had turned back then, all the deals made would have been taken off the table. Places and memories, they make us or break us… that I can tell you as gospel.

*    *    *⁠

‘Our methods are a little unconventional Mr Beckman,’ Said Levinsky leaning back in his chair. ‘and if our organisation sees fit to offer you rehabilitation, you must – without question – comply with what is asked of you’.

I had been advised by my attorney to attend this meeting. At the time, I was in a state where I couldn’t have cared less about it. However, my attorney mentioned that they were offering certain benefits that would support my wife and child. Even in that state, I realised I cared about something.

I looked at Levinsky and wondered why the hell they were interested in me. There was this middle-aged man—who claimed to be a psychiatrist—offering me the world on a plate. Why? I was just some washed-up grunt from the military who had seen too much and who had lost purpose in life. What use was I?

“Why me?” I said, still shaking with the sting of withdrawal eating away at me.

“Why not you?” came the reply.

“If its escaped your attention, I’m about to sentenced for wounding a police officer. Does that sound like someone worth saving?”

“Even more so,” said Levinsky, looking at me intently, “because we know you better than you know yourself.”

“You know nothing of what I’ve been through!” I shouted back at him.

Levinsky looked down at the folder in front of him, turned the cover over, and I spied a photograph of myself on the first page. Flipping to the next page, he began to speak.

“Valedictorian at your high school, top ten of your ROTC program, served in the military abroad with distinction. Cross-commissioned to the Army Medical Corps for your last four years of service. Awarded the Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross for your part in the Hư Cấu disaster. Discharged from service in 1974 under Section 8. You see, Mr. Beckman, we know a lot about you—the good and the bad. It is the good in you, Jacob, that we are interested in. The part that helped save over 400 souls at Hư Cấu. That is the person we can give back to the world.”

“In this state?” I said through gritted teeth. “The reason I’m here is because of the 138 I couldn’t save. I watched them die in front of me, and could do nothing! I live with that every day!”

“Sometimes, Mr. Beckman, we are powerless to the circumstances of life.”

Enraged, I shouted at him, “How the hell would you know?”

Levinsky sighed and leaned back in his chair. Pulling back the sleeve of his jacket, he unbuttoned the cuff of his shirt to reveal a tattooed number on the underside of his forearm.

“Like you, Mr. Beckman, I too was pulled from under a pile of bodies. I was lucky; many near death were bulldozed into mass graves. It was only through the humanity of another that I am here today to repay that kindness.”

It was all too much. I broke down and wept like a child.

*    *    *⁠

So… here I am, twelve months later, following the rehabilitation that Levinsky signed me up for, about to enter the Regal for the 213th time. It has been a mind-fuck of a twelve months; ‘weird and wonderful’ comes nowhere near to describing it. I stopped trying and started following its flow.

The flow, as I call it, makes it all happen. Before I surrendered to it, I struggled with agoraphobia; crowds made me anxious. Now, I just flow with it, even amidst the looks and mockery. It’s this mindset that enables me to enter the building, the key to the essential part of my training. As soon as I pass through the lobby of the mall, I have to begin the act, no hesitation.

I connect to it as I move from the sidewalk to the mall; in its current, my persona shifts. My usual casual yet assured gait gives way to exaggerated, controlled gestures and grace, all of which speak volumes in mime

Amidst the bustling crowd outside Carson’s mercantile, I notice a gap where two young women giggle at my entrance. With deliberate steps, I approach them, bending down just before them to pluck an imaginary flower from the ground. My gestures exude wonder and joy for the natural world as I delicately raise it to my nose, inhaling its imaginary fragrance. I glance at the shyer of the two, presenting the flower with vulnerability and hope. Initially hesitant, she pretends to accept it, and my expression softens with relief and happiness, indicating her acceptance. Placing my hand over my heart, I blow her a kiss, reciprocated with a smile. Gesturing farewell, I offer her my heart with an open hand before waving goodbye as they do in return. With smooth, controlled motions, I transition into mimicking an ice skater, gliding backward before halting to wave once more. With a twirl, I morph seamlessly into full skater mode, continuing my journey to my pitch within the heart of the mall.

The first time I went off-script and performed the skater mime, Linh Thi chastised me fiercely.

“You stick to the script, soldier boy. You, of all people, should understand the importance of following orders. Try it again, and Levinsky will hear about this!” she scolded.

Of course, I did it again, just to get under her skin. And she promptly reported me. But to my surprise, Levinsky sent a letter back expressing his appreciation for the improvisation and encouraged me to keep it in the act. There was even a smiley face at the end of the letter.

Linh Thi, she wasn’t pleased.

You see, Linh Thi is not just my trainer and mentor; she’s also my jailer, though that description isn’t entirely accurate – even if it feels that way sometimes. I’m technically free to leave at any time, but there’s a cost. The organisation funding my rehab also provides for my child and estranged spouse’s food and lodging. If I were to leave, they’d withdraw all support. It’s a cruel arrangement, but it serves its purpose – keeping me from using any excuse to give up and fall back into old habits. Perhaps Linh Thi should be referred to as my saviour, if it weren’t for Levinsky holding that title.

The first six months of rehab and training were excruciating. Battling addiction while attempting to master a skill that typically takes a lifetime to perfect is no easy feat—especially when your physique is accustomed to combat rather than the graceful movements of a mime. I’m no Marcel Marceau. Clad in a mime costume, I look more like I’m off to a Halloween party rather than performing an art form. Yet Linh Thi accomplished the impossible. She took a shop-dummy figure and moulded it into an expression of motion, providing me with a new-found purpose. The training also provided a stable environment, offering not just a place to stay but also a space where I could battle the demons on my terms.

*    *    *

⁠At present, my life revolves around the bustling mall and the rundown dance school, or rather, the abandoned remnants of one, nestled in the shit-pit part of town. It often feels like I’ve been transported back to a war-torn zone. The initial months were incredibly challenging. The cacophony of shouting and occasional gunfire echoing from the streets below at night would often trigger vivid flashbacks, leaving me trembling beneath the covers, trapped in a cycle of haunting memories. However, paradoxically, the rough environment began to serve as a form of therapy. Gradually, I started to adapt once more, finding solace in the familiarity of chaos. The continuous exposure to urban noises and the rigorous training regimen left me too exhausted to succumb as frequently to the grip of bad memories, providing a semblance of respite amidst the turmoil. I often wonder… was this what Levinsky had planned all along?

Morning training in the flea pit dance studio, without exception would start at 05:00 on the dot -Linh Thi was a stickler for promptness. This would be after a 4am breakfast of dubious Asian inspired food, that usually sucked. Linh Thi had two major failings in life, her cooking and her suicide driving technique. Thinking about it… the was also a third – she could occasionally be an utter arsehole. But hey… after 12 months my taste buds had lost all their sensation and I was starting to freakishly warm to the old bitch?

Linh Thi was not only my mime teacher but also my Tai Chi instructor. It was this gentle exercise that we warmed up with every day. If you want to see an older woman move like a teenager, watch Linh Thi perform and teach Tai Chi; she transforms in front of you. Together, each day, we moved with the rising sun – it was the best part of that or any other day.

On the flip side— as you already know— the worst part of my day involved me sitting behind a cranky old bitch in a beat-up Chevy, navigating rush hour traffic. Despite the incessant swearing and near misses, we always managed to make it to the mall unscathed. Shaken and stirred, I would step out of the vehicle precisely at 09:00, to the dulcet tones of ‘Show-time soldier boy!’

There was days I could have slapped her.

*    *    *

Gliding seamlessly through the bustling throng of shoppers, I navigate with the fluidity of a seasoned ice skater, each movement a graceful dance upon the invisible rink beneath me. With swift dodges and elegant turns, I weave through the maze of bemused onlookers, offering a silent salute to those I pass.

Ahead lies the stage for my pantomime, drawing nearer with each effortless glide. As I approach, my momentum carries me into a final spin, bringing my ice-skating ballet to a captivating halt. With a flourish, I raise my arm in a triumphant salute to the crowd, a silent testament to the artistry of movement.

It’s hard some days to immerse oneself in this imaginary world, especially when every fibre of your being rebels against it. Yet today, I feel as though I never want to return to my old self. Even the sight of Olan Mills, the portrait studio directly across from my pitch, fails to stir the demons of the past.

My pantomime is set in the bustling mall plaza, alive with shopper energy. Glossy marble tiles beneath me reflect neon lights. To my left is the Regal mall’s grand entrance, while the main thoroughfare leads right to Grand Avenue. Above, glass-railed galleries offer panoramic views. My performance pitch is nestled between a hanging tubular sculpture and the steps going down to the underground car park.

The steps leading to the car park, much like the Olan Mills shop, used to fill me with a sense of dread. Memories that once gnawed away at the edges of my sanity, memories that are now buried within the deadened noise of that other room of my mind.

*    *    *

It was in a mall like this where my civilian life fell to pieces. High on denial and substance abuse, I was losing my grip on reality. Frequently, I would hallucinate while under the influence, bringing back vivid memories of conflict. That day, I had seen my wife leave me, and I got myself involved in a senseless bar brawl. Cut and bruised, high on drugs and alcohol, I had wandered aimlessly into the mall, a shortcut through to the only bar in town that would serve me a drink. Halfway through, I felt dizzy and took a seat on a bench in the plaza; within moments, I passed out.

My dreams back then were always lucid, even more so with the drugs. There was no real sleep, just a rerun of the horrors from the past.

I was shaken awake by what I thought were two enemy soldiers. The crossover from dream to reality did not switch over smoothly. Out of pure conditioning, I knocked the figure leaning over me to the ground with a headbutt; the second got knocked aside as I scrambled to my feet to escape them. There I was, running across the mall in a full flashback, trying to escape the memories that threatened to consume me.

The reality was that I had just assaulted two police officers who were trying to wake me up so they could escort me out of the building. Someone had complained about the gibbering drunk on the mall bench; security had called them in. To complicate matters more, I took refuge in Olan Mills portrait studio across from the bench seat, putting the fear of God into female shop assistant, as I was now flinging any heavy objects I could find in the store at the advancing cops. After a scuffle, it ended badly; in utter panic, I had taken a letter opener from behind the counter and stabbed one of the officers in the shoulder. Fearing the same, the remaining officer had ended the affray with his baton. I was hauled off to jail, charged – and as you already know – I ended up here instead of prison.

*    *    *

Here- in the Regal Mall, the plaza is my stage.

I remain in character as I prepare for my performance, emulating Charlie Chaplin’s mannerisms with practised finesse. My feet shuffle in rapid succession, feet turned outwards, as I navigate the invisible stage, paying homage to Chaplin’s legendary style. Stooping gracefully, I lay my holdall on the ground, mimicking a stumble before recovering with exaggerated grace.

Retrieving the tip bowl from my holdall, I infuse my movements with a subtle hint of hunger and desperation. With a weary sigh, I delicately place the bowl before the gathering audience—a silent plea for support in the form of spare change. My eyes, filled with a mix of hope and vulnerability, scan the crowd, silently beseeching their generosity. With a resigned shrug and a wistful glance, I extend an open hand towards the bowl, inviting contributions from those watching. Despite some laughter at my cheeky request, a few coins clink into the bowl, a modest start before my performance even begins.

Across the plaza standing next to the Blimpie sandwich shop is Carl the Mall cop. He’s a solid guy- a retired cop, we have become good friends and he guards my pitch when I take lunch. He is always there when I start my performance, and has now become the cue for my pantomime to start.

Upon spotting Carl, I instinctively raise an imaginary hand to my brow, as if shielding my eyes from the sun to gain a clearer view. With a sudden surge of excitement at seeing him, I exaggerate my greeting, vigorously waving my hand in the air while encouraging the crowd to join in. Carl’s embarrassed laughter rings out as he acknowledges the crowd’s response with a friendly wave before subtly indicating for me to continue the act. It’s always a gentle tap of his finger against his watch, followed by a sweeping motion of his hand, urging me to proceed. With his silent cue, I dive into the performance, energised by the exchange and ready to captivate the audience once more.

*    *    *

The hour approaches for luncheon and rest; I must also transition from the realm of imagination to reality. It’s been three hours of gesturing, interacting with imaginary objects, and performing exaggerated flourishes; now, I crave sustenance, rest, and a moment to reclaim my sense of masculinity. Carl serves as my alarm clock, dutifully reminding me of the time; sometimes, I become so engrossed in my performance that I lose track of it. With Carl watching over my pitch, I make my way to Blimpie for a much-needed meal.

Sally, the kind lady behind the counter at Blimpie, has taken a liking to me. She insists on giving me my lunch for free and allows me to eat in peace out back, away from prying eyes. She also grants me access to the restroom, where I can freshen up and reapply my face paint. Despite her protests, I often express my gratitude by surprising her with flowers, sensing that deep down, she appreciates the gesture. At 13:00 hours, it’s back to La La Land; I relieve Carl with a coffee and a ham & Swiss sub— his gratitude is evident, although he never offers a cheek kiss like Sally does.

Back at the pitch, it’s showtime again for ‘Soldier Boy.’

In the afternoon, I perform lighter acts leading up to ‘The Butterfly,’ my most challenging pantomime routine. It drains me both mentally and physically, but I’m surprisingly proud of how far I’ve come in mastering it.

*    *    *

At that time of day, the throng of shoppers is joined by the out-of-work folk, those people on the way home from work, getting food and last-minute items. The mall is packed, and my audience grows.

Much to the annoyance of the mall management, I cautiously tap the hanging metal sculpture prior to the start of the Butterfly to draw the attention of the crowd. The sculpture, a precarious assembly of metal tubes of varying sizes suspended from a rickety metal stand, it jangles ominously with each touch resembling a wind chime on the verge of collapse. Carl loathes it; he’s constantly chasing kids away from playing with it.

With the ringing of the tubes slowly abating, and audiences attention caught, I dig deep to recapture the poetry of motion. The first line appears in my mind, and as the world melts away, my body moves to its prompt – Upon…

“Upon the solemn ground of her final resting place, I stand, the chill of grief clinging to my form like a shroud.”

Gently, I kneel, placing a bouquet of flowers upon the soil, a silent testament to the love that still burns within my heart.

With tender movements, I mime the echoes of our past, the dances of joy and devotion that once filled these hallowed grounds with life. Each gesture a tribute to the bond we shared, now immortalised in memory.

Suddenly, a delicate flutter draws my gaze, and I watch as a butterfly descends, alighting gently upon her grave, a messenger from the realms beyond. With outstretched hand, I reach out, beckoning to the fragile creature, inviting it to join me in a dance of remembrance.

In silence, we move together, the butterfly and I, weaving a silent symphony of love and longing amidst the stillness of the cemetery. With every step, every turn, we celebrate the beauty of our shared existence, lost yet never forgotten.

But as all things must pass, so too must our dance come to an end. With a final flutter of its wings, the butterfly takes flight, ascending towards the heavens above. I stand alone once more, arms outstretched to the sky, yearning for the touch of my beloved’s spirit to linger just a moment longer amidst the tranquillity of this sacred place.

A hush blankets the plaza; my arms gently drop, my gaze remains fixed upon the heavens as the mime dissipates into memory.


The silence is shattered by a sudden explosion from the mall foyer, rupturing the air with a deafening roar. Screams intertwine with the cacophony of shattering glass and splintering metal. Yet I do not react.

Even with the noise, my mind is in another room, far away from the pandemonium outside. My gaze falls from the heaven, as a flashback plays out in my mind. This time, for the first time, I watch it with complete dispassion.

*    *    *

In every evacuation, there’s a prevailing mood of fear and uncertainty, evident in every hurried step and frantic glance over the shoulder, as people grapple with leaving behind everything they knew. The desperation in the air is suffocating, a tangible reminder of the imminent danger closing in on you. Families cling to each other, their eyes betraying the depth of their fears. It’s a heart-wrenching sight, one that leaves an indelible mark on your conscience.

Hư Cấu was one such place, embodying the turmoil and anguish of an entire city on the brink of collapse. As an officer with the army medical copse, my unit was charged with evacuating the wounded and the “at-risk” civilian population from the capital city.

With the city encircled and with the loss of air cover we where forced to use the city docks to ferry people out. Over a 24 hours period we had shipped out more than 7000 people; the last to go where the embassy officials and the civilian staff; it was race against time to clear the remainder before the enemy took the city.

As an army medic, I thought I had seen it all. From the blood-soaked battlefields to the harrowing scenes of civilian suffering, I had borne witness to the raw realities of war. But nothing could have prepared me for the defining moment that would leave an indelible scar on my soul.

Our estimates indicated that we had around one thousand souls to evacuate. With the east dock overcrowded with people boarding ships, we had no choice but to utilise the old submarine pens on the west dock. These pens were constructed with reinforced concrete walls and roofs to withstand aerial bombardment and other attacks. However, each pen could accommodate only one craft. To ferry people out to naval vessels anchored offshore, we employed small boats.

We managed to evacuate over 400 people through this route, but it wasn’t without its challenges. The pens were underground, and the steps leading down to them were designed only for submarine crews. Maintaining order amidst the chaos and confusion was crucial. I positioned my men along the route to keep order, while I stationed myself at the base of the steps against the wall, where a right-hand turn led to an opening on the dock walkway ten feet further along. It was a turning point, but for a mass of people accessing the stairs, it could become a potential dead-end.

For hours, our voices rose above the din, issuing commands to maintain order, slow down the pace, and prevent pushing. Despite our efforts, and as the shelling drew nearer, a palpable sense of desperation pervaded the air. It became increasingly clear that time was running out, and the window of opportunity for escape was rapidly closing. Panic began to spread, and our commands were met with disobedience. And then, it happened.

As the shelling drew dangerously close to the top of the stairs, panic gripped the crowd. In the frantic scramble to escape, a man carrying a young child missed his footing on the last step. He lurched forward, desperately trying to maintain his balance. In that split second, I saw it in his eyes—the dilemma to save himself or the child.

Mid-fall, he managed to push the child towards me, the force propelling me against the wall. As he fell, an elderly man trailing closely behind tripped over him, setting off a chain reaction of stumbling bodies. People rapidly tumbled on top of each other.

Recovering from the impact, I hastily passed the child to the soldier beside me in an unspoken exchange. He took her and swiftly fled to safety.

With little time to spare, I reached out to aid those who had fallen, attempting to lift them up and prevent further injury. In the midst of the pandemonium, I remained focused on the immediate task at hand, oblivious to the impending danger looming above me—the avalanche of bodies hurtling down the stairwell, each one a domino in a chain reaction of catastrophe.

As more explosions erupted outside, the surge of people pushing into the tight confines of the staircase intensified, amplifying the disaster, and unfolding it at an ever-increasing speed. I was no longer a witness to the disaster; I was a victim.

For over four hours, I remained trapped, drifting in and out of consciousness. During those fleeting moments of lucidity, I bore witness to the haunting sounds of the dying, as they slowly departed from this world.

It was estimated that over 130 people were crushed together and lying on top of one another, dying of asphyxiation that day. Only a few of us survived, saved by the junction of the wall to the floor— just enough space to avoid the deadly pile of the main crush of bodies.

These are the memories that haunted me night and day, now looked at with dispassion, deadened in another space, another room of my mind.

*    *    *

Flashbacks are swift and raw, consuming if allowed to prey on vulnerability. But witnessed in a state of bliss, they lose their power and wither away from indifference. In this state of detachment, I honour the past, and in doing so, reclaim my power— I am no longer bound by its grip. Today, I stand tall, a testament to growth and healing, prepared to embrace the future with courage and grace.

The flashback passes in seconds, and reality takes its place once again. Before me is the pandemonium caused by the explosion, yet I appear to inhabit an island of peace. I watch as terrified shoppers surge towards the other entrance to the mall.

BOOM! A second device explodes in the shop next to the entrance; more screams mix with the shock-wave of the destructive force. In a frenzied panic, the mass of humanity changes course, turning back to the only other route of escape: the steps down to the underground car park. Between them and it, is me.

The flashback attempts to consume me again, but I am no longer feeding it; it dissipates before me. With an inner stillness, I weigh up the options to prevent history from repeating itself.

Shouting will do nothing; my voice will be lost in the noise of hysteria. Standing before the steps, to ward them off, would be suicide. It’s then I spy the hanging metal sculpture, its clangs still ringing from the shock-wave. I move swiftly behind it and push it over; it lands with an almighty clatter of metal on the stone floor before the steps, a jarring symphony of metal on marble that pierces the frenzied noise of the stampede. They stop in renewed shock. Some recover quickly and attempt to move forward again; it’s now that training kicks in. From the depths of my repertoire, I begin to perform the man behind the invisible wall; the people moving towards me stop in disbelief. I now have my audience back and can do anything I like with them.

Before the restless crowd, I stand before an invisible wall, my arms outstretched to halt their advance. With deliberate movements, I mime the sensation of pushing against an impenetrable barrier, my hands pressing against an unseen force, signalling to the crowd that they cannot proceed. Their murmurs rise in confusion, their impatience palpable as they press forward, oblivious to the danger that lies ahead. But I remain steadfast, my movements growing more exaggerated as I mime the urgency of the situation, imploring them to turn away from the invisible obstacle before them. Then, with a sudden shift in my pantomime, I pivot towards the right, my hand tracing an imaginary path towards an imagined door I am desperately trying to find; I find the handle, open the invisible door and exit. The crowd are stunned. I break character. I’m now Major Beckman, and you’ll do as I commanded. I shout “Follow me- NOW!” and I walk quickly toward the fire-doors and open them. There is a hesitant twitch of the crowd, before they comply. They try to run, I bellow them down with instructions, to remain calm and exit slowly, they comply.

Ten minutes later, everyone is safely out of the building and milling about in the loading area of the mall. All but two, that slowly sauntering over to me, I command them to hurry up, to get to safety. Its then that I realise that it’s Carl and Sally. Carl raises his hand to indicate all is okay, they both continue at a relaxed pace. There is something not right about this? Sally seems different, she has evolved from the look of the easygoing, mom-like persona, to that of a determined professional, radiating confidence; in her hand she carries a medical kit bag. They stop in front of me. “It’s all over Jacob,” he says with a sense of warmth that only the eyes can reveal. “What is?” I say shaking from the adrenaline rush. “Your rehabilitation son, you’ve passed the test.” I look at him blankly “What test?” My body is now starting to shake all over, I feel my legs start to go beneath me, Carl moves toward me to stop me from falling, between him and Sally I am assisted out of the mall and into the loading bay.

The shoppers from the mall are gathered together and are clapping me, for what I don’t I understand? Carl and Sally seat me against the wall of the loading bay, I join a line of perhaps a 70 other people, all of them seated with people attending them. Sally speaks to me, telling that she about to administer something that will calm me down, I comply as the clapping continues. “Why are they clapping.” I ask? “It’s graduation day son, you like all these seated people have faced their worst fears and survived the experience.” He said kneeling next to me. “And you are …” I started to say. “Sally is you assigned physician and I am assigned your guardian. And these…” He says gesturing to the crowd of people that are still clapping “…are past patients of this establishment, congratulating you on your recovery, as they are for the others that you see here.” He says showing an open hand to the line of seated people. “Seventy three good people to put back into the world.” I look around at the mass of gathered people, the clapping is starting to peter out, some are hugging each other prior to departing. Along the line of the seated many are being helped up and being assisted to parked cars. I look at Carl. “So this is…” He again finishes the sentence “…a one of its kind rehabilitation centre. The shoppers are paid participants- all old patients that live in our community. The people you see against the wall, just like you have spent the last year coming to terms with their demons. The mall and two miles of surrounding buildings in this area, a haven for good souls to live out their lives in peace. It’s how we can make this all work without the real world screwing it up.” “Does that mean I can never leave here?” Fearing that I am about to be cosigned to a mad house. “No Jacob, people stay here of the own volition, so that they can help those who seek the same treatment they went through, they can come and go as they wish. As can you.” “What now?” I say tentatively. Carl turns to look behind him, he see spies Linh Thi’s beaten up Chevy “It looks like your ride has come to take you home Jacob. Now, lets see how you are on your feet.” Carl and Sally help me up, I wobble for a moment, then find my feet. We walk to over to car. I hug them both, pledge my eternal gratitude and say my goodbyes.

Turning to the car I automatically open the rear door, only to see a person on the back seat dressed in mime costume. I hear a voice coming from the drivers seat, but it doesn’t sound like Linh Thi’s. “Up front with me.” It’s woman’s voice, but not the hard broken English that I’m used to, its soft, with perfect pronunciation. “Hello Jacob.” She says with a smile as I get in. She is dressed immaculately, in clothes that scream money, its Linh Thi, but yet its not? “Who’s the mime in the back?” I say “Your replacement, he starts today.” She says turning the key in the ignition. I shrug in reply, words are hard to find with so much revealing itself.

The car gently pulls away, and glides its way through the down town traffic, I suddenly realise that she not swearing at the other drivers and that my life is no longer at risk from her driving? “So the bad driving was part of the act?” I say wryly. “No darling,” she says with a smirk “just my way of keeping you on your toes.” “And the appalling food?” “I am many things, but a cook I am not, even I don’t eat my own cooking.” There is a shared moment of eyeing each other up and silently sniggering before I broach the burning question. “Who are you really?” She gently pulls the car over to the sidewalk. Taking a clutch bag from the glove box, she retrieves a photograph from the bag. She hands it to me, it is a picture of a young woman in college graduation garments. “I am still Linh Thi, but my full title is Dame Linh Dennison, former Chargé d’affaires to the Hư Cấu British embassy. The photo that you are holding is of my grandchild Eleanor, she is the child that you saved that day.” I held the photo in stunned silence. It is broken by her words. “Jacob, we both lost something on that day, my son and your sanity; I knew that nothing could ever bring him back, my only consolation is that I could honour his memory by bringing you back. You paid a high price to save Eleanor, I think that perhaps this debt has now been repaid.” There’s a knot in my stomach, that is trying to bring me to tears, but I’m all cried out. I hold my hand to my mouth, as if to not let the wrong words spill out. I breathe out slowly to get my composure. I dare to look up.

“All this for me?” I ask.

“Yes and more. My dear friend Aron Levinsky, agreed to monitor your activities on behalf, on the strict instruction not to interfere with your life. We always feared that any memory of the Hư Cấu disaster could send you into a downward spiral. I wanted to repay the bravery, but not at the cost of your sanity. The opportunity came from the waiting game. Thank you for saving her.”

As both our tears roll she hugs me.

After a while, we part and compose ourselves. Linh delves into the clutch bag once more and pulls out a locker key, handing it to me. ‘This is for you,’ she says. I look at her, confused. ‘It’s a key to an airport locker,’ she explains. ‘Inside, you’ll find a change of clothes, an air ticket, money, and a letter from Levinsky. I dare say the letter will offer a career opportunity. The air ticket will take you to your final destination—to your wife and child, who dearly want you back. Everything is in place, even your ride home from the airport.’ She ends with a gentle sigh of relief. Then, turning the key in the ignition once more, we set off for the airport.

Cheekily, she eyes me as she drives, and in broken English, she utters, ‘It’s go-home-time, soldier boy.’ We break into laughter, spooking a very confused and worried mime artist in the back, who now wonders whether he should have ever signed that contract?