Wednesday was a ceasefire, so Sundar got out his chess game and played chess with his older half-brother, Vassily. Vassily had lost his queen and both rooks and was about to surrender the game when he heard someone coming across the courtyard behind them. He turned around and saw Padmi, one of the Rayad milita commanders. She was wearing a man’s black tee shirt with holes in it over purple leggings, and her hair looked like she had just gotten out of bed. She stopped walking and slumped to the ground against the side of the building. She didn’t seem to realize they were watching her. Her eyes were full of tears, her cheeks and upper lip were shiny with them. She clutched a mobile phone to her ear. Vassily didn’t think he’d ever seen her not wearing a uniform. He knew he’d never seen her crying. “I promised her I’d come see her again,” he heard her say into the phone. “She was so kind to me. I should have gone before. I waited too long...” She sobbed once. Sundar began gathering up the chess game. He walked over and sat down beside Padmi. They didn’t say anything to each other, just sat together with their backs against the wall, and Sundar rubbed her shoulder with one hand.
That evening, Padmi was quiet. Her hair was tightly braided and she wore a black government uniform that was only a little too large for her. A diamond stud sparkled in her nose. “My Kala Sonya was a lovely woman,” she said, smiling, as if Sonya’s death was already a memory bittersweet with time. “When I ran away from home and came to Dor, I was only fourteen. Kala Sonya taught me how to clean her house and tend her garden and feed her little dogs until I could do everything exactly to suit her. She paid me from the beginning, though. Everything had to be just so in Kala Sonya’s house. But she was not a good cook. She used to send me all the way up Bladik to get a certain kind of sugar donuts when she had company. They were from a little bakery called Porofky’s Cakes and Sweets. ‘The best donuts I never made, she would say, ‘The best donuts in the world.’”
“I know where that bakery is,” Vassily told Sundar later. “My grandmother lived next door. She bought a wedding cake there once.” “Your grandmother lived up there? Oh, right, sometimes I forget your mother was Sevian.” “Yes,” said Vassily. He narrowed his eyes at Sundar. “How else do you think I got named Vassily?” “Since you know where it is, let’s go get her some.” “Who? What?” “Padmi. Let’s bring her back some of her favorite sugar donuts.” “That bakery is way down Bladik at Bladik and Leva. We can’t go there. The White Horses control the whole area.” “You could go, maybe, if you wore a hat. If you hadn’t grown your hair out, it would be impossible to tell that you’re Tur,” said Sundar. “That was the point.” “But then I’d miss out, “ he went on. “Oh come on, it will be fun.” Of course Sundar would think something dangerous would be fun. Sundar treated his life like a game. Sometimes he let Vassily play with him. If Vassily tried to make him stop playing, tried to tell him something serious, or learn something important from him, Sundar would lock him out. His eyes would go glassy, his voice would turn hard and distant. They shared a father, but sometimes Vassily thought that was the only thing in the whole world they really shared. “What’s the point of sitting around here waiting to get shot at? Our guard shift is almost up, let’s go,” said Sundar. When their replacements arrived, Vassily and Sundar walked out of the compound together and looked around. The air was chilly. The sky was still pink on the horizon. A few stars showed high up at the top where it had turned purple-gray. Beautiful. Peaceful. “Bringing a gun?” asked Sundar. “No.” “Me neither.” They crossed into Leva, the nearest Sevian neighborhood just as the street lights came on. A woman in a white knitted hat stared at them as they went by, her arms pinned to her sides with bulging grocery bags. “Can I help you with your bags, ma’am?” Sundar said, grinning. She shuffled away as fast as she could go. Sundar threw back his head and laughed. “Stop it,” said Vassily. “What? I asked to help!” Sundar rolled his eyes. Two little boys with toy pistols watched them from the stairs leading up into an apartment building. An old man, maybe the grandfather, stood over them, smoking. “You don’t want to get hurt, you head back down to Pasha neighborhood,” he shouted. Sundar turned and gave him a sweeping bow, miming touching the old man’s feet with gratitude. “You don’t get such wise advice every day,” he laughed, falling against Vassily and throwing an arm around his shoulders. “I’m not exactly sure where we are,” said Vassily. He knew the neighborhood, but he hadn’t seen it since he was eight. Not even. Maybe six. He remembered where the bakery was, though. Memories connected with sweets tended to stick, but if he made a mistake, if he took them too far in, or down the wrong street, they might die. An old white Toyota passed them, u-turned at the head of the street, tires squealing, and came barreling back toward them. They ran. The taktaktak of gunfire behind them made them run faster. They dashed down one alley, jumped a chain link fence through somebody’s back garden where a frightened cat dashed under the steps and through another one where two flowered sheets rippled on a clothesline. They sprinted past trash cans and piles of dead branches. They slowed down as their street ran into a big throughfare. Vassily looked across it, and saw plate glass windows, yellow-lit, painted with big white letters “Porofky’s Cakes and Sweets.” “That’s it,” he panted. “We get the donuts there.” “Don’t need donuts,” Sundar gasped, one arm pressed across his stomach. “Already out of shape.” They crossed the street, weaving between idling cars. Dozens of people were staring at them. Vassily could feel hatred radiating from all the eyes. “Hurry,” he said to Sundar. He jerked his head in the direction of a group of White Horse milita members standing outside a bar half a block down, Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders. “ Hurry.” The man behind the counter in Porofky’s Cakes and Sweets was middle aged, short and thick with a salt and pepper mustache and a white apron over his big belly. When they walked in, he backed away, fear tightening his soft face. He raised his hands over his head. “Hello Mr. Porofky,” said Sundar. “We’ll take a dozen--no, make that two dozen--of the sugar donuts, please. And hurry.” Mr. Porofky cracked open a paper bag with “Porofky’s Cakes and Sweets” written on it. He fumbled for the tongs. His hands were shaking. One by one, he dropped the donuts in. The bag crackled, and the sugar whispered as it fell inside. “Hurry up,” Vassily muttered. “How much?” said Sundar. Mr. Porofky looked up, mouth open. “How much for two dozen?” Sundar pulled out his wallet. Mr. Porofky stared at Sundar’s fingers sliding a bill out of the wallet. “You’re paying?” he said. “I thought this was a robbery.” “Of course we’re paying. Keep the change, we’ll be back another time.” Out of the corner of his eye, Vassily saw movement, fast, dangerous movement, in the street outside. A spray of bullets shattered the windows. Glass fragments skewered the pastry display and a big wedding cake exploded in a puff of pink and white. He dove across the counter and dropped to the floor behind it, with Mr. Porofky grunting underneath him. Vassily shifted his elbow so it wasn’t digging into Mr. Porofky’s back, but he stayed down. Someone was still shooting right outside, probably into the air, taktaktaktaktak. He’d heard Sundar yelp when the windows broke, but he couldn’t see him. If only he could at least see where he was. “Get up,” someone yelled, “Come out from behind there with your hands up.” Vassily stood, easing up from the knees, then the waist, then the shoulders. He interlaced his fingers at the back of his head. Mr. Porofky stood too, coughing. Sundar was crouching just in front of the counter. He’d pulled up his tee shirt, the one with “Rayad” written in fake blood on it, and was pressing it against the side of his head. Real blood seeped between his fingers. The White Horses were inside now, standing over Sundar. Most of them looked scared, and they all looked less than twenty. Vassily stepped forward, one foot at a time. “Stop there,” one yelled, swinging his gun around to point at him. “He’s hurt,” said Vassily, moving his eyes toward Sundar. “Yes, you rob a Sevian’s business, you’re going to get hurt. You’re going to get dead,” the man said, mocking a Tur accent.”The fun is over, mop-head. On your knees,” he shouted. Vassily didn’t move. “Sorry,” Sundar whispered. “The donuts were a stupid idea.” A Sevian put the barrel of his rifle against the back of Sundar’s head. Vassily closed his eyes, because he didn’t want the last thing he saw to be Sundar getting his head blown off. Mr. Porofky coughed again.”What’s the big idea?” he said. “They paid. All they wanted was a couple of dozen donuts, and they paid for them. Overpaid, actually.” “Well, they’re the best donuts in the world,” said Sundar. “You boys have done a whole lot more damage to my store than they ever would have, besides almost costing me a couple of paying customers. So Get. Out. Now!” Mr. Porofky marched over to the closet White Horse, and shook a fist in his face. “Sergei! And you, Peter, Andrei, Kostya, Bogdan--go home to your mothers!” They left. They muttered and grumbled, but they walked out. Mr. Porofky handed Vassily the greasy paper bag of donuts. “Donuts are five kapak a dozen. You’ve given me thirty. Are you sure you don’t want change?” “Pay for the windows,” said Vassily. “And the cake,” Sundar added. “Hey, brother, look at my ear. Something’s wrong with it.” He pointed to the side of his head with his sticky hand, and Vassily lifted the blood-soaked pieces of hair. Most of Sundar’s right ear was torn away. “That looks horrible. Do you think you can walk all the way home? Because if I have to choose between carrying you or the donuts, you know what I’m going to pick.” That was a Sundar-thing to say. He, Vassily, just wanted to cry, but if he did Sundar would make fun of him. He was already making fun of him. “Of course I can walk. I can dance. Sundar stood up and strutted across the shards of glass that lay all over the floor, shaking his shoulders and snapping his fingers, singing,