“I never knew this was a church,” he said as he bent down to pick the rubbles. We stared at him, Kui and I, looking at the transformation on his face. I felt the need to go and hug him, and tell him that everything will be fine. But knowing Paul, I held back. Kui seemed to feel my hesitation and nodded. We left him alone at the ruins.
We went to the vehicle, a few minutes away. Our silence had grown on us and we felt the need to say something.
“I feel for him,” Kui said.
We lapsed into silence again; each to her own thought. It was a few minutes later when Paul joined us.
“Cheer up guys, I am fine. I really am.”
The beginning of the end started days after Paul was visited by two strange men. He was seated in his office, when his secretary walked in to announce the presence of two middle-aged men in black suits. Paul had let them in without thinking twice about it, even after the secretary indicated the peculiarity of the meeting: they did not have an appointment and, according to her, had a weird aura around them.
Nobody could recall whatever happened after the two men left, but all they knew was that Paul was missing.
I met Paul one cold rainy day. I was indoors when a knock on the door took me away from my hot tea and novel, only for me to open the door and see a stranger. His tattered clothes and the bags under his eyes told me all I needed to know. That, and a strange force that compelled me to welcome him in my house.
“How can I help you?”
“I…do…need…” he stopped mid sentence before falling on the carpet. I have no idea how I dragged him to the couch and made him comfortable. My memories of this time were of him slipping in and out of consciousness, and me getting nervous over his well being. There was no way I wanted a dead body in my house, but I still did not call the police, even after the required timeline passed.
The first thing that came out of Paul’s mouth after he got well was the name of a town: Hakiba.
“The men. They kept saying this name over and over again.”
“So, you remember?”
“Yes, but I do not know what it means.”
Our quest for Hakiba started. From maps to books, from libraries to newsrooms’ archives, we searched for Hakiba but to no avail. When we had almost given up, a young lady called me.
“Hi, I am Kui and I know what you are looking for.”
In no time, Kui, Paul and I were on the road headed eastwards from my hometown. We did not know how long the journey was, but we packed everything we thought we needed on our Jeep.
Kui proved to be very helpful, although we had to stop and ask the natives for more information. Our arrival at Hakiba was a mixture of reactions: fresh for me, bittersweet for Paul, who seemed to have made a connection to his life.
Note: This was a response to this prompt, but with a bit of variation: instead of first three paragraphs, it was 500 words. Same culprits, whose stories I will share here, took part.