The Spoils of War

Lance Corporal Jack Shaw is discharged from the Army after extended tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. He returns to his birthplace of Bradford where he meets Parminder Sherwani in a local bar. Parminder's an attractive, confident University student who's not adverse to a bit of fun.

To date, Jack has 100% record with Asian women. They can never say no to him, but then again Jack's always been a soldier, and soldiers carry guns.

The relationship gets off to a flying start and it seems romance in the air but when Jack's physical advances are met with resistance, the result is serious conflict.

Parminder claims she was raped. Her comments go viral on Twitter. Parminder's brother and his friends hunt down Jack and beat him half to death, leaving him wheel-chair bound. Bradford quickly finds itself reliving the riots of 2001; Asian gangs and students are fighting the English Defence League on the streets.

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4. 4

CHAPTER FOUR

 

Inside Mario's restaurant, Parminder's eyes crossed as she closely scrutinized the prawn on the end of her fork. "So, how's a good looking guy like you end up single, in Bradford, at this hour?"

"Are you talking to me or the prawn?" said Jack.

"I was talking to the prawn. You wait your turn."

"Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt."

 "He had his chance." She popped the prawn into her mouth. "I'm all yours now. Prawns can be so ignorant sometimes, don't ya think?"

 Jack refilled Parminder's wine glass from the bottle. "Obviously, I realise you're not a guy but I was going to ask you the same question. What's a pretty girl like you doing alone, in Bradford, at this hour?"

Parminder took the wine glass by its stem, and twirled it, swilling its ruby read contents around before setting the glass down on the tablecloth. "My mission is to get through university, and get out of this town without forming any new attachments. I plan to move to London."

"Ambitious girl."

"Not really. Don't get me wrong. I love my family, but my parents are a bit old-school. I need to get away from them and Bradford, and live my own life." She chuckled. "Even though she acts like Duchess of Bradford, if my mother knew I was being wined and dined in an expensive restaurant by a gora she'd turn in her grave; one of those do as I say not as I do, types."

"Sorry, I'm getting confused. Did you just say your mother was dead?"

"No, my mother's not dead, but if she knew I was here, with you, she would be." She adopted a thick Pakistani accent whilst hyperventilating. "Parminder! What man would want you now? You are bringing shame to the Sherwani family." She collapsed forward onto the table. "She'd probably pack me off to Pakistan in the dead of night."

Jack laughed. "Are your family very strict and traditional?"

Parminder sat up straight "Dad is. Bless him He's a stereotypical hardworking man who emigrated to this country in search for a better future for his family. He works 24/7 in his little shop to pay for our 'good education'. Mum – not so much. Apparently she comes from a very powerful family. When my dad captured her heart he was punching well above his weight. She drives a Mercedes Benz that's bigger than our house, goes to her creative writing class on Wednesdays and bridge club on Thursdays. She says that now she is in Rome she must behave like a Roman. . . . Anyway, you haven't answered my question."

Parminder received no answer. Jack was staring. Not directly at her. He seemed hypnotised by her gold hooped earrings which swung gently, powered the gestures and animations accompanying her speech.

"Don't you just love those holidays; no passport, no visa, no luggage, no booking required – you just take off!"  

Jack blinked, and focussed on her.

"Welcome back, soldier."

"Sorry." Jack cleared his throat. "You want to know about me? Well, I'm 24 years-old and the bastard son of a Bradford whore. When I was 18 I got myself into some serious trouble with the law – and I mean serious. I was going to jail. Apparently, my mother made a call to my father. All of a sudden the prosecution drops the case and I'm in the Army."

"Wow!" Parminder's eyes widened. "How does that work? Who the fuck is your dad?"

"No idea." Jack drained the remaining contents of the bottle into his glass. "She kept that information close to her chest and it's sealed in her coffin with her."

"Shit. If I'd have known your mother was . . ."

Jack dismissed her apology with a wave of his hand. "Don't apologise. I never loved her. I didn't even like her when she was alive and I'm not about to pretend that I did."

"If you don't mind me asking, how did she die?"

"They fished her out of the River Aire. But it's miles away from where we lived. Only God knows what she was doing there."

Parminder puffed out her cheeks. "And I thought my life was tough."

 "Anyway, four days ago I was discharged from the Army, and I came back here. It's the only place I know or remember." He looked into her eyes. "That's how I ended up single, in Bradford, at this hour." He reached across the table, took her hands, and proceeded to examine them. "Those nails are impressive. I noticed them back at the bar."

"Be careful. They're razor-sharp." She straightened her fingers. "I'll scratch your eyes out with them," she said, turning his hands over. A moment of silence passed as she scanned every detail of his palms.

"What are you searching for?"

"Truth."

"Are you some sort of palm reader?"

"No," she mumbled, leaning in for a closer look. "Five years in the army, and no girlfriend – I'd expect to see calluses." She pushed his hands away. "You're right-handed, right?"

He pulled his hands away sharply. After the initial moments of embarrassment he broke into a smile.

Parminder joined him but her smile was cut by her sharp intake of breath. "Shit, I never knew this was that sort of restaurant."

Jack followed her gaze.

Parminder cringed. "Please, don't do it, mate. You've got your whole life ahead of you."

A young man on the next table crouched on one knee offering a ring to the woman accompanying him. The woman tearfully accepted his token. The waiter, on cue, opened a bottle of champagne.

"I think I'm going to throw up," said Parminder. "I don't know which is worse, this culture or my parents'. What is it with the kneeling and the rings?"

"Isn't it a traditional romantic gesture? Isn't it every girl's dream?"

"Not this girl's. If you think I'm going to be saying soldier, soldier will you marry me – anytime soon . . . You need to think again."

"It hadn't crossed my mind – honest."

"I think everything's got a bit misinterpreted over the generations. Some of my friends think if they kneel in front of enough men, eventually one of the men will kneel in front them in a situation not dissimilar to this one. I don't get it; they behave like slappers but really they just want their big day and their big fuck off white wedding. They want the fairytale but it's not going to happen. Prince Charming ain't marrying Snow White when he finds out she's blown all seven dwarves. Even I play the game sometimes. I told my last boyfriend, he ain't getting anywhere near my ring until I get his ring on my finger. He ran away – of course. Don't you love it when a plan comes together?"

"You're a straight-talking type of girl, aren't you?"

"What other way is there to be?"

The waiter appeared to clear the table, and after consulting with Parminder, Jack informed him they required nothing further except the bill.

"Shall we go back to that bar? Or perhaps you'd like to go on to somewhere else?"

Parminder wiped her hands on a napkin whilst shaking her head. "This has been really nice. No man has ever taken me to a posh candle-lit restaurant before. But it's getting late, and just like Cinderella, I'm gonna have to bail on you before witching hour."

"I suppose Mummy and Daddy will be waiting up."

"I don't live with my parents. Are you mad?" She tossed the napkin aside. "I share a house with someone over in Little Horton."

Jack raised his eyebrows, and took a sip from his glass of water.

"I live with a girl, Rosie," Parminder added.

"Are you both students?"

"Sort of. Rosie's part-time studying to be a nurse. I'm doing a conventional degree, full-time."

"Oh, right. So are you just flatmates or are you bosom buddies too?"

Parminder thought a good while before answering. She removed a paper insert from the dessert menu. "We've kind of fallen out at the moment."

"What about?"

"It's not important. I'm sure it'll get resolved – these things always do." She began to fidget, tearing the insert into little strips. "We've known each other all our lives.  . . .  Something she said when we were arguing cut me to the core. It's really made me think. She said I've always been her best friend but she's never been mine.  Don't get me wrong; the girl can't keep a secret, she's a bit dim, I've never met anybody so messy, she's always been a bit of a slapper, and she's an annoying cow." Parminder sighed and discarded the remainder of the insert. "But she is my best friend . . . I take her for granted and I treat her badly. Why would I do that? I'm a bad person. I'm evil."

"Obviously not, since it's troubling you."

"She's my best friend, and I love her. When she gets back I'm gonna tell her."

"You love her?"

"Yeah, damn straight."

 "Phew! So much has changed since I've been away. People are so open. Are you, erm . . . a bisexual?" Jack raised his glass to his lips, and glanced over to the next table where the newly engaged were involved in a heated exchange.

Parminder burst out laughing. "Don't be silly! When I say I love her, it's a girlie thing – girlie love. It's not like." She pointed to him and then herself. "Man-love, woman-love, sex-love . . . It's not that kinda love. I assure you both Rosie and I are straight, definitely. Me, all I want is cock!" She finished her speech just as the couple on the next table's argument ended. Parminder's words reached every corner of the restaurant.

Jack choked, spraying a mouthful of water across the table.

Parminder took evasive action to avoid getting soaked.

The engaged looked over. "Tom, close your mouth," said the woman.

Parminder experienced one of those slow-motion moments, like the split-second before a car crash. I said that really, loud didn't I? And everybody heard, didn't they. Then came the impact; the waiter collided with her and dropped a dessert order on the floor.

Parminder suddenly became aware she was the centre of attention in a very busy restaurant. "Oh God!" She hid her face behind her hands. "I'm sorry. I don't believe I just said that. It didn't come out the way it was supposed to. I mean, I didn't mean it the way it sounded."

"It sounded just fine to me," said Jack. 

 

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