It was the day before I left. I was sitting in the yard. There was nothing else to do. It was a big house. The whole family shared it. My brother-in-law’s children were running around, out of control. He shouted at them as he cleaned his shotgun. He was a hunter. He had all the kit, the camouflage gear, the cartridge belt, the boots, everything. He hated me. It wasn’t just that I was foreign, or that I wrote books. His big problem was that I couldn’t give his sister a kid. I wasn’t a man, in his eyes. Not just in his. People talk. They were talking so much I had started to believe them.
He pulled a brush through the barrel and looked at me, a sneer dancing along the ridges of his teeth. ‘Have you seen my gun?’ he said.
I looked dumbly at the thing propped on his knee.
‘Not this one,’ he said. ‘The other one.’
The basement smelled damp. No one went down there. He made a path through the junk and managed to open the rickety wardrobe in the corner. It was full of old blankets, which he pushed aside. He removed a green box. It was an ammunition case, even I could see that, like something out of Action Man, but full-size, metal. He pulled back the hasp and levered the lid open.
‘What do you make of this?’ he said, and came towards me with something wrapped in an oily rag. I don’t know much about guns. I don’t like being around them because I know what they are for. It was a revolver. He draped the rag over his shoulder and started tossing the gun from hand to hand. Then he did something with his thumb and the cylinder flipped out. It was full of bullets. ‘Here,’ he said.
‘No, you’re okay,’ I said. He wanted me to be impressed like a real man would. I wasn’t. I was wary of leaving fingerprints.
He sliced the cylinder with the side of his hand, making it spin. ‘I brought it back from Tirana when I finished a job there,’ he said. With a flick of his wrist the gun clicked shut. He raised it and pointed it at me. ‘They’re not blanks. You know all about them, eh?’
It wasn’t a toy.
He closed an eye. ‘Bang, you’re dead,’ he said.
My knees felt strange.
Hysterical yelps. He looked at the door. His children, in the house, coming down the stairs. He moved back to the corner.‘Keep this to yourself,’ he said. ‘If you know what’s good for you.’