Afterwards, when the world was exploding around him and the lethal blackbirds were massing on the climbing frame in the school playground, he felt annoyed with himself for forgetting the name of the BBC reporter, a woman, who had told him that his old life was over and a new, darker existence was about to begin. She had called him at home on his private line without explaining how she got the number. 'How does it feel,' she asked him, 'to know that you have just been sentenced to death by the Ayatollah Khomeini?' It was a sunny Tuesday in London but the question shut out the light. This is what he said, without really knowing what he was saying: 'It doesn't feel good.' This is what he thought: I'm a dead man. He wondered how many days he had left to live and thought the answer was probably a single-digit number. He put down the telephone and ran down the stairs from his workroom at the top of the narrow Islington terraced house where he lived. The living-room windows had wooden shutters and, absurdly, he closed and barred them. Then he locked the front door.
It was Valentine's Day but he hadn't been getting on with his wife, the American novelist Marianne Wiggins. Six days earlier she had told him she was unhappy in the marriage, that she 'didn't feel good around him any more', even though they had been married for little more than a year, and he, too, already knew it had been a mistake. Now she was staring at him as he moved nervously around the house, drawing curtains, checking window bolts, his body galvanised by the news as if an electric current were passing through it, and he had to explain to her what was happening. She reacted well, beginning to discuss what they should do next. She used the word we. That was courageous.