Monday, February 19, 2007


my death bells ring and shake my veins,
and in my blood a longing darkens
for a bullet which deadly ice
might tear through my soul in its depths
hell setting the bones ablaze.

………. My death is a triumph.

Death and The River
By Badr Shākir al-Sayyāb

The day I died

A story Written by the Iraqi Roulette.

I dedicate this story to all those who were in the wrong place in the wrong time.

I heard the sound of the explosion and saw the blinding blaze. I gasped and closed my eyes. I think I shouted, "Oh, God save us", so did the other people walking in the marketplace. I heard their voices, and I felt the fire puffing in my face. But all that did not take more than a second. I tried to open my eyes, or utter another sound, yet that seemed unimportant at all. For the feeling I have now is incomparable. There is just no need…, no need at all to open my eyes or scream. There is only surrender, sweet surrender.

It is a feeling beyond words; when your eyes are closed, yet you can see. When your voice can not be heard, even if you scream, yet you can hear everything else.
Is this how death is then? Death? Is it possible that I have actually died? Has the thing that I have spent my whole life postponing finally happened?
Have you tried this feeling? No, of course you have not, you are alive. It is a feeling as if you are neither awake nor asleep. And my heart, my poor poor heart, is brimming with the feeling of beauty. Beauty bringing me to tears.
I remember that my voice faded away with all the other voices suddenly, not gradually, but straight away, just like what happens when electricity is cut off from an apparatus. After I had been one among others, my voice heard with their voices; my figure seen with other figures in one picture, I became all by myself. They all used to be with me, now I am completely alone, not only in this street, or in this country, but alone in the whole universe.
Someone told me, that the events of one’s life passes before him the instant he dies.That is not how it is exactly.
The moment I died, or when I realized I was alone, I had two questions occupying my mind persistently. The first: Did I say, “I witness that there is no God but God, and Muhammed is the messenger of God”? Yes, I said it. I did not actually pronounce it, but I said it with my heart and mind. Not before death, since I did not know yet that I was going to die, when I first heard the explosion. I said it when … when I repossessed my thoughts.
The second question was, what did the man who was drinking tea at my stand, say? I did not hear what he said and that bothers me.

Yet, the feeling of beauty that imbues me, and the feeling of love that fills my heart is enough to cover the whole world's need of beauty and love. This feeling is enveloping my whole life, and even my death. Everything seemed so beautiful; everything seemed to have ended so well. It does not bother me, that my wife and daughter are now alone, and that they have a whole harsh life ahead. Not at all, there is no need at all, there is no need for any sadness or fear, no need at all, and it will all be all right.
All the suffering, she and her mother will have to endure seems so small comparing to all the beauty I feel right now. If only I had this feeling and this certainty when I was alive! I could have toppled all the governments in the world, not just our government. I could have walked welcoming bullets with my bare chest. Is this the thing I have been afraid of all my life? Moments ago, I was cursing the heat, and foretelling danger, because of the Americans standing over there, "someone is going to hit them" I was telling myself, and I was right. But, that is really not important any more.
There is only serenity and love to feel now. Love is devouring me.

I love my daughter Haneen* . I saw myself with her on that day when I was alive, selling tea. The rain was pouring. People were scrambling. There I am in my usual corner in the market washing my istikans**, getting ready to go home. Haneen was doing her rain dance. My friends with their merchandise spread on the pavements, were all standing watching her and applauding. She knew them all; she used to help me collect the empty istikans from them. There is Haneen with her wet, short black hair, her eyes as black as olives, and she is wearing that little white dress of hers, the one with the little flower prints. She is bouncing from one puddle to another, filling the street with giggles like a little robin caught in a rain shower. She is landing in the puddle so strongly, that the water splashes violently, and then she bursts in laughter with all the others. After the laughter stops, she looks at the sellers and me quietly, and then she does it all over again jumping to another puddle. Anyone who saw us for the first time, used to think that she was my granddaughter, for I looked like a seventy-year-old man.

I love my wife. I see her now; there she is sewing, the other time baking, the other giving our women neighbors injections when needed, another time selling things from the house. I see my marriage, not my wedding, my marriage. After I returned from the front, with one leg, I married a neighbor of ours. She was a widow. I saw myself and my wife looking in each others eyes.What we had gone through in the past didn’t matter anymore. We decided to fall in love and we did.

I see myself when Haneen was born. I see my mother’s livid face and her saying : "Such a pity, it is not a boy, if only it had been a boy, you could have stood up tall son, your wife is no longer a girl and you are not healthy yourself . You may not have time for another go..., if only…” . While I that day could not see my way from all the tears of joy that gathered in my eyes. I was so happy.

I see Haneen when she started to understand and say her first words. One day when I was alive, I was lying down taking a nap after lunch. She came with her curly hair looking like a doll, she planted two little kisses on my closed eyes; a kiss on each eye. That picture lived and lives with me till ... till this day.

I love my friend. I see myself under heavy bombardment. My friend is soaking in blood. He is not moving. We were hiding behind sacks of sand. After the raid stopped they ordered us to withdraw. I ran to my friend. There was another soldier kneeling by his side trying to take my friend's anorak off. I threw myself on the soldier, choking with my own tears. "I just thought I may take it instead of them, my one is tattered" the soldier said, shocked by my attack. I took my friend's anorak off and gave it to the soldier. My friend's face was so blissful, as if he was enjoying a dream, or may be he was seeing what I am seeing now. I carried him on my back, praying and talking to him, as if he could still hear me, all the way to the back lines.

I see myself at the hospital, for the first time looking at my amputated leg. By my bedside, were my mother and father peeling oranges and wearing a brave expression on their faces. My father was telling me old stories, laughing loudly supported by my mother. They were babbling nonstop, trying their best to avoid any awkward silence that may impose itself. Each picking up where the other ends, with a smile more like a facial spasm than a smile. That was just before the war ended. I became an invalid and then the war ended after one month.

There I am too, with my cart selling at one time sandwiches, the other time popcorn, the other time crisps. In all the areas of Baghdad you are able to name: Bab al shargi , Alawi al Hilla garage, Al bayaa , Al Mansour … wherever I could find an extra crumb I went. Here I am selling tea. I sold tea for a long time. I used to take Haneen with me when she was four and five, so her mother may work too. Haneen used to help us whenever we needed.
I see myself with Haneen, and my wife is handing us tea, sugar and cardamom packs. Haneen is giving me her little arm to help me. I don’t remember anyone teaching her how to help me, but somehow she always used to run from side to side giving me anything I needed. Oh, the joy of all that. Even when she started school, she used to tell me that she misses me, and could not wait to come back home to me. I am so grateful for all that love.

I see myself with my parents carrying our baggage going to (…. ) when the second war started . All the relatives in Baghdad went over to other cities to trick death. We went to our uncles who lived in a village in the south. There we were safe. We used to hear far away explosions and that was it. Yet, after two weeks on a rainy day, we saw hordes of people coming towards the village. We stood at our doorstep, watching cars crawling slowly. At the sides of the same dirt road, hundreds of people were walking under the rain. The rain was pouring as if rivers were flowing from the sky downwards. Water from above and muddy water the color of coffee was running beneath their feet. Feet wearing shoes, feet wearing slippers, bare feet, small feet, big feet, old feet, young feet, men's feet, women's feet, children's feet… were all kneading the clammy mud. How could so many people make so little noise? How could they not utter a sound? The sounds of far explosions, the roaring of car motors and the sound of running water were the rhythm of that doomsday symphony.
There comes a family of our relatives from the town. When they all got out of the vehicle; there were fifteen of them packed in the old pickup truck. We asked; "how did you all manage to fit in that car, it is impossible?"
"Fear, fear is the miracle maker." their son who was driving replied.
They told us that leaflets were scattered on them from above, informing them to get out and stay at least 3 Km away from the town, because chemical weapons are going to be used to purge the town from traitors hiding somewhere. The entire town rushed out heading to villages, whether they had anyone to go to there or not. Chemical weapons were not used eventually. That does not mean that there were no scars. Fear scars were much worse than chemical weapons scars.

I see myself after returning to Baghdad. I am married now. I see myself afraid. I am not able to sleep at nights. Here I am counting every single Dinar, not understanding how a hundred Dinars is not enough anymore to buy a kilo of anything.
Now, I do not feel hunger nor fear, even my then fear seems silly and sweet just like children’s fear from a monster that exists only in their heads. How could I have not known all this peacefulness?

I see myself at my father’s death-bed-side. He is telling me what he always used to tell me: "Life has been so unfair to you son". When we carried his coffin through our narrow lane, with all its crumbling from time and wars houses, it could not hold all the good people who came to say farewell to him. My father looked like a skeleton clad with thin worn-out skin. When we washed him for the last time, my uncle said to him: "We commend you to God and his messenger."
"Take a rest father" I said. Did he feel the way I do now? , I hope so.

The wind changed, and the scales were imbalanced once again. We did not know whether we were awaiting good or evil.

I see myself with all the sellers and the buyers, the porters, the beggars, with all the children walking with their hardened black feet, as they push their carts through packed markets.

I see the oppressors and the oppressed. I love them all, so little do they know, I feel sorry for them. Why should they fear, Why should I be afraid? After all this peace, I have experienced. If I am to go now, I am safe, my mother, my wife and Haneen are all safe too. My life from here seems wonderful and precious, every moment of it. Their lives too will seem precious when it ends. Yet, I have two questions occupying my mind persistently. The first: if I am to return, will this feeling of safety remain with me? or will it desert me ?
The second am I dead or not? I am waiting to know.

*Haneen is an Arabic name which means nostalgia
** Istikans are very small glasses used to drink tea in Iraq

Sunday, February 11, 2007


To civil war or not to civil war, that is the question !

I think this tragic period is coming to a climax. Naa, just kidding, cause we've said that before . Whenever we say that things can not get any worse , fate surprises us sticking out it's tongue saying 'Guess what! it can! .'
We have been talking for ages now about the tragedy of people being driven out of their houses . Nobody mentioned it till ; ta daaaa, we have ,over night, 1 million displaced Iraqis within Iraq. It is a tragedy beyond words. Imagine having to leave your house and everything you ever worked for behind you and run for your sweet life. Thousands and thousands of people are in the middle of nowhere, in tents living in appalling situations, within Iraq I repeat, cause not everyone has relatives in the south or the west of Iraq. Shias and Sunnis just happen to live in Baghdad -for generations now- , and they do not necessarily have backup relatives in other parts just in case the whole country goes berserk.
All that has been going on for quite a while, but now that they are talking about it all over the world, our lot over here start to take sudden interest, in other words, when a foreigner brings it up , then the officials take the trouble of looking in to the situation. And will they a actually help the people? or will they neglect them again once the smoke clears. In fact many people are starting to accept the whole situation and are dealing with it as a matter of a fact. What else can you do! when they come for you, you have to move and do not try to be a wise guy.
A friend of my father was driven out of his house last week . No big deal you may say, it is happening every minute in Baghdad these days . Well, that is not the news actually. The news is that he is a Sunni and has been driven out by Sunnis . How is that? Well, he had a Shi'i neighbor, who was threatened and had to leave his house, So my father's friend helped him move and promised to take care of everything for him till things get back to normal. And he agreed with this Shi'i friend to bring a Sunni tenant for him. That is a procedure widely followed now, to insure that the house is at least in trustworthy hands, instead of being invaded by total strangers . Then a week ago masked men came with guns and knocked the door on my father's friend , ranting and raging .
- 'What did I do?' he asked them .
- 'You helped that so and so,why did you do that ? why are you sticking your nose where it does not belong?' They said .
- 'Look I am a Sunni just like you and …' he said trying to calm them down.
- 'We know that, and we know you are the one who brought a tenant. How dare you bring a tenant whom we do not approve of !' They interupted him.
- 'He is a Sunni, you want a Sunni area , so what is your problem?' The man replied sensing the danger more and more.
- 'You and that new tenant of yours, must clear off by tomorrow morning or else' the threat was clear enough.
Of course, the men packed and went to another area . That proves that people of that sort do not have a strict moral agenda . May be they wanted the house for themselves or to store things in , and my dad's friend unwillingly interfered with their plan, I don’t know .
That is mostly what happens when a thug is responsible for your safety. Most times it is even worse than the danger you are being protected from itself. But the people are not to be blamed . With no one else to protect you, no reliable police, no law someone is bound to step in to do the job and fill the gap . People once more, as it happened before in history of Iraq, handed over their freedom in exchange for protection.

Yesterday, on the news they said that the new security plan is a bit behind schedule-wait a second and allow me to wipe my tears and get a sip of water cause I am choking with laughter - Schedule! . And that is not the worse, they also said that they were behind schedule cause they could not agree on which areas they are to start with , Shi'i areas or Sunni areas , that was actually reported on the news .

Also, I saw an interview yesterday on AL Hurra with AL Alawi, a prominent historian and philosopher . It was really depressing, yet realistic . He said when asked about his predictions : 'You can not stop a tumbling rock from a high mountain, and building dams once the typhoon stars Is futile' . When he said that I wanted to chew my pillow from frustration .

When I went to the office today , we exchanged the weekend's news as usual . I really get worried about Abu S... since his area is often hit with mortars. These days he is really busy, cause his grandchildren are taking their exams. Abu S... got more involved in their lives since their father ( his son S...) was killed.
I was updated that my Boss' neighborhood was searched by the Americans during the weekend . Abu S…'s neighborhood was searched by the Iraqi Army . My Boss said they searched the whole street one house at a time . My Boss, being a sophisticated man, speaks English, Arabic and Swahili so did not need a translator, he answered all the questions all by himself . He said that they searched quietly and left after thanking him.
Abu S… said that he was fast asleep when the Iraqi Army came to search his house.

- 'I always cover my face with a blanket when I sleep, so I couldn't hear anything . Apparently they searched the rooms downstairs and the roof and then they entered my room' He told me when we were taking our break .
- 'And you were asleep in the middle of all this?' I asked him curiously.
- 'Yes , they found our gun and asked my sons who it belonged to . My son said it belongs to the Haji . So the officer said to him 'And may we take a look at this Haji ?' My son said yes and removed the cover from my face then I woke up .'
- 'My God you are a light sleeper aren't you? And what did the officer do? did he run out the room or scream, I mean how did he react?' I said pulling Abu S...'s leg as usual.
- 'Why should he ?' he answered frowning .
- 'Well, you say you were asleep which means that you did not have your false teeth on, so his fear would be understandable ' I said .
- 'You are making fun of me huh?, for your information I was once a very handsome young man that’s how Um S… fell for me.' He said laughing .
- 'Yes I remember, that was when Moses split the river wasn't it? I remember you and Um S… were dating back then.' I said making a reminiscing expression.
- 'Well lets see you when you are all wrinkly and old.' Abu S… said raising his eye brows .
- 'Oh, you are an optimist after all . Do you think that I am going to live till I reach that age? With all this going on . I don't think so Monsieur, besides I am not that young any more'.
-'Comparing to me you are' he sighed .
- 'Anyway, isn't your area any safer with all that searching ' I asked him .
- 'No, not a bit , and your area?
- 'From bad to worse. Our street is practically empty, it is just us and two other families . You know what most are doing now? they are preparing their essentials in a bag just incase one has to run . I tried to do that the other day , but I could not make up my mind what is more essential to me .' I told him as I gazed from the window
- 'Don't worry, when the time comes, you'll find that your dear life is the most essential thing to carry with you .' he said warming his hands on his stove .
- 'Yep' I agreed
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