Abu Jwad the invincible
Written by the Iraqi Roulette
Each of us is responsible
for everything and to
every human being
Abu Jwad is a shabby, ugly old man. In Baghdad's short winter he wears a beige raincoat, of course, we may call it beige with reservations; muddy would be the correct word. And although, Baghdad's winter usually lasts only for only one month, if lucky, Abu Jwad insists on wearing his coat from the first of October till the first of May. Then he just takes his coat off declaring thus the arrival of summer.
His name is Kadhum. He has no children. And since every Kadhum is a potential Abu Jwad(1), he has been called Abu Jwad since his moustache started sprouting. The name stuck to him till now; now that his white moustache is not the only indication of his advanced years.
When he comes to the café, he has been going to for the last couple of decades; he usually just sits there sipping his istikans of sweet black tea with patience and silence.
He never engages in a conversation, not because he is not friendly, he just does not actually have much to say. Many tried to figure him out, but after trying, they were usually frustrated. And those many, tried to engage him in conversations, not because he looked interesting. No, that wasn’t it; you see there was a legend about him that has been circulating in the cafe for the last thirty years. The legend has it, that Abu Jwad in his time, actually went to college in England;
“What? that old beggar?” people used to say.
“Yes, yes , non other than London Britania , Imagine that! God is omnipotent, isn’t he? ”
“Well, he must be clever then!” these people used to conclude, because there is a firm belief, that anyone who has been to college in London must be intelligent. There are plenty of other misconceptions of course, like all doctors are humanitarians and all engineers are geniuses and … but that is not our subject. After talking to Abu Jwad for less than second, concrete evidence that the man is clueless usually materializes.
His wife left him after two years of marriage -having found out that he was as barren as the Kalahari desert-. So, why else should she be staying with him?, not for his good looks or his wit, that was for sure. And ever since , Abu Jwad has lived alone in his crummy house in Al Sadoon area, which used to be his parents house. He has two married sisters living in two different parts of Iraq.
Abu Jwad had really been to England to acquire an education, it was not an urban legend after all, but he flunked big time.
In the early sixties he was sent by the government to study abroad, after receiving excellent marks in his final high school exams.
If one could only know, that sometimes, little promising achievements are in fact tailor made to ruin the rest of our lives, and that sometimes tragedies come wrapped like presents in successes and accomplishments. If one could only know.
Kadhum was never smart, he just worked hard that last year and received those ominous good marks. It was as if he was given a hat too big for his head.
London was too cold for him and people were so strange over there; Women had red and yellow hair, men had no moustaches and were even prettier than the girls, they ate a disgusting substance they called mashed potatoes, and they boiled every edible thing under the sun.
He failed in every single thing they taught them, and he was so lonely. Because he was doing so bad in his studies, his Iraqi friends advised him to try and get himself an English girlfriend, ‘it helps you know’. Kadhum was never a one to believe in miracles, and he knew that, getting a girlfriend would be impossible with his enormous nose, oily brown face, his greasy black hair and his 5 feet height. So he did not even try.
It is said, that lonely souls find each other in this cruel world of ours, just like a Bedouin finds an oasis. Such a lonely soul was Christine White; a mousy ginger head, with protruding teeth and thick spectacles. She used to sit next to Kadhum during breaks. She smiled whenever she saw him, and her face glowed with joy whenever he smiled back. He told her he needed help with his homework, she was delighted to help. And Although, most of their rendezvous were generally devoted to the accomplishment of the challenging mission, of getting information into Kadhum’s head, it was still love unmistakably.
When he dropped out of college, Kadhum’s father in Iraq, had to paid pay back the cost of his education to the government. At the same time, he circulated a rumor, to save face before the neighbors, stating that Kadhum was not succeeding in his exams -in spite of being a genius-, because the English are carrying out a special policy ‘May Allah damn them all’ against Arabs in general and , Iraqis in particular and against Kadhum to be more specific. Of course they must have figured out what a genius he was ‘those Professors are not stupid’ and may be some of those professors were even Jews! ‘God have mercy on us all’. Many neighbors believed the rumor.
Kadhum wanted to return to Iraq immediately, but Christine tried to convince him to stay and try, but of course, he had to find a job first. He managed to find, to be more accurate, the only place that accepted him was a sausage factory. The workers used to call him Ghandi. Was that epithet based on external resemblance, or was it because he was too peaceful for his on good? Kadhum was unable to grasp the gist of their humor. Many tried to start a fight with him, but that proved to be useless, he just went on doing what he was told to do, not paying attention to anyone.
Christine took things further, and invited him to meet her father. Her mother died a long time ago, and her father , a very ill tempered man, was in and out of marriages constantly , and was drunk more than he was sober.
When Kadhum came over for dinner, it was one of the father’s ‘sober good mood’ times. He was polite and engaged Kahdum in a conversation in which he talked most of the time and took a more active part. After Kadhum left, the father started drinking and said to his daughter :
“If that bloody Paki comes once more, you will have to go”
“ He is an Iraqi, Dad.”
“That is what I bloody said wasn't it?”
Christine did not care much about her father’s opinion. In fact she savored the feeling, that she has a disputable boyfriend, and that she is suffering in the name of love.
Kadhum wrote home that he will be coming without delay, after he was beaten up in the subway by Teddy boys. Christine cried and pleaded, Kissed and hugged him and said she would go back with him to baghdad, to which Kadhum did not object, but suggested that he should return first to prepare the grounds, and she could follow him later.That did not happen. He asked her many times to come, she asked him many times to return, but there was always something that stopped them from doing so.
Years flew by like grim clouds on a stormy winter day. Kadhum got married under family pressure. He told Christine, she understood. The letters grew scarcer, but they never stopped. After he returned to Iraq, Abu Jwad worked as a clerk in some ministry for many years . Under pressure he also, enrolled in the party. He just used to sit in the meetings like a table lamp. Comrade Abu Jwad was never an active member, but his party instructor was so pleased with him, that he actually offered to promote him, so he may become a ‘friend’ (2) in years to come .
“Whose friend?” Abu Jwad asked.
“Well the president's, of course, you are not thinking of refusing his friendship are you?”
“No , but what…”.
Abu Jwad got through the draught of the embargo, with his meager pension, and by selling his mother’s gold and some furniture, He even sold some of the electricity switches to get a bottle of Arak occasionally. Those years passed by, with Abu Jwad being mostly half starving and g half drunk. Mainly he was just Omitting days on the wall as they passed, like a hostage. Christine’s letters were the only marks that made a difference on that dreary wall.
Another thing made a difference in his life. And that was; the arrival of his two nephews, Sa’ad and Ra’ad. They were sent by their mothers in the years of the embargo. When things got so tight, their mothers said to them: “Go to Baghdad, and see if your uncle Abu Jwad can help, you know he has no one to care for, go live with him”.
The two teenagers arrived from the governorates, to conquer the capitol of Haroon AI Rasheed. Their uncle did not object.There was hardly any furniture in the damn house to accommodate them, but that did not stop the two adventurers. Sa’ad was a Shi’i and Ra’ad was a Sunni. They were the same age, they had not seen each other since they were children; they hit it straight away, and became inseparable in no time at all. As time passed by, and after realising that their uncle was as helpless as an invalid, they took control as best as they could. Their treatment to their uncle varied according to occasions from ignoring him completely to sorting him out violently when required.
They both worked in everything in those years. They worked in sorting out and recycling garbage; everything from polythene bags to iron rods. They worked as street sweepers ; they worked as sellers, as brokers in the muddy stock exchange market, as greengrocers… They did that all, without any help from their drunk uncle. They were using the house more like a motel, and even a store for their business. When they were working in the garbage recycling business the place stunk. When they were working as greengrocers, the drunk Abu Jwad used to fall over piles of onions and okra.
After the war, the house was transferred into another kind of store. Sa’ad and Ra’ad looted to their hearts content. They looted hospitals, schools, grain silos and ministries. They even looted Saddam's palaces. Actually, they managed to loot a horse from one of those palaces, and they placed it in their uncle’s bedroom, while he was asleep and drunk one night. When Abu Jwad woke up the next morning , he saw a long face staring at him. He crawled out of bed, under the animal, trying to get out of his room. He was not able to utter a syllable from fear, and nearly had a heart attack. Sa’ad and Ra’ad had just finished sealing the deal and sold the horse to someone, so they just pulled it out, from the room, not even bothering to answer the murmuring in agony old man.
Sa’ad and Ra’ad were not the skinny poor teenagers they once used to be; They were now tall, strong young men, over baked by Baghdad’s ruthless sun, their fists and hearts were hard from years of hardship in the infernal streets, and their eyes were like those of a wolf.
The looting went on for months and months shamelessly. Sa’ad and Ra’ad even eventually, looted the neighboring school, when they had nothing left to loot elsewhere.The headmistress of this school was called Miss Nihaya. She was as big as a two door closet, -no traces of femininity whatsoever -, she was more like a gladiator in a blouse, skirt and head scarf. Whenever anyone greeted her or approached her, she always used to reply with the question:
“Were you a pupil of mine young man or young lady?”
She was once a prominent comrade in the party, and she was once very proud of that fact too. After the war, as a headmistress and all, she was invited many times to attend meetings with the Americans, and that got to her head. She became convinced that she and her Wretched school actually “mattered”.
When Sa'ad and Ra'ad looted her school bare, the neighbors told her, that it was ‘Abu Jwad's scoundrels’ that did it’, so she marched towards Abu Jwad's house and she stood in front of Sa'ad and said:
“ Hello young man, were you a pupil of mine?”
“ No Ma’am, we aren't from Baghdad originally.”
“ Of course you aren’t. I was told you took ‘to put it mildly’; an air conditioner, a heater and a file cabinet from my school. That indicates clear lack of discipline and absence of self control. I will ask you to return the things immediately. Yes, yes immediately.”
Sa'ad stood leaning against the wall, with his arm folded in front of him, and he was starting to get quite amused now.
“Or else?” he asked smirking.
“Or else… -pronounced Miss Nihaya bringing her face so close to Sa'ad's face, that her nose nearly touched his nose- ..or else, I'll bring the Americans right here and we'll see what you and your cousin have to say then.”
“Hey, Ra'ad - called Sa'ad- come over here brother, Miss comrade headmistress here, is threatening to unleash the foreigners on us.”
“Is that so?, called, called back Ra'ad from inside, and came out carrying a rectangular object wrapped in a newspaper. He unwrapped the object and exhibited it for Miss Nihaya .
“I will be more than delighted to give them this little thing, which . I took it ‘to put it mildly’ from your school.” The object was a large framed picture, in which Miss Nihaya was all smiles standing in front of Saddam Hussein, who was pinning a medal on her coat lapel. In the background, other ladies wearing scarves and not wearing scarves were clapping, and little children were dancing, and a banner read: Happy Birthday to you Mr. President, from the members of Al Sadoon party division.
“Let‘s see what you'll have to say to your the new protectors now then, comrade Miss Nihaya.” Ra’ad said smiling sweetly. Being a very sensible old headmistress, Miss Nihaya knew when one should let sleeping dogs lie. She turned around silently and walked away. Sa'ad taunted her as she went:
“That’s right love, you just go back home; Abu Ghraib is no place for ladies, even like you.”
After the spring of looting ended, the two brothers sold all their spoils, and things became tight once again. Of course the pension which they ransacked monthly from their uncle could not cover their expenses for food, cigarettes and Alcohol. The stagnation period stretched endlessly. They were not able to loot and they were not able to get a job too. And looting opened a whole new channel in their consciousness, it was like a wolf having his first taste of blood, one can’t give it up, just like that.
“The answer is gangs brother, everyone is acting in some sort of a gang nowadays. The era of solo acts is over” said Ra’ad to Sa’ad one hungry afternoon. Eventually, they found a gang in which they were instructed to perform light weight robberies, shop breaking and kidnap. As things developed they had to split in different gangs. That did not bother them, as long as money started to flow in its old stream once more.These gangs in due course, became cogs in larger and larger machines. Sa’ad and Ra’ad were paid like employees now, per task. Their duty was to kidnap and deliver mostly, with all what comes with such assignments as a package; beating up, torturing and dumping the corps somewhere safe if necessary.They did not mind of course, but the thing was; that the prices were not as rewarding as they used to be after the war ended. And also, the competition became too strong for them. Many highly qualified contenders were more than willing to go that extra mile and reach much further than Sa'ad and Ra'ad were willing or could reach, , and the ability to cross the line was no longer an advantage.
All the neighbors knew by now what these two yesterday country boys were doing for a living. The good neighbors had ‘that private talk’ with the uncle many times. But Abu Jwad was more concerned for his own safety rather than intervening for some poor soul. He always knew that his nephews were capable of a lot, but murder was further than his suspicion roamed.
Long before the war, Abu Jwad had received a couple of letters from Christine, telling him that she had cancer. Then months before the war he received a letter form some attorney telling him, that he was sorry to inform him, that Christine had lost her battle with cancer, and that she left him, ‘how did he put it’; an unsubstantial sum’. Abu Jwad lamented his lost love silently, with lots of Arak.
The war came, months chased each other, the short periods of sobriety were replaced with longer and longer periods of drunkenness. Abu Jwad did not mind that, he did not even mind his nephews as long as they were leaving him alone, and as long as he could get his daily bottle.
Yet change .. change is the constant nuisance; it comes and pokes you in the ribs sporadically, ruffling your serene existence .
When the kidnap market plunged, and when the detainees literally became more than the kidnapper themselves - the kidnappers, in some reported cases, started kidnapping each other to cover future kidnapping expenses ( fuel, weapons , rent ect)-, Sa'ad and Ra'ad decided to sell Abu Jwad’s ancient house, so that they may add the price to what they have and try to work something out. They did not actually picture what they were to do clearly enough to put in words; they just knew that they ‘needed the cash’. Abu Jwad felt threatened like never before. Without his house what is he ? a certified tramp!. He tried to persuade them, cajole them, swing them to his side, yet alas to no avail.
“Take my whole pension” he begged.
“We are already taking it, you old goat.” they replied acidly.
“I'll try to get you some cash, just give me some time”
“If we sell you, along with all what you represent in life, you wouldn’t bring the cost of a pair of recycled slippers, so stop sulking and let us think.”
Abu Jwad was so upset, that he just could not get himself to shut up. Although the young men were quite drunk, and were not paying much attention to the old man's rambling. They managed to catch a phrase that made sense to them amidst the dark forest of incoherencies Abu Jwad was generating.
They understood that he had inherited a sum from some English broad, he used to know in the olden days, when he was in London, and that interested them. Once Abu Jwad realised he got their attention, he lost control entirely on the lies that he was spewing. He ran and got them a couple of Christine’s old pictures, telling them how the sum, which she left him could actually change their lives.Before he knew it, his nephews were making arrangements for him to collect the money. They decided to send him to Syria by bus being the cheapest way. There were still no postal services in Iraq, and therefore making contacts and following up the money transfer would be difficult, besides it may as well get lost on the way, it would be faster to arrange things from abroad, and then the money may be sent through a bank to Baghdad.
Their attitude towards their uncle changed notably. They even started to call him, when it was time to have a glass of Arak , they also started to look at him, when they spoke to him. After all, it is true, when they say that good manners are the result of common sense.Abu Jwad was enjoying his new status and making the best of it all . He was giving no thought to the fact that he was boldly exaggerating about his supposed inheritance.He did not bother himself thinking about his impending journey, until that day arrived. He even enjoyed it, when the boys helped him pack, and gave him instructions on how to deal with the situation in case the militias or the terrorists stop the bus, they taught him what and when to say the appropriate words, and how to answer the trap questions terrorists or militia men may ask.The truth is; One must admit; they had to be given credit on this matter.
They were the best experts and Abu Jwad knew that so well. Abu Jwad summoned images from the mist of his tired drunken brain, and remembered vaguely, the young men coming in and out of the house on various occasions, dressed in police uniform, army uniforms, as militia men form both sides. Once, they even came in dressed as Americans, with the funky black sunglasses and all.
Abu Jwad remembers well, that memorable day, when the whole lane watched from doorsteps and windows, Sa'ad dressed in black, with a green band around his forehead with prints that read ‘We will never forget Al Hussein(3)', walking back home one afternoon, after some sort of reconnaissance, which apparently required him to dress so, in order to blend with a specific crowds. On that afternoon two men dressed in white Dishdashas, with overgrown bushy beards sticking out of their faces, cut his way and cornered him. One of them grabbed Sa'ad’s arm and said “Salam Aleikum, Safawi(4), today you are going to meet your maker.” Sa'ad shouted at the top of his voice:
“Ra'ad!, brother come , help me.”
Now Ra'ad, who apparently, also had a reconnaissance of his own, emerged form the house wearing a white Dishdasha , with an overgrown bushy beard covering most of his face. A gun in one hand, a knife in the other. The two attackers were more confused than afraid, for they had actually seen that pious brother earlier in their exclusive mosque, shouting ‘Allah Akbar, and death to the Safawis’. They backed off after Ra'ad showered them with bullets, and a plethora of profanities, sufficient to issue a whole specialized dictionary. .…
Sure, Abu Jwad knew well his nephews had been around. Abu Jwad, also remembers, more or less, that night, when the lane was suspiciously deserted and soundless. Then, came the sound that each and every Iraqi dreads to hear. A sound, which is a medley of bangs sounds, automatic robotic shouts of :”Go, go, go “ and sounds of galloping people; some chasing, some being chased .The whole male population of the lane were loaded in trucks in the dark of the that night. All of them , all of them without discrimination, even Sa’ad and Ra’ad were arrested, although, they tried to escape, jumping from one roof to another, which proved to be unwise, since they were caught, and the next thing they felt was the heavy military boots pressing on their backs, before they could make their next move .
And Amar, their neighbor, got caught on that night too. He was a harmless college student . He also, like Sa’ad and Ra’ad, had lost his father in the same eight year war, and he was their junior by two or three years. Amar, was perhaps the only one, who greeted Abu Jwad reverently, whenever they met. A couple of times, Amar tried to convince Sa’ad and Ra’ad to go back to school, and promised if they did so, he would help them with their studies, in reply to that suggestion, the two young men were rolling on the floor in a fit of laughter. He was always studying that kid, reading his head off, as if there were no tomorrow, not wait a minute, as if there were a tomorrow.
When the Americans pushed him in the truck, Amar said in reasonably comprehensible English:
“Mr. Mr ,I have an exam tomorrow, it is final …
“Get in , go go go, you can study in prison” The next morning, Sa’ad and Ra’ad were the only ones who returned from the whole lot . How did they manage to get out? , what did they tell the Americans to let them go? That Remains a mystery. The young men did not share the experience, and no one returned to tell the story, no one at all, not even Amar who missed his exams .Of course, Sa’ad and Ra’ad knew how to make the best of the situation. When asked by neighbors, they gave an impression, that they have connections with a high ranking military official; a sergeant.
Naturally, the women were so eager to get information, they believed anything; they wanted to know how to get to their husbands, brothers, sons and grandpas at any cost.Shortly after that impression was delivered skillfully, Abu Jwad noticed, that trays of roasted chicken and saffron rice , fried eggplants, kebabs and Dolmah, were being delivered three times a day to their doorstep. Abu Jwad ate without questioning, nevertheless, he noticed that when they delivered the trays Sa’ad and Ra’ad were always assuring the women and promising them something. Gradually, as hope shriveled in the hearts of Amar’s mother and her neighbors, the trays stopped coming, they realised, that Sa’ad and Ra’ad did not know any high ranking sergeant.Abu Jwad, who enjoyed the dolmah and all, missed Amar a lot, and he was unable to understand, why was it that, the good ones, like Amar, usually never return, yet these two somehow always manage get away.
Yes…, Abu Jwad knew that these two had definitely been around .
Sa'ad and Ra'ad put their uncle on a bus, with some pocket money and an address for him to stay in the cheapest place they could get. The trip was hard. The passengers were all praying in fear on the road to Damascus. They were stopped once, and three young men were dragged out of the bus, after men in masks took a look at their ID disapprovingly. No one came near Abu Jwad and his rain coat, so he did not need to recite the lines his nephews taught him.
He arrived safely in Damascus to the cheap motel he was told to go to. The next morning, not actually doing much planning, he took the attorney’s letter and headed to a bank seeking advice. A chubby woman was sitting in front of a computer monitor. She had enough make up on her face to decorate a room. Abu Jwad greeted her, and started explaining something she could not have been less interested in listening to.He started right from the beginning, shoving his letter beneath her nose. He started right from the very first day he set foot on the capitol of the Island they call Great Britain, the Island where his heart was stolen and never retrieved. The mere sight of Abu Jwad made the woman feel nauseous. At the beginning she interrupted him trying to be as polite as possible, but since that did not shut the old Iraqi tramp up, she started ranting; the way only, the ladies of AI Sham,( 5) mange to rant. Abu Jwad could not understand most of what she was saying. He knew that his plot was feeble, but somehow he grew into the part, and he too started ranting, accusing her of being anti Iraqi and threatening her to cut the oil supply to her country. He was thrown out of the Bank naturally.An elderly kind Syrian felt sorry for the old stranger and offered help. After Abu Jwad had told him the story in detail, the man gave him an address of a lawyer, who specialized in all sorts of cases related to immigration and asylum . “That lawyer could get anyone into Denmark , Norway,or even Costa Rica” So, Abu Jwad headed there. The lawyer made a few calls, made a few calculations, then advised Abu Jwad to go back home before he runs out of money. The sum is not worth the paper used for applications, and the phone calls and the time “No, Haji, it is not worth it at all” . Abu Jwad went on and on and on talking just for the mere sake of it, not wishing to understand what was being said to him. The lawyer kicked him out.Yet, to his total astonishment, the next morning Abu Jwad was waiting for him in the waiting room, believing that he has some sort of a case. The Lawyer ordered the janitor to throw him out. Abu Jwad this time threatened the lawyer saying that he will complain at the British Embassy “The lngleez will help me, I am sure they will”.
In the British Consulate, one exceptionally polite Brit explained, with all the patience that god blessed him with, time and time again to Abu Jwad that 200 pounds is not worth the time and efforts. The best solution is to find someone in England itself to follow up the issue, which will require money too, or he may return to Baghdad and try to find a lawyer and bank to help him. Abu Jwad repeated the visit a couple of times, till the guard was ordered by the employee to ban that ‘bloody Paki’ from entering the office. Abu Jwad returned to Baghdad not having a plan as usual, he told his eager nephews that the money will reach in weeks through a bank. Their relations remained cordial for a while. Then, as expected to everyone but Abu Jwad, judgment day arrived.
“Look you old snake, we gave you time and money to go finish the deal, what is going on, and how much are we talking about? Ra’ad demanded
“A lot” Abu Jwad said shaking.
“ How much? stop playing dumb”
“20 thousand pounds.” replied Abu Jwad not knowing why.
“Great, you have two weeks to deliver, or else the house will be sold! This country is getting too dangerous, we must think of a way to get out” . said Sa'ad gulping his glass of Arak.
As usual, when confronted with an unsolvable problem, Abu Jwad extinguished his confusion with a glass or two, only to wake up too sick to think , and before knowing it, the next dose of the bitter beverage was due.
One night as the young men were sitting drinking. The bad alcohol got to their heads and did its duty, and they picked up a fight with the drunk old man.
“Tomorrow, go find yourself a kennel to live in. Time is up, this house must be sold.” Said Ra'ad, crunching a cucumber and squinting, from the effect of the drink he had just took in.
“I wont let you, I'll complain” said Abu Jwad, stuttering and slurring.
“Who to?, your late Mommy” said Sa'ad
“To the government” replied the old man.
“Ra'ad did you hear that ? he has not heard the news yet, he still thinks there is a government”said Sa'ad pouring another glass and throwing the bottle, that it nearly hit Abu Jwad .
“To the British” said Abu Jwad involuntarily.
“Why the hell should you go all the way to Basrah, while the American tanks are standing right around the corner? You old freak!” laughed Ra’ad
“In case you do not know, I am a British citizen. If you sell my house, you'll have to deal with them.”
“You what? “said both the young men in one voice thoughtfully.
“You know, this old corpse may not be as useless as he seems, he just gave .. “ said Ra'ad
“Us a rather good idea” Sa'ad completed his sentence.
“Hmmmm” they both mumbled, looking at Abu Jwad hallucinating and wallowing in his own drool.
The next morning they locked the door, so that their sleeping uncle could not escape. The next thing they did was to try and get him back to his senses.
“Now, do you have any documents to prove what you said yesterday?”Abu Jwad felt the deep voices of his nephews smashing his temple. He opened his eyes to find himself tied up to a chair. The old man was petrified seeing his nephews sober resolute expressions.
“In the cardboard tissue box” he said involuntarily.
They found the box and showed him one paper at a time.
“Yes, that is it”
“What is it?” asked Ra’ad with a glint in his eyes.
“It is my permanent residence document, it is like an ID” said the scared old man.
“ And this proves what?” asked Ra'ad
“That I am British”
“No, that won’t do. It is too old and yellow” said Sa'ad
“It does work, I even went to the Embassy in Damascus with it. It is genuine. You can not sell my house, I tell you, they will arrest you.”
“Shut up, they have better things to do. Let us try to find a buyer for you, then!” Said Ra'ad, with something developing in his mind.
“What do you mean?, what do you mean?” cried out Abu Jwad.
“I am not talking to you, I am talking to Sa'ad . You stay right where you are.”
They both rushed out leaving Abu Jwad behind.Many hours passed by with the old man sitting mumbling, cursing and tied to the chair. His heart was beating like an execution squad's drum. He was soaking in cold sweat.
As Baghdad' s orange sun was setting behind the windows, and as creepy shadows were crawling all over the floor around Abu Jwad , as if they were preparing to leap and strangle him , Sa'ad and Ra'ad marched in . They sat down to discuss the outcome of the day. Abu Jwad listened to them attentively, while they were making the final touches to their plan.
“So, we are to say that he is an expert, working with the Americans and the English. He used to live in London and has British documents.” said Ra’ad
“What if they do not accept him? said Sa'ad
“The plan is to sell him to some gang, with his documents. We will not have to deal with the foreigners, that would be the gang’s problem. We'll try to get as much as we can and get the hell out of here” explained Ra'ad
“Right” approved Sa’ad.
“ Wrong, wrong- shouted Abu Jwad -You don't know what you are bringing on yourselves”.
“Look here, you old coyote. You went cruising to all over Syria with our money. Now, it is payment time. Just try to get some sleep, you may have a job interview tomorrow” said Sa'ad.
They got a few offers for their uncle. Many offers of them were not worth considering. Some gangs had no imagination at all. They did not know what to do with the hostage. “No, no man! Let us stay away from those foreigners, we are working locally. What you are saying is too risky” they said.
The young men almost gave up, then one gang seemed interested. They sounded very serious and professional. They wanted to meet Sa'ad and Ra'ad. Their leader wanted to hear their offer first, and he demanded that Sa’ad and Ra’ad were to come alone without the merchandise. So, the they both went to the meeting dressed in white Dishdashas and white head Ghutras, to be as neutral as possible. A man came to take them. He greeted Ra'ad , whom he knew more or less, but looked at Sa'ad suspiciously.
“It is ok, he is my brother” Ra'ad assured him.
“All right, he may come too” said the man reluctantly.They drove towards the outskirts of Baghdad, till they reached an inconspicuous village. They got out of the car and the man led them to an ordinary brick house, he pushed the gate open and they all went in. There was a cow tied with a rope to a date palm, chickens had settled down for the night all over the ground. The chickens were very unpleased, and expressed their feelings so loudly, when Sa'ad and Ra'ad treaded on them accidentally. A one eyed dog backed the chickens and barked with aggravation at the strangers as they stepped carefully trying to find their way in the dark .
They were told to sit down and wait in a room, which was furnished with plenty of plastic chairs, till the chief arrived. Shortly five men entered the room and sat down. Ra'ad opened his mouth to talk, thinking that one of them was the chief. The men made a gesture to him ordering him to shut up. He obeyed. After about fifteen minutes of chilling silence, a man entered with two guards, everyone raised and replied the chief’s greetings.
The chief was in his forties, dressed in a dark suit. His beard was well groomed, and his eyes were expressionless, like the eyes of someone who had too many people to kill for one life time.
“I am listening” the chief said without dignifying Sa'ad or Ra'ad with a look. Ra'ad stated his offer as shortly and clearly as he could. After he finished the chief paused, his pause stretched a little longer than it should. Then he fidgeted and fiddled with his beard.
“So, you are telling me, that your prey is actually an Iraqi? not an Ingleezi? .” He said with reproach in his voice, looking at the man who bought the two young men to the remote village.
“Are you here to waste my time? He went on emphasizing every syllable, fiddling with his beard furiously now.
“Do you think I need you, to get myself an Iraqi? Have you heard somewhere that there is a shortage in Iraqis. If I need to kidnap an Iraqi, all I have to do, is to go out in the streets and load them in buses. The damn place is swarming with them. I can just grab and slaughter anyone, any one, or two like a pair of sheep on an Eid morning.” he said snarling at the two terrified young men, who got the hint clearly.
“No chief, he is originally an Iraqi, but he works with the foreigners and he ... “ said Ra'ad mustering his courage.
“Does he have any documents on him? said the chief briskly.
“Er like... said Sa'ad
“Like, a passport, a picture of him with Paul Bremer for instance. What am I supposed to build my campaign on ? How do you expect me to negotiate? So, he is an Iraqi businessman, working with the invaders, and has all the required documents to prove so. Good, good. Am I missing anything?” he asked threateningly.
“ No, no everything is right” both the young men said assuring him.
“Hmmm, where did you catch him?
”He is a relative of ours. A distant relative” answered Ra’ad.
“Very distant” added Sa'ad
“And why are you doing this?” the chief asked looking at them condescendingly. Now, here is one of those trap questions the young men know so well.
“He is a traitor” they both said in one voice, putting on a serious solemn expression.
“Splendid, you will be rewarded accordingly. So, you bring him tomorrow night, with everything. And I will see how to spread the word and get as much infidels involved as possible. I was always waiting for a hit operation like this. This operation will change our status immediately boys” he said addressing his gang.
The two young men returned home. They were a bit worried. This is not as easy as they thought. That chief guy is shrewd; he did not even tell them, how much he is willing to pay. May be it would have been better just to sell the old man’s house to one of those small groups, they would not ask so much questions. Nevertheless, they decided to finish what they had started , what is the worst that may happen anyway?
The next night, they were dragging Abu Jwad to the dark outskirts. He was tripping as they practically carried him by the arms. They agreed with the same man to meet them at the beginning of the village and he was to escort them. So, they had to do a bit of walking. Finally, they stopped where they were supposed to wait for the man.
“You killers” howled Abu Jwad, as they made him sit down on the cold ground to wait.
“Look here, it is not as if they are going to kill you or something, if half of what you say is true, we may all benefit.” Said Sa’ad ,trying to calm the old man down.
“When have you become like this? If only your mothers could see you now, what would they say?” wailed Abu Jwad
“ Well our mothers said, that you were going to take good care of us. ‘Go ‘they said to us ‘your uncle is a big shot in Baghdad’, and what did you do? you old drunk, you just sat there waiting for us to swim for ourselves.” Ra’ad said looking at the black sky above them.
If only thoughts could be seen, like a motion film inside a cloud above one’s head, a passer by would have seen that both Sa’ad’s and Ra’ad’s thoughts were exactly the same in content. They went back many years ago. Back to when they were both kids walking in the funerals of their fathers, who were both killed in different battles of the same long war. They were not consulted; it was not their choice that their young fathers left without warning, leaving behind their young wives. It was not their choice too, to leave school when they were both teenagers to work. They went back to all those blistering summer days, and all those murky winter days, when they had to grind for a living, while all that they yearned for was a game of football.
Their mothers were also in their thoughts. They saw them, working back then for crumbs, while all that their young mothers yearned for was love, not having yet fully comprehended, that all that was left from their interrupted dreams of love, were two young corpses in a two cheap wooden coffins . Sa’ad and Ra’ad were both seeing in their thoughts fear, fear that pushed them to the limits, they must survive even if their fathers withdrew unwillingly, and even if those left alive withdrew from their lives willingly.
If thoughts could be seen, a passer by could would have seen Abu Jwad’s thoughts too. They too were packed with fear. Fear he had grown so accustomed to, that he did not even question it any more. Fear of interfering, fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of getting in trouble, fear of torture, fear of getting killed… Through the years, all that fear, punctured his soul in so many places, that he no longer had a soul, he just lost his soul somewhere on the way. Now that he reached the end, the fear was still there, but from what exactly?, was he too afraid to die, or too afraid to live?
Abu Jwad got up and ran from his nephews, it was a strenuous effort for him, yet somehow he managed.
“Cut the games you old freak.” Sa’ad said, as his uncle slipped from his grip like a lizard. He did not stop
“Hey, hey lets' go after him it's dark, we may loose him.” Ra’ad said. They chased him and backed him to a date palm.
“Now, now just sit down, and calm down” said Sa’ad.Abu Jwad was using the date palm for his advantage, to protect his back. He was kicking, scratching, and pushing.
He kicked Sa'ad on his knee.“Ouch, what are you possessed or something?” Said Sa’ad in pain.
Ra’ad and Sa’ad both punched their uncle at the same time. The old man collapsed. Yet, his back was still supported by the date palm; therefore, it was as if he just sat down to die.
Was his collapse caused by years of depression and hunger, or the stress of dodging death at every corner, or toxins that polluted every cell in his system ? Was it because he was so afraid that his heart could take no more?. That is hard to say. And whose blow actually ended Abu Jwad? Was it Sa’ad’s, or was it Ra'ad’s. Whose blow was stronger and faster? ? That’s not to be known unfortunately too. Many years may pass by till one may establish ; who was the one who delivered , that fatal ultimate blow .Knowing, that the deal was off. The young men went back home. They left their uncle frozen against the date palm, with a vicious expression fixed on his face, looking like a mad fiend.
A couple of days went by. No one came after Sa’ad and Ra’ad as they feared, so they decided it was safe enough to start looking for a buyer for the house.One night they were sitting drinking, after a busy day, apparently, cause Sa'ad was dressed in black and Ra'ad in white again.Sa’ad was drinking and telling Ra'ad about his day, when suddenly he stopped and stared at some invisible point in the space of the room. He thought he saw something, he shook his head and resumed his story. Then again he saw something. This time he fixed his eyes on the floating figure. It was flying round in circles, then going from one corner to another smoothly. The figure flew straight to the wall to the opposite of of Sa'ad, and then zoomed toward his face. Sa'ad winced and closed his eyes for a second . When he opened his eyes, there the figure was, flying around again . He knew who it was all right. The horrible beige rain coat left no second opinions on that, even if the face was much more pale and translucent, than it used to be. Sa'ad bashed his glass furiously on the wall and yelled.
“ Damn you Kleman! He and his bootleg booze. It is as rotten as he is. You would've thought we were paying him date pips instead of money . I'll show him him!” He stormed out of the house and went to a house around the corner. He kicked the gate shouting.-“
Kleman, kleman! you damn thief ! come out , you cheater”
Kleman was a hefty man, who had worked all his life with drunks. It was never easy to intimidate him. He was not intimidated, even when he was threatened by the militias and had to close his alcohol shop down. He just moved all the bottles he had in his shop to his house, and his customers just had to come to shop from there.
Kleman came out in a vest, pajama trousers and slippers yawning. He was one head taller than Sa'ad and twice as heavy. With his red hair, red moustaches, blue eyes and ruddy face, he only needed a helmet with two horns sticking out, to make him look exactly like a Viking.
“What are you yelling about?” Kleman said rubbing his eyes.
“Kleman, what is the problem? shouted his Mother from inside.“Nothing Mama. Go back to sleep” he said with his sleepy rumbling voice.
“Your booze is moldy. You should be ashamed of yourself. Don't you know who we are?. I can get you and all your Christian tribe kicked out of this area, if I tell you are selling munkar(6)” said Sa’ad in a frenzy.
Kleman unemotionally gathered the front of Sa'ad's black shirt in his oversized hands, and lifted Sa’ad him till their eyes were at one level.
“Listen darling, first, know one thing, wherever you reach I can reach higher. Do you think that you and your brother and uncle, who by they way I've not seen around for a while, are the only ones who drink bitter and sweet in this god forsaken town? Huh? So, don’t threaten me sweetness. Second, Christianity is not a tribe you moron.”
“Let me go,.. you… You thank your lucky stars you are still here. Do you think we will forget the Danish cartoons issue? No, oh no,.. judgment day is coming for all you infidels” Said Sa’ad choking.
“What Danish cartoons? what does that have to do with me anyway? Does this miserable street in anyway, look like a street in Denmark to you? Oh, I see, you are not drunk. You are just insane that’s it .” Kleman said , then he dropped Sa’ad and gave him a kick on his behind that landed him on the opposite door step, then he went back indoors yawing.
If Sa'ad was drunk to start with , now he was as sober as sober can be . He could not get up, so he just lay down there for a while. Not being able to do much, he cheered instead. He started with ‘Allah Akbar’ , followed it with a bit of ‘down USA’, but when he started to sing 'The Sun raised from Al O’oja'(7), he realised that he was just hysterical from the blow, and it is time for him to shut up.
Yes, one very wise man once said ; Arabs are actually a vocal phenomenon.
Sa’ad gradually raised got up and creped crept back home. When he entered , he saw Ra'ad crouching in a corner with both his hands covering his face whimpering. He understood immediately that his cousin had just had the same vision.“There, over there, there he is” he said pointed to the ceiling.Abu Jwad now was zooming downwards and hovering above the boys heads, like a B52 bombing an Iraqi village. He started chasing them all over the house. And eventually drove them out to the street.
The young men were running along the streets of Al Sadoon as fast as their legs allowed them. They ran and ran and ran, they passed houses, closed shops, buildings and farms. They did not even notice when they parted from each other. At a certain point they finally lost consciousness.
They were woken up by the late morning sun and the sadistic morning flies . Sa'ad and Ra'ad both opened their eyes at the same time in different parts of Baghdad. Sa'ad dressed in black woke up in AL Ghazalia with his militia ID pinned to his chest. Ra'ad, dressed in his white, rather short Dishdasha and bushy beard, woke up in AL Sader city.
As they both became aware, that they were in the street and not in their beds, they began to look around. Ra'ad was surrounded by tens of Shia children , women and men. He even saw a clergy man.
“Wait a minute, why is he here? What are all these people getting ready for?” he thought. His eyes automatically went to see what he was wearing.
Sa’ad looked around him to find himself surrounded by men in masks and a Camera pointed at his face, his eyes went automatically to see what he was wearing, and to the ID he had on his chest .
“Wait a minute, no, you wait a minute, I am under cover, I am in disguise”
“ Sure you are, sing us another song, will you “ the crowed replied.
Yes, there are many misfortunes in life that are much, much, much worse than death. A militia man in AL Ghazalia , and a Wahabi in AL Sader city! Life could not get any crueler.
That was not the last time Abu Jwad was spotted in.One morning in Damascus, a chubby lady, who was a bank employee at the same time, sat in front of her computer monitor to type something. She switched on her computer and on the screen appeared an old man's face; the face was sticking it's tongue out, wiggling it' s eyebrows , winking and smiling revealing no teeth at all. The image zoomed away showing the old man in full size wearing an awful raincoat.The figure was busy doing the Chobee(8) dance. Then it suddenly stopped and approached , started to come closer and closer , and then it looked in a threatening way and started to unfasten its raincoat. The chubby woman switched the computer off immediately. She ran and took a leave from her boss. When she got out in the street, she took a deep breath of the Damascus jasmine perfumed air.
“The bastard, I think I am pregnant. He did it again. The only thing that lazy jerk is good for is getting me pregnant. Six children and he did it again.”
One afternoon, an exceptionally pleasant employee in the British consulate, was sitting gazing from his office window. He saw this scruffy figure smelling the flowers in the garden. The employee stood up and moved closer. He recognized that old man. He ran outside, and the figure was gone. He returned to his place and there he it was again, smelling flowers , making a flower wreath and wearing it on his its head. This happened about three times. The employee finally went to the guard
“Yosif, did that Paki come again today?” he asked.
“What Paki Mr. ? “
“You know, that one who kept coming in, and asking stupid question, you know the one I told you to ban”
“Oh, you mean that Iraqi old man, no Mr. I never saw him since.”
The pleasant employee kept seeing the old man on various occasions, but never talked about it to anyone, Sanity is sometimes rather important for diplomats you know.
Also, the lawyer, who could get anyone out of anywhere, was chased by a mysterious flying old man, on several occasions, on his way back home returning from the places of his nocturnal dates with his many mistresses . The old man actually pushed the lawyer over a couple of times, into dirty water puddles, an accident he could not provide a logical explanation for, in spite of being the eloquent lawyer he was.
And finally, in a small graveyard just outside London, the old groundskeeper, told his mates in the pub one night that he is seeing a ghost in a raincoat sitting beside one particular grave every night.
“He just sits there weeping and knocking on the headstone.” he saidThe groundskeeper kept seeing that for a while, maybe a month or two, until once, as the ghost knocked as usual, and another ghost came out of the grave.
“They both held hands and danced all the way up to the sky.” he told the pub guests in a shaky voice.
“You don't go telling stories like that mate, someone may lock you up” his mates advised him.
“All right, I won’t.” the groundskeeper said looking at his glass in fear.
In a very different level of existence, in a place called Baghdad, a place that was still enduring it’s painful debilitating form of life , a place which looked bleaker than the English graveyard, dawn had arrived once again . A cool breeze blew, reminding the people, that there is a God above, and he has not completely forsaken them. Families were waiting outside the high concrete walls. Then about thirty scruffy men were let out of the gate and they scrambled towards there loved ones . Amar limped slowly carrying a note book with him, he was squinting in pain. His mother spotted him and she went towards him. He could not bring himself no matter how hard he tried to look her in the eyes . She held his chin and said :-
“Look at me my soul.”-
“I tried to be a man … but… “ he said looking at her for less than a second, then lowered his eyes again.-
“You are , you are a man, more than any of them in that cursed prison.”
Behind Amar’s back the mother saw prisoners kneeling and kissing the dusty ground, others were shaking their fists and spitting at the building they left behind .The mother kissed her son and made him rest his head on her shoulder. His nose touched her tender neck. As he took a deep breath of her familiar scent, he felt safe again, no army could take this scent away from him. He sobbed loudly .-
“There, there my heart , don’t you cry, leave all the crying to me, I have enough tears for the both of us “ said the mother .
She led him away. With all the others, they walked towards the sun; that cruel cruel sun, that blazed again and again stinging the wounds of the prisoners and their families. Trails of blood drew demonic mocking images on the dust behind them, as they were heading to the insatiable grinder, from which there seems to be no escape.
All the events and characters in this story are fictional,
and are the product of the writer’s twisted imagination
(1) In Iraq, when a person has a son or a daughter, he is called, as a way of celebrating the appearance of children in our lives, by the name of the child , for example you have a boy, you name him Ahmmed , from then on, you are called Abu Ahmed , which means the father of Ahmmed . or Um Ahmmed; the mother of Ahmmed. Also , as a form of anticipating the arrival of these children, every name is linked with a readymade son’s name, for example, Kadhum is Abu Jwad , Ali is Abu Hussien , Tareq Abu Ziad etc.
(2) Friend , was an honorary title, the party gave to devoted members , meaning the friends of the president . This title was invented sometime in the eighties.
(3) Al Hussien , the grandson of our prophet . The lord of all martyrs we call him, he sacrificed his life trying to defend Iraqis , who called for his help, as a result he was killed near Karbala. He is a symbol of peace , valor and honor to all Muslims.
(4) Safawi referring to the safawi kingdom of Iran.
(5) Al Sham ( Syria, Lebanon , Palestine) (6) Munkar, refers to all despicable deeds.
(7) The sun rises from al Oaja is a line from a famous song praising Saddam Hussein comparing him to the sun that raised and shined from his native village of Al O’oja (8) Chobee, A traditional Iraqi dance