Al Mafouda (“The Lost”)
My head hurt, but I would live. I took another pull on the black lung cigarette; it did not taste the same. Maybe the Americans were right. Fucking Americans.
I knew that this response was one that had been ingrained in me, like “Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah.” I didn’t really think of Americans as one fucking entity, just as I didn’t think that peace would ever truly be upon Baghdad, nor did I think Allah would ever bless it again. From the time I was a child, Americans were always fucking and Allah always gave his blessing.
Today, though, today – there was a little more peace in my city. I didn’t know if El Maraz had survived, but I knew he was gone. For a while, at least. Fucking Americans and their movies taught me that unless you find the body, the bad guy wasn’t dead. We hadn’t found the body yet, though we’d been trolling the river for over a day.
Maybe the sharks got him, though they haven’t been this far up the Tigris in decades. It would be fitting, sharks eating the man we only knew as the Goat. Perhaps Allah would have a sense of humor about the whole thing.
If Allah does have a sense of humor does he laugh? I know that Kassim’s parent’s can laugh again; we found their son before it was too late.
Unlike the others.
How many bodies were left out there, rotting in the sun of my city? Or under the rubble of my city? Or hidden away, buried beneath the streets of my city? My city of dirt, my city of war, my city of grime and heat. Baghdad is my city, and I am her son. The dust that permeates my soul is her dust, the acrid, arid air that fill my lungs is her air, the blood I bleed is her blood.
The city hid those victims, a city in the midst of war and change. If Allah had not led me to that little girl, the girl whose face will always haunt my nightmares, how long would El Maraz have tortured? How many more would he have raped? How many more would he have killed?
“Adel, it looks like we aren’t going to find him. He’s probably dead, mashalla,” my old friend and superior officer said without much conviction. Zaid looked as bone-weary as I felt. He, like everyone else in the city, was now wondering if relatives whose deaths had been attributed to the war, had fallen victim to El Maraz instead. He had used the conflict as camouflage, and used it well.
It took many years, but justice, at least some small measure of justice, had been exacted upon this bastion of evil, this follower of Shaitan. Even if he lived, and I was of the belief that he did, he would sorely miss that eye, that ear, those fingers.
I looked at the sun, then glanced at my watch. It was Friday, and nearly time for prayer. I hadn’t been to a mosque in a half dozen years. I would be going today.
A slave wind was picking up, spreading the late summer’s heat throughout the city with equanimity and deception. This was no cooling breeze, this was the sort of wind that coiled through the crevasses of your body, a wind that caused desiccation and dehydration. It was a thirsty wind, and it was one I knew well. I slid my gold-rimmed sunglasses down from my disheveled black hair and nestled them on my face. Few people saw the brown of my eyes; the same could be said for most desert dwellers these days. I didn’t think that the breeze would be strong enough to warrant my scarf over my mouth, but you never knew.
Zaid, leaning on the same worn out beige Mercedes that I’d chosen as my roost, had his sun glasses on as well. It was second nature.
It wasn’t time for the dust storms, not yet. Nor for the cleansing rains that would follow. Those mud-drenched storm were always a joy for me as a child as I ran through the souks with my best friend M’hammed, dodging in and out of the stalls, stalls whose keepers were frantically trying to pack up as the dirt laden downpour plummeted from the sky. M’hammed’s older brother would chase us younglings around, acting as if he were a vampire cow on the hunt for young boys.
Zaid missed M’hammed every day. So did I. The bomb that took his life six years ago in Sadr City robbed me of not just my best friend, but, for the second time, of my belief in God and in righteousness. I’d been going to the mosque every Friday since the death of my family more as routine than out of any true belief. M’hammed’s slaughter ended that vestigial habit.
I saw it as funny, not ha-ha funny but what-the-hell-is-Allah-thinking funny, how more death has been caused by those professing belief in deities and in the name of those deities than by those who think this is the only life we have. Those tended to be the people who said we should treat all living creatures as precious and sentient and fragile. Do people need to believe in some all mighty creature in order to behave righteously? If a person is only moral because they fear what will become of them after death, then that’s not really morality, that’s just fear.
Yesterday, when I’d seen the look on Kassim’s parent’s faces, I thought that perhaps God did exist, and that perhaps He was more subtle than I’d given him credit for. Allahu Akbar and all that shit.
A patrolman came running up to the two of us. He halted and snapped off a crisp salute. “Inspector ibn Yassin? Superintendant Al Adeeb? There are some reporters looking for you.” He stood there, looking neither one of us in the eye, maintaining his salute in his neatly pressed blue uniform. Zaid saluted back, a half-hearted gesture. “Fine. We’ll be right there; please let them know.”
The boy – though I supposed he was a man, as I felt hundreds of years older than that fresh-faced newly-minted addition to our police force – the man turned on his heel, dropped his salute, then took off at a run. Zaid glanced at me, and one eyebrow shot up quizzically. I knew he wanted me there to answer the questions from the press as well.
I sighed and looked at the still-burning cigarette pinched between my finger and thumb. I flicked it away. Maybe the Americans were right. Fucking Americans.