‘Green Island’ (Social Alternatives, July 2012)
Abrahem, an Iraqi policeman, escapes a bomb blast in Baghdad that kills his daughter, but when his uncle is kidnapped and he is blackmailed and given an ultimatum–stop supporting the American-backed regime or die–he has to make a decision.
Tuesday, 24 October was a hot day in Baghdad. Abrahem parked the car, a metallic blue Volvo, at the top end of Al-Rashid Street. His two children, Amira aged nine and Mohammed aged five, were with him.
‘Stay in the car and lock the doors. Speak to no one. I won’t be long.’
Going to the bank meant shaking hands with many people, sitting sometimes to drink coffee with the bank manager (Abrahem’s uncle was a wealthy businessman, and hence had many friends), and waiting patiently in long lines. Amira and Mohammed played a game in the hot car—he could see them clapping hands and counting as he walked off.
On his return, Abrahem waved to his children. He reached for the keys in his pocket. They clambered to the window, opened it. “Baba, do you have any sweets for us?”
He was two metres away from the car when the bomb exploded.
The fireball threw him back onto the pavement. He saw the car shatter and fly in pieces into the sky. He heard screaming. Maybe it was coming from his own mouth. He saw people running in the smoke, and he found himself lying on the hard concrete amidst rubble. Then he saw that his arms were pierced with a hundred pieces of concrete and metal. His shirt was ripped. Blood seeped from what looked like a thousand knife wounds. But he was all right. He could feel no pain. He could stand. He could shout. He didn’t care about himself. He ran towards the mangled wreckage of his car. He could see two bodies. They were both lying very still, one still in the frame of the wrecked car, the other on the pavement, thrown wide through the glass of the window. No screaming, no crying. He fought his way through the flames and heat—a passer-by was trying to hold him back—and saw the blood. He went for his daughter first. She was face down, her brown hair gleaming in the sun.
An arm. A leg. A head surrounded by a bloody halo.
She was heavier in his arms than she had ever been alive. The weight in his heart was so heavy he could hardly stand. ‘Please God. Help us.’
He laid Amira on his jacket, listened for her heart. The ground was rumbling. His own heart was beating loudly. But she was quiet.
He reached into the car and pulled Mohammed from the backseat. He was torn in a thousand places, very heavy. ‘He’s alive! Quick, the ambulance.’ He reached for his mobile phone, but his trousers were in shreds and the pockets were gone.
A crowd had gathered: some talked excitedly on their mobile phones, others took pictures like tourists. ‘No,’ he shouted. Mobile phones have been known to detonate second explosions when a crowd gathers to help with the first.
His own mobile phone had been thrown onto the far pavement. A stranger picked it up and saw that there was a message. He pressed redial and Abrahem’s wife answered it. ‘Who is this?’ said Abrahem’s wife. The man said: ‘There’s been a bomb. Your husband and your two children are dead.’ When he heard the screaming at the other end, he threw the phone down again on the pavement.
Abrahem heard the ambulance siren long before it arrived. And then he was scooped up in the strong arms of a medic. ‘You sit in the back, old man.’
Abrahem was not an old man. He was thirty six. But today he moved like an old man, and his brain was befuddled. He had lost most of his words. All he could say was: ‘My son, my daughter.’
‘Your boy is in critical condition, old man. He may not live. We will do our best.’
The medic shook his head.
‘A phone, I need a phone…’
He got through to his uncle. They were closer than brothers. ‘I’m at Ibn Al Bitar Hospital. Tell my wife.’