Nassif Falak
Nassif Falak
Iskandar

 

Before the shout of Allah-u-Akbar and the rolling of the first head to the ground, my blood dried up and evaporated, so that I did not have a single drop left for me to boast to myself that I had not died from fear or that my underwear elastic had not snapped and my boxers fallen round my feet along with my stomach, bowels and spinal cord. I had entered a state resembling unconsciousness; I was neither passed out nor was I present. The desolate tunnel of emptiness had swallowed me up. I felt as if I were far removed and safe from what was going on around me, as if my mother had come out of my body and snatched my right hand – I, the terrified child – and escaped far away with me, outside Baghdad and outside this world so that I would not see what was happening to the others and what was going to happen to me. As if my mother feared for me with the big boys’ savage sport, just as she was terrified of hearing my bones clamour; my teeth would play the music of cannibals and the bones in my chest and back croon with the melody of swords, as we are a people passionately fond of slaughter. As soon as we open history books, tides of blood splatter our faces; to the point that the Saudi national flag has a sword. The bones of my hands and legs play the anthem of graves. My mother had escaped with me to the sparkling green grass meadow on a sunny winter’s day, where the white clouds sped along and raced us to dreams of water, until my foot slipped and I fell on my stomach, upon which I heard the third shout (Allah-u-Akbar) and the third head slamming on to the ground. Then it rolled onto its right cheek. Its eyes came directly in line with my left eye, as if it were smiling with the connivance of someone who had exposed my secret, as he saw the black piece of cloth lifted slightly from over my left eye. Of course, he would not know that one of them had struck me, saying “You’ve driven us crazy, you son of a bitch”, and the black blindfold that had been firmly tied around my eyes shifted slightly. Just then, I saw the mixture of trash in the weeds – small and large bullet cartridges stained with dry blood, flattened Pepsi Cola and Seven-Up cans, broken cassette tape covers, Nestlé chocolate wrappers and scattered scraps of torn, crumpled paper; it was a mixture resembling trash from movie theaters, apart from the blood stains and bullet cartridges, unless they had sprung from the screening of a cowboy film or a violent film. Now, my left eye was face to face with the severed head, seeing a phantom smile, or some such illusion, as if that was what it was hallucinating. Perhaps it was the smile of someone who has finally found the person that would take his head to their bosom so his death would not be in vain, like the anonymous people we hear about in news bulletins every day. Finally, the head would have stumbled upon someone to take care of its face and look for it in a living, breathing archive – the archive of my head, which knows that it will also be cut off, as it is the fourth and last head on this black day with the sun about to set. Was there a hidden eye present to take a photograph of me, and the head stored in my archive? Where was that eye? I could not see or hear any human beings other than the slaughterers, just as I could not see a bird or an animal or a tree that could preserve the image of my head, filled as it was with a dangerous archive on gay killers after the spread of an epidemic of homosexuals all over the world, and on the conundrum of the wicked criminal Daoud with his triple ideological antennae and his victim, the killer Rawdhan, in a thoroughly Iraqi battle outside the Inqilab [Revolution] Cinema near Ferdowsi Square in Tehran, and filled also with Thamer’s archive, stuffed with the most precious of Kashani rugs, the Kashan of captivating women, with the museum of crime in Zendan-e-Qasr, the Fifth Branch of Military Intelligence, Prison Number 1, with Abu Ghraib Prison, Special Sentences Section, indeed right up to the moment of the third shout – “Allah-u-Akbar” and the closing of my eye, when the sky closed in on the earth and the Day of Judgment came around with the falling of the third head. And there I was, entering this desolate tunnel of oblivion – like the Bab al-Sharqi [East Gate] tunnel in the mid-nineties, where one would find, at that time of major crises, the overflow and exposure of man’s base nature – and carrying within me a smouldering, deadly premonition about the tunnel that had just now exploded. I had entered the Bab al-Sharqi tunnel at sunset; how I wish I had entered my grave before this cursed, foul day. I do not know what exactly had forced me to enter the tunnel as it was abandoned and terrifying, with the stench of old shit wafting from it – from the shit Nebuchadnezzar took on, to Saddam’s shit after the invasion of Kuwait, along with new shit from which the vapours of glory and eternity were still rising and squirming their way out. In this putrid atmosphere, while I was in a hurry to be delivered from the tunnel, I heard the scream of a child or a young boy that would have woken the beasts of the concrete jungles lurking in their darkened corridors. It was a scream that had the ring of desperation, as my ear heard it, so I imagined the boy seeing shoes racing towards the houses, seeing the hurrying passers-by, each one deep in his private garbage dump, waiting for a miracle. But even miracles had abandoned this young boy. I came closer to the screaming, searching for him among the piles of cardboard and the refuse of a day that had now died. Now I found him sobbing, his head buried deep between his knees. I asked him: “What’s wrong? Why are you screaming?” He raised his head and looked at me. The childlike terror in his wandering bloodshot eyes shocked me and I drowned in his sorrow and tears, a sorrow that carried me back to childhood’s funeral, from the first to be uprooted to the last and youngest. I was destroyed by his face, which seemed like that of someone who had just lost their childhood in the mud of the Bab al-Sharqi tunnel. One could not even look at his face twice, out of sheer horror of the loss, the jolt and consternation. I discovered that he had been thrown out of his home, and that he was spending his first night as a waif in this tunnel, no Mum or Dad, only the embrace of cement. What was I to do – I, who had no place of my own and lived with my family like a guest, always arguing with them? What was I to do? Should I leave him to the Bab al-Sharqi scum, who used to piss every day on the statue of motherhood in al-Umma Park? Where could I take him? If I was overwhelmed with myself and irritated at dealing with just one individual, then how could I deal with the both of us?

 

I ran roughshod over my heart and left the boy after a few bystanders and passers-by had gathered around. I left him to the mercy of the unknown and to the whim of fate. With every step that took me further from him, my contempt for myself grew, and when I stepped out of the tunnel I was an absolute wretch, in full flesh and blood.

 

Now I deserved to be slaughtered for the crime of leaving the boy alone in the Bab al-Sharqi tunnel. And here it was, my turn to be slaughtered after the third head, which had affixed its eyes upon me and exposed me. I saw it, and its eyes had begun to blink astonishingly fast, as if the head had just come to grips with the tragedy: that it was separated from its body and was no longer any use without it, just as the body without the head had become the mere dead meat of a dead person. It could not believe this sudden, accursed separation, nor did it believe the brutality of exile from the land of the body, as ever since it was a foetus in its mother’s womb it had been in harmonious concord and in unity with its body. Why then should it leave against its will, and foresake its family, its city, and the land of its body, to be severed and exiled forever, living dead and apart from itself? They had recklessly exiled it, with atrocious indifference.

 

I saw everything trembling like a palm branch – the walls, the trees, the water, the people, the blue sky and the earth were shaking under me. Everything was incapable of controlling itself and could not desist from trembling. This is what I felt without seeing it because the width of my left eye’s range was witnessing only what was below, while my neck had become stretched from my lethal wait for the fourth shout, and I could neither see the sky, nor the walls, trees, water or people. But, I discovered and recognized the secret of this trembling and shaking – it was me – I was the source of this earthquake. It was my trembling body – I was the earthquake.

 

These slaughterers had left me hanging between the hope of death from a bullet and the terror of being tortured and put to death painfully slowly so that when I died I would die a thousand and one deaths each minute. It was odd, why my slaughter was delayed, after my turn had come right after the third head, rolling and presenting itself before me like a mirror in which I was seeing what would be happening to me in a short while. The sun had set, and an ugly calm had descended, as if the work day had finished in a government office, and time had negated the place so that the office was now bare and desolate with no one remaining there. But the calm was quickly torn apart by dogs barking and birds chirping, which dispersed the savage desolation, which saw me crushed by the taste of the deadly wait, especially after I had now discovered a shameful wetness running between my thighs. Had I involuntarily and unconsciously wet myself or was it an ejaculation of semen, in the way I had heard that innocent victims ejaculate at the moment of their execution. From the smell it seemed to be urine, though I had not smelled urine when the three heads rolled. But then, how could I smell when everything in me had frozen –senses, thinking, consciousness and awareness – and I had entered the tunnel of nothingness?

 

I remembered an old proverb “darkness is a shield” or “the night is a shield”, quoted by the Arabs. Were they fearful of light and brightness because it exposes and lays things bare? With my hands tied behind my back, I began to feel what was behind me. It seemed to be a mud wall. And because my legs had gone numb from how long I had been sitting on them all these blood-filled hours, I dragged myself a little and then without making a sound fell back against the wall. I did not hear a sound or movement from anyone nearby. I took a breath, as if I had discovered I was capable of breathing for the first time, now that my legs, head and neck were relieved of sitting in a bowed position. But what was this growling and puffing in my face? I got goosebumps and my scalp went dry as animal hair brushed against my arm and hand; whatever it was sniffed my neck and my body and went away. It was a dog, or possibly a wolf, come during this night crowded with beasts of prey. My mother lifted me up from my fall and dusted off the chaff of bloodstained bullet shells, Pepsi Cola and Seven-Up cans, Nestlé sweet wrappers and cassette covers that covered me. She dusted off all the trash of the nightmare and ran, carrying me over her shoulder towards sleep.

I heard footsteps of someone approaching, then a man stood beside me. He removed the black rag from my eyes and pulled a bag down over my head, then checked that my hands and legs were tied firmly. He flung a stale loaf of bread into my lap and said: “We don’t know in which direction we should face to slaughter you . . . towards the Jews, or like the Sabians, or maybe it would be better if we slaughter you in the direction of Moscow?

 

 

Read more in Banipal 37 . . . .