Thursday, October 2, 2008

Chapter 6b: The day my father died (cont)

On that Sunday morning, I got up out of bed and glanced over at my little brother who was still fast asleep and, as a matter of fact, seemed to be laughing in his sleep. He must have been dreaming happy dreams. Usually Rashad was awake hours before me.

I went downstairs to the kitchen. Mama and Teta were already sitting at the kitchen table enjoying a cup of coffee. They looked peaceful and not at all upset about the phone call or my outburst the night before. They glanced up at me and Mama commented on how early it was for me to be awake. Then she got up and grabbed another tiny mug off the cupboard shelf and poured me a cup of coffee. The three of us sat at the table for hours, or at least so it seemed, without saying a word. Maybe Mama and Teta weren't so calm after all.

After a while, we each went to our own tasks. Before the war, on a Sunday morning, we would have been scurrying around getting ready for church. We had never missed church. Now the church bells didn't even ring in our neighbourhood anymore. It was a dreadfully quiet Sunday morning.

Baba had been an English teacher before the war, so after the war started he'd had no trouble finding a job. The institute where he had taught closed down, so he became a translator. Every month there a new multinational corporation visiting Mosul. They sent consultants and surveyors and managers to start projects: Satellite TV, mobile phones, cars... all kinds of things that hadn't been marketed openly before the war. These businesses came in with all the excitement of having just discovered a new market, thousands of people hungry to buy their products.

My father worked as a translator for almost two years. Then, when the war didn't end, the flow of businesses did. Some of them had actually started selling satellite dishes and setting up cell towers. Others had left, promising to come back when the war ended. But until the war ended, it appeared there wasn't going to be a need for translators. So he went back to teaching, but he only found part-time work.

Then in February of 2006, the war took a turn for the worse. And then it got worse, then worse. In Mosul we had always had Christians and Muslims and Kurds all living together. Sure we had our problems, but at the end of the day we got along. But when the war got worse, threats started coming. Once there was a letter delivered to our door and a couple of times there were phone calls. Baba never told us this, but I think he was stopped on the street several times by fanatics. I know it happened at least once because I was there. We were walking home from the store and a black Mercedes pulled up next to us. There were five men all dressed in black with bushy beards seated in the car, and they all held guns, pointed at us. They didn't get out, but the guy in the front passenger seat said, "Your time is coming" and pretended to pull the trigger. Then they drove away. Baba wouldn't talk about it, but I was sure from the look on his face that he had seen those men before.

The war got so bad that Baba had to leave his job. I had been working, too, doing a bit of this and a bit of that, but Baba decided it was too dangerous for me to work, too. So we never left the house unless Teta needed a doctor's visit or we were needing food.

We talked sometimes about leaving. Whenever another neighbour or relative would move away, we'd chat about it as a family. Then Mama, or me, or one of my sisters would ask if we were going to leave, too. But Baba always said we should stay. Things had to get better eventually, and we had to be ready to help rebuild our country. Plus, he said, we couldn't afford to leave, everything we have is in Iraq.

On Sunday the 25th of February, we needed food. There was no meat, no rice and no bread in the house, and we needed vegetables, too. I heard Mama tell Baba this, then they talked for a while in their bedroom... about something.

Most of that morning, I sat with my sisters watching some stupid TV show. Baba came down the stairs, put on his jacket and hat, walked out the door, and we kept watching TV. I don't know what we were watching, but I'm sure it was meaningless.

Not two minutes later, the front windows broke and the electricity went out. And there was a deafeningly loud noise.

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