Held as a Slave by Iraqi Militants
Copyright © E.Naidoo
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media used in this
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THE OUTSKIRTS OF BAGHDAD
June 2004, 15 months after the US and Coalition forces invaded Iraq
They prance around us, Iraqi militants, dressed in tunics and baggy pants, scarves coiled into turbans around their heads, victorious and triumphant, automatic weapons dangling from their shoulders.
A man with missing bottom teeth and the face of a rodent claps his hands. ‘American soldiers, we get you good.’
Another man with a red-and-white checked scarf and really bad body odor, puts his face in mine and says, ‘Georgie Bushie, him very big dog.’
I say nothing. I dare not. My eyes, when they’re opened, are fixed to the dirty cement floor.
More militants barge into the room, inspects their trophies lying on the ground, by means of a boot in the ribs mainly, then high-five each other.
Some of them look too young to drive or to vote, yet they are armed with AK-47’s, Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers. Holding their weapons over their heads, they dance a jig.
A boy, probably no older than fifteen counts their trophies: ‘Wahed, ithaian, Ithatha, arba, kamsa, sita …sita!’ He runs to the door, sticks his head out of the room and yells, ‘Sita!’
‘Sita?’ More dancing, more jigging, more back-slapping around me.
I know these fuckers. I’ve seen them in my nightmares – fled from them. And now, here I am, in their clutches.
Specialist Jude Stall and I are conscious, so we’re made to sit on plastic patio chairs. They don’t give a shit that Stall’s army jacket, in
varying shades of dirt-brown and dark-red, have bullet holes around the abdominal area. They don’t give a shit that I can barely sit
because my neck, back and fuck knows what other parts of me are hurt. I mean, I suspect a broken clavicle and an injured neck.
Anytime now, I expect to pass out.
I don’t want to pass out.
I want to die.
Please let me die. Before they torture me and before I’m subjected to all kinds of shit that’s coming my way.
As I sit with my head bowed, knees apart, blood seeps from a gash on my forehead and splatters on the floor between my army-issued boots, creating hallucinogenic patterns on the dirty cement floor.
Fuck! I seriously need a doctor.
Stall is slumped in his chair and moaning. When his moans get too loud the bastards jab him with their rifles.
I glance at the other members of my convoy lying on the floor in the corner of the room. None of them are moving or moaning. The last I saw any of them move was during our shoot-out with these militants earlier on today. I quickly look away.
A sudden hush fills the room when a man with the disposition of an executioner, creeps into the room with a camera and a tripod. He
places the tripod in front of Stall and slides the video camera onto it. A murmur ripples through the militants and they back against the
wall to give the cameraman space. Carefully, the cameraman sets up, then scans the room. His eyes finally rest on a militant with a
gigantic handle-bar mustache.
Handle-bar beams and steps forward. After a slight bow to his comrades and a thank-you-for-choosing-me smile; he removes a
balaclava from his pocket and slips it over his face. Two other militants unroll a banner with Arabic writing on it and also don
balaclavas. They stand tall and erect behind Stall and hold up the banner for the camera.
Handle-bar takes his position behind Stall and nods. The cameraman hits a button. Handle-bar unsheathes a sword from around his
waist, the kind of sword you see in movies like The Mummy -ornate, beautiful and deadly.
In spite of my semi-conscious state, my hearts slams around in my chest as I silently and feverishly chant the code of conduct: I’m an
American soldier fighting in the forces which guards my country and our way of life…
Unfortunately, or fortunately, Stall is oblivious to what’s happening around him.
The cameraman lifts up his finger. Handle-bar reaches over and flashes Stall’s dog tag to the camera.
He steps back, rips off Stalls helmet, jerks back his head and exposes Stall’s jugular.
Even though I expected this, even though every POW expects this; terror engulfs me. I squeeze my eyes tight and gulp at the stale air
in the room and taste my breakfast again.
… If I …oh God! If I become a prisoner of … please don’t let them kill him! I will …I will keep … faith with my fellow prisoners …oh God!
A rustle of fabric, a blood-curdling gurgle, then silence.
When I open my eyes, handle-bar is wiping his sword on a muslin cloth.
Stall is lying on the floor, bright red blood pooling around his lop-sided head.
I puke all over myself.
Cameraman shifts the tripod and brings it in line with me.
Still masked, the men with the banner shuffle till they’re behind me.
Sweat drips down my bruised back. The urge to scream is there but I’m too weak. Instead, I shut my eyes and will myself to blank out,
to pass out, whatever the fuck will prevent me from feeling anything.
Don’t think. Empty your mind.
Doesn’t work – my mind betrays me. I open my eyes and find myself seeking out handle-bar. He’s disappeared from my sight. Even
though my neck is hurt, it jerks in all directions looking for him and his sword.
I hear a sound behind me and freeze. It’s him. ‘Oh God!’ I murmur. ‘Oh God!’
… I will never forget that I am an American fighting for …for freedom … responsible for my …
Oh God! Please! Please!
From behind, Handle-bar grabs my dog tag and flashes it at the camera.
I’m only 27 – way too young to die.
Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death …
The cameraman gives a final nod and my army-issued pants suddenly feel warm and wet.
My Kevlar helmet is savagely ripped off. I scream in agony as handle-bar jerks my neck back, exposing my jugular. I wait for the
sword, my breathing now in spurts, my body shaking.
The sword flashes briefly in front of me before it lodges against my throat.
‘Ogot! ‘Ogot!’ the cameraman shouts and frantically waves for Handle-bar to stop.
My neck is suddenly released and the sword is removed.
I’m too stunned to question this move.
Cameraman rushes towards me. ‘It is a wiiimon!’
The rest of the men dash over and crowd around me. They peer at me like they would a circus freak. One of them touches my long,
blonde ponytail and whispers crude nothings in Arabic.
Also in front of me is Handle-bar. His repulsive mug cracks into a big smile. ‘American wiiimon,’ he says as he shakes his ass and circles
his nipples. ‘Very good, very good. Wiiimon is good. Wiiimon is very good!’
Some of the men notice my wet pants and jeer at me.
I don’t give a fuck – I’m too stunned at my stay to worry about my shredded dignity. If I weren’t numb with shock, I’d probably be
bawling my eyes out with relief.
As they chat among themselves, their voices rise in pitch and the cameraman rubs his hands together. He turns to me, raises his index
finger and says, ‘Very nice.’
When he leaves with his tripod, the rest of the men herd out of the room. Handle-bar remains. He’s lovingly examining his blade for …
God knows what. After his careful inspection, he presses the sword to his lips and slips it back into the sheath.
Revolted, I squeeze my eyes shut.
When he leaves the room, he locks the door behind him.
For a few minutes I do nothing but stare at the back of the door, expecting them to return. When they don’t, I lean forward and pant loudly – almost hyperventilating. I came so close to death. Being a woman has saved me from having my throat cut. What now? I look at Stall. Maybe he’s still alive. Maybe I can help. I look at my hands. I’m untied. They don’t need to tie me up – my injuries are shackles enough. If Stall is dying, then he shouldn’t die alone. Summoning every ounce of energy from … fuck knows where, I force myself to stand up and stumble towards Stall. After just three steps, I keel over and black out.
* * *
I try to open my eyes but congealed blood from my head wound has glued my eyelids shut. My entire face is scaly, my body tender and I stink like meat rotting in the midday sun.
I pry my eyelids open and peer around. In my haze, I see that I’m lying next to Stall where I fell. The other members of my unit are still on the floor in a heap. My throat is burning. I desperately need water. Through the curtain of dried blood, I notice someone walking around the room wearing white moccasins.
‘Water … please,’ I beg.
The person ignores me.
‘Said bousak!’ A jab in the ribs with the butt of a rifle and I shut up.
I drift in an out of consciousness. Could be days – I’m not sure.
It doesn’t matter.
Then, someone is putting water to my lips and talking to me. ‘Have a sip. Come on.’ The voice of a man – soothing but firm.
I lift my head, drink greedily and choke.
‘Easy now. It’s going to be alright.’ He has a shaved-off Arabic accent. Gently, he coaxes me to drink more water.
Who is this man? This kind man with gentle hands? Maybe I’m dead and he’s an angel.
‘Pain … help me …’
‘Okay, lie still now.’ He injects me in the deltoid. After a few minutes he bandages my arm and dresses my wounds. At times I cry out in pain.
‘Almost done. You’re going to be alright.’
‘Thank you,’ I whisper, grateful for his help and kindness.
When he’s done, he brings in a mattress and a blanket.
‘Who …are …you?’
He doesn’t answer but covers me with the blanket.
Later, he returns and feeds me some kind of gruel. It’s awful but he forces me to drink it.
A few days pass and with Angel-man’snursing, I’m conscious and can move a bit without agonizing pain.
Angel-man walks in, sees my eyes open and stops, a look of relief on his face.
My smile is weak. ‘Thank you for helping me.’
‘Where am I?’
Mmm. My team members! I crane my head to look around. All the bodies have disappeared. Startled, I look at him, eyebrows raised.
He shifts about then mutters, ‘Sorry.’
‘Oh God!’ I curl up into a ball and fight the urge to sob.
I look at Angel-man.
‘You’re going to be okay. That’s important right now. Understand?’
Slowly I nod, remembering with horror the sword against my throat. I try to think – how long ago was it? ‘What day is it?’
He glances briefly at a fancy wrist-watch and says, ‘Yom al-arba.’
‘Wha …?’ Somehow the Arabic they speak sounds very different to the Arabic the army linguist taught us.
He sighs, appearing irritated with all my questions. ‘Wednesday, 7th July, 2004. That okay for you or do you want the exact time as well?’
‘July? 7th… I’ve been here seven days.’
‘In that case: happy one-week anniversary!’
I ignore the sarcasm remembering all the good he’s done for me. Gingerly, I touch my bandaged shoulder. ‘Thank you for helping me.’
He nods his scowl softening. ‘You’ve lost a lot of blood.’
We are interrupted by the appearance of Handle-bar. Today, he looks even more vicious, pure evil and instinctively, I touch my throat. The fucker’s pointing an AK47 at me and mouthing-off in Arabic. Sounds really pissed. Don’t know what he’s saying. All I can think of is how he slit Stall’s throat.
I glance at Angel-man. Wish he’d say something.
Handle-bar steps forward and sticks the rifle in my face. Of course I’m disconcerted – an automatic weapon in your face – who wouldn’t be? But I know he’s not going to shoot me.
Angel-man snarls at him in Arabic and shoves him away from me.
Handle-bar argues with Angel-man. After a while, handle-bar slowly backs out of the room. At the doorway, he takes aim at me then lowers his weapon.
‘Nazim!’ Angel-man yells.
Handle-bar or Nazim, quickly leaves shutting the door behind him.
‘Sorry,’ Angel-man mutters.
‘Okay,’ I say really grateful for his protection.
Nazim’s behavior freaks me out. I know he wants to finish what he started the other day.
I have to escape.
In my bid to escape, even though I’m too weak to even consider it and even though he’s hot one minute and cold the next and frustrating the hell out of me, I try to befriend Angel-man. Maybe, just maybe, after we become friends, he’ll allow me to just stroll the fuck out of here. Unarmed.
‘I’m Megan. What’s your name?’
For a moment he appears startled by my question. Then he suddenly gives my wound his full attention.
Mmm. ‘Shall I guess?’
He focuses even harder on my wound.
‘Ali Baba?’ Oops! I thought out loud there.
Now that’s no way to win friends and influence people. ‘Guess I’m gonna have to christen you myself, Angel-man. Won’t be pleasant, I’m warning you.’
‘“Angel-man?”’ His look can be interpreted as amused or just sneering.
‘Told ya so.’
A hint of a smile flitters across his lips.
‘My name’s not important. Keep calling me that though.’
I study him. Clean shaven, around 6’2, faded denim jeans, blue T-shirt, untidy hair, no turban, no beard, no visible weapon, no personality. He looks up and I quickly look away. He looks down and I continue. Reeboks, Rolex, a thin gold chain around his neck. Rolex? Insurgents must be getting good money these days.
A hint of a Canadian accent. Hard to tell when his answers are mainly monosyllabic. Somehow, he doesn’t seem to fit in here.
‘Can I take a bath?’
‘Please? I have dried blood all over me and it’s so … so uncomfortable.’
‘You want to be comfortable?’
‘Well, yeah. It’s hot.’ Hot is not the word. It’s about 120 degrees and there is no breeze.
‘You come to war, to fight, to kill … and … you want to be … comfortable?’
‘Post-war. I came to help.’
‘You came to help? Is that a fact?’ He finishes the wound dressing and stands up. ‘Save that for the interrogation that’s coming up. Should be interesting.’ He leaves the room.
Interrogation? Who’s going to interrogate me? Will they torture me? I cringe at the thought of that.
I need to get the hell out of here. In desperation, I scout around. No furniture except a mattress on the bare floor. A naked light bulb on the ceiling provides harsh lighting. The only window in the room is barricaded with steel bars. Although the door is wooden, a solid, metal, security gate keeps me in. No holes on the ground, none on the wall so I can forget tunneling out of here Shawshank-Redemption style.
I lie back on my mattress and stare grimly at the ceiling. I’m going to need more than a file in a cake to blow this joint.
* * *
‘Follow me,’ Angel-man says.
When his head jerks to look at me, I quickly stand up and shuffle behind him. As we walk down the long corridor I get a better view of my cage. It’s actually an old farm-house that’s appears to have been modified to hold infidels like me.
Steel bars on all doors and windows. Heavy, tattered drapes allow little light in. The place is musty and there is an absence of life outside. No moving cars or trains or even the faint sounds of gunshots, which is common in Iraq these days.
We’re probably on the outskirts of Baghdad. With escape in mind, I case the joint, making mental notes – the angles of the house, the exits, entrances, the bunch of keys hanging on a hook on the wall…
Three armed militants play cards on a make-shift table supported by three oil drums. Two are armed with Kalashnikovs while the third has an M-249, a SAW.
I look longingly at the SAW – a Squad Automatic Weapon. At 2000 rounds per minute, it would saw through anybody it hit. Lethal. Flash it around and you’ve got crowd control. One glimpse of it and you’ve got a swarm of hostile Iraqis on their knees.
Angel-man stops at a closed door and jerks his head towards it.
With one finger, I push the door open. It’s a bathroom. Not the little toilet I’ve been using but a proper, useable bathroom. I smile.
Angel-man flings a small bundle of clothes at me. I’m too slow catching it and it falls to the ground.
‘Sorry,’ he says and stoops to pick it up.
‘Thanks.’ I examine the bundle. An old, grey but clean towel, a long, black skirt and a red, long-sleeve tunic. Clean clothes after fourteen days in my filthy, army-issued gear. Awesome!
Excited, I reach over and turn the faucet. Warm water. My day is A-okay! I slowly rub my hands together under the flowing water. Beautiful, just beautiful! Something I took for granted. To lose this awful stench of congealed blood I’ve been carrying around is going to be great.
I push the bathroom door shut.
Angel-man pushes back.
I stare at him. ‘What?! You kidding me?’
‘Do I look like I’m kidding?’
‘Then … I mean, how do I shower with you looking on?’
He shrugs and jerks his head to towards the armed men. ‘Want to take it up with them?’
I look at the men and purse my lips.
He’s bluffing. Has to be. Pissed off, I call his bluff. ‘Forget it.’ I hand the towel and clothes back to him and wait for him to feel bad and have a change of mind and eventually say, ‘Oh, alright, you can close the darn door.’
To my disbelief, he shrugs and starts walking away. What a prick!
End of Sample Chapters
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a book by EVE RABI