Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sahar: The Number

The Number

Every time I tell myself that my next blog will be a pleasant story of days of old, I am confronted with a different story that needs to be told.

A friend of mine called me to tell me the bad news. Her brother had been kidnapped, and the ransom set at $100,000.

For any Iraqi, such an amount spells disaster.

Selling all they could sell, the whole extended family pitched in to save the poor man. They told the abductors that they couldn’t manage more than 20,000. (It is common knowledge that none can sell his house or his car; the odor of ready cash would attract others).

Surprisingly, the criminals said “OK, have a woman bring the money to …..”. After leading her on a merry dance, a boy of sixteen or seventeen approached her, took the money and said, “We will contact you”. And that was the last they saw of them.

Two weeks later, their women combing the hospitals and then the morgues, had found no trace of Hani.

They were told to speak to the contractor. “What contractor??”, “The one who is in charge of burying all the unidentified bodies we get.” “What??”

So they asked around, and were directed to an ordinary looking man, who was not at all surprised to hear of their dilemma.

“Yes, I’m in charge of burying the bodies that are not claimed. There is no room for all these bodies in the morgues. You must identify him first, and I will direct you to his grave.”

“ How can we identify our brother??”

“Don’t worry; I’m well set up!” He walks towards a really posh car, opens the door, takes out the latest laptop, and sets it on the bonnet. “I have here photos of all the bodies I bury. Each one is given a number that is engraved on the headstone of his grave in Nejef. Browse.” True enough, Iyman said, her sister started looking through hundreds of photographs, of the head and shoulders of people killed in the streets, without their folks knowing about them; but didn’t find her brother’s photo.

“Try Abu Haider, or any of the others.” The contractor advised. “They are just as conscientious as I am.”

“We found his picture! We have his number!” crying “His face was all bruised and there was a hole drilled in his forehead! Oh, Sahar! He died in pain! His hands were tied above his head!”

They went to the wilderness that was being used as burial ground, on the outskirts of the city of Nejef. But there was no trace of Hani’s grave. They inspected each and every grave, each and every headstone for his number. But it was not there. They looked in all the graveyards, not just this one, but the number was not to be found.

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