Saturday, April 12, 2008


Yusef felt lied to.

Yusef had welcomed the liberators, had welcomed the toppling of the dictator, had known that life would get better, that truly these soldiers were a godsend.

But what does one man know?

Now homeless,without a family, nowhere to turn, Yusef was becoming concerned for his soul. Perhaps he could escape this country altogether, but then where would that leave his people? His country? No, people like him must stay and fight. He had no violent intentions, but fighting must be done, somehow. Even standing his ground would be fight enough to make a difference, he thought.

But he stood ground in no man's land, in a dark, public alley, where no one could see his shame except by the dim firelight that warmed his hands.

If only so many hadn't been rendered refugees, especially of his relatives. How does a man stand for his principles when he is so concerned about finding his next meal? About preserving his own life?

In some places the Americans gave meals, but Yusef was not so lucky to be in such a part of the country. He was more likely to be caught by a bomb on the road, that was the sort of gift that was given around his town. A few people were happy when Americans were bombed, but Yusef's own brother had been injured by an abandoned landmine, a leftover from the war with Iran.

Such things had happened to others too, including one of his daughters.

The same bomb that killed his daughter had killed many soldiers as well, and Yusef sympathized with the Americans, perhaps only to save himself from self-pity and grief at his own loss. Each corpse had been someone's child, someone's brother, someone's parent. They couldn't have known any more than he did what ruin the war would bring. Perhaps some of their leaders had better information, but each soldier could not have known what lie ahead on such a road.

The other option was, to Yusef, unspeakable. But others had become angry at the invaders and were intent to see all death returned upon the Americans. Yusef knew this was never going to work, and he knew it would only bring more bloodshed. This had never been what God had wanted for any people.

That was all he needed to know, to know that violent people were wrong; that violence bred only more violence, and unless men were reluctant to harm others,

Yusef, despite having always been honest, was now driven to desperation. He had stolen. He had lied to keep himself alive and fed. This evening, he had found a chicken, someone else's, and broken it by the neck, roasted it and devoured the whole thing.

The chicken had also been starved, and unlike when he had slaughtered other animals ritually, he had looked at the eyes of this creature, and they had been looking back at him. The way it happened was much different, it almost shook him more than the deaths of his own family. He had their bodies even, but they had already been dead.

This chicken, unlike lambs and other animals Yusef had killed for food, looked at him as he felt its very bones snap under his own hungry hands. It still struggled but was silent, and then Yusef hid and removed the animal's head with a small knife - all that he had with him.

It was not the way you killed chickens. It was far too personal, for Yusef, for whom all violence had become abhorrent.

It was only after he had eaten the bird that he wondered if it had been afraid, if it had wished for mercy. What a strange thought, he told himself. But even with a broken neck, he had heard, a person could still sense things. Was it the same for a bird? Perhaps it could not have wishes or thoughts of its own, but it surely knew fear before a predator, and if it was alive it surely was fearful of its slow death.

Of course, it had no soul. It was a simple bird, put there for men to use. Perhaps he felt badly because he had stolen it, but in this time of danger, he was never sure of anything. Feeling sympathy for his food! How strange.

How sensitive he had become in his old age.

He knew it was silly, but Yusef imagined that Americans - not the soldiers but the people back in their own land - were like him, just victims of politicians. Their land was not plunged into war, nor had they suffered under a brutal dictator, but this war surely had a toll upon them.

Men in power, rich men, like the late dictator (may he burn for eternity, thought Yusef), simply did what they felt needed to be done. Only a few great leaders ever truly understood their people, and knew what was best for them. Whatever reason others had to trample upon the good of their nation, he could not guess. Monsters and murderers were beyond understanding, and so were politicians.

Those that commanded killing were never better than those who did the killing. They just had cleaner hands, and did not have to look their victims in the eye.

Perhaps a monster like Saddam Hussein had personally carried out killings; his sons surely had, and worse. But a man like George Bush, he was far away. He barely saw what he had commanded, barely saw how his war had not worked, except as it affected him.

He did not see the blood.

That must been what disturbed Yusef, he realized, about killing the chicken that day. Other times, the killings had been proper, routine, somehow remote; the same as he had been taught when he was but a boy. It had always been a part of life.

Hungry though he had been, regardless of his reason, he had brutalized that chicken on that day, in a way far more personal than he had ever done in his lifetime. He had not used a tool to kill it, but had held it in his hands, wrung its neck, cut it savagely with a knife, felt it die.

Looking down, he saw that blood was still showing on his dry, cracked hands. He was not at all distant from the killing.

In that moment, Yusef could only sit in the dark alley and weep for the world.

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