As my fingers were flipping through today’s papers, my eyes were craned to the pictures the articles embraced. The photo of the man grieving in front of his burned book store summarized the whole article. I looked into his eyes. They were as red as the blood flowing in Baghdad. They were sad and miserable. I kept looking. I didn’t even read the captions. These eyes were speaking, thinking, crying and telling a story, a story of horror, pain and sorrow. The hand comforting him on the shoulders added more stories to what his eyes already said. I knew what these eyes saw. I saw that too. I knew what this hand trying to do. I had mine comforting someone too. I knew how that place looked like because I was there too.
I read the caption and I wish I didn’t. “Mohammed Salman grieves at the site of a book market in Baghdad where a car bomb killed his brother and 37 other people March 5, it read. Yes, it was the last place to die in a dying city which once was the castle of the Arabian Nights. I kept looking and wondered how many people like this man are going through the same feeling.
“After 4 years of war, survey finds a nation fragmented by fear, USA Today’s headline read. Fear. Have you ever experienced it? It’s scary. It makes your heart wants to jump out of its place. It makes all your senses work at once. Your ears hear every drop of water in the sink even though it’s far away. Your eyes become as sharp as Superman’s. You can see the tiniest bug standing on the wall.
Your arms shape themselves in a way that they can help you defend yourself if danger comes closer. Your legs warm up as if they start running. Your nose smells danger. Your mouth watches the words going out of it and your tongue pushes the saliva back to your throat. At the end, these senses either help you survive or let you die. But you can train them. Seriously. However, in Baghdad, you don’t have to do that since they are already trained.
When the bombs started falling four years ago, all my senses were functioning. I even felt the vibration of the floor shaken by bombs. How could I forget that feeling? It shook my mother and let her fall into tears of fear. All her senses were working at that day.
Maybe more than mine and my sister’s. She was listening to every bomb, every artillery shell, every bullet. The sound of sirens freaked her out more than the sound of the bombs. It freaked me out too. Until this moment, I feel the contractions in my heart when I hear it.
Yes, I still hear it. You may be shocked but they are the same sirens American fire stations use when there is emergency. In my first week here, I heard this sound when I was in my friend’s house. Unconsciously, my heart beat so fast that it reminded me with every single bomb and siren I heard in Baghdad. It was the last thing I’ve ever wanted to hear here.
As I opened my eyes this morning, I kept thinking as I was still on bed. I needed to get up to get ready to work but couldn’t but remember how things changed in four years. Upside down, all I could describe. Four years, one, two, three, four, I counted. Wow! Four years of my life. I didn’t feel them. They ran so quickly. I recalled the end of my college senior year, my job, my father return from Libya, my sister’s wedding, my mother’s car bomb survival, my friend’s mother car bomb death, my friend’s desperation, Saddam’s execution, the elections, the referendum etc.
Above all I remembered the sense of fear. I recalled how horrified I used to be every single day walking in the streets, sitting at home, going to work. I recalled the dead bodies I used to see almost every day, the pieces of flesh, the blood pools, the cut legs, arms and heads. Could I forget the things I saw at the Baghdad morgue? Of course, not. They are built-in my brain like the motherboard in a laptop.
Although I lost a lot, but I gained a lot too. Strength, will to live, experience, courage, and feelings for others are things I gained. Above all, I gained a precious thing, loyalty and more love to my country.
Today marks the fourth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion to Iraq. A sad and happy memory for many people. None of us-Iraqi and American people-wanted the war to go in this direction. We dreamed of peace and real democracy but our leaders let us down.