Alas­tair Llewellyn-Smith

Basra 1958

The London Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Three of them boarded the bus ri­fles pointed ag­gres­sively bay­o­nets fixed and furious glint­ing brightly in the stip­pled morn­ing sun.

Spi­ders’ webs caught the light in the tat­tered grass that flowed down to the shark-sliced Shatt al Arab.

The oth­ers milled around out­side snarling smok­ing slouch­ing, star­ing through the win­dows at us. They no more than teenage sol­diers and we in pri­mary school.

Were we im­pressed?

How could we not be?

They were armed, in bat­tle­dress, au­thor­i­ta­tive, fes­tooned with un­earned im­port; al­most John Wayne in stature to those of us barely a me­tre tall.

What did they ex­pect to find in the school-run bus?

Grenades? Rocket launch­ers? Is­raeli spies?

But they – or oth­ers like them – had just killed the king and dragged Ab­dul Ilah’s corpse down Rashid Street.

Per­haps th­ese lads were fright­ened.

We five-year-olds weren’t.

Don’t gig­gle, hissed my mother

as the sol­diers searched the bus.

This is very very se­ri­ous.

So we shut up, and watched in si­lence as they found noth­ing. Dis­ap­pointed, but feign­ing in­dif­fer­ence, they de­scended and waved us on our way. Yal­lah!

At break, later that morn­ing, the older chil­dren chased af­ter us with jam jars full of leeches, try­ing to drop them on our cring­ing arms and legs.

That was far more fright­en­ing than Ab­dul Karim Qasim’s teenage thugs.

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