Name­less Stones

Room Magazine - - CONTENTS - AVA HOMA

When his grandpa drew a yogurt mous­tache on his lips, Alan dis­solved into gig­gles. Pic­tur­ing him­self with real whiskers thrilled Alan who needed to grow fa­cial hair to make up for be­ing shorter than other boys in his class.

“Your laugh­ter woke me up, you cheeky mon­key!” Un­cle Karo pat­ted Alan on the back as he came onto the pa­tio that opened to the yard.

They sat around a ny­lon cloth spread on a crim­son hand­made rug to eat break­fast. Alan’s other un­cles were still in bed.

He laughed again. “Bapir, I want han­dle­bars, please.”

With a chapped fin­ger, Bapir curled the end of the yogurt mous­tache on Alan’s puck­ered-up lips and planted some of the stuff on his nose too. Alan col­lapsed into laugh­ter. From the days when he would lift Alan up, hold­ing his feet on his palm, un­til that June morn­ing in 1963, Bapir had been the most amus­ing per­son on earth. Per­haps he was the rea­son Alan adored older peo­ple and loved to lis­ten to their sto­ries of mama rewi, the trickster coy­otes. It hurt Alan to see that most peo­ple with grey hair weren’t able to read or write; their backs hurt, and their dry hands trem­bled. His dream job was to read sto­ries into a loud­speaker for hun­dreds of el­ders who’d be thor­oughly charmed while re­lax­ing in a large meadow filled with pur­ple and red flow­ers.

“Our mon­key is grow­ing up, and yet we all treat him as if he were a young child!” Un­cle Karo said and bit on a morsel of the bul­let­proof sand­wich—made with fresh hon­ey­comb mixed with ghee, and thin round bread that Grandma had baked that morn­ing. She was now watering the pink roses and white lilies of the small gar­den in the yard of their tiny com­pound. Alan’s other un­cles were still in bed.

“One’s grand­child is al­ways young. That’s just how it is.” Bapir wiped crumbs from his lap. He winked. “If I were you, Alan, I would make it so I never grew up.” “Grow­ing up is a trap.” Grandma nod­ded.

“But I like the fu­ture,” Alan said.

Karo said, “That’s the darnedest thing to say.”

“Things only a six-year-old can say.” Bapir splashed a kiss on Alan’s face, his stub­ble pointy and sharp.

Still wear­ing his yogurt mous­tache, Alan frowned. “I am seven!”

They crack­led. The sun of Kur­dis­tan was shin­ing gen­er­ously over the city of Su­laimani. Be­hind the wall that sur­rounded Bapir’s com­pound, eight more at­tached brick houses sat back to back on this street, each lodg­ing a fam­ily of nine to twelve peo­ple. Alan’s mother had been left in charge of the house in the city of Hal­abja, an hour away. At this time of the day, in her light mauve dress, she would be scat­ter­ing seeds for the chick­ens. One of his three broth­ers would be watch­ing over the graz­ing sheep on the slope across from their farm. If Alan were home, he would pick pomegranates from their trees and walk up the green hills with his broth­ers and their twelve sheep.

Alan had wanted to see Bapir and so had to get an A in Kur­dish spell­ing to con­vince his fa­ther to let him visit. But Kur­dish was not a sub­ject taught at school: Ara­bic was the only lan­guage used there. Fa­ther had been try­ing to teach him and his two other broth­ers to write in their mother tongue, some­thing Alan saw no use for. Fa­ther was now in town to find some­one to pub­lish the ar­ti­cle he’d writ­ten with his brother to il­lus­trate the suf­fer­ing of the work­ing class in Kur­dis­tan and the rest of Iraq. He had skipped his break­fast to search the city for a type­writer—con­tra­band in those years.

Across the yard, Grandma started soap­ing a stain on a white shirt, when a pound­ing on the wooden gate rat­tled the ce­ment wall sur­round­ing their plot of land and shat­tered her con­cen­tra­tion. She rose, pulled her white head­scarf for­ward, placed a hand on her hip and walked to­ward the gate. She winced.

“I’ll get it.” Alan ran to the yard to save her the trou­ble, but be­fore he reached the door, six men in Iraqi army uni­forms, their faces hid­den by striped grey scarves, snapped the lock and di­rected their Kalash­nikovs at Grandma’s face. “Where are they?” the short­est of them de­manded.

Bapir froze, a morsel of honey and ghee still in his open mouth. Alan turned to watch Un­cle Karo who tried to es­cape over the neigh­bour­ing flat roof. Some­body grabbed Alan and backed him to­ward the house.

In the safety of Grandma’s bo­som, Alan watched the soldiers in­vade the house with­out wait­ing for an an­swer. Be­fore Alan’s un­cles knew what was hap­pen­ing, all six of them were pulled from their beds or hauled from the bath­room, the base­ment, a closet, and off the roof. Shak­ing with fear in Grandma’s arms, Alan wiped his white han­dle­bars with his sleeve as he tried to make sense of the chaos, the jerky

move­ments, the in­com­pre­hen­si­ble, an­i­mal-like noises es­cap­ing peo­ple’s throats. Only if his eyes would give him weapons in­stead of tears. His un­cles were dragged by the neck, scream­ing and strug­gling, like an­i­mals to slaugh­ter. Nei­ther Bapir’s ques­tions and prayers, Grandma’s cries and pleas, nor the neigh­bours’ screams and curses—noth­ing had the slight­est ef­fect on the soldiers who con­ducted the raid with­out re­ply. Alan’s un­cles, some still in un­der­shirts, were marched out at gun­point to an army truck car­ry­ing Kur­dish boys and men be­tween the ages of four­teen and twenty-five. Alan peeled him­self from Grandma’s arms, run­ning to the street. The men were told to squat in the bed of the truck, to place hands on heads, to shut their mouths. Alan looked back at Bapir who re­mained next to his smashed gate, head bowed. Along with other chil­dren, women, and the el­derly, Alan chased af­ter the lum­ber­ing truck, its huge rub­ber tires kick­ing up a cloud of dust as it car­ried away the men and the anx­ious cries of the fol­low­ers. That day more young men in the city were rounded up and frog­marched through the streets be­fore be­ing taken to the hill. Alan trailed af­ter the truck to the hill­side at the city cen­tre. His heart had never beaten so fast. On the hard soil, the cap­tives were each given a shovel and or­dered to dig. “Ebn-al-Ghahba,” spat the soldiers. Son of a whore. The an­gry by­standers were or­dered to fuck off, stand back, and watch. Peo­ple obeyed the AK-47s. Dirt sprayed over the pris­on­ers’ bod­ies, hair, and eye­lashes as their shov­els cracked the earth open. Sweat dripped down their faces and tears ran over hands that muf­fled sobs. No one dared to guess what the next order might be. Alan looked at the pee run­ning down the pants of a boy next to him, at the woman be­hind him claw­ing her face, call­ing out “God, God, God, God, God, God,” at an older man shak­ing out of con­trol with a hand barely hold­ing a crutch, but Alan wasn’t Alan any­more. The bul­let­proof sand­wiches saved no one. Once the trenches were dug, half of the pris­on­ers were or­dered to climb down into the graves, and the rest were forced to shovel dirt up to their friends’ and rel­a­tives’ chins. Bapir fi­nally made his way to the top of the hill, scanned the crowd and found Alan in the first row of spec­ta­tors, chew­ing his thumb­nail as he watched. Alan begged his grandpa to stop the cru­elty. Bapir hugged him. “They will be re­leased in a few days, these young men.” He pressed Alan’s head to his ch­est. “They will be sent back home, Bawanem, maybe with blis­ters and bruises, but they will be all right. Pray for them.” His hands trem­bled as he squeezed Alan’s. “May it rain be­fore these men die of thirst.”

Alan searched the crowd to find Un­cle Karo with a pile of dirt on his shovel. Karo’s grip re­leased when he looked into the eyes of Ji­yar, his younger brother, who stood in the hole, wait­ing to be buried by his clos­est rel­a­tive, a man with whom he’d play-wres­tled as a boy and con­fided in through­out his life. “Do it, Karo.” Ji­yar’s eyes shone up from the hole. A bearded soldier dressed in camouflage saw Karo’s hes­i­ta­tion. “Kalb ebn-al-Kalb”— Dog, son of a dog— he barked and swung his Kalash­nikov at Karo, the bar­rel pierc­ing the skin un­der his left ear. Karo growled, al­most chok­ing, as he turned. With his shovel, he bat­ted the Kalash­nikov away and the gun hit its owner in the head, cut­ting through his scalp. Alan flinched. Bul­lets rained from ev­ery di­rec­tion. Karo crum­bled. His blood sprayed over Ji­yar, who was scream­ing and reach­ing for the per­fo­rated body, pulling him for­ward, press­ing his face to the bleed­ing cheek of his brother. Alan was not able to move. Cry­ing out, Bapir ran to­ward his sons but dozens of guns pointed at his ch­est, dozens of hands held him back. The shower of gun­fire wouldn’t cease, strik­ing the hug­ging sib­lings, paint­ing them and the soil around them red. At the top of the hill, Alan clutched Bapir’s hunched shoul­ders and felt im­pos­si­bly small. That af­ter­noon his un­cles, still in each other’s arms, were buried in the same hole. Half of the pris­on­ers were now cov­ered up to their chins with dirt. The re­main­ing ninety-five men were forced to en­ter the last holes as the soldiers fin­ished the job. Alan stared at the rows upon rows of hu­man heads in a gar­den of agony. Be­tween sobs, Bapir had no time to breathe. His face had turned pur­ple. The show was over but the crowd would not dis­perse. In­tox­i­cated with power, soldiers kicked the ex­posed heads of the pris­on­ers, knocked some with the butts of their guns and jeered at them. A sun­burnt man, a neigh­bour with shrunken fea­tures, hugged the pale Bapir, plac­ing the old man’s trem­bling arm on his shoul­ders and walked him down the hill. Alan wanted to go with his grandpa but he could not move. He was afraid the night­mare he was in would be­come real if he went home. The hub­bub was dy­ing down among the drained crowd. Eye con­tact with oth­ers be­came a so­lace, the only com­fort, since the strangers now had a shared trauma. “Did you see what hap­pened? Can you be­lieve it?” But the head move­ments were all in slow mo­tion, as if ev­ery­one was now hang­ing un­der the wa­ter.

Alan breathed the air of quiet hor­ror and paused hys­te­ria. “Calm down,” an old man tried to turn a young boy onto his side who was hav­ing a seizure in a pool of piss. Sud­denly a group cried out in ter­ror. From the road below them, sev­eral armoured tanks ad­vanced. Gap­ing in dis­be­lief, Alan took a few steps back, held a hand on his mouth. He could nei­ther run away nor slow his ham­mer­ing heart now threat­en­ing to ex­plode. When the pan­ick­ing crowd pushed for­ward, guns fired into the air to hold them back. “Bri­tish tanks,” some­one in the crowd yelled. The giant tanks moved closer and closer to the buried-alive men. Alan saw more than his mind was able to process. The screams, curses, pleas, and the dev­il­ish laugh­ter of the soldiers made their way to his ears. It took an ag­o­niz­ingly long time for the tanks to pul­ver­ize the heads of the pris­on­ers. He breathed in­com­plete and un­help­ful breaths. The metal­lic stench of blood, of crushed hu­man flesh and skull, the foul odour of death, made its way to the spec­ta­tors’ nos­trils and throats. The lucky ones threw up. Alan did not. While the giant metal treads ground Kurds into noth­ing­ness, Bapir lay in bed at home, toss­ing in an­guish, a hand still on his pound­ing ch­est. His wife by his bed­side shed silent tears. Although they had not been wit­ness to the crush­ing of their sons, they col­lapsed of bro­ken hearts, one af­ter an­other. Some­one had gone to find a doc­tor. Fa­ther ar­rived at his par­ents’ home, with his typed ar­ti­cle tucked un­der his shirt, com­ing home via an un­usual road to safe­guard his trea­sure, and thus obliv­i­ous to the tragedy. The joy of achieve­ment and hope for his peo­ple were glow­ing in his eyes when he found his par­ents on their deathbed. In bits and pieces, the neigh­bours in­formed him that the Ba’ath soldiers—or­dered by Pres­i­dent Aref and Prime Min­is­ter Al-Baker—had pun­ished the Kurds for dar­ing to de­mand au­ton­omy. This de­sire had turned them into ob­jects-to-be-an­ni­hi­lated, no longer hu­man. Kurds, the Mede de­scen­dants by some ac­counts, had set­tled in Za­gros Moun­tain three hun­dred years be­fore Christ was born. De­spite their an­cient his­tory, Alan’s peo­ple had no coun­try to call their own. Bapir had told him how af­ter the first World War, al­lies drew the map of the Mid­dle East in ac­cor­dance with their in­ter­est, cut­ting Kur­dis­tan into four pieces, di­vid­ing it be­tween Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. Fa­ther ran to the hill where the chil­dren gath­ered and clung to each other; a group of adults wailed and cried, threw dirt into their hair, and beat their faces in ter­ror. An­other group stared away in a daze, sus­pended in time.

“Look. The Bri­tish bas­tards are arm­ing Baghdad to kill us. Look. Their planes, their god­damn fire­bombs and mus­tard gas that killed Iraqis forty years ago are now killing us,” Fa­ther said to no one in par­tic­u­lar as he joined the women and a few el­derly men who tear­lessly buried the uniden­ti­fi­able crushed heads and laid down, name­less stones in row af­ter row. Alan and other chil­dren picked wild flow­ers and pink roses from the slope of the hill, plac­ing them in rows too. Alan sucked on the blood drip­ping down his in­dex fin­ger, torn by the rose thorns. A wild urge dom­i­nated his soul, to be any­where-buthere un­til he grew mus­cles and ac­quired weapons to re­venge. “Alan!” cried a woman whom Alan did not rec­og­nize. Three other boys had turned when the name was called and one ran to the woman. Mean­ing “flag bearer,” Alan was a pop­u­lar Kur­dish name, tes­ti­fy­ing to what was ex­pected of the chil­dren of a state­less na­tion who had to fight non-ex­is­tence.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.