CAPTURED - Held as a Slave by Iraqi Militants
Held as a Slave by Iraqi Militants
Copyright © E.Naidoo
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media used in this
book are fictitious and are the product of the authors imagination. The author acknowledges
the trademark status and trademark owners referenced in this work of fiction, which have
been used without permission. The publication use of this trademark is not authorized, associated with or sponsored by the trademark owners
THE OUTSKIRTS OF BAGHDAD
June 2004, 15 months after the US and Coalition forces invaded Iraq
They prance around us, Iraqi militants, dressed in tunics and baggy pants, scarves coiled into turbans around their heads, victorious and triumphant, automatic weapons dangling from their shoulders.
A man with missing bottom teeth and the face of a rodent claps his hands. ‘American soldiers, we get you good.’
Another man with a red-and-white checked scarf and really bad body odor, puts his face in mine and says, ‘Georgie Bushie, him very big dog.’
I say nothing. I dare not. My eyes, when they’re opened, are fixed to the dirty cement floor.
More militants barge into the room, inspects their trophies lying on the ground, by means of a boot in the ribs mainly, then high-five each other.
Some of them look too young to drive or to vote, yet they are armed with AK-47’s, Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers. Holding their weapons over their heads, they dance a jig.
A boy, probably no older than fifteen counts their trophies: ‘Wahed, ithaian, Ithatha, arba, kamsa, sita …sita!’ He runs to the door, sticks his head out of the room and yells, ‘Sita!’
‘Sita?’ More dancing, more jigging, more back-slapping around me.
I know these fuckers. I’ve seen them in my nightmares - fled from them. And now, here I am, in their clutches.
Specialist Jude Stall and I are conscious, so we’re made to sit on plastic patio chairs. They don’t give a shit that Stall’s army jacket, in varying shades of dirt-brown and dark-red, have bullet holes around the abdominal area. They don’t give a shit that I can barely sit because my neck, back and fuck knows what other parts of me are hurt. I mean, I suspect a broken clavicle and an injured neck. Anytime now, I expect to pass out.
I don’t want to pass out.
I want to die.
Please let me die. Before they torture me and before I’m subjected to all kinds of shit that’s coming my way.
As I sit with my head bowed, knees apart, blood seeps from a gash on my forehead and splatters on the floor between my army-issued boots, creating hallucinogenic patterns on the dirty cement floor.
Fuck! I seriously need a doctor.
Stall is slumped in his chair and moaning. When his moans get too loud the bastards jab him with their rifles.
I glance at the other members of my convoy lying on the floor in the corner of the room. None of them are moving or moaning. The last I saw any of them move was during our shoot-out with these militants earlier on today. I quickly look away.
A sudden hush fills the room when a man with the disposition of an executioner, creeps into the room with a camera and a tripod. He places the tripod in front of Stall and slides the video camera onto it. A murmur ripples through the militants and they back against the wall to give the cameraman space. Carefully, the cameraman sets up, then scans the room. His eyes finally rest on a militant with a gigantic handle-bar mustache.
Handle-bar beams and steps forward. After a slight bow to his comrades and a thank-you-for-choosing-me smile; he removes a balaclava from his pocket and slips it over his face. Two other militants unroll a banner with Arabic writing on it and also don balaclavas. They stand tall and erect behind Stall and hold up the banner for the camera.
Handle-bar takes his position behind Stall and nods. The cameraman hits a button. Handle-bar unsheathes a sword from around his waist, the kind of sword you see in movies like The Mummy -ornate, beautiful and deadly.
In spite of my semi-conscious state, my hearts slams around in my chest as I silently and feverishly chant the code of conduct: I’m an American soldier fighting in the forces which guards my country and our way of life…
Unfortunately, or fortunately, Stall is oblivious to what’s happening around him.
The cameraman lifts up his finger. Handle-bar reaches over and flashes Stall’s dog tag to the camera.
He steps back, rips off Stalls helmet, jerks back his head and exposes Stall’s jugular.
Even though I expected this, even though every POW expects this; terror engulfs me. I squeeze my eyes tight and gulp at the stale air in the room and taste my breakfast again.
… If I …oh God! If I become a prisoner of … please don’t let them kill him! I will …I will keep … faith with my fellow prisoners …oh God!
A rustle of fabric, a blood-curdling gurgle, then silence.
When I open my eyes, handle-bar is wiping his sword on a muslin cloth.
Stall is lying on the floor, bright red blood pooling around his lop-sided head.
I puke all over myself.
Cameraman shifts the tripod and brings it in line with me.
Still masked, the men with the banner shuffle till they’re behind me.
Sweat drips down my bruised back. The urge to scream is there but I’m too weak. Instead, I shut my eyes and will myself to blank out, to pass out, whatever the fuck will prevent me from feeling anything.
Don’t think. Empty your mind.
Doesn’t work - my mind betrays me. I open my eyes and find myself seeking out handle-bar. He’s disappeared from my sight. Even though my neck is hurt, it jerks in all directions looking for him and his sword.
I hear a sound behind me and freeze. It’s him. ‘Oh God!’ I murmur. ‘Oh God!’
… I will never forget that I am an American fighting for …for freedom … responsible for my …
Oh God! Please! Please!
From behind, Handle-bar grabs my dog tag and flashes it at the camera.
I’m only 27 – way too young to die.
Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death …
The cameraman gives a final nod and my army-issued pants suddenly feel warm and wet.
My Kevlar helmet is savagely ripped off. I scream in agony as handle-bar jerks my neck back, exposing my jugular. I wait for the sword, my breathing now in spurts, my body shaking.
The sword flashes briefly in front of me before it lodges against my throat.
‘Ogot! ‘Ogot!’ the cameraman shouts and frantically waves for Handle-bar to stop.
My neck is suddenly released and the sword is removed.
I’m too stunned to question this move.
Cameraman rushes towards me. ‘It is a wiiimon!’
The rest of the men dash over and crowd around me. They peer at me like they would a circus freak. One of them touches my long, blonde ponytail and whispers crude nothings in Arabic.
Also in front of me is Handle-bar. His repulsive mug cracks into a big smile. ‘American wiiimon,’ he says as he shakes his ass and circles his nipples. ‘Very good, very good. Wiiimon is good. Wiiimon is very good!’
Some of the men notice my wet pants and jeer at me.
I don’t give a fuck - I’m too stunned at my stay to worry about my shredded dignity. If I weren’t numb with shock, I’d probably be bawling my eyes out with relief.
As they chat among themselves, their voices rise in pitch and the cameraman rubs his hands together. He turns to me, raises his index finger and says, ‘Very nice.’
When he leaves with his tripod, the rest of the men herd out of the room. Handle-bar remains. He’s lovingly examining his blade for … God knows what. After his careful inspection, he presses the sword to his lips and slips it back into the sheath.
Revolted, I squeeze my eyes shut.
When he leaves the room, he locks the door behind him.
For a few minutes I do nothing but stare at the back of the door, expecting them to return. When they don’t, I lean forward and pant loudly - almost hyperventilating. I came so close to death. Being a woman has saved me from having my throat cut. What now? I look at Stall. Maybe he’s still alive. Maybe I can help. I look at my hands. I’m untied. They don’t need to tie me up - my injuries are shackles enough. If Stall is dying, then he shouldn’t die alone. Summoning every ounce of energy from … fuck knows where, I force myself to stand up and stumble towards Stall. After just three steps, I keel over and black out.
* * *
I try to open my eyes but congealed blood from my head wound has glued my eyelids shut. My entire face is scaly, my body tender and I stink like meat rotting in the midday sun.
I pry my eyelids open and peer around. In my haze, I see that I’m lying next to Stall where I fell. The other members of my unit are still on the floor in a heap. My throat is burning. I desperately need water. Through the curtain of dried blood, I notice someone walking around the room wearing white moccasins.
‘Water … please,’ I beg.
The person ignores me.
‘Said bousak!’ A jab in the ribs with the butt of a rifle and I shut up.
I drift in an out of consciousness. Could be days – I’m not sure.
It doesn’t matter.
Then, someone is putting water to my lips and talking to me. ‘Have a sip. Come on.’ The voice of a man – soothing but firm.
I lift my head, drink greedily and choke.
‘Easy now. It’s going to be alright.’ He has a shaved-off Arabic accent. Gently, he coaxes me to drink more water.
Who is this man? This kind man with gentle hands? Maybe I’m dead and he’s an angel.
‘Pain … help me …’
‘Okay, lie still now.’ He injects me in the deltoid. After a few minutes he bandages my arm and dresses my wounds. At times I cry out in pain.
‘Almost done. You’re going to be alright.’
‘Thank you,’ I whisper, grateful for his help and kindness.
When he’s done, he brings in a mattress and a blanket.
‘Who …are …you?’
He doesn’t answer but covers me with the blanket.
Later, he returns and feeds me some kind of gruel. It’s awful but he forces me to drink it.
A few days pass and with Angel-man’s nursing, I’m conscious and can move a bit without agonizing pain.
Angel-man walks in, sees my eyes open and stops, a look of relief on his face.
My smile is weak. ‘Thank you for helping me.’
‘Where am I?’
Mmm. My team members! I crane my head to look around. All the bodies have disappeared. Startled, I look at him, eyebrows raised.
He shifts about then mutters, ‘Sorry.’
‘Oh God!’ I curl up into a ball and fight the urge to sob.
I look at Angel-man.
‘You’re going to be okay. That’s important right now. Understand?’
Slowly I nod, remembering with horror the sword against my throat. I try to think - how long ago was it? ‘What day is it?’
He glances briefly at a fancy wrist-watch and says, ‘Yom al-arba.’
‘Wha …?’ Somehow the Arabic they speak sounds very different to the Arabic the army linguist taught us.
He sighs, appearing irritated with all my questions. ‘Wednesday, 7th July, 2004. That okay for you or do you want the exact time as well?’
‘July? 7th… I’ve been here seven days.’
‘In that case: happy one-week anniversary!’
I ignore the sarcasm remembering all the good he’s done for me. Gingerly, I touch my bandaged shoulder. ‘Thank you for helping me.’
He nods his scowl softening. ‘You’ve lost a lot of blood.’
We are interrupted by the appearance of Handle-bar. Today, he looks even more vicious, pure evil and instinctively, I touch my throat. The fucker’s pointing an AK47 at me and mouthing-off in Arabic. Sounds really pissed. Don’t know what he’s saying. All I can think of is how he slit Stall’s throat.
I glance at Angel-man. Wish he’d say something.
Handle-bar steps forward and sticks the rifle in my face. Of course I’m disconcerted – an automatic weapon in your face – who wouldn’t be? But I know he’s not going to shoot me.
Angel-man snarls at him in Arabic and shoves him away from me.
Handle-bar argues with Angel-man. After a while, handle-bar slowly backs out of the room. At the doorway, he takes aim at me then lowers his weapon.
‘Nazim!’ Angel-man yells.
Handle-bar or Nazim, quickly leaves shutting the door behind him.
‘Sorry,’ Angel-man mutters.
‘Okay,’ I say really grateful for his protection.
Nazim’s behavior freaks me out. I know he wants to finish what he started the other day.
I have to escape.
In my bid to escape, even though I’m too weak to even consider it and even though he’s hot one minute and cold the next and frustrating the hell out of me, I try to befriend Angel-man. Maybe, just maybe, after we become friends, he’ll allow me to just stroll the fuck out of here. Unarmed.
‘I’m Megan. What’s your name?’
For a moment he appears startled by my question. Then he suddenly gives my wound his full attention.
Mmm. ‘Shall I guess?’
He focuses even harder on my wound.
‘Ali Baba?’ Oops! I thought out loud there.
Now that’s no way to win friends and influence people. ‘Guess I’m gonna have to christen you myself, Angel-man. Won’t be pleasant, I’m warning you.’
‘“Angel-man?”’ His look can be interpreted as amused or just sneering.
‘Told ya so.’
A hint of a smile flitters across his lips.
‘My name’s not important. Keep calling me that though.’
I study him. Clean shaven, around 6’2, faded denim jeans, blue T-shirt, untidy hair, no turban, no beard, no visible weapon, no personality. He looks up and I quickly look away. He looks down and I continue. Reeboks, Rolex, a thin gold chain around his neck. Rolex? Insurgents must be getting good money these days.
A hint of a Canadian accent. Hard to tell when his answers are mainly monosyllabic. Somehow, he doesn’t seem to fit in here.
‘Can I take a bath?’
‘Please? I have dried blood all over me and it’s so … so uncomfortable.’
‘You want to be comfortable?’
‘Well, yeah. It’s hot.’ Hot is not the word. It’s about 120 degrees and there is no breeze.
‘You come to war, to fight, to kill … and … you want to be … comfortable?’
‘Post-war. I came to help.’
‘You came to help? Is that a fact?’ He finishes the wound dressing and stands up. ‘Save that for the interrogation that’s coming up. Should be interesting.’ He leaves the room.
Interrogation? Who’s going to interrogate me? Will they torture me? I cringe at the thought of that.
I need to get the hell out of here. In desperation, I scout around. No furniture except a mattress on the bare floor. A naked light bulb on the ceiling provides harsh lighting. The only window in the room is barricaded with steel bars. Although the door is wooden, a solid, metal, security gate keeps me in. No holes on the ground, none on the wall so I can forget tunneling out of here Shawshank-Redemption style.
I lie back on my mattress and stare grimly at the ceiling. I’m going to need more than a file in a cake to blow this joint.
* * *
‘Follow me,’ Angel-man says.
When his head jerks to look at me, I quickly stand up and shuffle behind him. As we walk down the long corridor I get a better view of my cage. It’s actually an old farm-house that’s appears to have been modified to hold infidels like me.
Steel bars on all doors and windows. Heavy, tattered drapes allow little light in. The place is musty and there is an absence of life outside. No moving cars or trains or even the faint sounds of gunshots, which is common in Iraq these days.
We’re probably on the outskirts of Baghdad. With escape in mind, I case the joint, making mental notes - the angles of the house, the exits, entrances, the bunch of keys hanging on a hook on the wall...
Three armed militants play cards on a make-shift table supported by three oil drums. Two are armed with Kalashnikovs while the third has an M-249, a SAW.
I look longingly at the SAW – a Squad Automatic Weapon. At 2000 rounds per minute, it would saw through anybody it hit. Lethal. Flash it around and you’ve got crowd control. One glimpse of it and you’ve got a swarm of hostile Iraqis on their knees.
Angel-man stops at a closed door and jerks his head towards it.
With one finger, I push the door open. It’s a bathroom. Not the little toilet I’ve been using but a proper, useable bathroom. I smile.
Angel-man flings a small bundle of clothes at me. I’m too slow catching it and it falls to the ground.
‘Sorry,’ he says and stoops to pick it up.
‘Thanks.’ I examine the bundle. An old, grey but clean towel, a long, black skirt and a red, long-sleeve tunic. Clean clothes after fourteen days in my filthy, army-issued gear. Awesome!
Excited, I reach over and turn the faucet. Warm water. My day is A-okay! I slowly rub my hands together under the flowing water. Beautiful, just beautiful! Something I took for granted. To lose this awful stench of congealed blood I’ve been carrying around is going to be great.
I push the bathroom door shut.
Angel-man pushes back.
I stare at him. ‘What?! You kidding me?’
‘Do I look like I’m kidding?’
‘Then … I mean, how do I shower with you looking on?’
He shrugs and jerks his head to towards the armed men. ‘Want to take it up with them?’
I look at the men and purse my lips.
He’s bluffing. Has to be. Pissed off, I call his bluff. ‘Forget it.’ I hand the towel and clothes back to him and wait for him to feel bad and have a change of mind and eventually say, ‘Oh, alright, you can close the darn door.’
To my disbelief, he shrugs and starts walking away. What a prick!
Sullenly, I trudge behind him, pissed off with him and myself. As I walk, I imagine warm water cascading down my parched skin, washing away layers of grime and caked blood, cleansing my matted hair, making me feel like a human being again and I buckle. ‘Okay fine!’
He stops and slowly turns around. ‘You’re wasting my time, American woman.’
In a huff, I turn and walk back to the bathroom. Leaving the door slightly ajar, I strip down to my bra and panties and get under the shower. When I look past the door, Angel-man is staring outside the tiny passage window, looking a trillion miles away. Relieved he’s not perving me, I relax. How good would it be if I had some almond and honey shampoo? Some citrus shower gel with those little blue beads that exfoliate and soften. A natural, scented loofah, some grapefruit and pomegranate body …
The shower floor rises and hits me in the face.
Angel-man is immediately besides me.
‘This was a bad idea. Let’s go.’
‘No, please!’ I say. ‘I need to …to wash my …’
‘You’ve washed enough.’
‘Please!’ I do my best to stand up but my legs have turned to Jell-O. ‘Help … me … wash my hair. I need your help. Please!’
‘What? I … me? You want me to ...?’ He sighs. ‘O … k fine!’ He washes my hair while I sit on the shower floor and will the ground to stop spinning.
His watch is getting wet and his clothes are getting soaked but he doesn’t seem to mind. When the water runs clean, he dries me with the towel and helps me up.
Feeling fresher in spite of my fall, I’m thrilled to have rid myself of the awful stench and I don’t even care that he saw me semi-naked. He’s a doctor anyway. To him a vagina is probably like an earlobe or an elbow.
‘Thanks,’ I say as he steers me back to my room.
* * *
My door is unlocked; however the iron gate outside my door is always locked. Every time someone leaves my room, I listen in case they’ve forgotten to lock the gate. A POW can hope, can’t she? When I’m really bored and I have the energy, I stand at my door and look around at … nothing. Most times, Angel-man sits nearby and reads the newspaper or a magazine. Since he’s never armed, I flirt with the idea of overpowering him and escaping. Soon.
I’m fast asleep when I hear beautiful singing. ‘Amazing Grace …’ I open my eyes and the singing has stopped.
Strange. Could have sworn it was real. Ah well, probably just a dream. Fuck! I’m going nuts here.
Then I hear it again. I spring to my feet and bolt to the gate, straining to listen. But to my disappointment, there is a torrent of abuse in Arabic, followed by complete silence. Someone had sung in English. It was no dream.
Excitement surges through me. Who could it be?
24 hours later, I hear it again and this time, it’s clear. No dream, no maybes. A man’s melancholy voice. ‘I once was lost …’
‘Who is this?’ I blurt, my voice shrill and high-pitched. ‘This is Sergeant Megan Saunders. Who are you? You American? Talk to me!’
‘Hello? Answer me! Please? Please! Please …’
‘Saunders?’ The voice is weary. ‘Trust Fund?’
‘Eh …yes!’ God, I hate that name but today it’s music to my battered ears. ‘Yes! Trust Fund Saunders! Who’s this?’
‘Captain Davis. Salem, Oregon.’ He says this with pride.
‘Yes!’ From where I’m standing, I see only his swarthy arms protruding though the bars of his cell. He waves them. ‘Can you see my …biceps?’
My chuckle emits like a sob. ‘Rory. Oh my God! I’m so happy to hear you’re alive, Captain!’’
‘Roger that, Trust. Happy to hear you’re alive too. Thought I was the only one.’
‘Anybody else with you, Captain?’
‘Nope. Just me.
I have so many questions I don’t know where to begin. ‘Where …?’
Rory and I obey and shut up.
* * *
Enter Shariff. From the size of his entourage, I gather he’s the Don around here. Seven of his men with M16’s and AK47s pour into my cell. After every sentence of Shariff’s, his men nod vigorously and nod. Akin to ‘Amen brother!’
He’s a bigger version of Bin Laden. More rounded and taller, cherubic cheeks, well upholstered - wears a long white caftan and flat leather sandals. A white turban is coiled around his head and his salt and pepper beard touches his chest. He could easily pass as a priest and I bet he does. Probably why he’s been missed by coalition forces.
He looks at me sitting on the floor and frowns. Angel-man quietly enters the room and fades into the wall. He looks worried so I get worried.
Shariff takes a deep breath. ‘You came to Iraaaaq to kiiiill?’
‘N … no sir.’
‘We have plans for you, American soldier. Big plans.’
This time I quietly look at the floor.
‘I’m talking to you!’
My head jerks to look at him. Make up your mind, will you?
From the corner of my eye, I notice a faint smile on Angel-man’s face.
‘Ummm … sir?’
To begin with, you will have to deliver a message or a speech.’
Okay, so it’s probably going to be one of those speeches you see on a grainy video. You know the one where you say, I’m okay, they’re treating me well. Send $100 million in $1 bills.
That means I’m going to be alive for a while longer and that is a relief.
* * *
After my meeting with Shariff, I walk to my door and look outside. Angel-man sits outside my room and pages through a car magazine. The one thing I notice about him – he’s always clean shaven. Confusing when all the other assholes around me have long beards.
‘Shhh!’ Angel-man says, looking up from his magazine and faking a scowl.
I ignore him. ‘You hurt, Rory?’
Angel-man glares at my insolence.
‘Yeah. Busted knee, sprained wrist, couple of gashes. But I’ll be okay. How ’bout you?’
‘Too bad. Well, I’ve got a broken clavicle, some head injuries, generalized bruising, a sprained ankle. Lost a lot of blood but I’m alive, thanks to a very nice gentleman sitting here reading the paper.’
Angel-man rolls his eyes and I see a faint redness creep into his face.
‘They’ll come for us,’ Rory says. ‘They’ll find us, Trust.’
‘You think?’ I cannot hide the hopelessness in my voice. I think Angel-man hears the despair because he looks up from his magazine again, this time a worried look in his eyes.
I look away.
‘Yep. I’m going to see my wife and baby again, Trust. And very soon, you’ll be back home, wearing your Jimmy Choos and prancing around in your polka dot bikini.
I swallow hard. Wish I had the same faith he has.
‘So Trust, why do they call you that? And what’s with the polka dot bikini story?’
‘Changing the subject to lift my spirits, eh? As if you don’t know, Rory.’
‘Awww, it’s a long story.’
‘I got time. You got time too.’
I smile. ‘Well, just cos my husband is a …’
‘… Poh … leeese Commissioner …’ Rory teases.
I chuckle. ‘Assistant “Poh …leeese Commissioner”.’
Angel-man glances at me again before returning to his magazine.
I toy with the idea of telling Rory that my parents are not wealthy at all and that my husband worked really hard to become successful, but I decide against it.
‘Uh huh. And the bikini? True about you being a former model and shit?’
I glance down at my tattered clothes, think about my scarred body, my matted hair, my pasty skin and I cringe. ‘Well ... I modeled once. Some fizzy drink. But then I got married ...’
‘And all that came to an end, right? Marriage does that, I know, I know. Must have wanted you all to himself.’
‘Well, not rea …’
‘Can’t say I blame the dude.’
‘Jeez, Rory, I’m surprised everyone knows so much about me.’
‘Well it’s a …’
Nazim walks out of a room with a wooden pole and slams it against Rory’s arms hanging through the bars. Rory yells in pain.
Horrified, I scoot back into my cell and back into a corner.
Man, I wish Nazim and his bony ass would just fuck off the planet!
* * *
When I see the tripod and camera again I freeze. But then I remember that I have that speech to give. That speech.
Nazim and a few men, including Angel-man, follow the cameraman in. An insurgent they call Bilal flings a scarf at me.
I tie it around my hair.
‘Not like that,’ Bilal yells.
I look at Angel-man. He walks over and towers over me as he unties the scarf and reties it, tucking all my stray hair into the scarf. ‘It’s okay,’ he murmurs reassuringly.
I gulp and nod my thanks.
Nazim stands in the middle of the room and draws circles in the air with his unsheathed sword. If it is a ploy to terrorize me; boy is it working! I’m suitably terrorized.
Without argument I sit in front of the video camera.
A man slaps pages of a typed speech into my hands. ‘Smile!’
I bare my teeth an inch.
My smile becomes large enough to stick a coat hanger in.
Ready to deliver the speech, I squint at the page and balk. ‘Sir!’ I look up at Bilal, a look of horror on my face. ‘I can’t say these words.’
He looks at me with hooded eyes.
‘Please, I’m…’ I fight to control my panic, ‘I’m a soldier in the United States Army. If I say these words, if I give this speech, I will be thrown in jail, sir, please!’
Nazim pauses with his air alphabets or whatever the fuck he’s doing. For a moment he stares at a spot on the ceiling. Suddenly he rushes at me, sword first. I scream and cower. He grabs me by the hair and yanks my head back and before he can even lodge his sword against my throat, my wind-pipe involuntarily constricts.
‘I’ll do it! I’ll do it!’ I gurgle. ‘I’ll do it! Please! Please!’
Slowly, he releases my hair, his lips twitching with unspoken threats.
Shaking and crying, I struggle to compose myself for the camera. Guess I have to give the speech. Fucked if I do and fucked if I don’t.
‘My fellow …’ I clear my throat. ‘My fellow Americans, I have chosen to join the holy Jihad against America. From now on, I choose to be called Zarina. America is committing a great transgression by killing innocent women and children and taking lives in the Islamic world.’
I glance at Angel-man standing in the background, looking at me, his hands stuck deep in the pocket of his jeans. When our eyes meet, he quickly averts his.
‘I urge you to bring America to its knees and force it to take responsibility for its follies. Therefore, I beseech you, commit to the goals of Islam and join the Jihad, and help bring the Islamic world closer to its goal, that is to defeat the wicked and depraved America and finally liberate Iraq and the people of Iraq from its…’
When I’m done, Nazim claps slowly then blows me a kiss. I look away, repulsed by the mere sight of him.
Bilal walks over and leers at me. His hanging jowls and protruding, jaundiced eyes remind me of a bullfrog and the name Jeremiah comes to mind. He stinks too – a base note of rancid yoghurt, a top note of stale tobacco and the rest – boiled eggs. When he strokes my cheek, I jerk my face away.
‘I marry you, we have boy baby,’ he says.
Eeeewww! I recoil further into my plastic chair.
Nazim smiles and casually drapes his bony arm around my shoulder and immediately one hundred desert scorpions crawl over me.
When they finally leave, I exhale loudly. I’ve crossed more than a boundary with that speech. Just before I left the US, a new security law was passed which allows the US Military to detain anyone suspected of American terrorism, including US citizens, indefinitely and without trial. They will then be shipped to Guantanamo Bay for processing. No longer will the FBI or civilian law enforcement agencies be detaining traitors like myself.
I sigh inwardly. Guantanamo Bay, here I come.
Last to leave is Angel-man. At the door, he hesitates then turns around. ‘Keep your boots on,’ he says in a low voice.
‘My boo …?’
‘Even at night.’ Then he’s gone.
I stare at the door. In my desperation, I read hope into those words. Perhaps he’s going to set me free. How good would that be?
* * *
I walk around my cell. Then I walk across my cell. Eleven medium-sized steps. Fourteen, if I wore high heels. I worked it out. Hey, I got time to indulge in useless information. That’s how I spend my time these days. Poor Nelson Mandela. Twenty seven years. How the fuck did he do it?
I stamp my feet, knock at walls, then sit down and rock. Bet Lara Croft would blow this joint in no time.
Bet Rambo could rescue Rory and me all by himself. Charlie’s Angels, Steven Segal, even Austin Powers could do it.
Except the US Military. Thirty five fucking days in this hell hole and zilch.
Angel-man enters the room with some bandages.
‘Let me go, please,’ I whisper.
‘What?’ He glances behind at the open door.
‘You heard me. The stuff they’re making me say – it’s gonna get my ass thrown in Guantanamo Bay. You have to release me. Please!’
He carefully places his tray on the floor next to my mattress. ‘I can’t do that.’ His voice is not unkind.
I put my face right in his. ‘Why? Why can’t you?’
He moves away, takes off his jacket, tosses it aside and rolls up his sleeve.
‘Please. My husband will give you money. He’s got money.’
His chuckle is mirthless. ‘I don’t need your money.’
‘Okay, fine … you don’t need our money, but still; I need your help. Let me go, please.’
He purses his lips as he finishes the dressing on my arm. ‘I don’t run this circus. Don’t ask me to do stupid things.’ His tone is suddenly curt.
I grab his arm. ‘Please, I’m hurt and I’m being held prisoner. That’s stupid.’
‘You’re badgering me. Stop!’ He grabs his tray and walks away.
I run after him. ‘No wait! Don’t go. Please!’
He locks my room door on my face.
Dejected, I amble to my mattress and spot his jacket. He’s forgotten it.
I pick it up and rummage through the pockets. His wallet. Bingo! I open it and find a photo ID card from a hospital - DR Reedwan Kader. Ah, ha, got your name punk! Driver’s license, a photo of him with a pretty Middle-Eastern woman and two lovely little girls.
There’s also a credit card and a few dollar bills. Footsteps approaching. I stick the money in my bra (God knows why), shove the wallet back into his pocket, fling the jacket behind me and rest my face on my knees.
Angel-man, or Doctor Reedwan Kader, glances at the jacket behind me, glares at me then snatches the jacket off the ground. My eyes are glued to the floor.
He pats his jacket for his wallet, finds it and shoves it in his jeans pocket. ‘Had a good look?’
I slowly raise my head from my knees. I look behind me then at him. ‘Who me?’
Throwing his hands into the air, he turns and walks away.
I pull the money out of my bra and put my hand to my ear. ‘Hello, can I order a pizza for myself and Reedwan Kader, please?’
He stops walking.
‘That’s Doctor Reedwan Kader, please. He’s paying.’
Slowly, he turns around and looks at me.
Grinning, I wave his money at him.
His arms drop to his side and his look is one of exasperation.
‘Um lessee … beef, olives, sun-dried tomatoes …eh, chili …garlic and …’ I pause, put my hand over the imaginary mouthpiece of my imaginary phone and whisper, ‘Let me go, please Reed!’
‘Megan,’ He shakes his head slowly. ‘I wish I could. Believe me, if I could…’
I remove my hand off the mouthpiece and say, ‘Bacon, ham and more ham.’
Ignoring my insult, he crouches before me.
‘Thirty minutes? No problemo. Ask for Reed. He’ll direct you to the injured infidel he’s holding prisoner.’
‘Megan. I’m sorry,’ he says. ‘I really am.’ His voice is so sincere and kind that my eyes suddenly fill with tears.
Quickly, I turn and face the wall.
Without looking at him, I hold out his money to him.
He ignores the money. ‘Look at me!’
I don’t look at him.
‘I’m sorry. All I can do is help you, make you better. Other than that …’
To stop my tears, I swallow hard.
Quietly, he leaves and locks the door behind him.
Curled up in fetal position, I lie blanketed in my despair.
* * *
Reedwan, is lounging in his usual chair outside my cell, studying the photo in his wallet.
‘Rory!’ I hiss.
‘I’m busting out of here.’
‘Megan!’ Rory sounds aghast. ‘Watch what you’re saying, man.’
Reedwan’s head jerks to look at me.
I hold his gaze, my look defiant. He looks away first.
I’m disappointed; I was expecting a response, a confrontation, anything that will get him to talk to me. See, as the days go by, I’m going nuts.
‘They had me deliver another inflammatory speech,’ I say.
‘Yeah. That’s three so far. My family …’
‘Wow, Trust, glad I’m not you. Your husband … man, he must be in a pickle.’
Reedwan looks at me again.
I give him a look that would precipitate a brawl in a bar.
Again, to my frustration, he looks away.
Pity. I feel like a screaming match. I don’t have to win; I just want to take part in it. Yell and scream my ass off like a banshee.
‘Forty-seven days, Rory. Forty-seven fucking days and no rescue.’
‘Yeah well, they probably saw the videos - assumed you don’t wanna be rescued, Trust.’
‘Yeah well, they assumed wrong, Rory. I’m gonna blow this fucking joint soon. Just you watch.’
* * *
I open my eyes and see Nazim’s face.
Quickly, I shut them.
Holding my breath, I slowly open them again. It takes me a few seconds to realize this is not a dream. Nazim’s face really is in mine.
‘Fuck!’ I cry as I scramble up.
‘No fuck!’ he whispers and glances nervously at the door. ‘Please, no fuck!’
A sound behind me has me in a spin. It’s Bilal the bullfrog. Nazim and Bilal in my room, in the dark, in the middle of the night? I’m fucked, literally and figuratively!
My scream is cut short by Nazim’s blow to my windpipe. ‘Said bousak!’
As I gurgle and gasp, Nazim shoves me back. My head misses my mattress and slams against the cement floor. Dazed, I watch tiny white pearls float above me.
Nazim pushes back my skirt and positions himself between my legs. My gasping eases and the pearls slowly disappear. When he gets closer, I claw at his face.
He jerks backs, but holds onto me. ‘Sharmoota!’
Mustering all my strength, I lash out with my foot and my boot connects with his shoulder. He flies back and lands on his bony ass. Thanks to Reed, I sleep with my boots on.
Now he lies dazed.
‘Reed!’ I yell as I stagger to my feet.
Bilal jumps in front of me, his eyes wide with excitement. I swing wildly and catch him in the temple. Holding his head, he staggers back.
As I run to the gate, Nazim grabs my ankle. I crash onto the cement floor.
Bilal recovers and knocks me on the head with the butt of his rifle. ‘Beetch!’
I lie on the ground as blood oozes from my mouth. Through my daze, I hear the sound of a zipper.
No! No! No! Must fight.
Bilal bends as he struggles to get his pants past his moccasins. In his haste, he fails to notice that I’m almost sitting up now. I lunge forward and jab at his beady eyes.
‘Fargin beeetch!’ he screeches as he clutches his eyes and jumps around. ‘Fargin! Fargin!’
I push past him and bolt toward the door. It’s locked.
‘Open the door!’ I yell as I rattle the bars that cage me in.
When the butt of a rifle slams against the back of my knees, I topple backwards and hit my head on the floor. Then darkness.
When I open my eyes, I’m on my mattress again. Nazim holds down my ankles while Bilal restrains my hands over my head.
Still dazed by the blows, I can only feebly jerk my knees towards Nazim’s groin.
Beady-eyed Bilal rains blows mercilessly down my head until I lie still again. He releases my wrists and fondles my breasts. ‘You lika, yes?’
‘Reed, help me!’ I gurgle as I try to wriggle out of his grasp.
Bilal suddenly flings himself across my chest. ‘Said bousak!’
I inch my head up and sink my teeth into his chest.
He clutches his chest and dances around in pain.
Suddenly, Nazim hauls my wriggling hips from the mattress, while Bilal yanks the mattress from under me and shoves it across the top half of my body. He crushes me to the ground by throwing himself on top of the mattress. Nazim is now free to have his way with me while I suffocate.
‘No… please,’ I beg as he lowers his wiry body onto mine. Injured and helpless, I can do little to stop him - I’m going to be raped tonight.
Injured and helpless, I whimper, ‘Reed, please … please…’
Suddenly, light floods the room. Nazim is yanked off me by the collar and flung aside. Bilal jerks up and yells angrily at the intruder.
‘Go avay! Go avay!’
It’s Reed, looking horrified. ‘You need to stop this shit!’ he says and a controlled but angry voice. ‘This is not right. You need to leave her alone right now.’
Even though he’s reasoning with them and not fighting them, Nazim and Bilal swing at him.
Reed ducks and weaves as they throw punches at him. ‘I don’t want to fight you,’ he says as he cautiously skirts them.
Suddenly, with a sweeping motion of his foot, Reedwan swipes Nazim off his feet. Nazim lies on the ground staring at the ceiling.
Next Reed circles Bilal. With a snarl, Bilal swings the butt of his rifle clumsily at Reed. Reed dips, seizes Bilal’s arm and clasps it behind his back, all the while speaking calmly, but sternly to Bilal.
Suddenly, a bullet sings through the air and hits the wall an inch away from Reed’s ear.
The shooter is Nazim. He aims his rifle directly at Reed. Stunned, Reed immediately releases Bilal.
With what can be interpreted as a smile or sneer, Nazim raises his rifle at Reed again.
Reed raises his palms slowly. Nazim steps forward and shoves the barrel into Reed’s chest, his finger hovering dangerously in front of the trigger.
Reed freezes while I waited with baited breath.
Now that Nazim has Reed covered, Bilal looks at me and smiles. Feeling helpless, I look at Reed. When I see his eyes mirroring mine, dread washes over me. They’re going to kill Reedwan and finish what they started.
Just then, another two militants burst into the cell. Still glowering at Reed, Nazim reluctantly lowers his weapon.
‘What happened?’ the new guy asks.
Reed tries to explain, but he is hotly interrupted by Bilal.
One of the mediators turns to me and rattles off in Arabic.
Wrong response. He back-hands me across the face. Reed lunges at the man and knocks him to the ground. Nazim pays Reed back by slamming the barrel of his rifle into Reed’s head. Reed falls to his knees as blood streams down his face. Another militant quickly restrains Nazim and yells for everyone to clear the cell.
As they file out of the room, Nazim and Bilal pause at the door and look at me.
‘Sharmoota!’ Nazim says his lips curling with disgust.
Bilal smiles and raises his thumb and forefinger at me. ‘Bang! Bang!’
Shaking, I slowly sink back into my mattress and draw the blanket around my trembling body.
When they leave, Reed turns to me. ‘You okay?’ He’s bleeding from the head wound but he doesn’t seem to notice.
I nod, trying desperately to cover my battered body with the inadequate covers.
‘Did he …?’
I shake my head. ‘No.’
‘T …thank you.’
He points to the wound on my forehead. ‘Back in a moment,’ he says and leaves the cell. When he returns, he dresses my wounds.
My trembling makes it difficult for him to treat me. ‘You’re b …bleeding yourself.’
He touches his head, looks at the blood on his hand and shrugs.
I clutch his arm. ‘Please d ...don’t leave me.’
After he finishes my dressing, he drags a chair into my room and lowers himself into it.
‘Go to sleep,’ he says in a weary voice when he notices my wide-open eyes.
Sleep eludes me and I lie on my mattress on high-alert, the slightest sound causing me to jump.
My worst nightmare almost came true tonight. Every female soldier’s worst nightmare. As a prisoner of war, I expect to be raped - sometimes more than once. Tonight I came so close.
Pumped up with adrenalin, I lie in the dark, listening out for sounds. Reed is asleep in his chair, threatening to topple over each time he exhales.
Please let Reed be a light sleeper.
* * *
My bruises from the assault are purple and angry. I’m anxious all the time, I have dark circles around my eyes and my fingernails are now non-existent. Horrible nightmares of Bilal and Nazim invade not just my dreams but also my daydreams. At times my mind goes AWOL.
Escaping dominates my thoughts. Sure I might get killed while escaping – so what? Better that, than to live in fear of Nazim and Bilal.
‘Megan!’ Rory calls.
I walk up to my cell door. Reed sits on a chair outside my room and gazes at the photo in his wallet.
‘Megan? What happened? I heard screams last night.’
‘I … Rory …’ Suddenly, my bottom lip trembles.
‘Megan? You okay? Something is wrong. Tell me!’
‘Rory, last night…these two guys…’ Overcome with emotion and feeling sorry for myself, I slide to the floor, cover my face with both my hands and weep.
‘Aaawww, man, Megan! Fuck, Man! Fuck!’
Angrily, I wipe away tears. ‘Almost. I’ve got to get out of here, Rory. I have to.’
Reed stares at me, a concerned look in his eyes.
‘Shhh!’ Rory says. ‘Don’t say that.’
‘I’m taking you with, Rory.’
‘Roger that, but please …’
‘I know, I know.’
‘Be strong, Megan. Think about your husband, your family.’
I say nothing but swallow the lump in my throat.
‘What’s he like?’
‘He …he’s probably devastated without me.’
‘There you go. Your strength. He’s your strength. Every time you feel weak think of him, okay?’
‘What’s his name?’
‘How long you’ve been married?’
‘Four years. It’s our anniversary on the 20th. Will be five years.’
‘Five years … okay. I want you to start planning your anniversary party, okay?’
I squeeze my eyes shut and press my fingers to my mouth. ‘Okay.’
‘Think of Damien every time you feel like giving up.’
I nod and take comfort in Rory’s words and start to plan my anniversary party. It will be big. A tiered, marble cake, champagne in fluted crystal glasses, tiny canapés and waiters with attitude. My dress will be long, flowing, scarlet. My stilettos will be the kind that makes a girl gasp and silently plan to pinch them. Everyone will be there - my sister and my two brothers, my mom and dad …
Just thinking about my family brings fresh tears.
* * *
I eat every morsel on my grubby, metal plate. At night when nobody is watching, I exercise. It hurts but
my military training comes in handy and I push on.
Friday. That’s the day.
Most of the militants go off to pray on a Friday afternoon, but Reed never does. Since he’s weaponless, I plan to take advantage of that.
In the lead up to my escape, I am polite and cordial with Reed.
‘Shukran,’ I answer in Arabic when he hands me my food.
His head jerks to look at me. Later, to my delight he hands me a slab of chocolate.
I gasp and stare at it as if it’s a key to my cell door. Holding my breath, I carefully remove the dark blue wrapper and set it aside. Next, the shiny foil - slowly, I unwrap it and a whiff of cocoa and nuts brings a smile to my face.
Macadamias and dairy milk – perfect.
Suddenly, I cram the chocolate into my mouth. No tasting, no savoring; just stuff my face and eat as rapidly as I can. My first chocolate in more than sixty days. When I’m done, I lick my middle finger and seek out the tiny bits of chocolate I dropped on my clothes and mattress. I eat every morsel I can find. When I finish that, I pick up the foil and lick it clean.
I’m an animal now. Captivity does that.
* * *
It’s Friday –The day. The farmhouse is quiet. My palms are sweating and I’m antsy.
Reed walks me to the bathroom for my scheduled shower.
‘Hey Rory,’ I say in what I hope is a casual voice.
‘Trust …’Even though he says just one word, I hear the anxiousness in his voice.
‘Standbyme,’ I say in a sing-song voice.
As I walk I case the joint one more time. My eyes linger on the bunch of keys hanging on a wall. Below the keys, against the wall, stands two AK47s. Please let them be loaded.
As I walk, I drop the towel. Reed stoops to pick it up. I make my move and shove him hard. So hard, he falls back and hits his head against the wall. I run back, grab the rifle and spin around.
Reed’s on his feet and walks slowly towards me, blood oozing from a gash on the forehead.
Shit! Didn’t mean to hurt him.
At the sight of the gun, he stops walking.
‘Sorry,’ I say, pointing to his head wound. ‘I have to do this.’ I grab the keys. ‘Sorry.’
‘Megan, don’t !’ he says, his voice anxious.
As I walk backwards, I cover him with my rifle. ‘Rory!’
‘Here!’ Rory shouts. ‘Here, Megan, Here!’
I take two more steps backwards and see Rory for the first time fifty days. I manage a smile while I throw the keys at his outstretched hands. ‘Move Rory!’
Suddenly, to my horror, Bilal appears behind Reed. I can take him down but I will probably hit Reed and I don’t want to.
‘Get down, Reed!’ I shout.
Luckily, Rory now has the second rifle.
‘Don’t shoot Reed!’ I yell at Rory.
Rory hesitates for a second then fires at the ceiling. Everyone ducks as cement and mortar rains down on us.
Rory and I walk backward then turn and bolt out of the house.
The bright sunlight literally blinds us. Both of us stumble and crash to the ground.
Rory’s on his feet first. ‘C’mon Megan!’
I get up but stumble again. I’ve underestimated my injuries. Fuck!
When bullets whistle around us, I stay down.
‘Go Rory!’ I yell. ‘Get help, go!’
‘No, Trust! You come too!’
‘Go, Captain!’ I beg as I crawl forwards. ‘I’ll cover you. Run, please…run!’
He looks at me, then behind me, then turns and runs ahead.
Shrouded in defeat, I watch him run off. At least he will tell people about me and what I’m really going through.
I turn around and fire but my rifle jams. Fuck!
To add to my horror, about ten militants, all armed, stampede towards me. No time for a malfunction drill.
When they realize I’m unable to fire, they stop and fire past me.
I whirl back to look at Rory. His body is upright but he’s jerking around.
‘No!’ I scream as he falls. ‘No!’
When I turn my head again, I connect with the barrel of a rifle and everything goes black.