Thursday, May 1, 2008

Street Fighter by Alex Brimelow

I remember the first time. The first time I killed another person. I was fourteen. My family and I lived in Baghdad, Iraq. My father, Amaz Busayna, was in command of the 345th Infantry Battalion, who during the invasion held off an American advance on a bridge for over 8 hours. After the 8th hour, my father said bombs and rockets fell out of nowhere as if Allah himself had demanded it. On that day his men broke and ran. He was then forced to surrender. My father blamed the Americans for everything afterward. Our family had served Saddam as long as he had been in power. My father, even after being stripped of his rank, tried to serve Saddam. I remember him leaving after dinner or slipping away during the day, sometimes with my brother, Azad. They would return later, sometimes happier, sometimes in a rage. Azad was eighteen. He thought that if not for the Americans, Iraq would be happy and wealthy.

One night I asked Azad where he went with my father. After a minute of silence I asked again.“Please, Azad, tell me where you go.” “I can’t tell you,” he hissed. I begged him. Eventually, he said they were part of a group who fought Americans. Azad said the only way for the infidels to leave was through a hail of lead and mound of bodies. “You see Imm, Americans are not like us. They are devils. They can only speak through their guns and only bring sorrow and misery to the places they go.” I listened to my brother and asked him if I could help too. He lay in his cot and did not reply.

It was not because I dislike the Americans, but because I was curious about the group that I wanted to go. In truth, I was once saved by an American soldier. It was a hot day in early June the same year. My friends and I were walking down the street heading to an ice cream store. We turned the corner and stopped at the end of the street was an American Humvee surrounded by half a dozen Americans. One of my friends said, “Maybe we should turn back? There’s always another street.” Some of us nodded and began to head in another direction but my best friend, Hdi, turned to me and said, “Come on Imm, they would never hurt us.” I called out to him “Hdi! Don’t! Come on, let’s follow the others!” He stopped and turned toward me chiding, “Imm, I’m not afraid. Are you?” I stood there, and then I chased after him. We walked side by side. The Americans were half way up the street, silent. They all seemed to be staring at us. The car seemed more like a giant steel dog, growling as it moved down the street. As we neared them, they began to talk to each other. Hdi didn’t even flinch. I was scared. So afraid. These men with black and white colored skin, whose bodies seemed to blend into the wall and whose eyes were nothing but black holes that you could see your own face in, they seemed like devils. One of them smiled at me. I looked at my feet hoping that I could just walk through. Then there was a shriek and explosion. Chaos exploded around me. The Americans began to shoot their guns. As I looked up, I saw Iraqi men standing on the roofs shooting at the Americans. I was thrown to the ground. One of the Americans was holding me, using his body to shield the bullets. He put me in an alley and started to yell at me, making hand motions. I looked into that face and felt more fear than I had ever felt in my whole life. The American ran back to the street, where the gunfire seemed to increase. I turned and ran down the alley. I did not stop running until I got home and burst through into my mother’s arms. There, I began to weep. She held me, hushing me, rocking. Later that day my father brought news that Hdi had been killed in a firefight downtown. I did not tell him that I was there too.

A week or so later, my father called me to the roof of our house after evening prayer. We sat in silence looking out over the city. My father looked at me and said three words: “It is time.” I was puzzled, but he continued. “My son, it is time for you to join us and help us remove this stain from our country.”

He told me that the Americans were not like him or me. They were devils. They neither loved nor cared for others. They only sought to kill. I asked why we do not just ask them to leave. He said that they would never leave our country unless we killed them and drove them back to hell. Allah wills it, he said, and we must do Allah’s will. “Tomorrow you will see.”

The next morning after breakfast, they took me into the city. We walked and walked until it was noon. At a big house, my father went down the stairs. He knocked on the door. A small window in the door slid open and then closed. There was a turning of locks and the door opened. The room was dark and musty. Only a few light bulbs dimly lit the room. I could make out some of the faces of the men who greeted us. As my eyes got used to the gloom, I saw men unloading boxes. They pulled out guns. My father picked one up and knelt before me. “This is the tool that will drive out the infidels. This is your sword that may strike down the demons to defend our home.” He smiled at me and offered it. I held it, but it did not make me more confident.

“Father,” I said, “I don’t know if I will be able to kill the Americans.”
“Don’t worry,” he said, “You will.” We sat there for what felt like a lifetime. We wrapped cloths around our heads and made masks. A door opened from the top of the stairwell and everyone began to move. We followed the stairs all the way up and travelled along the rooftops until we reached a place with a busy street below. Fear gripped my stomach. I wanted to scream “Get away!” but I couldn’t. I felt like a stone.

Then I heard the growl. The growl of the Humvees. The street seemed to empty as if people knew what was going to happen. Two Humvees began to move down the street with a dozen Americans on either side. A man with a RPG aimed at the Humvee. An American yelled, and chaos filled the street. The American soldier aimed and shot the man with the RPG. I watched as the man fall, scarlet blood spewing out of his body. Another RPG was fired, hitting one of the Humvees. The explosion rocked the street but the truck seemed unharmed. Azad was standing now, shooting at the soldiers. I looked toward them and raised the gun to my shoulder. One was dragging his comrade into an alley. Then I saw one alone, standing against the wall under an overlapping roof, aiming with a grim expression on his face.

I put the man in my sights. My hands trembled and I couldn’t keep my aim. I don’t need to do this! I thought, this isn’t right! Tears crept down my face. The American soldier dropped to one knee and reloaded. He stopped and looked up right into my eyes. I felt his eyes scanning me and I felt so naked. Time seem to slow and stop. The yells and gunshots seemed to disappear until there was only silence. My hands stopped shaking and the tears slowed. Then I whispered, “I’m sorry.” I pulled the trigger. The bark and the kick of the gun brought me back to the real world. I unloaded my gun at the man. I saw him hit the wall he was standing in front of. He stood against it and slipped into a sitting position. A red smear seemed to paint the wall even after the gun was empty. I continued to pull the trigger. I fell to my knees and began to cry. I heard someone yell “Back! Back to the safe house!” I grabbed my gun, turned still crying, and ran with the group. I jumped and weaved around the rooftops. I still cried. If god wanted me to kill these men, why did it seem that my soul died with them?

[Alex's story was among the pieces of creative writing selected to be read at the evening event celebrating young writers held by ASAP and hosted by Denis Leary at the Washington Town Hall on Saturday, April 26th. The story was read by veteran singer, actor, and narrator John McDonough, who especially commended its author at the outset of his reading.]

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