They butchered them one by one; the four of them my friends. N was the first one; a rising journalist, a gentle intellectual who had never harmed a soul. He was followed by A, politically involved in a benign sort of way, a husband and a father. Then Z’s number came up, the handsome obstetrician, no politics on his agenda. He was followed by B, a warm, hard-working dove who didn’t even discuss politics, a husband and a father.
Two of them were tortured, mutilated, murdered and left in the street; two got shot at close range; each interval between their assassinations boring more terror into our lives. That, after all, was the objective. One of the aims of the conspiracy was to terrorize the population, to cause pandemonium to reign, to drive a certain class out of the city and leave it to the looters and the killers. To bore an ulcer in my stomach; to drive Amal into a nervous breakdown; Hanan, the traditional, sweet, shy married mother of three into the arms of a lover; Firyal, my friend’s meek maid to lose her virginity to one of the militia and then, three months later, to throw herself from the fourth floor balcony and die – having her father and brothers find out that she was pregnant would have caused her death anyway.
During a lull in the killing, friends invite us over for dinner and a game of cards. We are four couples enjoying the summer evening on that rooftop apartment. Driving back to our apartment, the usually bustling street is still, not one person where typically there are jostling crowds, a few cars drive by. Suddenly, a car pulls up to our side. Three menacing passengers stare at us, smirking. They open their windows and begin a tirade of curses at our Christianity, our Jesus, our Cross, our Virgin Mary. How the hell did they know what religion we even were? With hardly open lips I mumble to my short-fused husband to keep his eyes straight ahead of him and to ignore the blasphemy. “We have three children at home waiting for us!” I say, the tears swallowed, the terror hidden, the anger submerged! After a while, they laugh out loud and drive off! I am grateful that we’re alive. To this day, I do not know who told them of our location and who tipped them off about our religion. The machinations of conspiracy are quite abstruse!
The children – there was a horde of them in our apartment building which was inhabited by young couples like ourselves – run around in the building, chasing each other from floor to floor as they shoot their pretend guns! We, the mothers, congregate around the concierge’s desk sipping coffee that his wife had brewed for us. We are all in house clothes, disheveled, and disheartened, our laughter shrill, our conversations banal! When we go to our apartments to prepare dinner, the kids stay downstairs enamored with the teenage neighbor who had just joined some militia and came by to brag in his fatigues, his Klashen (Kalashnikov) in hand. They watch as the looters pass by carrying Iranian carpets, silverware and paintings whose value they had no idea about. They walk en masse to school and leave us parents dangling from our balconies wondering whether we’ll see them again!
On the last day of school we pack our bags. Our group of friends will be spending the summer in London. The children need a reprieve: picnics in the parks; the zoo, the theatre. We send them on the subway to pick up Sunday lunch from the newly opened McDonald’s. They are free to come and go. We pretend to be normal. None of us really is. None of us will ever be! Nor will the children. Collateral damage!
The war engineers sleep soundly every night. Another war awaits!