The old photograph

I am trying to warm my fingers with the steam coming from the teacup. Just the tips are all I want functioning. I want to reach out to my pocket, but it's too early; the tips aren't ready; just a while longer. Okay, I am going to do it; I pull out the old wrinkled photograph; my fingers are trembling as I pull apart the small black and white photo.

I hold my tired, bony fingers over the tea mug. The picture is dusty and folded, perhaps a million times. I feel the warmth of the steam on my nose, but the rest of my face is numb; oh, how I wish the cold would go away for just a minute for me to reminisce.

I can no longer see the old tree behind the doghouse. The constant folding and time have collaborated to turn the old log into a vague image. I used to climb that tree; somehow the mingled and tired branches of the old giant oak tree were my solace, my friend, my confidant. There was a time when I would escape to its arms for a silent minute away from my childish world. On a hot summer day, when I would find refuge underneath the friendly oak I could see the creamy clouds race through the clear blue skies of Tehran. I felt shame; no, I was overwhelmed with guilt when I hung a swing set right from those two crooked branches. I was afraid that they could be hurting. I can't see them anymore in the photograph, but I know they are there; at least I hope that they are.

The swing-set, oh what an ambitious project for an eight-year-old. I didn't build it alone. I had plenty of help. Oh, yes, Ali, Khosro and Behnam. We were inseparable. Imagine, I wasn't even upset with Ali when he drilled a big screw right over our names; right through the middle. That carving took the three of us well over a month.

I hear footsteps; I can't let them see the photograph, or I'll spend another week in solitary confinement. The “box” makes this place look like a castle. The guards are coming to do the “locks”. I wish I could speak Arabic; that would be an advantage. The big rusty rod is going through the ankle chains. We all sit there and let them do it.

I can't stand them; their breath; their ugly yellowing teeth, and especially their loud screeching laughter. They have been desensitized as stones, as trees, as the oak tree on Ardeshir Street. I wonder if they feel the unbearable agony of these men whose hollow stares have been hedged in my soul forever. I struggle to keep my hatred confined within my soul. There will be a time when my soul will implode. Filled with hatred, with agony, with memories of home, of Ardeshir Street, of Khosro, of the old tree. These men? Do they feel? How do they feel?

Silence sets in. I think it's snowing outside. I can smell the fresh creamy snow touch the metal barn roof, or is it the peroxide-like scent coming from Mohammad's leg?

“Hey, how's your leg?” I whisper.

“I can't feel it anymore, would you look at it please?” He says with a tired scratchy voice. “I just need to know how?”

The young soldier stops as the metal rod rushes through his ankle chain. I can't look at his leg; two years in this damn war and I still don't have the stomach. I can't look at it. I turn around. I just turn my back and ignore him. He will probably loose that leg. If he is lucky, he will die of that infection; maybe in his sleep, perhaps tonight. I hear him whisper something. He is praying to his mighty Allah for forgiveness. Forgiveness? For what? He has not achieved martyrdom. He has failed his God by being captured. He has shamed his God. His family.

I look at the wall beside me; I can't see the markings on the wall, but I reach out and feel the deep carvings; has it only been 33 days in this hell? It feels like years ago when the routine mapping mission failed, and my plane was shot down.

“Mr. Hamidi, have you done problem number 63? Are you with us today?”

I look up and see his face. Dr. Beever's eyes are smirking; he has caught an un-attending student in his physics class, an enviable position, I can tell.

“Dr. Beever, could I be excused today? I don't feel very well.”

Everyone is watching me as I gather up my books and scattered notes; why did I have to sit in the middle? It's a long walk to the exit door.

“Hey, Sasan, you dropped something,” the girl in the third row shouts as she bends down to reach for it. I fold the old photograph as I walk out of the classroom.

It has been nearly four years since I left that camp in Iraq. Four long years to put it all behind. At times it all becomes faded. There are memories that are triggered by a familiar face or caused from within; the events of my past have become a motion picture running on a non-stop projector. Time may be able to heal some wounds; a broken heart, a divorce, and even the death of a loved one, but others continue to bleed forever. How can I ever forget the big brown eyes of a young soldier who died silently in the sounds of the rusty chains?

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