The Wolf-man

The marches must have stopped. The deafening thumping of heavy boots has vanished. There is an absolute silence in the courtyard. Yep, there is time for another hanging. “They are hanging someone, Sasan,” Amir said in a whisper.

I climbed down the makeshift ladder. I grabbed the cold bars on the small window and helped myself off the wooden box. “They can't do that,” I said. “The Geneva Convention will not allow it. Stop bothering me. Go back to your corner before you get sent off,” I added. What a ridiculous statement that is.

Amir's face is covered with hair. There is hair growing on his cheeks. There is hair coming out of his ears. Even the deep wrinkles around his eyes are covered with hair. He reminds me of a wolf-man. A man transformed into the legendary beast at the sight of a full moon. I am laughing out-loud. A wolf-man. I can't stop laughing. I keep looking at his direction and laugh. He is staring at me. He is staring and wondering why I am laughing so loud. They are going to hang one of us out there and I am bursting into a sick laughter. A wolf-man; Amir is a wolf-man.

We wait patiently for the darkness to fall. The sun has already slipped far beyond the hills. Deepening shadows, permeated with the evening mist, lay over the freshly ploughed flat marshlands, still covered with the occasional patches of rain; but here and there, along the sagging underbelly of the sky, heavy with rain clouds, you could still see few rose-colored streaks of sunlight.

A dark, gusty wind, heavy with the smells of the thawing, sour earth, tosses the clouds about and cuts through your body like a blade of ice. A solitary piece of tar-board, torn by a stronger gust, rattles monotonously on a rooftop; a dry but penetrating chill is moving in from the fields. In the valley below, wheels clatter against rails and locomotives whine mournfully.

Dusk is falling; our hunger is growing more and more and more terrible; the traffic along the highway has died down almost completely, only now and then the wind wafts a fragment of conversation, a coachman's call, or the occasional rumble of a cow-drawn cart; the cows drag their hooves lazily along the gravel. The clatter of wooden sandals on the pavement and the guttural laughter of the peasant girls covered in the traditional Islamic chadors hurrying to a Friday night get-together at the village are slowly fading in the distance.

The darkness thickens at last and a soft rain begins to fall. Several bluish lamps, swaying to and fro on top of high lampposts, throw a dim light over the black, tangled tree branches reaching out over the road, the shiny sentry-shack roofs, and the empty pavement that glistens like a wet leather strap.

The soldiers march under the circle of lights and then disappear again in the dark. The sound of their footsteps on the road is coming nearer. The door to our barracks opens and the camp sergeant walks in with steady rhythmic steps. He stands in the middle of the dirty cracked floor and stares in every direction as if he is about to declare the war over.

Suddenly, he points to Amir's corner, shouts something in Arabic and the soldiers behind him rush over to the small area where Amir is kneeling in a fetus position. They grab his arms, take a few moments to tie him up and lead him out of the small sagging door and onto the moon soaked courtyard.

The block elders line him up along the pavement facing the crowd that had been standing there for many silent hours, motionless, bareheaded, hungry. In the strong glare, Amir's body stands out incredibly clear. Every fold, bugle or wrinkle in his clothing; the cracked soles in his worn-out boots; the dry lumps of brown clay stuck to the edges of his trousers; the thick seams along his crotches; the white thread showing on the blue stripes of his prison suit; his sagging buttocks; his stiff hands and blood-less fingers twisted in pain, with drops of dry blood at the joints; his swollen wrists where the skin has started turning blue from the rusty wire cutting into the flesh; his naked elbows, pulled back unnaturally and tied with another piece of wire; his hairy face; his hairy cheeks; his tired eyes; his blank stare-all this emerges out of the surrounding blackness as if carved in ice.

The elongated shadows of Amir falls across the road and the barbed-wire fences glittering with tiny drops of water, and are lost on the hillside covered with dry, rustling grasses. The Sergeant, a graying, sunburned man, who had come from the village especially for the occasion, crosses the lighted area with a tired but firm step and, stopping at the edge of the darkness, decides that Amir is indeed at the right distance from the white post erected from the center of the courtyard.

From then on matters proceed quickly, though maybe not quite quickly enough for the freezing body of the empty stomach that had been waiting seventeen hours for a pint of soup, still kept hot perhaps in the kettles at the barracks. 'this is a serious matter!? cried a very young camp elder stepping out from behind the Sergeant. He has one hand under the lapel of his “custom made”, fitted black jacket, and in the other hand he is holding a willow crop which he keeps tapping rhythmically against the top of his high boots.

“This man – he is a criminal! He has committed atrocities against the good people of Iraq. This man has killed innocent women and children. This man has crossed the line between humans and animals. This man is an animal and shall be dealt with accordingly. And tonight the entire camp again will go without dinner!” Shouted the young camp elder. “The block elders will carry the soup back to the kitchen and if even one cup is missing, you'll have to answer to me. Understand boys?”

A long, deep sigh goes through the crowd. Slowly, the rear rows begin pushing forward; the crowd near the road grows denser and a pleasant warmth spreads along my back from the breath of the men pressing behind me, preparing to jump forward. The sergeant gives the signal and out of the darkness emerges a soldier with a rifle in his hands. He places himself neatly behind Amir. You could no longer tell that he had returned from the labor camp with us. He had time to eat, to change to fresh, gala uniform, and even to have a manicure. His fingers are clenched tightly around his rifle butt and his fingernails look neat and pink; apparently he is planning to join the local girls at the village center later on. He cocks his rifle sharply, leans the rifle butt on his hip and presses the muzzle up against the hairy temple of Amir. His tired face trembles as if he is being shaken by a violent jolt.

“Be strong, Amir. Be strong, for I will tell your wife and children that you died a brave man; they will not see you as you are today, a broken heap of bones; Amir, I will not tell them of the misery of this camp; I will not tell them of the atrocities; they will know you as the man who left them behind some years ago,” I whisper to myself.

“In the name of Saddam, our great leader, Fire!” said the sergeant without raising his voice. The rifle barks, the soldier jumps back a step to keep from being splattered by the shattered head. Amir seems to quiver on his feet for an instant and then falls to the ground like a heavy sack, splashing the pavement with blood and scattered chunks of brain.

Throwing his rifle over his shoulder, the soldier marches off quickly. Amir's corpse was dragged temporarily under the fence. The sergeant and his retinue get into the military jeep; it backs up to the gate, snorting loudly.

So, this was his destiny. A kind man who always worried about his two sons and his young wife. He always convinced himself that the government and her family would lend a hand. He got letters every week. There were the only times that you did not hear his stomach growl. It is rather strange what a letter from a loved one can do. I suppose he doesn't have to worry about them anymore; I suppose that his stomach will no longer growl; I suppose that he is a free man. He will no longer agonize over the fact that he may not be facing the right direction when praying to his God.

No sooner was the graying, sunburned sergeant out of sight than the silent crowd, pressing forward more and more persistently, burst into a shrieking roar, and fell in an avalanche on the blood-spattered pavement, swarming over it noisily. Then, dispersed by the block elders and the barracks chiefs called in for help from the camp, they scattered and disappeared one by one inside the blocks.

I had been standing some distance away from the place of execution so I could not reach the road. But the following day, when we were again driven out to work, a young Turkish man from Zanjan, who was helping me haul steel bars, tried to convince me all day that human brains are, in fact, so tender that you can eat them absolutely raw.

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