It is Sharif’s sixth birthday party. The family has gathered, the cakes and sweets are on the table, there is a bottle of juice and a large tea urn, even a bottle of Coca-Cola, sent by an aunt who lives in Amman. Everybody is happy, everyone is smiling. Sharif turns to his grandfather, beaming, and says “I’m six…”
Before he can say “…now” there is a sickening thud, somewhere above them, followed by an enormous explosion and a blinding flash, all in a split second, which seems to last half an eternity. Sharif’s ears, bleeding, are ringing wildly, his ear-drums burst. Dazzled by the flash and the dust, he struggles to understand what has happened.
Coughing, retching, trembling, he feels numbed. Through the cement-filled mist and stench of cordite, he sees his uncle Taha staggering towards him, his face blackened, covered in blood. Sharif looks at him, opens his eyes wide and lets out a piercing scream which shatters the silence and echoes round the neighbourhood, where the walking wounded are starting to emerge. Somewhere, not far off, the voice of an elderly man: “Allaaaaahu Akhbar! Allaaaahu Akhbar!” (God is Great).
Uncle Taha tells Sharif to be brave and puts his arms around the terrified child, clutching him to his chest to stifle his screams, patting the back of his head. “Where’s Papa?” “Where’s Mama?” he sobs, the desperation in his voice betraying a growing realization of what has happened. Before Taha can answer, Sharif sees the hand of his father, Rashid, protruding, stretched out as if it were calling for help, from under a pile of rubble, lying on the smashed Coca-Cola bottle. He recognises the watch which he had bought his father with the money that his mother had saved. He remembers his father’s smile when he gave it to him, he remembers the long strolls through the city, his little, trusting fingers held comfortably in that hand, firmly, warmly, safely…
“Papa!” He pulls at the hand, hoping innocently that his father will somehow follow it out from under the dust and bricks and plaster. Taha is deafened by another scream, a shriek as horrifying as the terror in the eyes of this innocent, six-year-old boy. Taha looks down and sees the charred hand and part of Rashid’s forearm clutched in Sharif’s hands. The watch falls to the floor and breaks into pieces.
“Allah be Merciful!” he cries, hurriedly placing himself between Sharif and what he has just seen – his mother’s body, lying half-naked with a twenty-centimetre shard of glass protruding from her belly, covered with the blood she had vomited.
On the wall, a birthday card, in English, sent by his cousin, Ali, from Norfolk, Virginia: “Hope you have a day you will never forget!” Not far from Ali, George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld inaugurate a military factory. Their heads held high, their right palms pressed to their hearts, they sing, loud and clear, “God Bless America!” Rumsfeld is going to speak about the successes of the war, about how many targets his forces have destroyed and George Bush is preparing to address the crowd about the United States’ Hearts and Minds campaign, to win the confidence and trust of the Iraqi civilians.
As Taha leads Rashid from the rubble which had been until moments ago the proud scene of his birthday party, the tea urn can be seen, still standing, on the table.
Happy Birthday, Sharif…
Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru
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