Saturday, January 31, 2004

Tuesday- January 27

For the last few days, I've been feeling pain in my feet when I stand. When I examined the pain, I found it a corn on my heel… it might be a result of the long periods I spend standing in the kitchen sometimes. Of course, I had to visit the doctor, and that's the thing I always postpone for days until it becomes absolutely compulsory. I contacted the driver that takes me on such excursions.
Before the war I'd go by myself in the afternoon for something like this, but now it's different because there's no security.

There's a skin doctor I'd used before and was comfortable with, but he was located in a building with a medical center I no longer visit for a certain reason. The car arrived at the specified place. I told the driver to look for a safe spot with a guard and to wait for me- I'd be on the second floor.

I walked on the sidewalk hesitantly and looked at my friend's pharmacy, which was closed. I asked the man in the juice shop next to her what times she opened shop, pointing… he shook his head, "They don't open!" I asked him, "Today only? Or everyday?" He replied, "They never open and I heard
they're offering the shop for sale.

My heart clenched- so they were still reaping the fruits of the incident. "And the skin doctor, is he there?", I asked the man. He shook his head enthusiastically, "Yes, come in- the receptionist is there…"

It was evening. I had just heard the dusk call for prayer (Athan il Maghrib) and darkness was creeping all around. I started going up the staircase carefully and at first it was almost empty, which was the first time I had seen it that way. Ever since I came to Iraq in 1991, I'd come to this building any time I, or one of the family, were sick. It had a dentist, a skin doctor, and a general physician- all of them friends of my brothers- they graduated with them from Baghdad University.
They all specialized in Britain or America and they had both great professional reputations as well as personal reputations with people. They were all university professors, except Dr. Mohammed who was the dean of the Medical College and head of the Doctor's Syndicate. He was the most intelligent of the group and best in his specialty. The building was always crowded with his patients and they'd even lie around on the sidewalk around his office- especially the ones who had come from distant provinces.

His receptionist used to have to pass the patients on to the waiting room of the dentist, on the same floor to await their turn. They were friends of the doctor and there was no embarrassment in it. Those are typical Iraqi manners- friendship and affection are more important than money… or even competition.

I always found difficulty in getting an appointment, in spite of the fact that the receptionist had come to know me well. I would call her up and she'd give me an appointment for the next day or the day after that. There were rare times when I'd get an appointment the same day, but later than usual- at 9:30, before the clinic would close…. I'd agree of course, because you can't postpone an illness. I'd later go down to the pharmacy which would be crowded with Dr. Mohammed's patients and the patients of the other doctors.

Today I found the building lonely… and the pharmacy closed. There were only a few patients whispering amongst themselves, as if they were sharing the building's sorrow for what had happened. I entered the skin clinic and the same old receptionist was sitting there. He hadn't changed, with his sad face and broken smile, as if telling a story of his troubles, of which I had heard several times while waiting to see the doctor. "Why haven't we seen you in so long?" the old man asked. I faked a smile, "I don't know… I don't like coming to the building after what happened to Dr. Mohammed…" His face turned sorrowful, and he replied, "Yes. God rest his soul…"I asked him, "When was the incident- August or July? I can't remember…". "In July." He replied. It was the middle of July, during the evening, and the building was crowded with patients. Two men walked in and one of them told the secretary that his friend was very sick, was having stomach pain and needed to see the doctor immediately. The receptionist went to the doctor asking permission to let them into his office and he accepted. To the amazement of the receptionist and the patients, the fake patient took out a gun and shot Dr. Mohammed in the head. He and his friend then ran downstairs where a car was waiting for them after they finished their mission. They then disappeared.

I asked, "Do they know who attacked him?" He shook his head- no one knows. And did he die in his clinic? No, he died in the hospital half an hour later. Does anyone know the reason? "They say he's a Ba'athist!" The old man said sorrowfully. "So what if he's a Ba'athist… he never hurt anyone… he
was peaceful and everyone loved him." He said brokenly, as if he was talking to himself.

He was silent and I didn't reply, but to myself I swore that he was indeed a peaceful man loved by many. He was an intelligent, wonderful thinker and we lost him.

"But the person who killed him didn't know…" the old man added. "They paid him and told him go and kill the doctor… he's a Ba'athist… what does he know?" I stood staring at the ground… really, what does that contracted killer know about what he did???

I continued asking, "And the clinic?". "His wife put it up for sale… she kept telling him leave the country… it's not safe. But he refused. He kept saying, I haven't done anything, I haven't hurt anyone- what do I have to fear?"

Our conversation came to an end when the skin doctor arrived. I entered his office as the first patient and found him, also, sad. He told me that he had shut down his clinic for 3 months out of mourning for Dr. Mohammed. He couldn't believe it had happened- it was a cruel blow to everyone who knew him. He went on to ask me what was wrong with me and he prescribed a mix for my corn, giving me directions for another pharmacy, as the one below had shut down in grief over Dr. Mohammed.

As I went down the stairs, returning to the car, I saw the door to his clinic closed and the whole storey was empty and lonely. I looked at the walls of the staircase and imagined them carrying him, hurrying to the nearest hospital… and his blood flowing… on the stairs. I ran down the rest of the stairs in horror as I imagined that perhaps his blood still stained the carpeting in his
clinic. Who would dare enter it after what happened? I wondered to myself… how much did they pay the man who killed him?

And how many tears did his patients and students shed? It's almost as if I can see him now- on Judgment Day… standing him and his enemy without a gun, before God and he will ask him, smiling, "But why did you kill me??? Whatever did I do to you???"

As I reached the sidewalk, the place looked gloomy and abandoned… as if something of life and vitality had disappeared suddenly. I stared at the locks on the pharmacy once again and at the bags of garbage littering the sidewalk… my feeling of loneliness increased and I wished I hadn't come
here. I'll find another skin doctor, I thought to myself… and then felt myself drowning in a vortex of questions…

[Translated by River Bend]

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