Babylon'S Shadow

Babylon'S Shadow

by Salah Hatam

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504954242
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 10/06/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 194
File size: 231 KB

About the Author

Born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1962. Studied production engineering at the University of Technology. He discontinued his studies, however, to devote his time to literary writing. Worked at the Iraqi, Jordanian, and Palestinian Press. Participated in the Iran-Iraq war (1980) and the Gulf War (1991). Lived under siege since the beginning of 1990. Had a warrant for his arrest as a result of publishing a short story. Left Baghdad in 1996 and joined political opposition, No-Fly Zone. Left northern Iraq and immigrated to Canada in 1999. Published five novels in Arabic. Prizes International France Radio for short stories in 1994 Naji Naaman, Beirut in 2007

Read an Excerpt

Babylon's Shadow

By Salah Hatam


Copyright © 2015 Salah Hatam
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5049-5425-9


The river was low. Its banks pushed scents to enormous distances. Fragrance is a secret code in memory, and when you smell something familiar, you smile. There kingdoms with Angelic wings and remember Suhrawardi and the ibn Jarrah and Alskotai, as well as Junaid al-Baghdadi.

On the river, I dreamed angels gave me grace like medicine, but the medicine passed out of sight. Then, just as suddenly, it appeared and was a very great river. The city of Baquba is wrapped in mosques and minarets (towers) of mosques, as if there is a common language between God and spirit. As a human, I do not know specifically how the relationship between all of these things works, but I am convinced that we are the beloved of God, who always shows us secrets. I was thinking as I walked beside the riverbank, Where does snow come from? How did God create this world? Was it at once and with one word or laugh from a nonentity? I have not found evidence in books about the existence of God, but I realize he exists through the songs of birds and through the pain indwelling the hearts of those wounded in war.

I do not know how many years went by, but I know they were long years.

I glimpsed at it again. I bowed to the inside of the river with my wife and kids. It looked like I would I die, but they were forever. My wife's and children's eyes were filled with tears and even questions, but I was fading into the mist and fog. There was a scene made up of a palm and eyes mixed together. I laughed and scooped water from the river. They do not understand anything about what is happening in this dream created by coincidence. The rain is coming down, and I look at them. My horoscope told me, "You will go to the sad kingdom, and your life will turn into a big cloud, like God before he created the world."

* * *

In my life, I often ran to the Tigris River. Sitting by the river gives me an anonymous continuity with the place and its narrative. I adored the myths that formed on the river's banks. I often boarded the boat to run away from Rusaf to the houses of yellow brick, which were a remnant of the mystics' schools and sessions.

Mysticism was synonymous with Baghdad — something strange and stunning! Prostitutes slept with mystics, and the mystics slept with boys, and they all melded with the sounds of wind and rain. I sat in the presence of Qanbar Ali. I touched his grave, remembering al Rashid and the Mongols when they invaded Baghdad. Every centimeter tells me about the more than fifteen hundred years that have passed since then. I was looking for the grave in a ruin.

I was expelled from the University of Technology, but I still had the university's ID and uniform. This allowed me to walk without questions from the army police. Iraq was at war with Iran. My feet took me to the libraries. I was looking for help with my depression. I was practicing the highest of virtues — not having sex with women in public- transport buses. I turned into a eunuch. I inundated myself with books from the libraries. I loved the books. The books turned to music devices. The strange harmony between books and me has no rational limits; it is like a religious mania. I always bought a book and walked back to my house or went to Hassan Ajami Café or Parliament Café to read.

After having some tea and enjoying reading, I would leave the café and walk for a while. I would meet some writer friends; they were all monsters.

Sometimes I met Shawqi Kream. He was a writer who worked on TV. Shawqi sometimes invited me to his house. Ahlam Mansour, Shawqi's wife, who was a writer too, felt like we are dogs. We would leave Mansour, cursing, and go to the kitchen and eat leftovers.

Sometimes Salah Zangana would visit us. He was a writer. I admired the way he would gorge himself on food. He ate like a beggar. After two days of living in the Shawqi household, I heard at the Hassan Ajami that Shawqi wanted to rape me. I spat in the café.

I decided to leave the bad guys and go with my poet friend, Hussein Tramp, to my university. After that, an official saw I was a member of Saddam Hussein's party. His eyes were swollen, and he looked at me contemptuously. Since they arrested my mother and everyone looked at me contemptuously, I wanted to give my resignation from the party, but they refused and insisted that I had to stay. The party was more like the Mafia. They wanted to humiliate me.

Everyone avoided talking to or drinking tea with me at the University Club. It was nasty. I felt like a traitor. I went with Hussein and saw the notice still on the corkboard that announced I was expelled from university. I tore it down and shredded it.

My friend said, "Why the hell did you do that?"

I felt suffocated. Then I thought I would go to my friend Rose. She was a good girl. Rose looked confused when she saw me, which may have been because my mother was a prisoner, but I did not care. I needed to cry. As I was looking for Rose, Hussein was staring at the female students. Hussein was mentally ill, and he kept telling me to look at girls' asses. Hussein stored sex scenes in his mind and then went to the toilet to masturbate. I also adored masturbation. Before my mother was in prison, I would often go to the toilet and masturbate, sometimes twice a day. After I would masturbate, I would walk around the university feeling shaky and blind.

After my mom was imprisoned, a big change in my life happened. I imagined how she was being tortured — by burning her body with cigarettes. I knew it was a barbarous regime. And I collapsed when I thought she might have been raped. Then I did not attend lectures, and I felt that the world had become dark.

I went to the doctor, and he said, "You have depression."

I made a mistake when I told Shawqi about my depression. He went to Hassan Ajami Café and defamed me. Sometimes Shawqi was a damned bastard.

Hussein was sitting in front of me at the club, and I looked at the students over his shoulder. I felt pity for them because they were driven to the party meetings like sheep. No matter what party officials said, the students hated it. The officials wanted numbers.

Many times, I was reprimanded in front of my friends because I did not act like a good member. I wanted to quit Saddam's party, but this meant nothing. I was in detention and was investigated and perhaps hit. I felt extremely vulnerable to being hit. I'd blasphemed the party, and this meant they would hang me.

I remembered a room in Building 4 at the university. This room contained torture tools. The smell of the room was always a mix of carbon dioxide and urine. When the security officer summoned me one day to the room, I felt my face become deformed. I was shaking, and I could not walk up the stairs. Because I felt delirious, I lay down on the stairs. Then I got up and smoked a cigarette. I said to myself that the best way to get rid of the anxiety was masturbation. I got up, went to the toilet, and masturbated while remembering Rose.

There weren't many things I hated in my life more than the security officers. Since I'd been informed of my mother's arrest, I was kind of crazed. On the first day after I knew she had been arrested, I drank a full bottle of alcohol and threw up in the street. Then I slept on the sidewalk, and a police car took me and placed me in prison with thieves and drug dealers. The prisoners gave me Tofranil. In the morning, I discovered I was no longer a virgin.

I reached the room in Building 4. When I entered, the security officer was huge but fragile — he looked like a poodle. The officer motioned for me to sit. I sat on an old metal chair. The officer did not speak; he just looked at my face as if he wanted to discover more about me. He did not know I was very fragile too, and I felt like I had turned into an insect. We stayed ten minutes, perhaps more, mired in silence. He was huge and hairy and had an unpleasant smell. My stomach hurt, and I wanted to vomit. The officer laughed and handed me a cigarette. Then he said not to worry.

I was tired, and I wished that the so-called lead officer would rest, but he did not. He said calmly, "Listen, I want you to convince Rose to work with us in the security organization."

Suddenly, I felt that someone had raped me. "I cannot," I said with a sudden feeling of power.

"You can," he said. "The security force and the party commands you to."

I left after he kicked me out. When I left the building, the rain outside surprised me. I felt defeated. I stood for a few moments in the rain. I wanted to feel like I was really in this world. I imagined that the officer wanted to rape Rose. I was sure he wanted this; I had some information.

Giving in to the officer made me feel cowardly. But I did not tell him the color of her underwear or when she menstruated or other particulars. When I saw Rose, I asked her, "Do you know the security officer named Hamid?" My fingers were shaky. Without waiting for her response, I said, "Well, he wants to meet you."

Rose hit me — and she was strong. She said, "I did not imagine you filthy."

We entered the cafeteria at the University Club but did not sit with Hussein. We chose a place far away. We bought tea and drank without speaking. After a few minutes, I said I wanted to leave the university.

Rose said, "Do you visit the university?"

I looked at her eyes. She turned her face and looked toward the distance, her thoughts unknown. I detected a mild trembling around the corners of her mouth. I knew that officer Hamid was wanted for spying on others. We stayed a long time without speaking. I was ashamed of myself. I was with Rose and wanted her to forgive me because I was too cowardly to defend her.

After my mother's arrest, I felt devastated and became very negative, I did not say no to many partisan duties. After my mother's arrest, I was transferred to a special party ring called National Activity. National Activity private organization for the intellectually mutilated, Communists, criminals, and homosexuals. Our relationship with party officials was shit, And the security officer Hamid was the overseer.

* * *

After months of Rose's relationship with the security officer, I noticed a transformation. She was absent a lot from lectures, and luxury cars always waited outside the university. I lived more days feeling unhappy. I could no longer attend lectures. On the day of the decision of the university chapter, suddenly I saw something strange — a large octopus and cockroach were licking me and removing bones from my body; that is a tragedy.

I was transferred and was to start reporting on and spying on students. I reported about who wanted to escape from the militia. Some students were strong and refused to work with the militia. I was to report them if they told political jokes; they would then be arrested. Others students were arrested who created opposition political writings on the toilet walls. I was summoned, along with the rest of the party members, and we were investigated. I secretly wanted more and more of the opposition political writing. I wanted revenge on Saddam Hussein's party. But I hated the Iranian clerics. Saddam's party made the university a spy, like the Gestapo. In the classroom, there were four security, two military intelligence, one presidency intelligence, three of the Baghdad intelligence, and three of the party's intelligence organization. In the end, it was impossible fart without the party knowing.

I knew all these people, and I performed congenially. But despite this, some insisted on not belonging to the party. One of the female students had a brother who was a political prisoner. All eyes were directed to her. We even knew the date of her monthly period. It was simple: security put spy devices and microphones in students' rooms.

I was dazzled after the students' arrival at the university. The party requested that each student should have a security-check report. A female student had a brother who was an opposition politician, and he was detained We avoided talking to her or saying hello. Any student who talked with her might be watched in the future. We lived in a circle of fear. Despite this, some students rebelled against the university's role. The party security organization discussed student records every week. "This is his brother; he was executed; okay." Another turned anti-Saddam Hussein; another student had a nephew who was a student Communist fugitive. These must be monitored. A student was seen reading a political book, and a comrade informed the security officer; a group of students were sitting on their own, and a comrade sat with them and recorded their conversation.

At the end of the meeting, we were reminded of an instruction: anyone who writes on the wall should be shot. We did not come to study but to spy on students. We were worried, confused. We always carried weapons the party gave us.

It became normal for Rose to ride in luxury cars. I saw her once — Uday Saddam Hussein gave her a ride. After one year, Rose turned into a goddess. Even the university president, secretary general of the party organization at the university, implored her to expel the vice president because he was homosexual. The university vice president entreated her to expel the president of the university. The president of the National Union of Iraqi Students asked for her saving grace — that the students should be excused from going to war. A professor pleaded with her to help him visit his wife in England. The head of the Department of Electrical Engineering pleaded to be exempted from military exercises because he had one testicle. The minister of education asked to tell the president that Watban, the president's brother, harassed his daughter.

* * *

I could not beg Rose to bring me back to the university with her; I had a bad feeling because I had converted her into a prostitute. But it was also a good thing; she was not an unusual prostitute. I told Rose, "Maybe this is the last meeting between us."

Her mouth trembled as she said, "I want to sleep with you."

I was too cowardly. I felt like I wanted to cry in her arms. We walked in the outer corridor of the university. After coming from a restaurant, again she said she wanted to sleep with me. I felt the muscles of my face shrink, but I made no comment. Rose and I came out of the university with Hussein and entered the cafeteria. I hated drinking beer with Hussein because he quickly turned stupid and loony. We drank a bottle of beer in the cafeteria. Hussein vomited, and the waiter kicked us out. Then I left the group.

It was cold, and I felt I needed to urinate on the world. I could not find a restroom, so I did it in the street. Then I entered the restaurant and threw up in the toilet, and I felt better. In the restaurant, everyone was listening to a new military statement. After I ate, I decided to go to the vanguard literary magazine to see my friend Abdul Sattar Nasser. On the second floor of the magazine, I found Nasser and Lutfi al-Dulaimi in a major conversation. I sat, even though no one told me to have a seat. I know that Lutfi did not like people come to her office drunkard a moron.

I did not care; I felt like I was safe. I said, "I was expelled from the university." This news didn't change Lutfi's feelings. I said I was thinking of suicide. Lutfi was rocked by the word suicide; Nasser smiled. He knew this was shit.

"Do not say that. Expulsion from the university is not the end of the world," Lutfi said.

I could not speak, I felt a spiritual shaking. Lutfi condescend to us that we were the dirty generation. Nasser smoked and tried to read my thoughts. I stood up and felt hostile toward life. I came out of the room and was surprised to see Eman, the magazine's designer, bending to pick up scissors. Her butt was beautiful. I loved seeing Eman. Nasser thought I was visiting him to see Eman's butt. Anyway, I left the magazine and went to the Hassan Ajami Café. On my way, I saw Shawqi, who had escaped from the army and was walking in a disguise. We sat in a café shop. Shawqi was hungry but did not have money to buy bread to eat with tea. Shawqi said he could not go home to see his wife. He was afraid that his neighbors would betray him.


Excerpted from Babylon's Shadow by Salah Hatam. Copyright © 2015 Salah Hatam. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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