The Girl Who Cried War
Author: coritherien

Chapter 14
Secure

May 9th, 2008

The dream—during the day and night—kept changing.  No, not changing…

Growing. 

I was seeing the same girl, but in different scenarios.  I saw her, on the opposite side of a Scrabble game board, giggling.  I saw her behind a podium of sorts, face set with determination.  I saw her curled up on a couch in a ratty pair of sweats, pale and apparently quite ill but smiling meekly. 

And I’d been seeing her, more and more often, sitting around a camp fire in a pair of bright red knee-high socks.  They were ridiculous, but her face told me she knew, and embraced, that.  And maybe it was her confidence in them, or maybe it was the socks themselves, but I loved them. 

“Well, I don’t know about you,” Billy grumbled, “but if I don’t get something to eat soon, I’m going to keel over.”

My stomach growled in agreement.  We’d been on the streets for over 24 hours now.  Last night we slept in a tent behind a market strip, and today we spent searching for more accommodating living quarters.  It was ten o’clock and not only had we come up empty, we also hadn’t eaten since our release. 

We’d come to find out that the “hospital” wasn’t really a hospital at all.  I’d come to believe that Iraqi hospitals were all like that, but we’d discovered that the ward was something of a free clinic, for the people who couldn’t afford real medical attention or didn’t have the health insurance.  I didn’t know if it was the same here—heck, I didn’t even know if health insurance existed here.  All I knew was that in our travels, Billy and I passed a real hospital and while it wasn’t top-notch, it was fully functional.

“Where in the sam heck are we, anyhow?” Billy continued.

It was out of my mouth before I even knew what I was saying.  “We’re in Fadhil.  It’s a district in Baghdad.”

Billy stopped in his tracks just in front of me.  I walked right into him.

“Now how in God’s name do you know that?” he asked, looking at me like I had two heads.

I blanched when the answer didn’t come to me.  I looked around.  We were standing in the middle of a street market place.  Fish and poultry hung just inside tents, most likely spoiled due to the heat.  Women and children hurried from awning to awning, not keen on being exposed for too long.  Army-issued Humvees passed on dirt roads, not ten feet behind the tents on our right.  A tension buzzed in the air, thick and oppressive.  It all felt familiar, but it must’ve been in my head.

Right?

Billy repeated himself.

“I don’t know,” I growled, pushing past him.  “Forget it.  Now, how about we get something to eat before we have to spend another night on the ground?”

The mention of food wiped his memory, but I was unsettled by it.  Was I remembering something?  Was I right, were we in Fadhil?

Maybe I was just going insane.

Billy lost the money he had when he got shot—said it got stolen—so in exchange for four lamb kabobs, he traded a vendor his worn black boots.  They had to have been at least five years old, but the poor vendor looked at them as if they were golden.  He immediately kicked off his tattered, torn loafers and slid into the boots, bowing deeply to us.  He straightened quickly, though, and his eyes darted around to make sure none of his fellow Iraqis had seen him showing respect to two Americans.

The kabobs were delicious.  Perhaps my stomach was deceiving me, but it was the best food I’d tasted in months.  Then again, next to free clinic food, what wouldn’t taste good?

When we finished, we curled beneath a sprawling pomegranate tree.  It was the very picture of health and prosperity, such a contrast to the world just beyond it.

Through the tree’s heavy boughs, laden with sweet, juicy fruits, I caught glimpses of twinkling stars scattered on a navy canvas.  And as ridiculous as it sounds, for the first time in months, I felt almost…safe.

 

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