Metro Mensch in Baghdad
Story by Rickie, told by Tann vom Hove; Illustration by Manuel Ferrari


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Dear Mom
Do you remember Carl? His dad fixed our roof some years ago. He always messed about with cars, stole a couple too. But was a real nice guy, even in high school. His folks thought the army would sort him out. Did too. He can repair anything, never had a scratch on any of the trucks he drives. Well, until last week that is. But he was lucky. Only lost a leg when a grenade hit his jeep. The guy next to him took the full blast. The medics put him straight into a bag.

I saw Carl after the doctors had amputated above the knee. He’ll be fine they said. Next week they’ll fly him to an American base in Germany. Guess we won’t be running the New York Marathon in 2006, I told him. I’ll do it in a chair, he said, and I’ll beat you. Would be the first time, I said.

We had a visit from a senator; one of those who think they will be President one day. Funny thing about politicians, they always put on combat jackets over their smart suits when they come here. Want us to believe they are just like us. Shit they are. Sorry mom, didn’t mean to swear. Loads of reporters came with him. All the big news channels too. Maybe you’ll watch it on Fox or CNN. But you won't see me. They prefer cute guys for photo shoots. My nose is too big; I blame pa.

We had to eat with the senator. He told us how honoured he was to be here, how proud he was of us. The guy was talking shit, mom, sorry again! But I was real angry. How can anyone who doesn’t know me be proud of me? You and pa are the only ones who can be proud of me. He also talked long words and how good we did here. You know the stuff, spreading freedom and democracy.

Mom, children fear us here. By the time they are ten, they hate us. Old people ignore us. When we are out on patrol, we feel like aliens from another planet, look it too in our combat gear, helmets and shades. Sometimes boys come up to us, touch our M4s, beg for candy. I gave one kid my shades to put on, he ran off with them. Mom, the next day I saw him on top of a wrecked car, burning our flag, wearing my shades.

We got it badly wrong the other day. We thought we had some guys from Saddam’s regime cornered and stormed the building. Turned out it was a mosque. Men and boys were praying inside, it was Friday. Mom, when they looked at us, I thought of pa praying just before little Joey died. Hope and fear in his eyes. I don’t know what the Iraqis were praying for, maybe for their own dead, maybe just for electricity and water, or maybe for us to leave their country. Mom, do you think there are two gods? An American one driving a Humvee and an Arab god in a Toyota pick-up?

I’m doing guard duty now at an Iraqi hospital. A doctor told me he studied in America. In your country I was taught to heal, he said. Here I’m a repairman, fixing bodies. Every day men and women arrive, victims of suicide attacks, civilians caught in cross-fires, some people wounded beyond hope by our own rockets.

Mom, I’ve fallen in love. She is an Iraqi girl. Everyday she visits her dad. When she first walked past me in the corridor, she looked straight into my eyes. Most women turn their heads when they see American soldiers. The next day she smiled, yesterday she said hi. Mom, when I had pimples at 16, you said girls were more interested in what’s inside a man. You told me too you never noticed pa’s big nose and crooked teeth. Mom, do you think she knows that I’m not an enemy, that I’m just doing my job? That I’m happiest when working on grandpa’s farm? Mom, could you and pa accept her? Her family probably never would. Today I gave her a Hershey bar. What now, mom?

Your son Rickie


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