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Every Best Gift - a tale of the ages

by vynnie 

Posted: 20 February 2005
Word Count: 1144
Summary: a few more paras

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A surge of hope swelled Muhammad’s chest. Presenting his back to Ali, he resumed contemplating the window glass. He desperately needed some good fortune right now; now that the Crusader infidels had managed to destroy his livelihood. As a trader in second-hand goods in Tikrit’s major marketplace, his business had been wiped out by the war and his little shop had stood shuttered and closed for weeks: who has need of furniture, or anything else, when a bomb may fall through the roof at any moment? The electricity and, consequently, the fresh water supplies had also been disrupted during the bombing and only now were attempts being made to restore the grid. Many Tikritis had sickened from drinking contaminated water, among them two of his five children.
And if that were not sufficient, the Americans had recently established their northern operations headquarters, the Camp of the Horse of Iron, in the enormous and unbelievably lavish compound stretching along the west bank of the Tigris.
The noise was, at times, almost unbearable; the rumble of tanks and trucks carrying soldiers and military supplies along the main avenues, accompanied by the din of clattering helicopter rotors, was enough to drive a man indoors even though he risked bodily collapse from the heat generated by closed windows. There was, however, a more potent reason to remain locked away: to venture out-of-doors was to risk being surrounded by troops, searched for weapons, and questioned at length, in halting Arabic, about any possible connection one might have to members of the Ba'ath Party or their relatives.
And all this hornets-nest of activity unfolded against the backdrop of a frantic search. Muhammad stretched his lips into a smile: if the elusive weapons of mass destruction still existed, which he doubted, they would have been concealed in some underground chamber so inaccessible that the Americans could search for years and never find them.
Since the coalition had first entered Iraq, Tikrit had become the focus of world attention, which was not surprising: not only had the Great Uncle been born in the little riverside village of al-Awja just to the south, but also the intelligence and military elite had been drawn from among the Uncle’s own tribe, the al-Bu Nasir.
Not being numbered, however, amongst those who were thus bestowed with prestige, power and generous incomes, his own modest, flat-roofed, cement block house in Qadisiyah contrasted miserably with the wide verandahs, columned walkways, soaring arches and walled courtyards of the favoured.
Tikrit had once been a dreary, poverty-stricken town riddled with crime and lacking even the basic amenities of electricity and running water. When the Uncle had risen to power he had, naturally, spared no expense in providing for his tribe’s comfort and Tikrit now boasted numerous palaces, tree-lined boulevards, street lighting, modern hospitals, schools equipped with the best that money could buy, and even a permanent amusement park for the children.
And just where was the Uncle? If he were, indeed, still in Iraq, he would be protected and sustained by his army of sycophants and relatives right here in Tikrit, on home ground. Of that one fact, Muhammad was certain.
Muhammad was jarred from his musings by the sound of a slight cough. He turned to glare at Ali but, nevertheless, accepted the call to action and began drying his sweaty palms on his robe.
He cupped the pot in his left palm and carried it to the window overlooking the small paved courtyard. The rough-hewn fingers of his right hand began turning it round and round. Its exquisitely worked handles and the slant of the lines incised into its patinated surface triggered a response from within his memory: during one of his rare trips to Baghdad many years ago he had decided, on the spur of the moment, to visit the great National Museum and Library and had seen a pot of similar design in the ancient artifacts collection.
A tickle of electric current shivered along his spine. Muhammad raised his eyes to look out over his small domain. He fixed his gaze upon the dusty fronds of a single date palm and allowed himself the luxury of a little dream; a dream of cool running waters and many such palms in a much bigger courtyard.
Traces of the glow of projected enjoyment still lingered upon his swarthy countenance as he replaced the pot on the desk, and began to question his son further.
“What promptings sent you there?”
Ali ventured another rehearsed answer.
“I wanted to see how far the American camp extended northwards, and by the time I reached its boundary, I had already travelled such a long way that I decided to continue on past the University and explore the fortress.”
“Did no one try to stop you? No American troops?”
“Twice, some soldiers got out of their vehicles and, I think, asked me what I was doing, or where I was going.” Ali added a wide white grin before continuing. “I didn’t really understand what they were asking me, so I just smiled at them. They let me go.”
Muhammad’s lips moved in a silent tribute of thanks to Allah the Merciful for his son’s deliverance before getting down to business.
“I hope you did not show this to anyone!”
The black curls falling forward over his forehead did not conceal the cunning gleam that escaped from the boy’s eyes. “No indeed, my father, I came straight home.”
Ali had learned his lessons at the knee of a wily Tikrit trader who had, in his turn, received his training from countless generations of bandit ancestors whose main source of income had been generated from the proceeds of piracy: at regular intervals, flat-bottomed barges from Mosul laden with goods bound for Baghdad had run aground in the shallows of the river as it made its slow, wide turning just to the south of Tikrit. This indwelling interest in second-hand merchandise had prompted Muhammad’s father to establish his little dealership.
“You have heard, father,” Ali prompted, “that the American infidels have offered large sums of money for objects looted from the Baghdad Museum?”
“Of course, who has not? But this could not be one of those they are seeking because…”
“Yes, yes, I know that, father,” interrupted a daring Ali, “but I also think they will pay a price to fill those empty glass cases again. Will they concern themselves with where it came from? Perhaps you could obtain some money for this on the black market but, if it were traced back to you, they would say you had stolen it. Is that not true?”
“Yes…?” replied Muhammad, lingering over the word while his mind came to grips with this startling proof of his son’s, hitherto unsuspected, perspicacity. He settled back in his chair.
“I think you had better tell me the whole story.”

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Comments by other Members

old friend at 12:22 on 21 February 2005  Report this post
Hi Vynnie,

Gets more interesting... I admire the geographical knowledge and the way in which you suggest the growth of tension to come. I would suggest only minor alterations to the punctuation that I would have made; but I read a finished piece so put it down to style.

Thank you for putting this on site. I look forward to more...


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