by Sarajane Sein
Slowly but surely, the light came up on the rubble of Baghdad. The city that once was, before Saddam came. Before frequent bombings from rescuers and tyranny from leaders.
The light came up on an impoverished section of the city, where a young Iraqi girl was navigating the streets, unnoticed by the general public, who tried to go about their daily lives. She heard whispers of "The Americans". The Americans. She saw them, she guessed, but could not truly care. What were Americans? The people who'd taken out Saddam Hussein? If only they'd been a year faster. But no use thinking "what if's". The girl sighed and continued in her way, walking towards an old abandoned house where she supposed she would find her companions.
She heard a scream from inside the house and quickly snuck down behind the window, peaking in. Twelve years of being a woman in Iraq had taught her how not to be seen. Inside the house she saw an Iraqi man, dressed in common Iraqi clothing.
But there was something wrong. The clothes were too particular, the man too well-groomed. The man spoke.
"We shall fight against you, the American Satan!" he said quickly, angrily, in Arabic. Who was he talking to? "Allu Akbar!" The girl heard another scream, bloodcurling, unbearable, then a SLICE and then silence. What had just happened? The Iraqi man walked over, picked up something, and then he left. The girl scrambled into the house and stared in shock. It was a dead body - whoever he'd been, he'd been beheaded - of an American.
She blinked. With a sigh, she knelt down and whispered a quick prayer. Then her eyes centered on the American's bag. She looked at it suspiciously, wondering if it were a bomb. Deciding it probably wasn't, she rifled through it. Photographs. Music CDs. And a pistol. She put her fingers around the chamber. Loaded. She slipped it under her coat. She sighed again and whispered a wish of peace to the American. She then walked back out to the streets.
After thinking a moment, she returned and took one photo from the American's bag. It was of the American's college graduation. She wondered what it'd be like to go to college. Would she ever? Would she meet someone as handsome and distinguished as the blonde-haired, blue-eyed American looked? She continued walking.
"Khadijah! Where have you been?" called a voice. The girl turned and faced two boys. One was tall, bulky, powerful. He was Musaf. Eleven years old, one year younger than Khadijah but he acted older. The other was short and thin, but quick-witted and able to survive on the Baghdad streets. That was Ali. He was nine.
"Oh, nowhere," Khadijah responded quickly, not knowing how they would respond to what she had seen.
"You're always nowhere," Ali joked.
"We're all going to be nowhere if these Americans have their way," complained Musaf.
"Yeah, we were better under Saddam," griped Ali.
"I don't know about that," Khadijah mumbled. They continued walking until they got to another abandoned house. They took seats on the pieces of step as they looked around. Ali pulled out an apple and they passed it around. As Musaf bit into it, they heard a yell. Then a rushing of feet. Suddenly, a man was standing next to them.
"I need a place to hide!" the main said, seemingly out of breath, "Americans - they'll kill me! You need to hide me - they'll kill you too!" Musaf blinked.
"All right, get in here," he said, gesturing into the house. When the door closed, Khadijah spoke.
"I don't trust a word he says! He's a Saddam loyalist!"
"And?" asked Ali.
"Saddam's men killed my parents and raped my sister, and I recognize one of them anywhere! I was the only one who survived!" The two looked at her outburst and blinked, speechless.
Musaf stepped up. "I think I have an idea," he said in a low voice.
"So do I," Khadijah whispered, touching the gun in her pocket. The man slowly opened the door.
"You'll help me?" he said frantically.
"Of course," said Khadijah. The man gave her a dirty look.
"We'll be glad to," said Musaf.
"I am so glad! What are your names, boys?" he asked, this time ignoring Khadijah completely.
"I am Musaf," the boy responded, "And this is Ali, and Khadijah."
"Ali is your brother?"
"No," Musaf said simply.
"And the girl? She is your sister?"
"No. Khadijah has no relation to me."
"I see. Well, children, come inside," the man said, opening the door and watching the three enter and move to the back wall, "I am Kusafi Alvari al-Shareq. And you are about to be the great fellow agents of a jihad against the American Satan." Khadijah blinked. American Satan. This was the same man who had killed the American - "I am going to videotape you, and there are a few things that I want you to say." He flipped a switch - there had been a camera set up in the house the entire time. It had been a trap!
Khadijah's eyes turned cold. She had known. She pulled out the gun in a flash and ran up to al-Shareq's chest.
"Do anything and I'll blast you in two!" she yelled.
"For the love of Allah, Khadi where'd you get that?!" yelped Ali.
"From a man he slaughtered!" Khadijah said, her emotions boiling over as she directed her friends - "Ali, grab that chair. Musaf, you tie him to it, I know you have rope." In shock, the two boys obeyed. When al-Shareq was restrained, Khadijah gave a smirk. With her gun still against his chest, she called to the video camera, "He gets his video after all!"
"What do you plan to do? I'm a freedom fighter, against the American Satan who has destroyed our home!"
"Saddam destroyed our home!" Khadijah screamed, "Did you support Saddam? Did you work for him? Tell me now!"
"Yes, I did, and I wish we'd gotten YOU, you little loud-mouthed vagrant. Member of a sub-class and a sub-sex!"
"I don't really care." Khadijah looked over in the corner where al-Shareq's things were. "Grab that bag, Ali." He obeyed, shaking. This was not the girl he had spent every day with for a year. Khadijah knelt down and flipped through the bag. She found a large knife. "Is this the knife that shed the blood of that American this morning?" she asked. Al-Shareq nodded with a smirk. She picked up the blade and held it to al-Shareq's throat. "Allu Akbar," she whispered as al-Shareq's defiant look faded and his eyes were suddenly full of fear.
"No!" he screamed.
"That's what the American screamed, too," Khadijah snapped, slicing the knife against his throat. He kept on breathing, and he gasped, silently begging for his life in words that wouldn't come from his shattered throat. "Okay, I won't cut your head off," Khadijah whispered. Al-Shareq attempted to nod.
Khadijah took the gun and fired two shots into al-Shareq's leg. He started, jerking to the side. Then another shot, to his chest. He jerked forward. She fired one last shot, against his temple, blowing off half of his head. Ali and Musaf turned and looked at her.
"Vengeance," she whispered. She fell to the ground, dropped the gun, and whispered a short prayer as her two companions stared, still frozen in fear. She rose and again picked up the pistol. Inside, there was one more bullet. The gun was smoking hot is her hands as she stuck it in her mouth.
"No!" screamed Ali, but his yell as cut off by the blast. He fell to the ground, sobbing. Musaf crouched next to him, holding him against his chest.
He whispered, "Khadijah's been dead since Saddam killed her family. She lived for... revenge, I guess." Ali looked over at the girl. He reached for a small object that had fallen out of her pocket. It was a photograph of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed American man, dressed in a cap and gown.