|From the front|
Khalil I Al-Fuzai
Fear… horror… heavy rain… foretokens of the birth of a new month, a new era, with the flash of consecutive explosions. Their lights flash from afar. The light forms a massive circle, within which one can see the sad buildings that are being demolished — though other buildings provide some sort of shield. In the focus of that light, their words see the light. Words like resistance, liberation… evacuation.
The magazine photographer and I slip across the border in a small car. But we don’t get very far… the car is inextricably stuck in the soil, churned to wheel-trapping mud by the heavy rain. So we leave the car on the outskirts of the city and start our dangerous journey on foot. We want to be the first journalists in the city of Kuwait when it is liberated in the morning. Explosions deafen our ears… we expect a mine to explode under our feet any moment now. The reek of burnt oil mingles with that of rain and muddy earth. On the asphalt road, speeding military vehicles splash raindrops. On either side of the road huddle the burnt cars of civilians, like ghosts perching on the flashes of consecutive explosions. We used to hear news of the cease-fire on the car radio, but now we are isolated from the world.
We have been walking for a while, fear and caution always at our side. We see a military vehicle but it is not marked clearly… fear… hesitation… courage. We do not approach it until one of the soldiers levels his weapon, asking for our papers. They are not pleased. An allied soldier reproaches us for having taken an uncalled-for risk. In the end, though, the three soldiers see no way out but to take us to the city with them… a city that has just begun to shake off its burden, the suffocating dust of months of occupation. And it is as if the rain has allied itself with the city to wash away every trace of the aggressor.
Every step is dangerous. The burning buildings blaze brighter. A soldier announces that the defeated enemy is moving in bands towards Al-Mitlaa. He has just made a call on the communications set he is carrying, and the joy in his voice is more than evident.
The jeep cautiously powers its way ahead. Some soldiers are gathered around the Hotel Intercontinental. The entrance is dark; they use flashlights to light their way. Military bags are stacked in the hotel lobby. We are conspicuous in our civilian clothing. Some officers suggest that we wear combat gear with the sign of the Red Crescent. We are also advised not to step out of the hotel. This hotel was the enemy’s headquarters. The rooms and the halls are dark… the whole hotel is an area of darkness.
We prefer to stay in the hall, talking with the soldiers, recording their impressions of war and liberation. Some of the foreign female recruits are standing around, speaking of the war… I am in some confusion when I approach them, and one of them asks about our nationalities. I try to respond in broken English… a conversation starts and I understand that they are from the US Navy. They are so beautiful, I can’t imagine what they are doing in the middle of this crazy war. But the war game seems to follow no rationale, obeys no standards of measure, mixes you up so completely that the familiar becomes incomprehensible.
When the soldiers’ lights fall on their slender bodies, they seem almost ethereal. It lightens the gloom in this place taken over by the ghosts of fear; these women look like they are on a pleasure trip.
As the night begins to fade, a dream comforts me, recalling moments of happiness and hopelessness, minutes of certainty and despair, hours of hope and pain, days of optimism and pessimism and nights of dreams and reality. The moon slumbers on in her eyelids, and on her braids the night stars scatter alphabets erased from the universe by destiny. But they live on in the heart… torn dreams and burnt desires.
I had met her when we were both studying communications at Kuwait University. A love story grew between us and soon became college gossip. Even our families were talking about it. We intended to marry in a few years, after we graduated.
One day, I said to her, "Tomorrow, we return to our own countries. How does one survive without the other?"
She said, "But what need is there to survive without the other? You live in my heart, my eye."
"And you in mine, beloved."
"Our wedding day will be the day I am truly born."
And so we graduated, returned to our respective countries, worked as journalists, but… but she died while reporting from the front in the Al-Ahwar region (in Iraq’s southern marshes). She is one of the millions pulverised by the eight lean years of war. I am here, years after her death. I carry her with me in my heart and in my memory. I see her in every beautiful woman, in every danger that threatens to overtake me, in every heartbeat, every flicker of emotion. Will I share her fate on this mission, though the war is officially over?
Even with the first sign of dawn and the first threads of sunlight sneaking in through the clouds and the smoke from the blazing oil wells, the talk in the hotel hall is still about the accomplishments of the allied armies — the attack on Iraqi military targets, the land battles, the withdrawal of the Iraqis from Kuwait, the fatal blow delivered in Al-Mitlaa, where the planes showered them with a thousand tons of vacuum bombs, bombs that shook the ground, and the smell of bodies grilled and charred in tanks, a stench that has now spread to the far corners of the land. Cars fleeing from the hell of battle found themselves in a far more terrible hell.
On this day, the first of March, journalists from all over the world are pouring in to report the entrance of the allied armies into a free Kuwait. And because we arrived a few hours before them, we are the centre of attention. The day brings us unforgettable memories.
Among these waves of happiness, her face appears, calm, assured… I feel she wants to share this unique happiness with us.
Translated from the Arabic by Gassim H. Dohal
Khalil I Al-Fuzai is a Saudi Arabian journalist who works in print, television and radio,
and is also a writer of short fiction about political and social issues