Thursday, 4 August 2011



I am not sure how I had managed to avoid them for so long, probably parental overprotection.
I had been too young to comprehend when Jidoo died and, was not taken along to funerals with parents during my youth.

The first funeral or fat7a I attended alone was in college, she had been a lecturer, her daughters distant relatives, and close friends, I had been aware of her illness for some time, and although I had been really upset when she died, it had not come as a shock.

This time was different.

This time the death had been unexpected, and although the direct cause of death could be called a heart ailment, in reality it had been caused by so much more, the person a closer relation, and the time altogether altered.

I was home for a few days, maybe only my second visit home since it had started, there was still no telephone line and I had been unaware of the event until I arrived.

Somehow or other people managed to get the news transmitted, people drove or cycled across Baghdad to tell others, who passed on the information by word of mouth, and so on in ripples and waves, they had also managed to get word out, both his daughter and son had returned.

Unsure how many people or indeed who was going to be able to attend, the area had been mobilised and neighbours rallied together to prepare, two houses would be hosting the visitors, the men in one, the women in another, the whole process taking up everyone’ time, and effort, the distraction dampening the sounds and scenes, delaying the inevitable emptiness and pain that would follow.

The doors between the two reception rooms were opened, and the resulting L shaped space filled with seats, in the centre the women, his sisters, daughters, and wife receiving those who came to visit, and the trays with bitter coffee passed quietly around.

As N probed people for stories, I sat in the corner listening to the conversations, the trips people had made to get here, the names of relatives lost, the damage to peoples’ property and the descriptions of similar times seen in Beirut.

Eventually the details of how it had happened, how frantic the days had been, how traumatised he was by what he had seen, by what had happened, the lift out of work, rushing up the six flights of stairs to inspect the damage, a life’s worth of work gone within a few days, and how he was wrecked in the middle of the wreckage.

As we made our way towards his home, someone pointed to the houses nearby, and their walls.

As I entered Baghdad, from the distance I had seen the thick black clouds, blocking the sunshine as they moved, but the black rain they brought had all fallen before I returned.

Everyone had seen it, everyone had felt it’s stickiness, and everyone had spent days cleaning the walls of their homes trying to remove it.

Uncle M’S house was covered in white plaster, as we turned the corner and it came into sight, I could see.

Sharing in the family’s mourning, streaked and grey, the front gate alone had been spared (or maybe it alone had been amenable to cleaning), the black oily stains clinging to the walls, our own personal curse, a dark reminder of the weeks before, and a harbinger of the years to follow.

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