I listen to a woman’s voice singing in a language I have forgotten, drinking tea I can not name. In a place I can not pronounce. Yet for all that I spent years here.
The air is full of the strange smells that are now as foreign to me, as I am to this place. Yet they are so very familiar at the same time. Haunting smells filled with old half-forgotten memories.
The stones around me are pitted with the turn of centuries and worn smooth by the hands of man. Hearing a bell I look towards the onion topped towers glittering with their golden caps. I at one time thought I would never see them again in my life. Then I got the letter.
As a voice begins to chant on a loud speaker in the distance, the people around me unroll small carpets and kneel down. I stop what I’m doing in respect to their traditions. I know that while they don’t expect foreigners to kneel and pray they do object to us doing anything that distracts them from their duties to their God.
Looking up I see my guide reappear. He moves uncaring among the praying people. He wipes his face with the side of his head wrap then seeing me he moves to my table. If he could see the looks he’s getting behind his back he wouldn’t look so arrogant.
As he leans over my table I see the edges of a silver chain around his neck. I know it ends in a small cross. A Christian in the land of Islamic is an outcast, but that was just what I needed, to find what I need to find.
Seeing people start to rise I get to my feet. I press my old dog tags into my chest through my shirt so they don’t make a sound. It’s an old habit I can’t break. A man near by me sees this and thinks I’m attempting the greeting of his land. He smiles at me and touches heart, lip, and forehead.
I smile back. If only he knew.
I follow my guide through the crowded streets. The city brings back hundreds of memories. These streets were empty then. The building’s windows were blown in. The stones bullet ridden. I can still at times almost smell the burning cars.
Old habits have me checking my six and looking for my buddies’ blind spots. My buddies aren’t here though. They’re back home cooking barbecues and playing with grand children. Well… not all of them, but most.
I follow this maggot in white as he worms his way into smaller and smaller streets. They’re choked with people going anywhere, but here. As we pass a tile-surrounded doorway I remember this place. Twenty years ago is a long time, but some things you don’t forget… no mater how hard you try.
I look around, but see little of the hideous damage that was done in this little stinking bit of hell. But that was twenty years ago. The violence of my war was either repaired or absorbed into the damages of the more recent conflict.
He turns into a cul-de-sac I wouldn’t have entered without sending a grenade in first. I feel my nerves go taunt as the idea of a trap again resurfaces. American heads taken on video make good news stories around here.
He points to a cloth-covered doorway.
“She in here. My money?’ he asks in broken English.
I hand him a third of what I owe him.
“The rest when I come out.” I tell him patting my pocket. “If it’s her.”
“Oh it’s her American. It’s her. I ask around. Daughter of Alarazara.” He nods showing me coffee stained teeth. All three of them.
Alarazara. My god that name. She had been so beautiful a woman, and I so very young and stupid a man. I should have known that there was no way I could live in her world, or she in mine.
But I was in love.
And a fool.
As I pass through the curtain door wood beads clatter together. Standing by a bowl of sand lighting sticks of incense. I see her. I could step back outside and pay him. I know her at a glance. She looks just like her mother.
Like her mother she only speaks a few words of English, and after twenty years my Arabic is horribly rusty. Working as much by gesture as words though we make a simple exchange. For my money she will dance for me. I can see puzzlement that I don’t want more than that, but she doesn’t know what I know.
Taking a seat in a surprisingly comfortable chair I lean back and watch her. She turns on some music, the old battered radio was probably a gift from a soldier, it looks US military issue. She slowly begins to move herself to the music.
The old amazement that anybody can move like that comes back. Her body seems to bend on hinges most people don’t have. I smile and finger my goatee beard between my thumb and forefinger. Last time I watched a woman do this I was clean shaven.
She slowly lets the heavier pieces of her wardrobe fall away to the rug-covered floor. The light silks she wears does little to hide her fabulous body from my eyes.
What I feel stirring my body as she dances is not for her though. It’s for a woman dead three years past in a roadside bomb blast.
Her soft skin moving under thin cloth, with curves many models back home would kill to have, causes my breath to quicken. Her eyes above the thin veil as dark as the desert night. They stare back at me, above a smiling face. She can tell she’s having an affect on me. She is, but not the one she thinks.
A warm night in the desert. A beautiful woman, the smell of her so exotic, the taste of her lips… that of forbidden fruit. The heat of her as I entered her. It drove away the chill of the desert night. Her panting moans as I moved inside her body, the sharp gold leafed nails biting into my back as we of different faiths found heaven together.
I watch the girl dance. She stops though, as she sees a tear roll down my cheek. She slowly moves over to me and kneels down in front of me. She reaches up and wipes the tear from my stubble cheek. She looks at me puzzled.
I brush the side of her face through the veil.
Getting up I hurry back through the beaded curtain and into the stink of this place.
My guide is waiting. He blocks my way with his hand outstretched.
“And it was her yes?” he asks sharply.
Reaching into my pocket I hand him the rest of his money.
He counts it quickly, then grins at me. He must think he’s my best friend in the world now.
“You back out very quickly American. Is she really that good?” he asks sneering.
I look at him my eyes going hard.
“Don’t you know?” I ask in a growing fury of cold hate, thinking about how many more people he has probably led to this doorway.
He is dumb enough to not see my expression for what it is. He looks offended by my question.
“I am a Christian! I would not sullen my soul with the body of a prostitute!”
He turns and disappears in a huff into the crowded streets.
An old soldier’s urge to kill can at times be just as strong as a young soldier’s.
I start to go after him, then feel a hand gently take my arm. I look down into a veiled face. I feel cold metal pressed into my hands then she too is gone from beside me.
I open my hand to see an intricately engraved metal locket. Moving my thumb I press the hidden claps to open it. I don’t have to look for it, I know my mother’s locket by heart.
Inside is a picture of a woman I loved.
Looking up I for a second see dark eyes looking at me then they are gone. Slipping back into the exotic world she is from.
Taking my necklace off over my head I pop it open and slip the locket back onto it. It slides down to rest against my dog tags for the first time in twenty years.
Not since the night in the desert. When I loved a woman from another world.
And made a daughter I can not save from it.