11 – Baghdad
SEVERAL YEARS AGO
I stood in the square before the National Museum of Iraq. staring up at the two towers flanking the central archway. I knew that orders had come down from on high that we were to do everything we could to avoid engaging in a firefight where the building or its contents might be damaged, yet even so there had been excessive looting and for the most part that edict had been followed.
There had been one instance of snipers taking refuge in the building, knowing full well that the American forces were hesitating to shoot back at them, but even they were long gone now. The structure was ours now, as was most of the city.
I had requested and been granted permission to visit the museum, knowing that it was a once in a lifetime experience. Since the fighting had died down and the worst of the wounded had been seen to, the more time sensitives needs of a priest had lessoned somewhat. I didn’t have much time, but I would have a little.
When I went in, only a skeleton crew remained, the majority of the museum’s staff having long since vacated to safer ground so long as the fighting in the city continued–and who could blame them.
Many of the smaller items had been removed entirely, either by the museum staff beforehand or by looters after. From what I had heard there had been several waves of looters, each coming in and taking more and more of the larger items.
The larger items though, those that couldn’t easily be moved had been wrapped in packing material, hoping to cushion them in the even that anything catastrophic should happen.
Of all the remaining exhibits though, one in particular caught my eye.
It was a small collection of pottery from around the time Christ, said to have come from Israel. Each piece had an information card in front of it, but unfortunately, not a one of them was in English–and I still didn’t know more than a few basic words in Arabic.
So instead, I just stood there, admiring the work that had gone into the pieces, thinking just how strange it was to find them here, now, two thousand years and five hundred miles removed from where they had once been made.
I had to imagine–if only these pieces of clay could speak… Oh the stories could tell. About the time of
Of course, even if they could speak, it wouldn’t be in English anyways. So I’d need a translator. One that spoke Ancient Pottery. Something I thought that perhaps I was in the wrong profession.
I turned to head for the next display and almost collided with a figure that, until a moment ago, I had had no idea was there.
I twisted in mid-turn and hopped about a bit, trying to both keep my balance and to keep from knocking the figure over.
As I did, I noted that the figure was a woman. She had on a traditional headscarf, but her top was more form fitting than many I’d seen since coming to the city, leaving her an odd mix of time styles.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, slowly getting my balance back under control.
“No worries,” she said, her voice accented, but not as I had expected. Rather than any of the wide variety of Middle Eastern accents I’d grown accustomed to over the past few weeks, her was a soft British, well educated and high class.
When I didn’t immediately answer, she went on. “How are you enjoying your visit to the museum?”
There wasn’t a hint of sarcasm in her voice, although she had to know that I was with the military–I was in my uniform after all–and there really wasn’t much to see in the first place.
Still… “It’s lovely,” I said, “I was just admiring the pottery back there.” I pointed.
She nodded without looking. “They’re mostly from the Mount of Olives, near Jerusalem. al-Eizariya was the name of the town, if I remember correctly.”
I raised an eyebrow. “And what is a collection of pottery from Israel doing here in Baghdad?”
She smiled in return. She had a nice smile. “You’d be surprised at how much these old artifacts move about. Up until the first World War, these pots were in Egypt. After that, they ended up in Germany until after the World War II.”
I raised an eyebrow. “That still doesn’t explain how they got here.”
“After World War Two, they ended up in a private collection. Some big business tycoon, I believe.” She smiled, as if at some private joke. “It’s right there on the cards.”
She pointed and I turned, without even thinking about it. Of course, it did no more good than it had before. I turned back to the woman. “I can’t read Arabic.”
12 – Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO
“Cremated?” I asked, more to buy time than anything. It wasn’t strictly forbidden for a Catholic to be cremated–it hadn’t been since the early 60s–but it was still unusual. Only for a good reason, basically.
The other man was nodding. He didn’t seem to have noticed my confusion. “So you can image our surprise when he showed up at the door.”
I couldn’t really, the whole situation just kept teetering on the edge of surreal. But I nodded anyways to keep him talking.
“Anyways, I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so I invited him in.”
Personally, I didn’t think that would have been my first reaction, but I guess that there really weren’t many standard reactions for a case like this.
“But he just shook his head. Slowly, side to side. Like he really didn’t want ot have to say no, but he had to. Like he was being forced to.”
“Just then, I heard my mother calling out from the dining room. She wanted to know who it was at the doorway. There was an edge in her voice… I didn’t like hearing that edge. She sounded like a woman on the edge.”
*Not entirely without cause…" I thought.
“I called back to her that it was nothing, that it was just some friend from school. I was probably going to catch some slack for it later–both for having a friend visiting during dinner, but also for teaching them our secrete knock. She wasn’t going to be happy with them either way.”
“Still, until I knew more about what was going on with my brother…. it was better than that alternative.”
I considered his words, but all the while I couldn’t help but think about the other man’s sins. At the very least, he had lying and disrespecting his parents on the list.
“Since he wouldn’t come in, I went out to meet him instead. We walked out to the edge of the road and sat there on the edge of the pavement.”
“And then we talked.” He shrugged. It came off casual, but I could tell that he wasn’t used to talking nearly this much about something so important to him.
After more than a decade of listening to people talk about themselves and their problems, one started to pick up on the people that don’t necessarily share quite so well. “Talked?”
“Talked. About life. And death. It was a really screwed up situation, not going to lie. Sitting there talking to him. But at the same time, it kind of felt right. Like we used to. Before… Well, you know.”
He didn’t have to finish. I did know.