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Authors: James Loney

Captivity (34 page)

BOOK: Captivity
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“Wow, that was close,” I say. It’s past midnight when Harmeet returns.

FEBRUARY 8
DAY 75

“What happened last night?” I ask Harmeet as soon as he’s awake.

“I didn’t want to go,” Harmeet says.

“What did they make you do?”

“The VCR motor wasn’t working for some reason. It’s probably jammed. They didn’t have a screwdriver to open it, so there wasn’t much I could do. Plus they had it plugged in wrong—the ‘out’ plug was in the ‘in’ plug—and then they didn’t have the right cable. But they have a DVD player, so I watched
Legends of the Fall
with them. Nephew fell asleep and snored really loud through the last half of the film. It wasn’t bad. Brad Pitt was in it.”

“What was it about?” I ask, suppressing a pang of jealousy.

“Oh, I guess it’s mainly a story about guilt. It’s set on a ranch in Wyoming. Uncle really liked the cowboys. It was really uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be there, with you guys being locked up here. Uncle even gave me some leftovers. I feel a little guilty about it. It was some bread from their supper. When he offered it to me I said I’d share it with you all upstairs, but he said no. He said, ‘This is from me to you.’ I couldn’t say no, so I ate it. I shouldn’t have. It wasn’t fair.”

“I’m glad you took it. No use in all of us starving. What’s it like down there?”

“Uncle sleeps on the floor and Nephew sleeps on the bed. The other bed, the one with all the crumbs on it, is used as a table for putting stuff on, food and whatnot. Uncle munched on popcorn for the whole movie. He had a huge bag of it. He offered me some but I said I was full from the bread. It was empty by the end of the movie. They have a
soba
down there going full blast. I was actually hot. If there is a petrol shortage, they certainly aren’t suffering from it. They kept the door open a crack.”

I curse myself. If only I’d known: the door closed, TV going, Uncle absorbed in a movie, Nephew sound asleep. I could have unlocked, scouted out the kitchen, the rest of the house, maybe even escaped! There’s a way out of here, I’m sure of it. We just have to figure it out.

For some inexplicable reason we’re given a vast quantity of food for lunch: a
samoon
for each of us, and a bowl of rice and a bowl of lentil stew to share.

At first I am anxious—we’re eating from a common dish again, how is this going to work?—but then I relax when Tom divides the food into four equal portions. Nephew, who has brought the food, objects loudly: only Americans divide their food like this. Thank you, we say, ignoring him, the food is very good. He tells us it was made by Uncle. He says he can’t eat it because he is Sunni and this is Shia food. He mocks the Shia, beating his chest and whipping his back.
“Kaffir. Majnoon,”
he says of them.

When we’re finished, Nephew takes away the dishes and locks us up. There’s an unfamiliar sensation in my body. It’s almost uncomfortable. It takes me a minute to figure out that my stomach is full.

Before Nephew can leave, Uncle appears at the door. We thank him lavishly. I will cook for you if you ever come to Canada, I tell him, Nephew interpreting for me.

How long does it take to get to Canada? Uncle asks. About twelve hours by plane. How long does it take to fly to Amman? One hour. Is there a plane from Amman to Canada? Yes. How long does it take? About eleven hours. Do I have a mobile? No. Why not? I don’t like them. When I’m at the airport, how do I get in touch with you? By a pay phone. I will come pick you up. With a car.

How do I get your phone number? I’ll write it down for you when we’re released. Good, he says.

All night, a roaring wind, bottles sweeping along pavement, gusts pushing against the window, whistling through invisible crevices, the warbling crash of flying sheet metal.

I want to be free. Just like the wind
.

FEBRUARY 9
DAY 76

“Today is Andrew’s birthday. He’s turning twenty,” Tom tells us, stoic, as though announcing some practical fact. Silence fills the room. No one knows what to say. The pain of it is too much. Andrew, without
his father on his birthday, not knowing whether he is alive or dead, the grim fear of never seeing him again. Tom told us all about him. Kassie too. I offer a silent prayer for them, for all of our families. I can’t imagine what they must be going through. We at least know we are alive. They don’t even know that much.

They take Harmeet downstairs to have another look at the VCR player. His report when he returns: “Well, they got a screwdriver and I was able to open it up to have a look. I found a loose connection, and the elastic that turns the spindle is broken. I offered to fix it if they can find another elastic. Nephew and Uncle started bickering about it. Nephew didn’t want Uncle to mess with it. I don’t think he trusts Uncle to fix it.

“They have a hard life down there. They don’t live much better than we do. They have nothing to do. There’s no electricity most of the time. They only get two or three channels. It’s Junior that brings the movies in. I asked them why they don’t get cable. Nephew made a face and said
haji
said no, they weren’t going to be here long enough to make it worth getting. So I guess that’s a good sign. The only difference is they have a
soba
, and they can eat as much as they want.”

“They can certainly leave any time they want,” Norman says.

“Maybe not,” Tom says. “They might not have a choice anymore, having joined the
mujahedeen
. Who knows, they might be killed if they tried to leave.”

Uncle beats his chest and pretends to flog his back. The Shia are crazy, they are friends of the Americans, they collaborate with George Bush.
Ali baba
. Bush is taking our oil.
Bush najis, Britannia najis
. The Sunni are fighting against the Sunni. The Sunni are good. I am Sunni. China is good. We get weapons from China. Bush, Blair, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, they’re all taking oil.
Mozane
. China isn’t taking oil. China
zane
. Canada
zane
.

He forms his hands into a machine gun, a rocket launcher, planes dropping bombs. No
salam
in Iraq, he says. He is a
mujahedeen
. Why? Because the Americans have invaded Iraq. He doesn’t kill American and British civilians. Why? He points to each of us and then to himself.
Salam
. He’s a man of peace, just like us. I’m not going to shoot you, he promises. When the American army leaves, there’ll be no more war. America and Britain and Iraq will be friends again. You have to tell Congress, tell Bush and Blair to leave Iraq and there will be peace.

Uncle points to our handcuffs. You came to Iraq and you were kidnapped.
Hubis, hubis
, he says. The money is for guns, mortars, rocket launchers. It’s not for me, he insists, shaking his head and waving his finger. Do you understand? he asks. Yes, we say.

When he’s gone, Harmeet says, “He’s given us his lesson on peace.”

There’s an explosion. Near enough to shake the windows. Junior instantly raises his hands in the air and shouts
“Allah Ackbar”
three times. God is great. God is great. God is great. A long exchange of gunfire follows.

Uncle and Junior grin at each other.
“Mujahedeen,”
they say proudly. Then, pointing at Tom, “
Amriki jaysh mot
. Good.”

“That’s just great,” Tom says as soon as they leave. “Just what we need—more dead people.”

During the night, Norman coughing in his sleep, bursts of air hitting the back of my neck. I can’t stand it. I really can’t stand it.

FEBRUARY 10
DAY 77

Junior pulls a switchblade out of his pocket. He flicks it open, examines it for a moment, then lunges suddenly for Uncle’s chest, stopping an inch from his heart. Uncle, sitting in a chair, yawns sleepily. Junior draws the knife across Uncle’s throat with a villainous grin and then across his scalp. Uncle looks into the distance and picks his
nose. Junior locks his arm around Uncle’s head and squeezes. Without warning, Uncle explodes out of his chair and they’re wrestling. We step out of the way. Uncle slams Junior against the wall. Junior charges. Their arms lock. Junior squirms free and grabs Uncle by the throat. Uncle grips Junior by the wrist, pulls down and twists his arm behind his back. He marches Junior into the foyer and forces him onto the floor. Junior knees Uncle in the gut and breaks free of his hold. They roll across the floor. We look at each other helplessly, no longer sure if they’re playing.

I step towards them and wave my arms like a referee. “Salam,
salam,”
I cry. They have each other by the throat. Uncle’s face is turning purple, drool oozing from his mouth. “Ding ding ding.
Salam, salam,”
I cry again.

Junior sits up with a big grin on his face. Uncle sputters, rolls onto his back, wipes his face. Both men are soaked in sweat and gasping.

“Good, good,” Junior says between heaving breaths. He clambers to his feet and bounces down the stairs. Uncle lurches into a chair to recover his wind while we go about our morning exercises. We no longer think of Junior as the easiest captor to physically subdue.

Uncle appears with news. What he has to say is electrifying:
Haji
is here, he’s going to take a picture of us, then tonight or tomorrow we will be released.

My instinct is to be doubtful: here, yet again, another hot-air promise. Tom, however, is convinced. “Something is definitely happening,” he says. Uncle has never been this specific before. The money must’ve finally come through and the prisoner exchange must be complete. He wants to discuss all the possible logistics of our release tomorrow: what to do if they take us to a safe house, a mosque, a political party office or leave us on the street; how we’ll get back to the CPT apartment to get our stuff and debrief; transportation arrangements for getting home.

I’m annoyed. First at Tom’s certainty—there’s no way he can know for sure tomorrow is the day—and second at the prospect of
having to discuss this yet again. We already have a plan, I remind him. From wherever we end up being released, whether it’s separately or all together, we’ll call Doug in Toronto. He’ll get in touch with the team and notify our families. If at all possible Norman will go directly to the airport and get the first flight home; the team can send his luggage on later. Hopefully they’ll be able to come and meet us. If not, we can get a taxi to drop us off at St. Raphael’s Hospital and walk to the apartment from there; we don’t want to attract any attention to it. If that’s not possible, we can ask to be taken to the nearest police station. Once we get to the apartment we can call our families, debrief, get our stuff and book a flight home. If any of us are released before the others, we can wait in Amman provided it doesn’t take too long.

“You’re losing your resolve to stay in the present, Tom,” Norman jokes.

“No,” Tom says, “this is no different. I’m just suggesting we prepare ourselves as best we can for the different scenarios that might arise.”

“I see,” Norman says.

“The worst part of this is being treated like a commodity.”

Norman explodes. “Oh, please! Would you STOP saying that! You’ve said it so many times, it’s burned into my brain.” Norman drills his finger against his temple. “Like a laser. Commodity, commodity, commodity!”

“I’m sorry,” Tom says. “It’s just that I’ve never felt this way before. Lots of other people have been made into slaves, but I never have. I never understood before what other oppressed people must go through, not having any control over their lives, not being consulted about decisions that affect them, people in abusive relationships who have to watch everything they do and say. I never knew what that was like, but I have a glimpse of it now.”

Norman apologizes. “I’m sorry. Really, I shouldn’t object. You—”

“I’ve come to see this as a 76-day retreat to work on my spiritual life, which wasn’t all that much when we started. I just hope it’s gotten
stronger. And I just hope that when I get out of here I don’t fall into my old patterns of self-indulgence and self-gratification.”

“When I get out of here,” I say, “I’m going to enjoy life as much as I can.”

“Baklava,” Harmeet says longingly.

“Well, I’m maintaining my pessimism here, just in case,” Norman says. “We’ve heard these things before, haven’t we?”

“Not like this. I think we’re really close this time,” Tom says.

FEBRUARY 11
DAY 78

Morning exercise. Junior is bouncing, running, doing push-ups, weaving circles around us in the foyer. He stops next to me. “Come on, Jim, massage,” he says.

Something tells me this is the time to say it. “This no suicide. La, this no go boom,” I say, repeating the motions he first used to show a bomb strapped to his body.

Junior shakes his head. “No suicide,” he says.

I look him in the eyes.
“Mazboot?”

“Mazboot,”
he says. “No suicide.” He sits down on the blue folding chair.


Inshallah
, this
abu
,” I say before I begin the massage. “This whalid. This
abu zane.”

“Thank you,” he says, grinning.

“I want to tell you something,” Tom says as soon as the captors lock us up for the day. “I had this strange experience last night. I was awake, looking up at the ceiling, just lying there, trying to meditate, when …” He hesitates, reaches for words. “I don’t know how to describe it. It wasn’t a dream. It was more like a vision …” He stops speaking, self-conscious, unsure if he should continue.

Go on, we say, we’re listening.

“You’ll probably think this is strange, but I want to tell you because you’re my friends. The most amazing thing happened. I couldn’t sleep.
I was just lying there, when I heard this voice. I don’t know where it came from, but it was clear and unmistakable, almost as if it was a real voice. All it said was, ‘I am here, I am here.’ And I felt this incredible sense of peace. Total and complete peace. Everything just melted away—all the anxiety and fear—everything. It just kept repeating, over and over, ‘I am here, I am here.’ ”

BOOK: Captivity
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