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Rahman’s Story

It is true. I found this story in an Iraqi trench that was full of empty canteens, and a year later I translated it into Persian with the help of a friend who, further to his wishes, I will not name.

The trench was probably hit by one of our long-range missiles. It had collapsed and all one could see was a large crater. The southern floods had still not had a chance to turn its dirt, rocks, and thorns into sticky gray mud so that here and there pieces of rusted metal, faded plastic, or even planks of wood could surface from it, and so that if you were to visit it long after, you could see young green sprouts blanketing the filled-in hollow and in March, the poppy flowers that have grown there too and their red that can be seen even from afar, and how beautiful it is.

I found the crumpled sheets of this story strewn in the dirt next to the corpse of a soldier who was perhaps its author and who had not had a chance to finish it because the ceiling beams of the trench had fallen on his back. As if he had heard the sound of the missile, he had settled for three dots and . . . he had died.

I learned Arabic during the years of war, and it was my friend, a student of Arab literature whose family happened to be among those exiled from Iraq many years ago, who helped me understand the things I didn’t understand. Places that I have left blank or marked with ellipses are exactly as they appear in the original text; it is not that I didn’t know or wasn’t able to find the equivalent in Persian. After all, my friend was there to help me; so much so, that here and there I accepted his guess and assumption of what an illegible or even erased word was. And don’t doubt the last page of this story. Those are exactly the words that he, meaning the Iraqi writer, wrote in Persian.

The editor in chief wanted the original text. I told him the truth: I have lost it.

To be honest, I don’t know what happened to it or where I lost it. I don’t know at all.

He said perhaps someone stole it . . . or burned it after reading it. That is impossible, because every time I read it or translated a page of it, I returned it to the safe and locked the door. Even if someone did steal it, why didn’t they take the Persian translation, too, or why is there no sign that the safe was broken into? No, I cannot accept these speculations. And that is why I didn’t expect the editor to believe my claims either. “It is what it is,” I said. “This is all that’s left.”

He had his doubts, and it’s perhaps because of these doubts that he still hasn’t paid my fee. The one time I called to remind him, they told me he wasn’t in!

In any case, the writer himself titled the story “Rahman’s Story,” and further to the editor in chief’s recommendation, to stay faithful to the original, I have not changed it. Throughout the text, wherever explanations were necessary, I have included them; and of course I stressed to the editor that they should print these in italics so that they will not be mistaken for the main text, that if they don’t, it will not be clear whether it is the writer narrating or someone else. I hope he hasn’t forgotten and hasn’t deleted them.

I still haven’t received a copy of that issue of the magazine. And every newsstand I go to, the vendor either says he doesn’t have it or haphazardly looks around and claims it is sold out.

There is one other copy of the story enclosed with this appendix that I have written and I have mailed it to an address that is unknown to me. Perhaps one of you will receive it!

Now I’m worried, worried because I don’t have another copy of the translation. I’m afraid all the copies might be lost. Like the writer himself who remains lost.

But there is no room to doubt the story, and I don’t. I myself was at the front for years, and without exaggeration, at all the frontlines of battle. Some of the scenes he describes, I have seen time and again. There are passages that perhaps seem strange or, better put, appear exaggerated and unreal. But they are true. The editor said, “What will the readers say!?” I replied, “The one who reads the story will be the final judge.”

 

. . . When I returned behind the earthwork, I saw him standing over the man, holding his bayonet with its tip pointing at the ground. He was straddling the Iranian prisoner of war and looking into his eyes; they were open and their whites gleamed in that sunburned face. I froze. I dropped the canteen and water poured out on the cracked earth and immediately sank in, leaving behind only a dark stain under the mouth of the flask. My eyes were fixed on that wet arch that was steadily growing lighter until it became the color of dirt. He leaped over, picked up the canteen and shouted, “What are you doing! You’re wasting all the water!”

Still clutching the bayonet, he raised the canteen to his lips and gulped down the water in one breath. Then he shook it for the last drops to fall on his face, which he was holding up to the sky. His eyes and mouth kept opening and closing to catch and devour every last drop. “Where did you find water?” he asked. “I’m talking to you! I said where did you find water?”

“Why did you kill him?” I said.

He looked nervous. He turned and stood with his back to me. Then he kicked a lump of earth with his left foot, raising dust in the air. “It was his own fault,” he said. “He made a jump for the bayonet . . .”

“But his hands were tied.”

“It was your fault,” he said. “You told me to tie his hands in front of him.”

 

When he was tying the Iranian soldier’s hands, I said, “Tie them in front of him, otherwise you’ll end up having to feed him.” He wrapped the rope around the man’s wrists a few times and made a tight knot. Then he motioned toward the prisoner’s dirt bike—the kind they jump with and are better suited to the desert and rough terrain than to paved streets—and said, “If he wasn’t wounded, he would have made a run for it.”

I had tried to kick-start the motorcycle, but it wouldn’t start. He had jumped and grabbed the handlebars from me. His right leg was bleeding, so he had to use his left leg to crank the starter pedal . . . Finally, he took the cap off the gas tank, put his ear against it, and shook the handlebars. “The damn thing is empty,” he said. “It’s bone-dry.”

“Even if we could turn it on,” I said, “it would be useless. It wouldn’t carry all three of us. Besides, your leg is wounded and I don’t know how to ride a motorcycle . . .”

“It wasn’t going to be the three of us,” he said.

And he put his hand on the rag he had tied around his thigh and burst into laughter. He had ripped open the right leg of his pants, it was soaked with blood all the way down to his boot and each step he took I could see his leg, drenched with red and black blood . . .

“How are we going to get back to the front?” I said. “We’re completely lost.”

“Instead we found one of them, and under this scorching sun we can make him suffer . . .,” he said. “Hey, you! What’s your name?”

The Iranian soldier just stared at him. He reached into the collar of the man’s white undershirt that was no longer white, lodged his tongue between his teeth, and yanked off his dog tag. He stumbled back a few steps, then he took off his own dog tag and put it around the prisoner’s neck and laughed out loud. Again, he staggered back a few steps. He held the prisoner’s tag with his thumb and index finger and raised it to read the name. The glare of the sun’s reflection on the metal shined in his eyes and he hurled the tag to the ground, turned his back to us, and started pacing. I picked up the dog tag and read the name. He turned around and said, “Did you see what the damned man’s name is?”

“What’s wrong with it?”

He looked at me. Then he sneered and sat down on the ground. He said, “It makes no difference to me.”

“What makes no difference to you?” I asked.

He didn’t answer. As he was untying his boot laces, he stuck his finger in the hole on the side of one boot and said, “God knows how many of these I have worn through.”

He had been at the front for more than five years. Others said, “He’s mad. His tour of duty is over, but he won’t go back home . . .”

Our soldiers (not the volunteers who stayed five or six years) had to be at the front for about two years; and toward the end, when their discharge became uncertain and they were told to stay until the situation became more clear, they found it harder to endure—especially for an unknown length of time. The result was repeated reports of unidentified gun fire, bullets that had ricocheted and injured an arm, or those that had directly hit a big toe, which qualified one for a few months of medical leave. But in the end, even if there was no stray bullet and luck was at work, they would say, Discharged!

The first time I asked him, without saying a word he reached into his shirt pocket and took out a folded photograph and showed it to me. He was standing in the middle with his arms around his two brothers. He was older than them, with a mustache that was thicker and darker than theirs . . . it made the whiteness of his teeth more glaring. The uneven fold of the photograph had left a thick diagonal line across his cheek, like a scar left by the rapid slash of a dagger or a blunt switchblade, with the white of the crack stretching from his lips down to his exposed chest. The one called Ghader, or perhaps Rahim, the one who was standing to his right and seemed to be the youngest, resembled him.

When he returned from his first leave, he never went again. “Where would I go?” he said. “. . . if all that’s left of an entire town is bricks, what would there be left of our house . . .”

I heard that when he reached the military police checkpoint, he wept in front of the entire detachment. He fell to his knees and clawed at the earth. I never saw him cry for his brothers, nor for a friend or anyone else. It seems that was the only time. Then one night when we were on patrol duty around the infantry unit’s bulwark—we were the second shift and it was a full moon—he said, “The eight months I was confined to bed felt like eight years . . . the damn thing had hit me on the head and neck and my back was riddled with holes . . .” Then he took that same photograph out of his pocket and showed it to me in the moonlight. “This was Ghader,” he said, “and this one was Rahim. And my mother, who they had pulled out unharmed, died of sorrow before the fortieth-day ceremony of their passing . . .” I saw the reflection of the moon glisten in his eyes. From that night on, I stopped asking him why he wouldn’t go on leave. He said, “. . . this is why I’m here!”

I remained silent. He was saying, “. . . and how about you? Did you think I’ve gotten used to the measly army pay, or that I’m here to fight for my flag or, I don’t know, for my motherland? . . . No!” 

He said, “I lost two people, I’ll take two people . . . with this very bayonet. And if not, then with this!” And he pointed to the rifle on his shoulder.

“Your mother died, too!” I said.

“All mothers die of sorrow.”

At night, we would look out at the horizon that was brighter than all the earthworks around us. Far away, it was all flaming red, with a yellow blaze that seemed to flicker on and off. It was only when the sound of exploding mortar shells and missiles stopped for a moment that we would realize what a racket they created. Rahman would say, “Poor Naft-Shahr.” I would say, “Well the other side could say the same thing.” And he would reply, “They’re right, too.”

Other than me, no one knew why this seventy-percent-wounded soldier, everyone wishing they were in his place, had stayed and insisted on staying. When you looked at him from behind, you could see where the shrapnel had hit him on the head; it had left a bald spot the size of a dirham. There were several depressions on his neck, just like the hollows in your cheeks when you suck them in or the ones left on a lump of dough right after you pull your fingers out, and pinkish-red flesh had bulged out around them.

He had said two, and I witnessed the first one myself . . . the soldier was holding up his white undershirt and kept saying, “Al-salam, al-salam . . .” He didn’t know Arabic and said some things in his own language. There is no shame in this; prisoners of war always do it to save their life. It’s called “dissimulation.” Rahman was aiming at the man’s chest, watching him, and he kept shouting, “Come forward, come forward . . .”

I was waiting for the soldier to reach us when I heard Rahman shoot. At first I thought his rifle had gone off by mistake, but when he burst into laughter, I realized, No, he intended to shoot . . . I went over to the man. He had died instantly, his eyes open. With my thumb and middle finger, I closed his eyes. I had to bury him. I looked at his dog tag. Rahman’s bullet had ripped off half of it and only a few letters remained. I threatened Rahman that I would report him. He was putting on the soldier’s boots. At first, he snickered. Again, I yelled, “I will report you!”

Regardless of all the reports that warrant an investigation, when the culprit is taken away and you never see him again and later if you dare ask about him they say he was transferred and then they look into your eyes and ask, “How come,” it’s ridiculous to report a soldier for shooting a prisoner of war. Besides, you’ll never know if the report you filed ever reached anyone or not!

He threw the boots toward me and said, “They’re too small for me.”

 

When he gave up on starting the motorcycle, he hurled his boots at the Iranian prisoner and said, “Give me his boots and put these on him.”

I was kneeling in front of the soldier. He was looking at me; his sparse mustache was lighter than his skin and his lips had swollen from thirst. His boots were new. I untied them. I looked at his large feet, a sign of nascent puberty. Both his big toes were bloody and he had calluses on the back of his heels. I put Rahman’s boots on his feet. He didn’t move. Rahman said, “Don’t bother lacing them.”

“He won’t be able to walk properly,” I said.

“Who cares . . . go take a look around here and see if you can find any water.”

His head was down and he was drawing lines in the dirt with a stick. Crosses and curves, to the right and the left, and then he would scratch them out. His lips were parched and cracked from thirst and with all the blood he was losing I didn’t think he’d want to or be able to do anything to the prisoner. And the man’s hands were tied and he posed no danger to Rahman either. They say those wounded by a bullet shouldn’t drink water. But this wounded man could die of thirst before dying from the bullet in his leg. I had to go, and only in one direction, in a straight line, hoping to come across a corpse—Arab or Iranian didn’t matter—so that if a canteen with some water, even a small amount, remained on his belt, I could take it and walk back the same straight line.

I was some distance away from the earthwork when I saw a corpse. Even though I was dying of thirst and my boots felt heavier by the second, I ran toward it … his walkie-talkie’s antenna was crooked, his thumbs were hooked under his backpack’s tarpaulin shoulder straps, and he had fallen facedown. I was too late; not long ago someone else had found him and with one swipe of their bayonet had slit his combat belt and taken his canteen. Disappointed, I looked up . . . but there was still hope. There was another corpse up ahead and a few more farther away, wearing the enemy’s khaki or our darker-colored uniforms. One of them was sure to have a canteen with enough water to quench my two-day-old thirst. I went from one to the other, taking their canteens if they had one and shaking them . . . finally, I heard the sound of water. I didn’t look at the corpse’s dog tag. What difference did it make. He had a canteen and it was half-full. I didn’t drink. I just unscrewed the top and sniffed; I smelled warm water and dank condensation, and I walked back the same straight line I had come.

 

He didn’t ask whether I was thirsty or not. And he already knew the Iranian prisoner of war no longer felt any thirst. “Why did you kill him?” I shouted again.

I lunged at him. He was heavy and strong, but he had lost a lot of blood and was sapped. We wrestled, I landed on top and sat on his chest. I looked into his eyes and their dark gleam; without him saying anything, I knew what he was thinking about. He used to sit quietly in the corner of the trench, light a cigarette, and, ignoring all the noise around us, he would blow smoke rings in the air. When we returned from our night patrol, he would sleep on the lower bunk and each time I softly whispered his name he would say, “I’m awake.” I would hang my head down over the edge of the top bunk and see the glint of those two black marbles in the darkness of the trench. It was as if he was staring at the ceiling beams. I liked him. His eyes were kind, except when the photo album in his mind would turn to the page with the picture of the three of them, him standing in the middle . . . and then, his eyes no longer had that steady and familiar shine.

I took my hands off his chest and threw myself on the ground next to him. My closed eyes quieted down in the dark shelter of my hands. A moment later I raised my head. Gripping his right leg and dragging it along, Rahman was limping away in some unknown direction. I knew if he continued he would collapse and die before he even reached the second earthwork. I shouted, “Go! The hell with you. Let yourself bleed so much that you fall flat on your face and die!”

He paused, but he didn’t turn his head. He climbed up the earthwork and an instant later, as if sinking into the earth, he went down the other side, and then there was just the cover of the sun that was as infinite as the earth around us. I was left alone, thirsty and with a corpse I had to bury. I was digging the earth like a desperate man digging for water. It wasn’t dark yet, the sun was making its way closer to dusk . . .

Yes, with mess gear and a bayonet one can dig a hole as big as a person, and if it happens to be too small, one can make it wider and wider.

I picked up the Iranian soldier and carried him over to his grave. He was heavy, but not as heavy as Rahman, especially when he and I got into a scuffle and just when I was short of breath he would with one quick spin throw his entire bulk on my chest. I was about to gently put the corpse down on the ground when I heard the sound of laughter in the distance. I thought, It’s Rahman, he’s coming back! Then I heard a second voice and realized there were several soldiers heading our way. But you can’t tell from the sound of laughter if a man is an Arab or not . . . I left the corpse of the prisoner right there and I ran all the way behind the earthwork Rahman had climbed. I didn’t wait around to see how many they were. What difference did it make if they were two or three or five?

Behind the earthwork, I saw Rahman’s trail: his blood had trickled on the ground and its trace turned and went behind the earthworks up ahead. I followed him. I thought, If you are alive, forget it, but if you are dead, there is a lot I want to say to you.

And now that the trail of your blood has led me to you, I see that yes, you have fallen flat on your face and died; just as I had shouted behind you when you left. I don’t know how you managed to drag yourself this far with a leg that had turned black and a body drained of blood. These last few meters, there aren’t even bloodstains on the ground! . . . Your head . . . turn it . . . I want you to see me. I’m still alive. But my hands don’t have the energy to dig a second grave, especially not here. I have to take you back to where we were. My legs can still bear it. We will go back the same way we came. But why have you clawed at the earth? Open your fist . . . come here . . . up . . . on my shoulder . . . you’re so heavy! Your prisoner weighed less than you, he was as light as a stalk of hay. He’s even lighter now. Because you killed him. And those men, possibly his friends, didn’t give me a chance to bury him . . . I had dug his hole when I heard them in the distance and ran over here. If they were the enemy, given the direction they were coming from, it’s obvious that you limped all this way in the wrong direction. Look, you should have gone that way, behind those dirt hills . . . don’t be afraid . . . it was just a mortar shell. In this barren wasteland . . . The border must be close by. Why did you move? I know you’re not afraid. You’ll fall. You weren’t afraid from the start. But who knows, perhaps when we die we have more fear . . . And don’t worry about them. They must have left by now. If they saw him, I doubt they realized he was Iranian. And he’s wearing your dog tag. Unless a friend recognizes him by the whites of his large eyes. If they thought he was an enemy soldier, perhaps they didn’t even spare his corpse. He doesn’t have anything, you took everything he had. And not as a souvenir! Perhaps thinking that he’s an enemy soldier, they riddled his corpse with bullets and threw him headfirst in the hole I dug. Or they tore open his stomach . . . and this time it was with one of their own bayonets. You shouldn’t have done it. What sin have any of us committed? So what if he was a lookout . . . If I were in your place, dead as you are now, I would want a friend or even a stranger to dig a hole and bury me, and to hang my dog tag on a dried-up branch or a metal pole he has found nearby and stuck in the ground next to my grave, so that just like all the others, there will be something left for them to return to my family. Isn’t that how they returned the remains of Abdullah and my other friend? A casket that big and only a few bones and a dog tag . . . And everyone buries their dead. They must, otherwise the desert will be inundated with corpses. Look around you! Look into the distance, those two rounded hills. It’s like a face that once had clear skin and now there are freckles on its cheeks and nose and lots of black, gray, and yellow moles . . . But, why did you kill him? Now I know why you sent me off to search for water. I should have told you to go yourself. But no, your leg was hit by shrapnel. I had to go. Would you both still be alive if I hadn’t gone? No, perhaps only one of you! How was I to know? When I came back, I couldn’t believe it. What happened to those kind eyes? Was that first guy your brothers’ murderer? Or this poor slob who was barely a youth? So what if he was a lookout? It’s not as if he was the one who gave them the target position of your house. As a matter of fact, he was probably not even ten years old when it happened . . . They shoot. There are mortar shells and bullets. Night and darkness. On whoever’s head they land. And even if they fall in the desert, it doesn’t make any difference. Not to them and not to us. Just like these mortar shells. That leaves only luck, which Ghader and Karim didn’t have. These two guys didn’t have any either. Otherwise . . . Look, this is your blood here; it’s as if you have lined the road with it . . . did you take your shirt off because of the heat or because of its weight? Here it is. You’ve thrown it on the ground and walked away. With . . . your weight . . . I can’t . . . bend over . . . besides, it’s of no use to you now. What difference does it make if your boots are old or new? Or why they’re always late distributing the canned rations, or even whether it’s night or day? Forget about watches, which you wear one on each wrist, like the enemy soldiers did at the start of the war. We could tell how many prisoners of war they had taken by the number of watches they wore on their wrists and held up for the camera with a big smile on their face. I know yours isn’t war booty, it belonged to Ghader or Rahim. Even you don’t remember . . . Don’t be restless, we’ll get there. I’m lighter. You, too. But you’re quiet again, just like the times when you would sit in the corner of the trench and not talk . . .

 

They had thrown him facedown in the hole and they had hit him on the back of the head with a clump of dirt. I gently put Rahman down on the ground. I brushed the dirt off the Iranian prisoner’s head and turned his face. It was injured. I looked at Rahman. His face too was cut from having hit the ground that he could no longer see. The sun was about to set, so that a few minutes later the brightness and glare of all that commotion could again be seen on the horizon.

There was enough space for both of them. If they lay side by side, there would only be room for a bayonet blade between them. I threw a fistful of dirt on their faces and as I went to pick up another fistful, I saw his shirt tossed to the side. He always kept the photograph in his left pocket. Whenever he wanted to wash his clothes, he would carefully take it out and, holding it with both hands, he would walk over to his ammo box. He would unlock the box and without looking at them he would tuck the photograph in the folds of a towel and he would again close the box. We all had an ammo box instead of a footlocker for our clothes and gear, and whoever was discharged would pass his on to a friend. I took the photograph out of his pocket and before unfolding it I closed my eyes for an instant. By the time it lay open, the sky was dark. The sun was gone and following a blast, a flare appeared in the sky, and as it descended, for a moment everywhere was bright. Rahman was standing in the middle. His left arm was around one of them and his other arm was around the one called Rahim, or was it Ghader, the one who resembled Rahman . . . No, it was the prisoner of war! It seemed to be him standing there, smiling, with Rahman’s arm around his shoulders . . . My eyes were blurry and I couldn’t see their faces clearly, and by the time I closed and opened them, the flare had extinguished. I looked at the corpses and at the moonless sky.

I had to put the photograph somewhere, on the chest where it had always been. It was dark and their faces, injured and caked with blood and dirt, looked alike. Waiting for another flare to brighten the sky, I sat right there on the parched earth with my legs crossed and I let my eyes rest in the shelter of my hands. There was a sound. It seemed another flare had been shot into the sky for me to see clearly. My eyes, covered by my hands, were calm, and in the glow of that flare I knew where I had to put the photograph!

I sat on my knees and with the heels of my hands I pushed the mounds of dirt piled around the hole back into it. Then with my palms I smoothed out the surface so that a passerby would know that the earth was not alone, that a soldier’s grave was there, and perhaps he would pause for a moment. I had to get up, stand on my heavy legs and look around in the darkness of night, hoping that the glint of something would draw me to itself, so that I could take it and hammer it into the ground at the head of that nameless grave and hang the dog tags from it. But there was only Rahman’s bayonet and the empty canteen. I grabbed the bayonet with both hands and with all my might I plunged it into the ground a few times … no, there was no miracle, no spring gurgled to the surface, not even a drop of water seeped out. The bayonet firmly sank halfway into the earth. I wrapped the chains of the dog tags around its handle a few times and put the canteen on the ground next to it.

I had to write on their grave, “The burial place of Rahman and . . .” No, I didn’t cry. When you are thirsty, the fountain of your eyes runs dry. I had to get up and walk in some direction to find a trench where I could stay until someone showed up. And I didn’t want water anymore! Right there, next to the grave, I let myself fall back facing the sky and . . . I fell asleep.

 

I saw myself sleeping in an unfamiliar trench. From the corner of its roof the sky was visible, and thirsty me, I was lying on my back, looking up at the ceiling beams . . . the trench was littered with canteens, but each one I picked up—with both hands so that I could gulp it down in one breath—it was empty. One by one I raised them to my lips and smelled the stale vapor that wafted inside. I shook them so that if there was a single drop of water left, it would fall on my lips and let me sense the pleasure of quenching thirst. There wasn’t, they were all empty; until I saw a large canteen that was cool and full of water. In one breath I drank it all. The mouth of the flask was so wide that half of the water was pouring out on my face and clothes. It was such pleasure, the cooling of eyes and lips and the water’s heavy chill deep in my parched throat . . . but an instant later there was again thirst and desperation for water that had me writhing . . . Crawling, I grabbed all the sheets of paper around me. I wanted to write on all of them, I am thirsty, I am thirsty, thirsty . . . I realized that everything that had come to pass was appearing before my blurry eyes: Rahman, the Iranian prisoner of war, the earthworks we walked across; and there was someone else with us, it was Ghader, or perhaps Rahim. Then I saw the bayonets and Rahman’s bullet and the Iranian soldier’s dog tag and the heels of my hands that ached and were swollen. There were sounds coming from every direction, loud sounds. Someone was crying. He turned around and I saw that his face was camouflaged with dry mud and his eyes were gleaming like a pair of white marbles. At the far end of the stripes on his cheeks, two vast rivers were flowing; it was as if a child with a slim twig had etched two furrows on a dirt map along the course of the Tigris and Euphrates, and another had poured a bowl of water at the mouth of the rivers to wash away the dirt and pebbles in their path. And then, all of a sudden, under the beating sun the water had dried . . . I looked at the sheets of paper, they were all blank, and I had to write down all that I was seeing so that if I forgot my thirst after a sip of water, I wouldn’t imagine that it was all a dream, an illusion, a fantasy. I started from behind the earthwork, from where I was walking toward Rahman with the canteen of water . . . I wrote, I wrote it all . . . there was no end to the sheets of paper strewn around me, and each one that I blackened, I tossed in a corner and picked up another one . . . until the paper ran out and only one blank sheet remained for me to write the final sentences that I had to write. Perhaps someone would come and find me and read what I have written . . . I wrote: I am alive. I have gone to sleep from thirst. If you pour a bucket of water on my face I will regain consciousness and drink, drink water . . . it is hot here, it is scorching, scorching . . . I am your friend. I like you, whoever you are. I have written in your language so that you will know I’m not dead. I’m alive. But I have lost my dog tag. Arab or Iranian, what difference does it make? I’m thirsty and your canteen is full. Gently call me. I have forgotten my name. Say, “Rahman.” Whisper it quietly. I will wake up. I will wake up. I hear a noise . . .

He had written these final sentences in both languages—in Arabic and Persian—so that whoever found him would know that he is alive, that he is thirsty. And when he heard the howl of the missile through the open roof of the trench, he had settled for three dots and . . . he had died.

"داستانِ رحمان" © Hossein Mortezaeian Abkenar. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2013 by Sara Khalili. All rights reserved.