Author's Note: I continue Morteza’s story. I’m returning him to Babylon soon, but he is in the country of his birth for three more poems, including these two. I fear that when he returns to Babylon, the vultures will be circling.
Morteza Remembers His Escape
Strange how memory is triggered. Strange how sight, sound or especially smell can bring a sudden rush of recollection. That is what happened to Morteza as he walked along the hospital corridor. Instant flashback, He was thirty years into the past. He sees again his professor being marched from the hospital. He hears the staccato burst of gunfire. He knows he will be next. He hides for hours in the women’s toilet. He rushes home, gathers what he can, kisses his parents, cries, hugs them, and then his brother is driving him through the city’s shadows and up the high mountains, both praying that there will be no unknown checkpoint. They know of a snow-filled pass, a dangerous route with no road but one that avoids the guarded border crossing. He hugs his brother. They weep. Two tribesmen wait. He has paid them well. He mounts a sturdy little pony and for three days they lead him through the mountains, one high white peak replacing another. He is numb beyond exhaustion. Sometimes his horse sinks to its chest. He dismounts and struggling, labors through deep snow drifts. Then, there is the last peak and a long way below, like a patchwork quilt, the panorama of the plain, a sprawling refugee camp, heat and hopelessness, more travelling days filled with fear, people smugglers charging exorbitantly, a dangerous journey by sea in a crowded little boat that crests and drops for hundreds of kilometers on the open ocean until finally, there is an island, Babylonian territory. A wave of relief sweeps over him. He makes his plea for asylum. Uniformed people take him a long way. The blazing sun batters a collection of crude huts huddling in unending desert flatness. The sky is uninterrupted blue. The low scrub is grey/green, the earth an ochre red. Razor wire tops high fences. Guards are contemptuous and callous. A number is scrawled on his shoulder. He is thrown into solitary confinement. Still he studies, despite the deprivations. He will not waste this time. He waits for almost a year. His plea is successful. It is a ticket to freedom, to life, to love, to children, to the exercising of his extraordinary gifts, to a life of service, to mending broken bodies. He knows he was lucky. Some time later Babylon closed its gates. All asylum seekers were sent to a bleak, barren, treeless island in the middle of the trackless sea. There they stayed, year after year, abused, despised by the locals, shrinking little by little, their gifts unrecognized and unused. What would he have done? Would he, in bitterness and despair, have chosen the option of some others? Would anyone have wept for him? Who would have mourned him? Who would have remembered him? He shakes his head and chastises himself. This full day cannot permit indulgence. Too many need his help. The present must take all his attention. As he walks down the corridor he can see limbless crowds waiting.
She had lost both legs above the knee. Morteza could not wipe her image from his eyes. Government will not help her. She could never afford prosthetics. Meeting her, he was amazed by her spirit, her resolve, her refusal to be bowed by adversity. I will help you, he said. I will make you walk again. Many in Babylon are kind and generous. We will raise money for you. When I return next year, I will give you legs. She took his hand and kissed it. She had no place for tears. They could not exist in her world but he saw how deeply moved she was. He lay on his bed. He ached for needless suffering. He had lost his fine balance between the steel of resolve and the softness of compassion. He wanted to weep. He longed for his wife. If only he could hold her. The world seemed so mingle-mixed, so disproportionately fixed, sometimes tenderly molded but too often savagely, cruelly hewn. Please, he thought, come to me. I know you are on the other side of the world. It is morning and you are working but I need you, now. Reach out for me, somehow. Bathe me in your wonder and light. Grant me your sweet respite. Please, wash away this night.
©2020 Neil Creighton
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