Editor’s note: The following three vignettes are taken from Daniel C. Britt’s experience during the U.S. withdrawal from cities in Iraq, up through his overland zig-zag from Baghdad through Iran to Bagram, Afghanistan. He’s been traveling at ground level in the region since 2009, and was joined by videographer Max Hunter in 2010, the two of whom are chronicling the experience with a documentary film scheduled for independent release in 2013.
Smoke from the grass fire is in the space where the wall cradles the door.
It’s stinging my eyes. It’s burning a black line down the edge of the dry, craggy lot across from the apartment.
Trucks cross the lot with the long dust tails that belong to comets. The dust falls down and settles in the unfinished Kurdish houses. Most only have windows and a door on one side. They look like giant gray heads. The window side is the face. The taller, wider doorways are the mouths. Each has three or more eyes. Fat Bangladeshi day-workers and delivery men are lollygaggin’ in the eye sockets.
The heads look crazy or dumb, depending on the way the Bangledeshis lean.
I cut through the lot the last time Sandra Romain died on me, on my way back from Ainkawa with whiskey to pay our landlord with.
The bottle’s clanked together as I pushed her up the sides of all the ditches onto the dirt road. Her back tire had been patched on the side but it was alright otherwise. The front was bald and going flat. I hadn’t fixed any of her yet.
It was Grant’s and Teacher’s whiskey, a bottle of each. The Christians at the liquor store sold plastic bottles too but today those were light in color for whiskey, more like Listerine. And today, the kid behind the counter looked especially guilty.
I didn’t want to be too cheap with our landlord this time. Since the videographer and I moved in with our crumby microwaveable chicken steaks, ants have been forming clusters in the kitchen and the front room.
Sandra Romain had a leaky carburetor. I took the scenic route down the street covered in broken green glass. She died because the carburetor let out slowly all over my boots and the road. I didn’t see it coming and drove further than I should have because I liked the wind and the way the light swam on the shards.
Now it was only the sun and the hot rocks.
You heavy bitch.
Two miles to go.
The houses weren’t as freakish up close. Ivory knobs and green swinging gates explained everything.
Up close, most of the Bangladeshis weren’t lollygaggin’ at all. They were stirring tar in the heat and stomach-sick, leaning out of the eye sockets, vomiting down the cheeks. The fumes got them. Without a motorbike, there’s no such thing as wind here.
Smoke is all over the flat and the black line has grown to a hundred meters long.
The more my eyes water the funnier it gets.
Chickens run away from it.
Cinders dance in the window frame.
The smoke dips into my glass of water.
Burn the grass in a country plagued by dust?
Men, douse it in benzene. Light it at noon. Iraq isn’t hot enough at that time of day.
It’s been done like that for years, during shelling from Turkey and two decades of war with Iran and America.
To keep it up takes strength.
We don’t let trouble bother our routines. We don’t fix anything. We go to work and vomit every day.