Saturday, 26 June 2021

'Fishing Expedition' by JP Goggin

We pull up in our Humvee. Fifty feet away, a boy maybe eight chases a mangy dog with cow-licked fur around the rubble, his untroubled laughter off kilter and foreign in this dangerous place.

I grit my teeth, ignore the month-old-potato smell of the dust and grime and grab my gear along with Staff Sergeant Mathis. Kevlar helmet, M-16 on the shoulder, metal detector should we need it. We have five minutes to check the area, complete this fishing expedition for Lieutenant Long.

The firefight took place in a vacant lot between mudbrick houses. Lots of debris. The sun carves black shadows into everything like a Klieg light. Down the dusty street, as straight and unremarkable as any in this western suburb of Baghdad, stand houses with beaten wood doors and boxed roofs like discarded brown cardboard boxes. I can never get over the silence, how none of the Iraqis ever come outside.

I follow Mathis to the far end of the lot. The kid and the dog still circle, like a planet in loose orbit. Command says that kids work as lookouts for the insurgency, collecting intel, learning our procedures—but mostly they just seem harmless and curious to me. Does he play here with his friends, his brothers and sisters? Does he have friends? After five years of on-again, off-again fighting, is that still a thing?

In my broken Arabic, I want to ask him where his father is, where his mother is, but I’m afraid of the answer I’ll get. Too many casualties in this part of town lately. Too many detainees. I shoo the kid away, tell him to go home, tell him it's dangerous, but he just keeps staring at me with those flat brown eyes, like I'm the one who doesn't belong.

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