"This rain is the piss of Satan," Ali muttered to himself. It was dark. When he tripped over a piece of anonymous garbage he let fire a barrage of amazing obscenities.
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Rain in Baghdad is a blessing from God--unless you don't have a house. Ali staggered along a narrow street, his torn cloak clinging to his skinny legs, his precious burden hugged warmly to his chest. He made his way to one of his favorite doorways--a public building, empty at night--and discovered to his dismay that it was already occupied.
"Who is this? Interloper! Get you out of my house!" He punctuated this last with a kick at the dark, sleeping form.
"Hey, you clod of camel dung, get away from here," mumbled the sleeper. Ali leaned forward and squinted into the gloom.
"Hashim, is that you?"
"Yes, you son of an unclean whore. I have been waiting for you."
"I am glad that I have found you." Ali hunkered down next to his friend and pulled his damp cloak tighter around him. "Today, I was blessed with enormous good fortune," Ali began in a creditable parody of a professional storyteller's cadence. "An agent of the glorious Saddam Hussein, may he rest comfortably in the navel of God, was recruiting for a spontaneous demonstration and happened upon this miserable beggar."
"I, too, have tried to take part in spontaneous demonstrations," Hashim interrupted, "but the police always chase me away."
"Alas, you are not as beautiful as I, my friend. But pray allow me to continue."
"Of course." Hashim sat up respectfully. Ali could see him only as a dark shadow against the pale stone of the building. Distant thunder rumbled and the clouds lit briefly.
"I was paid an entire dinar to caper and dance before the cameras and praise the sweetly perfumed name of Hussein, may it echo in the outbuildings of paradise."
"And what has become of these riches?"
Ali opened his cloak and flourished the bundle with the elan of a magician. "I went to see a man that I know," Ali said with great mystery in his voice. "A man with no morals or scruples, a man who will burn in hell for all eternity, may it be so." He paused for dramatic effect.
"And?" Hashim knew that wisdom and patience went hand in hand, but both were beyond his strength when an entire dinar was involved.
"And so, not even for the entire dinar, I purchased this." He placed the bottle in his friend's hands. It was a bottle of sin--he had already tasted the fiery amber liquid several times. The label was appropriately black and covered with the evil writings of the satanic Americans. The sky rumbled again, a little closer this time.
Hashim drank. "Ah, this is the water of paradise."
"More likely the water of hell, my friend, but no matter. Neither you nor I will see paradise." Hashim took another drink and passed the bottle back to his friend. Ali drank deeply and felt the wonderful warm glow spread in his chest. Sirens went off at the edge of the city. The sky filled with sporadic bursts of light and was peppered with festive orange fireworks.
"The night is warming up and the dark is lifting," Ali observed and took another pull on the bottle.
"Yes, perhaps the city is celebrating another of Saddam Hussein's victories, may he sleep in the pocket of God's abba." He took the bottle from Ali. "I would celebrate as well." He tipped the bottle up and celebrated deeply; then Hashim threw back his head and quavered a desert folksong about lost love and loneliness.
"You sing like the hens of paradise, my friend."
"Thank you." He gazed at the colorful sky for a while. "You know, I sometimes wonder if releasing Province Nineteen from the grip of evil all those years ago was a good idea."
Ali stared at his friend in astonishment. "Could we accept their insults like cringing women?"
"Of course, not. But the Americans are come to Arabia like fleas to a dog and now they have infested us again."
"And like fleas they will be crushed between our thumbnails."
"Naturally, but at what cost?"
The building across the square exploded. It became a geyser of flame shooting up to the heavens, seeming to scorch the undersides of the very clouds. Hashim and Ali could see each other clearly for the first time that night. The heat singed the hairs in their nostrils. Rubble and ash mixed with rain showered down on the square.
"Suddenly, this doorway has grown too wet," said Ali. "Perhaps it would be wise to move to dryer quarters."
"Is the bottle unharmed?" Ali looked down at the bottle forgotten in his lap. The neck was crushed in his hand--he stared in amazement at his own strength--but the nectar of Satan was miraculously unspilled.
"Praised be to Allah, the kind and merciful," he intoned and rising, staggered uncertainly away from the blaze.
"Aamin," agreed Hashim and followed his friend.
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