01 October 2003
“I’m outside, where are you?” I asked my friend on the other end of our late-night mobile phone conversation.
“I’m on my roof,” she replied. “The reception is much better out here.”
“That’s good. I’m sitting in a white plastic chair in the middle of my lawn, just staring up at the moon and the date trees. It is so quiet and peaceful right now. There are three stray kittens lying down in a semi-circle about ten feet from me. I think they’re asleep. It’s weird to think we’re in the middle of Baghdad.”
“I know exactly what you mean. It’s quiet where I am, too.”
“You know, my mother correctly pointed out to me a long time ago that no matter where you go in the world, you can always find these white, plastic lawn chairs.”
“Oh my God, that is so true,” my friend replied. “That is too funny. Tell your mom I think…”
The cats jump up and scatter.
“Did you hear that?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “My God, what was that?”
“No…I mean did you hear that through the phone or with your own ears? You’re like five kilometers away from me right now.”
“No…I heard that with my own ears. It sounded like a bomb.”
“Hey…look up in the sky…can you see that?” A dense cloud of white smoke was rising into the moonlight.
“Oh my God. Yes! I see it! I see!” Her voice was shaking a bit.
The smoke kept rising higher and higher through the otherwise clear night.
In short order, the helicopters were overhead. The spinning rotors of the two blacked-out OH-58Ds thundered overhead like phantom horses. Their rotor wash dispersed the smoke, spreading it horizontally across the night.
Later that evening, intelligence confirmed that it was a bomb. BBC television said the same an hour after that. (“Another setback for the coalition,” they concluded. That seems to be their required ending for every story about Iraq these days…but that’s a topic for another column.) In any case, a car bomb had gone off apparently prematurely near an American army compound on the east side of the Tigris. Unlike those who’d targeted the Jordanian embassy and the U.N. headquarters, these attackers missed their mark and, thankfully, no one was hurt, let alone killed. The identity of the bombers was unknown. No group claimed credit for it. I guess no one wants to claim credit for a premature explosion. (“I swear to God that never happened to me before,” I picture the embarrassed terrorist saying to other members of his cell.)
The next morning in the chow hall, the explosion is discussed for a few minutes. “Where were you when the bomb went off?” “Did you see the smoke?” Etc. Etc. “I’m going to go drop a bomb right now, and then I’ll have a smoke,” an unsavory NCO says with a sly smile as he gets up from the table. “Thank you for that sergeant,” I reply. “Hey, I got Girls Gone Wild, Volume Ten in the mail yesterday,” my friend next to me eagerly volunteers. “That’s great,” I smile. “Did you hear they’re filming a Muslims Gone Wild?” The image of veiled women reaching down to their ankles to pull up their long black gowns makes my friend laugh. Soon thoughts of the night prior’s bombing are forgotten. A new day is in motion.