Abdul Elah Abdul Qader, Translated from the Arabic by Essam M. Al-Jassim

Basra’s gritty road to Khorramshahr was unbearably stifling with the sun blazing directly overhead. The dilapidated truck soon felt like an inferno with its roofless deck exposed to sun and dust. The truck was being used to relocate Abbas al-Matrood and Khadija, his heavily pregnant wife, who was due any day, among the truck’s other occupants. The juggernaut’s tires nearly caught fire, squealing their way through the sandy hills to reach their destination.

The day before, when an officer informed Abbas he had to leave the country, the ground beneath Abbas’s feet shook. He didn’t ask why; he simply implored the officer to reconsider, insisting that deporting his wife in the exposed truck would leave her and the unborn baby vulnerable to grave injury. He followed the officer, pleading with him, but the man’s assistants stopped him.

The officer paid no heed to Abbas’s solicitations or Khadija’s pleas for mercy. He even pushed back bystanders who tried to mediate and persuade him to postpone their deportation.

“I have strict orders that they must leave the country immediately. These people are of Persian origin, and orders must be executed perfectly!” The officer with the sharp jawline thundered his command as he left Abbas’s house.

Now, kilometers from the only home he had ever known, Abbas stared bitterly at the pockmarked landscape—the horrible sight of scattered skeletal remains, burned tanks, and blown-up trucks—all remnants of the absurd war that had lasted almost a decade.

Khadija was on her back in the middle of the truck, bawling and groaning from the unending pain of labor. A cohort of women gathered around her fashioned a tent-like cover using their abayas. It concealed Khadija’s loins, providing plenty of shade from the sun’s searing heat. The other passengers in the truck, who had also been uprooted, sat in the opposite corner in pensive silence, ruminating over their fears and worries of the unknown.

Abbas, longing for solitude, jammed himself into a tiny space away from the others and reminisced over his days in Basra, the city of his forefathers.

How can I leave my beloved city and be expelled to Iran? I’m not Persian. My fourth great-grandfather might have been, but I have no roots in Iran. My grandfathers and I were all born and raised here. How can I convince the ruling leadership that I have the unquestionable right by birth to live in Basra? That is more than any of those government officials—determined to exile me from my home country—can say.

Khadija released a shrill cry, interrupting his train of thought and prompting him to turn to the driver, begging him to heed his wife’s pleas. “Isn’t it possible to stop so our child can be delivered off the road?”

The driver refused Abbas’s request, relaying his fear of intervention by the patrol forces from either side of the border. The area had been a constant battleground for almost a decade, saturated in the blood of more than a million human beings. This land had witnessed innumerable harrowing tales and excruciating deaths. How could the man stop in a place stigmatized as the “Mother of All Battles?” A land that, over time, had turned into a vast graveyard littered with human bones and iron scraps?

Khadija writhed in agony and cried out for help. The women around her watched, full of pity, but were unable to provide comfort as her solitary struggle continued.

Crammed into the far corner of the truck, a man began to pray aloud. “I bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship but Allah. Oh, Allah, I do not ask You to return or undo your qadar, but I ask You to have mercy in it for us.”

A moment of helplessness came over Abbas. He smacked his head against the truck’s steel side panel, trying to find a way out of this waking nightmare. What will happen to my infirm wife, exposed on this vulnerable, jerking vehicle as it races through sun, wind, and sand? She is without antiseptics, medicine, or milk, bereft of all comforts except the mercy of Allah. What will become of her laboring, half-stripped body melting under the sweltering sun?

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