I walk several blocks out of my way to pass down the street where my father was kidnapped at gunpoint. I sold the car we were riding in to pay his ransom, which is just as well; being on foot brings a safety borne of anonymity.
For a few blocks, I find myself traveling against a stream of people, excited and scared, but orderly; it’s not the first time most of them have evacuated a city street. I come upon the bombed-out corpse of a city bus, and try not to tread upon the remnants of its passengers.
I open my phone and hit redial. It rings, and sends me straight to my father’s voicemail. I stopped leaving new messages a week ago. I pass the trash bin I left his ransom in, and peak discreetly inside, not knowing what I hope to find.
In the side street I see an officer gunned down; he fires a pistol against two rifles, and falls. I don’t know if he is American or Iraqi, but no one comes out of hiding to help as his murderers drive away. I watch them until their dust-trail disappears, and I check my phone, to see if I’ve missed a call.
It’s before ten, but there are already thirty coffins lining the street outside the Al-Tub al-Adli morgue. The guard at the checkpoint stops me, but remembers my face, and waves me through. The smell of bodies and antiseptic touch me as I walk past him, and he avoids my eyes.
Women shrouded in black exit a bus, trying to muffle their grief. A police truck dumps the last of its bodies into the street; the overworked porter is a half-dozen corpses behind. I consider helping carry them in, but as I bend near one, a woman recognizes her husband, and leaps into the arms of another woman and wails.
The building is made of yellowed stone, and the air is slightly colder than the outside. The three storage rooms are full, and the bodies have started to take up residence in the halls, stacked and leaned against the walls to preserve the walkway.
Every body has a story behind it: some of them Saddam’s Baathist allies and others their opposite numbers from the Dawa party, some merely Sunni and others merely Shia. Their bodies are stacked together in the same piles on the same, cold ground.
Many are bound or handcuffed, with cellophane tape over their eyes, and bullets in their heads. Some bear burns on their hands and feet, and others evidence of torture with electricity, acid, and drills.
I enter another room, where family members watch a monitor as digital photos flash over the screen. Every few minutes, a body covered in lacerations or holes is claimed by a sobbing loved one, and the room forgets they’re strangers, and do what they can to offer comfort.
After some time, I recognize the bodies, not as living souls, but simply because the pictures have started their cycle over. As I step back onto the street, I feel infected with death, and I start the walk back home.
The signs all say Baghdad, but I know it's a lie.