He observed from a distance. The rest of the group was split into four parts. Three would go to Mosul in the north, two to Ar-Ramadi, one to Baquba, and five to Baghdad. Each one, wherever he was taken, would spend between one and three days in transit, then one more day in briefing for his target. The next day they would be in a car weighted down with explosives, or a lorry; or be on foot with a belt or waistcoat against their stomach or chest under a full flowing robe. Within a week, at most, all would be dead and the remains of their corpses would be scattered against the walls and roofs of houses and office blocks, on the pillars of flyovers and in the courtyards where policemen gathered to be recruited or to draw their pay. The names of some would be known later from videos broadcast on websites, and the names of others would be lost in eternity. The enemy called them suicide-bombers and feared their dedication. For himself and his fellow fighters, they were useful tactical weaponry, valued for the exactness with which a chosen target could be destroyed.
He was listened to, as he should have been. It was said now by those who reported to the resistance clandestinely, while holding down positions of importance in the regime of the collaborators, that no photograph of him existed but that already a price lay on his head dead or alive of a million American dollars, that he was identified in files only by the name he had given himself. He was the Scorpion.
His attention roved between the future and the present. The future was the enormity of the mission on which he was now embarking, and it would take him to a continent that was beyond his previous experience; the message had come from the Tribal Areas of Pakistan, from old men who were fugitives. The present was the open expanse of sand grit, where the only mark of human habitation was the single-storey building of concrete blocks, which was thirty kilometers from the mid-point of the road that ran for nine hours of driving between the Saudi desert communities of Hafr Al-Batn, to the south-east, and Arar, which was north-west; where he sat, ate and talked he was not more than a kilometer from the border.
He saw the misery in the face of the young man, saw him blink away tears. He went to him. He squatted beside him. What is your name?
A choked response: Ibrahim, Ibrahim Hussein.
Where are you from?
From Asir Province, the town of Jizan.
Do you have work in Jizan?
At Jeddah, in the university, I am a student of medicine.
The sun had started to slip from its zenith. Soon, perhaps, small rats or rabbits would emerge to scurry on the sand having scented the crumbs of the bread they had eaten. Later, maybe, as the greyness of dusk approached, foxes would track them.
We do not move before darkness. There is danger here, but greater danger if we travel in the light Are you strong?
I hope to be. Please, am I rejected?
Not rejected, but chosen.
He saw again the fullness of the smile, and relief broke on the young mans face.
He went to his own vehicle, and lay down full length in the sand, his head against the forward off-side tyre. Beneath the balaclava he closed his eyes and slept in the knowledge that the cool of dusk would wake him. More than the present, the images of the future sidled into his mind, and the part in it that a young man would play because he walked well.
Excerpted from The Walking Dead by Gerald Seymour Copyright © 2008 by Gerald Seymour. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Group (USA). All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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