I have decided to post the first several pages of my novel, A Promise To Azfal.
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On the 23rd of October, in 1992, Azfal Saad Ansary was filled with joy as he welcomed his first grandson to the world, Jassim Ibrahim Azfal Ansary. The grandfather couldn’t stop looking at the adorable little boy; he experienced a faint psychic sense that the godsend was destined for greatness. The reverent patriarch was the best at calming the baby after one of his usual tantrums; Jassim seemed at peace in his caring arms. The connection between the two was undeniable, but it was Nadje who first noticed that the baby listened attentively whenever the Qur’an was recited. Her husband believed it was a sign of the child’s natural faith. Azfal chanted Surah 2 Ayah 252, “These are the Signs of Allah. We rehearse them to thee in truth: verily Thou art one of his Apostles.”
The transitory peace that existed between his two sons, after Jassim’s birth, ended on April 28th of the following year. It was a significant day in Iraq; Saddam’s birthday. Ibrahim, the loyal supporter, insisted on a glorious celebration to commemorate the President’s birth; his younger brother Saady, the agitator, was intent on doing all he could to ruin the day for his jubilant sibling. The “turncoat” slept for most of the morning, while the rest of the family gathered by the peach tree, in the spacious sun-drenched arid backyard, for a cookout. A sweaty Azfal manned the stainless steel gas-fire grill as was the custom. He wiped his face with a towel since the heat from the grill intensified the ninety-degree temperature; the rubber soles of his sandals stuck to the asphalt whenever he stood still.
“Why don’t you give the grill a break and just cook the meat on the ground?” The chiseled Ibrahim joked.
It was late in the afternoon when Saady finally decided to grace the family with his presence; he didn’t even bother to shower. With crust still in his eye, Saady stepped into his tan leather sandals, and grasped the headboard for assistance lifting his heavyset body from the mattress. Still in his red pajamas, he stepped out of the house and before he could put down his second foot, an enraged Ibrahim addressed him.
“Why has it taken you so long to come help us celebrate this great day? And why are you still in your pajamas?” He scolded.
Saady, annoyed, looked at his brother with disgust. “Great day? Great for who? Why don’t you tell us—I curse the day your T.E.T was born, terrible evil tyrant.” The free spirit had an annoying habit of using acronyms that he created on the spot, then explaining what they meant.
Ibrahim was incensed. “Why don’t you get out of here if you’re not going to honor the greatness of Saddam?”
“What greatness? He’s an alliterated triple “B”, big bad bum! Your dictator ruined this nation and caused nothing but suffering for all Iraqis.” He spat on the ground before turning and walking towards the door. He stared menacingly at his brother. “I don’t need to join your celebration…Death to Saddam!”
Ibrahim was absolutely infuriated. “Look at the revolutionary. What a great man! It is he who will take the power from Saddam.”
“What a shame. Look at little Jassi, dressed in that disgraceful uniform. What a double H, F you are, horrible hate-filled father.”
A fed-up Azfal stepped between the men and separated his sons. “That’s enough. I will not sit here and have my day ruined by the two of you. I don’t care what either of you thinks about Saddam. This is the last time that your pettiness will disgrace our family, remember the words of Allah; Surah 5, Ayah 9 states, ‘O ye who believe, be steadfast in the cause of Allah, bearing witness in equity. Let not a people’s enmity towards you incite you to act contrary to justice; be always just, that is the closest to righteousness. Be mindful of your duty to Allah; surely, Allah is aware of all that you do’.”
The two brothers remained angry but decided to stop their fighting, and the family attempted to salvage the rest of the day by forgetting the unnecessary argument. It was a few minutes before sunset when Ibrahim entered the house to use the bathroom. While he was inside, Saady removed the camouflage soldier’s uniform from Jassim and confiscated the toy gun. The little comrade began to cry, causing the caring uncle to give him a mini green, red, and black soccer ball which was more to his nephew’s liking; it was a replica of the official Iraqi Soccer Association ball. Saady was playing with Jassim when Ibrahim returned; he kicked the ball then scurried to the grill, which was no longer in use. Enraged, he and removed the rack before igniting the flames.
In spite, Saady defiantly threw the uniform into the fire along with the toy gun. The blaze rose three feet, increasing the temperature in the backyard to an unbearable degree. “Down with the dictator, no more C.T.C, corrupt tyrannical conscription.”
Ibrahim was livid; he screamed. “That’s enough! I’m tired of your disloyalty to Iraq. From this day forth, I don’t want to have anything to do with you, and I don’t want to be around you anymore.” Banging his fist against the bricked exterior of the house, he continued. “I no longer have a brother! You’ll be lucky if I don’t tell Saddam about your betrayal.” He paused and carefully chose his words. “I don’t agree with your ‘lifestyle,’ anyways.” He turned and stormed into the house, slamming the door.
Nadje, with a face full of tears, grasped for her heart and turned to her youngest child. “I don’t know why the two of you need to fight, constantly. Why must you provoke him Saady? I swear on the Qur’an, my sons will give me a heart attack.”
The distraught son felt as though he was being unfairly blamed for the argument. Saady wanted to defend himself, but he stopped once he thought better of the situation; the tension in the air caused everyone to remain silent. Saady, feeling as though he were an outcast, hung his head in shame and walked out.
For the next nine months, the two warring brothers did not exist to one another. Ibrahim would leave his parent’s house anytime Saady walked in; never acknowledging his sibling’s presence. Wisely, he was reluctant to ban Saady from the second floor apartment. The bull-headed father was mindful not to disrupt the relationship between his obstinate brother and Jassim, but anytime Saady made his way over, Ibrahim locked himself in the bedroom; remaining there until his “son’s uncle” departed.
The family gathered for Jassim’s first birthday party and for the first time since the major blowup, the brothers were forced to be around each other. Neither of the men wanted to miss the momentous celebration, but the tension in the room created an un-festive atmosphere.
“Saady, try and fix things with your brother. It doesn’t make sense for the two of you to fight over nothing.” Nadje pleaded in private.
Saady sighed deeply. “Why do you always blame me? Talk to him; he’s the one with the problem.”
Later in the evening, Nebet attempted to convince her husband to mend the relationship, but he wouldn’t hear of it either.
“What are you talking about? Everything’s fine; I like how things are.”
He was content to continue ignoring his younger brother, and the family sat in the unostentatious living room with the tension mounting. The only lavish piece of furniture was the lovely settee; a gift to Ibrahim from President Saddam Hussein. Everyone was taking turns playing with the birthday boy when the moment finally arrived for the cake to be brought out. Ibrahim gladly volunteered to retrieve the kahqa from the kitchen; he was extremely proud of the decoration. There was one large candle above a picture of Saddam in his military uniform, and the inscription read, “Happy Birthday my future soldier, Jassi!”
Saady was boiling inside when he saw the picture. He knew Ibrahim purposely created the theme in order to wind him up, but the younger brother did his best to keep composed. To his credit, Saady did a good job of managing his discontent.
Nebet was aware that her husband used the decorative pastry to anger her brother-in-law, but there was nothing she could do. Nothing could’ve prevented him from carrying out his conniving scheme.
Azfal helped Jassim blow-out the number-one shaped candle, but the picture of Saddam remained intact. Ibrahim carefully cut around the dictator’s image, and Nebet passed out the pieces.
“Here’s a nice big slice for Jassi’s favorite uncle.”
“No thanks sis; I won’t be having any.”
Nadje, alarmed by the volatile atmosphere, lovingly pulled Saady to the side.
“Just eat the cake. Remember that today is about Jassi. Don’t let your pride ruin his first birthday party.”
Saady decided to heed his mother’s advice in an attempt to keep the peace, but he was fuming inside and struggled to keep his cool. He accepted the piece and ate a small bite, but every time he looked at the photo of Saddam, Saady grew more enraged; ultimately losing control of his emotions. With the cake cutter still in Ibrahim’s grasp, Saady seized a knife from the drawer, and in an uncontrollable rage, he made a slash across the dictator’s neck.
He scooped a piece with his fingers and winked at his shocked brother. “Now that’s a piece I can enjoy. The tyrant is surprisingly D.F, deliciously filling.”
The ominous action set in motion another distasteful war of words, which spilled into the living room. Nadje grew tired of their bickering and forced Azfal to interfere. The patriarch falsely believed the conflict between the brothers was the result of Saady’s secret desire to have the gorgeous Nebet for himself. He stood up from the settee with its lovely patterns, and recited Surah 17 Ayah 84, “Everyone acts according to his manner; but your Lord best knows who is best guided in path.”
Before either son could take in the verse, Azfal continued. “This is ridiculous; the two of you will not continue this childish behavior. Saady, you are to move from the house until you and your brother begin to act civilized.”
Saady didn’t say anything, he simply snatched his jacket from the closet hanger and headed for the door; it slammed violently upon his exit. He ran down to his room and gathered a few of his choice belongings before disappearing for several days.
A week later, Saady’s best friend Mahmoud pulled up to the house in his beat-up Jeep. He was a short, thin, jovial man whose mission was to gather the remainder of his friend’s belongings; the defeated Saady refused to return to the home. Yet, he called every Saturday in order to keep in touch; only speaking with his mother. If Azfal answered the phone, he would hang up and call back at a later time. The worst aspect about Saady being away was the fact that he missed Jassim, but the boy’s stubborn uncle refused to be around his “Jerk-of-a-brother.”
Even though Saady knew it was wrong to allow his bickering with Ibrahim to keep him away from his nephew, he was inflexible and kept his distance. There was no anger towards Azfal, but the prodigal son was disappointed because he felt his father was on the Ibrahim’s side.
“When are you going to return home?” Nadje asked.
“I don’t know, maybe never. Give my best to dad.” The weekly phone calls usually ended the same way.
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