"Is the car registered in your name?"
"Papers." I give him my papers. He isn't looking at them. Why, then, did he ask for them??
Another walks up. "You're a doctor, aren't you? I remember you. You work at the Nursing Home. I know you because I used to work there." His eyes dark were looking straight into mine, but they were mocking, not serious.
Until he brought up the "doctor" matter, I was OK. Just another checkpoint. I took out my papers sixteen times on my way home the other day. But doctors were different. Targeted by kidnappers for ransom money, and sometimes killed. But more dangerous, they were targeted by people with an agenda that says "Harass Iraqi doctors until they flee; if they don't run, kill them."
"No, you must be mistaking me for someone else." Sweet smile. Heart pounding. "I'm a teacher, not a doctor." Keeping my hands steady and relaxed on the steering wheel was a feat.
"Why are you lying? I know you. Don't lie to us!!" His piercing eyes still mocking me, daring me to say what I wanted to say, that they were toying with their prey, that there was something very wrong here. The "us" worried me. Who were they?? Uniforms don't mean anything nowadays.
"Pull up to the side of the road" Trying to move my foot to comply with the "order," I realized the extent of my fear, my foot wouldn't budge. It was numb, dead.
Somehow I manage to move the car to one side of the road.
He took my papers and walked to the parked pickup vehicles a few meters away. It looked as if he were discussing the matter with his colleagues.
I looked up at the sky, the abode of the mighty Creator and prayed and prayed, and prayed.
If any digging was to take place into my identity and my profession, then I was dead anyway. NOT a doctor, no, a correspondent for an AMERICAN news agency!!
I was left there waiting to hear my sentence for more than twenty of the longest minutes of my life, when another vehicle arrived and stopped. Do not doubt it, these people held many a life in their slippery fingertips.
Someone dismounted. My tormentor went straight to him with my papers and they seemed to be debating the small matter of my fate. Their voices raised a little, but still I could understand nothing. They seemed not to agree, the younger man, who thought me a doctor was getting very angry and red in the face.
The newcomer, holding my papers in his hand, turned and walked towards me, reached me, handed me my papers and said one word, "Go."
Without a word, without a backward glance, I put the car into gear and slowly moved away then sped off, fearing the newcomer would revise his decision. He might change his mind, suddenly realize the value of the "prize" he had let go, but alhamdu lillah nothing happened, no one came after me, but I could feel two spots on my back, smoldering with the hatred and indignation of the young man with the gaze of a predator. A shiver ran down my back.
At long last I arrived to the sanctuary that was our office, barged in on the morning meeting that had started a few minutes before and sat down heavily on my chair.
One long breath; then another, trying to steady my erratic heartbeat, I try to focus on the present.
But those dark, piercing eyes would not let me go.
He was frustrated to lose his prize.
He feels cheated - and humiliated.
He will not forget me easily ... I will never use that route again.