by Max Sawdayee


Wednesday March 4, 1970

The Solo Thinker

For lack of anything to do, I go to a small neighbourhood café to read a newspaper.  A pre Six-Day War friend of mine, a man of about sixty, slowly comes in.  He looks at me, stares long, but I feel sure he doesn’t recognise me.  He probably doesn’t even see me, though he is looking straight at me!  He is lost, like me and everybody else!

The man takes a chair and sits by the window.  While reading my newspaper, I cast a glance at him every while.  This goes on for about half an hour.  He keeps staring gloomily through the window.  He may be looking at the street.  Or he may not.  He just stares across. Emptily, I guess.  I go to him, bid him a good morning and take a seat beside him.  The man does not answer.  For a while he does not utter a word.  Then, as though suddenly, he says”  ‘I am lonely, depressed, bored to death!’ ‘Why?’ I ask.  I know quite well that my question is superfluous, because it requires neither an answer nor an explanation.  But I must help the conversation.  He says:  ‘I am living in a small one-room flat.  I have nobody to chat with or talk to, and nobody to see from morning till night.’  A little later he goes on, excitedly: ‘In all my life I was really happy for twenty months only!’  ‘When was that?’ I ask.  He replies: ‘In prison, where I was sent for those twenty months after the war!’  ‘And how were you happy only then?’  I inquire, rather curiously.  ‘Because we were many imprisoned in one room, with many others in the neighbouring ones.  We held nice chats together.  We spoke about the past, about business, about love, sex, everything.  We even managed sometimes to play dominoes with small pieces of cards we ourselves made.  Some cases of torture occurred, but that didn’t matter.  Besides, in my prison room there was a doctor and two pharmacists, who took care of use.  Everybody liked everybody else there, so much so that I didn’t have time to think of myself or my personal problems.  I was, so to say, overwhelmed by friends!’  ‘Why were you arrested?’  I ask.  ‘Because of a little quarrel over two hundred Fils (half a dollar) with a porter, two weeks after the Six-Day war.  The porter felt unsatisfied with the sum of money I gave him, and in his anger reported me to the police as a ‘dangerous agent’.  No proof was required.  No evidence was necessary!  I’m a Jew, that’s all.  That’s all the evidence that was required!  And so I was arrested and thrown into the central prison for all those months!’  Then, a little sad, he adds:  ‘Now that I’m free since about a year ago, that is, being out of prison, with absolutely nothing to do, I’m completely frustrated.’  To cheer him up, I tell him to take it easy, as some change for the better is bound to come and will come (though I myself can’t tell how!), and that one day he will go abroad and meet his relatives.  So he should not allow gloomy feelings get the better of him.  He remarks:  ‘My people are far away and nothing will change in this country soon, my son.’  I ask whether he has lost hope completely?  ‘No, I haven’t.  I’m sure another war, a fourth one, will break out between Israel and the Arabs, and we shall again be sent to prison, where we can joke, play dominoes, etc….!  And to hell with all the rest!’  I smile, but make no comment.  I want to tell him that we may not be alive till then, but I refrain from mentioning anything of the kind.

A while passes before I tell him that I am leaving for home, and that, if he wishes, he can take a walk with me to continue the conversation, as he doesn’t live too far from where I do.  ‘No, thanks.  I would like to stay here alone, to think alone a little,’ he says.  So I leave him to his loneliness.  I leave him to think.  To think of nothing….As there is nothing left to think of!

On my way home I cannot help pondering:  ‘It’s strange how this man judges things and events.  But, after all, he may be right!  Oh no!  A propitious change must come over!  There has been too much wrong done to everybody!

Wednesday March 11, 1970

In a brief communiqué the Baghdad radio speaker announces this afternoon that a peace treaty has been signed between the Iraqi government and the northern Kurds, duly approved by both Ahmed Hassan, Al-Bakr and Mulla Mustafa Al-Barazani. 

Later on, that night, President Al-Bakr, in an address to the nation, confirms this, adding:  ‘This peace treaty will put an end to the fighting between brothers who have been killing each other for almost nine years, and promotes the welfare and happiness of this country’.

Though the comparison does not precisely apply, this treaty reminds me of another, signed a little more than thirty years ago, between two titans (so they were then considered), viz. Stalin and Hitler.  They would not trust each other a straw, but signed a ‘non-aggression pact’ just to gain time, to wait and see, each for a different purpose, each for a different ‘opportunity’ that should follow, each making his own dry calculations.  In this instance Al-Bakr played Hitler, his master and guide, and followed in his footsteps.

As for myself, this peace treaty could very well be a godsend.