Volume 21, Number 1

'Abd al Muqeet

On a dusty street he sells water, carefully filling a pink plastic cup, battered but serviceable, with a heavy steel dipper. There are not many customers, these days, not many at all.

Hidden under his stand, a frayed prayer mat is rolled at his feet, next to the yellow plastic jerry-cans filled with warm water.

He watches the trucks and humvees as they race by, never slowing down, rattling kaTHUNK kaTHUNK across the battered concrete. Although his water is pure and clean, the best in the city, the Americans never stop to buy his water. He was a mechanical engineer, once; a man of science: he knows sanitation.

Other water sellers—not him, but less scrupulous water sellers—fill their jugs with water from the river where ten thousand years ago scribes dug mud to inscribe cuneiform tablets, and filter the river water through cotton shirts. If the Americans asked him, he could tell them which water sellers to avoid, which ones sell true, pure water. He does not expect them to ask.

(If they stopped to ask him, he would say nothing, even though he knows English, from University. Talking is dangerous.)

The Americans, bulky in heavy clothing all the colors of dust, are no older than his sons. They are beardless children, and they know nothing. And yet God, or perhaps Satan, has sent them here, thousands of kilometers across oceans he has never seen, here to his streets, to judge his people, and find them wanting.

Sometimes there is gunfire, or the sound of explosions. He no longer bothers to fold his stand and hide when the bombs come. Inshallah, he will say, if it is the will of God, so let it be, but he no longer believes in God, or even Satan.

He no longer believes in anything but water.

First appeared in Iron Angels (Van Zeno Press, 2009)

—Geoffrey A. Landis