Friendship in the Style of Tanks
Excerpts from Davood Amirian's "Friendship in the Style of Tanks"
October 7th, 2016
A Bribing Combatant
He rose to his feet with amazement, turned his eyes to me, then scanned me from head to toes, and said with surprise: “You say you’re sixteen?” I was sweating a lot but held my ground. I straightened my shoulders., stood on my toes and said: “Yes brother! My certificate says so, doesn’t it?” the man sat down again and stared at me, with sweat was dripping down my spine. He first held back his laugh and then burst into laughter: “Hey kid! We have enough problems as it is! Go away! You think we’ll be fooled by your fake beard and mustache? You think a marker can make you look old? Go before I kick you away!”
I felt down in the dumps and cursed the damned idea of the marker and cursed Reza who came up with the idea. Reza was a few inches shorter than I was, but I don’t know with what dark magic he had managed to fool the head of the Dispatch Center; and it was his second time going to war. I wiped off the black of marker from my face.
I was depressed and mad, and if someone were to come up to me and ask “What’s eating you?” I was ready to chew them out. But to my bad luck, no one so much as laughed at me.
It wasn’t my first time trying to go. To increase my height, I hanged myself from the pull-up bar to the point that my arms grew some inches. I used shoe insoles to look taller and wore a few layers of shirts and coats to seem larger. I shaved my white face enough to grow some beard but these never worked! Every time I was ridiculed. I faked my birth certificate and changed my birth year to be older so that even spies wouldn’t be wise to it, but my small body revealed everything. Whenever I talked about the war, my father went off on me and took off his belt to hit me. So I didn’t even think about getting his consent.
A few days later, I again went to test the waters and challenge my luck, so I went to the Dispatch Center. I was on my way when I saw an old man who looked like a construction worker. And then I thought of something. I approached him and said hello. He stared at me and returned my greetings. He must have thought I was a very polite kid but when he saw me roaming around and not leaving, he asked: “What’s with you kid?” I wasn’t sure how to start it so I asked: “What’s your job here?” The old man became a bit angry and said: “It’s none of your business,” so I said that I didn’t mean to interrupt him or be nosy.
So I started to praise him and prepare him for what I was going to say. As I had guessed he was a construction worker and because of his age he didn’t have much of a chance finding employment. He was unemployed and in need of money, so I asked: “How much do you want to be paid for helping me do something good?” He misunderstood and thought I wanted him to deliver some love letters, but I told him I needed someone to act as my father and sign a letter of consent so that I can go to war. He thought for a moment but refused, but I begged him and put the 40 Toman bill I had in my pocket in his. We discussed the price and when I showed him my empty pockets, he agreed to escort me to the center. Needless to say, he changed his mind repeatedly on the way to the center, and I had to persuade him all over again each time. When we arrived there, I took the old man to the guy in charge and introduced him as my father. When the two saw each other, they smiled and greeted one another. It turned out the old man was the man’s uncle!! I felt I was hit by a rock!
I was turning around to leave when the old man said: “Hussein, dear! Do something for this young man! Don’t send him to the front but let him do something here or at most send him to the food department. He’s a nice boy, generous and polite.” He complimented me as much as I felt let down, but I understood it was going nowhere. I was about to leave when dear Hussein called me and handed me a form while chuckling and said: “Fill this form, man! I’m doing this for my uncle’s sake!” I was over the moon.
Yes, I became a combatant by bribing someone.
It was the first operation I took part in. I was shaking like a leaf because we were told again and again to be cautious of Iraqi soldiers that attack in the middle of night when we march forward, warning that they would behead us with barbed wires. We were snaking forward in the field slowly and quietly. The line stopped and I saw that someone sat beside me, panting heavily. I was about to jump out of my skin. Oh God he was the beheading Iraqi guy! As soon as he raised his hand, I didn’t waste a breath and hit him in the ribs with my rifle butt and made a run for it, and the operation started a while later. The next day we were standing in formation when the commander said: “Last night something mysterious happened. We don’t know who the hell attacked our battalion commander last night and broke his ribs, but he had to be taken back as a result!”
I didn’t dare to say it was me!
The Iranian Mercenary
It was in the early days of the war and we were fighting tooth and nail against an enemy armed to the teeth. We had a friend, Aziz, who was as black as the night itself. At nights he became the invisible man, and we could only recognize him by his teeth. Once Aziz was slightly injured in the lef and was sent back to be treated. When Khoramshahr fell, we were all in a terrible state, but we promised and swore to take it back one day. We thought of Aziz and went to visit him in the hospital. We were able to find his address after much difficulty, and bought some fruit cans and arrived at the hospital. The nurse told us Aziz was in room 110, but in that room there were only three patients. Two of them were strangers and the third one was bandaged from head to toe. One of us said: “it’s the wrong room. Maybe he’s in the next one.” The bandaged patient started to wobble and mumble. We were like “what’s wrong with this guy! He must be shell shocked.” Then my friend said: “He had to be run over by a tank to be this damaged,” so the nurse came and asked if we had found Aziz. We said no, and so the nurse pointed to the bandaged patient and said: “Weren’t you looking for him?” We asked astonishingly: “What? you’re saying this is Aziz?!!”
Poor Aziz was fully covered with bandages from head to toe. He said with a grieving tone: “Damn you! Now you don’t even recognize me!” We burst into a laughter and asked him how someone who was just slightly injured in the leg, ended up in this situation. Aziz shook his head and said: “Slightly injured, my butt! What happened to me later is beyond your imagination.” We were in stitches and begged him to tell us his story.
“When my leg was injured, they sent me back and bandaged it in a room, and the medics went out to call the ambulance. Meanwhile they brought a shell shocked soldier to the room. At first he glared at me furiously, his eyes narrowed. I almost wet my pants. Then he suddenly stood to his feet and yelled: “I’ll kill you bastard, you bastard Iraqi!” this is when he ran towards me and started to kick and hit me with all he had. No matter how much I shouted and screamed for help, no one came to separate us, and he kept hitting me until he fainted out of exhaustion. I was just crying and asking for God’s mercy for both of us.”
We were splitting our sides laughing. The other two patients were laughing their heads off on their beds. Aziz whined and said: “Shut up! You think it’s funny? So you must hear the rest!”
“An hour later, a truck came instead of the ambulance, they put us on the back and brought us to Ahvaz. I was praying to God that the soldier wouldn’t shift into crazy gear again, and sure enough as soon as we arrived at the hospital, he went mad again. There were a lot of people gathered around the hospital, chanting slogans. Our shell shocked guy shouted: Hey people this is an Iraqi mercenary, he killed my fellow soldiers!” And made a move to hit me. This time some other bullies came to his help and hit me the best they could until I was broken all over. I was weeping and crying: “Have mercy! I’m an Iranian!” when an old man with a thick Arabic accent said: “Bastard! Now you speak Persian? Hit this hypocrite!” Finally, some people saved my carcass out of their hands and brought me here. And here I am!”
The nurse returned to the room frowning and said: “What’s with all the ruckus? are you here to see the patient or watch a comedy show? Visiting time is over.”
We were saying goodbye when a man with a hospital gown entered the room and shouted: “I’ll kill you mercenary Iraqi!”
Aziz wept and shouted: “Oh my God! It’s the guy! Save me for God’s sake”
I had bled so much that I couldn’t move a limb. Bullets and shells whizzed around everywhere. The night sky was lit by the enemy’s flares every once in a while. All my fellow friends were lying dead around me. There was no living soul left in the field. The sky was lit for a moment and I saw two ghosts carrying a stretcher and looking for anyone alive among the dead. With my last breath, I started to shout: “Ya Mahdi! Ya Hussein!” So they noticed me and came to my aid. One of them crouched and asked: “How are you feeling brother?” I wanted to hide the agony I felt and said: “I’m fine, thank God”. He faced the second one and said: “Ok! He isn’t seriously injured. Let’s go see if there are any others.”
I was startled. At first I thought they were trying to soothe and relax me to take me back on their stretcher. But when I saw them leaving, I swallowed what was left of my pride and started to shout and make a scene. “I’m burning, God, help me, yYa Imam Hussein!”. Which got them to return quickly to put me on the stretcher and take me back. I continued shouting for a while, afraid they might change their decision again and leave me. The first paramedic said: “It’s a relief we took him. He’s in a terrible state, look how he’s shouting!” and the second one nodded in agreement. I was in pain but I couldn’t stop giggling. I was going to kill myself because of a simple case of manners (taarof)!!.
*Taarof is a concept in Iranian culture and is a form of politeness or etiquette to show respect for others.
I had heard a lot about divine intervention at the fronts, so I was eager to go there and uncover the mystery myself. Later I went to the front myself as a soldier and was supposed to take part in an operation. Everyone was fed up with me asking them questions about the issue and if they had witnessed anything. Once we were in the back of a truck when one of my fellow soldiers said: “You wanna know about divine intervention?” I answered yes enthusiastically, then he took a cooking pot out of nowhere and put it on my head, pushing down on it. My head got stuck inside it down to my chin and I couldn’t get rid of it. Everyone roared with laughter while I was weeping inside the pot. Suddenly there was a blast and the whole world went upside down. I don’t remember what happened next.
When I came to later, I was lying somewhere and a few people were struggling to take the pot off of my head. When they succeeded, I sighed in relief when one of them said: “You don’t know how lucky you are! Everyone in that car died except for you. See, there’s even a fragment stuck in the pot!.” That’s when I understood the meaning of divine intervention.
Where’s the Dry Cleaner’s?
There was no break in the hail of bullets and bombs falling from the sky. They were raining down on us so furiously that is was difficult to breathe, let alone move and retreat, so we all sought shelter wherever we could find it, and some were even stuck in the middle of the field, hugging the ground for support. Suddenly a guy ran toward me, and a bomb exploded near him. The shockwave lifted him up in the air and dropped him on my back. I forgot how to breath for a second from the pain. He had almost killed me! So I strongly pushed him away.
He coiled his feet for a few moments later, his eyes shaking. He suddenly stopped, sat on the ground, looked around, and then asked me: “Bro! where’s the dry cleaner’s? my clothes could use a wash.” Needless to say I was in disbelief: “Dry cleaner’s?” He said: “Yeah! I wanna buy some bread on my way home too.” That’s when I realized what happened. He was shell shocked because of the blast. I was worried he would do something crazy, so I pointed him to the field hospital and said: “There. It’s there.” So he thanked me and ran over there…
The Seven-Headed Beast
We all awoke with Mojtaba’s cries from the end of the room.
The commander stared at him, confused, and asked: “What’s wrong?” Mojtaba ran toward him as fast as he could, without a care as to the people he hit on his way, and hid under a blanket at the other end of the room, shaking like a leaf.
Now everyone was shocked and afraid, so we gathered around him.
As soon as the commander put his hand on Mojtaba’s shoulder to ask what had happened, he jumped to his feet and said with eyes wide with panic: “We’re done for! There’s a dinosaur, a dragon…!” the commander stared at Mojtaba who was sweating all over, his face red, and goosebumps all over. He gulped and looked at the others. The air in the room was damp because of everyone’s sweat. Finally, the commander gathered up his courage and asked: “What are you talking about? What dragon? Where is it?” Mojtaba held his hands, just inches away from crying and said: “The worst has happened! There’s a beast outside! A beast! Take everyone and escape! I’m sure by now it has eaten the Iraqis and now it’s our turn!!!”
The commander grabbed his shoulders, shook them and said: “Where the hell did you see a dragon? What are you babbling about? Have you lost your mind?” Someone said: “He must be heat-struck.” Mojtaba was shivering, his teeth rattling and looking at the door. “I’m not lying. I saw it with my own two eyes. His eyes were like two bowls full of blood, and it had bony fins on its back!” And again he dove back under the blanket.
The commander was frightened out of his wits but pretended not to be. We all looked at each other, waiting for someone to say something. Finally, the commander rose to his feet, took his gun and asked Taghi and Yaser to accompany him. The three of them were going out when Mojtaba said: “Where are you going? It will devour you all!” But they left anyway. We had one eye on Mojtaba and another on the door to see what was going on. A few minutes later we heard shotguns accompanied by the sound of tens of bombs. Mojtaba yelled: “God help us! We don’t wanna be eaten by this monster!”
We were all ready to escape at the first sight of the bloodthirsty beast, when the three who had left, dove back into the room with dust trailing behind them. They coughed a bit, stared at us for a while and then burst into laughter. The commander opened his hand, a chameleon, which was bleeding in the chest, was sitting on his palm. He faced Mojtaba and said: “Stand up you brave man! This is your seven-headed beast! It’s just a scared chameleon who was interested in your binoculars and was looking at them! Honestly when we first looked there was nothing, but when we looked closer, it came into my line of sight and I shot it. Now we have to treat it.”
Bombs were exploding around us outside but the roar from our laughter eclipsed their sound!
Dead Mule Bridge
Fazel said: “How are we supposed to take all these? We’re tired and weak!” I said: “Bro, I’m not in the mood at all. Even dragging myself up the hill is a hassle. You deal with it.” Fazel looked around in hope of finding a solution and I could see a spark in his eyes. One of the Zol-Janah forces’ members was busy chewing dry bread just a bit further. It was a Mule!! We managed to load our cargo on its back and bring it up the hill. It caused trouble on the way up a few times and bucked and kicked us. It even bit Fazel’s arm once, but we had to work with what he had. We arrived at a rope bridge connecting the two sides of the mountain. It could hardly be called a bridge because it was only combination of a few measly ropes and some wood. One would think passing the Sirat was probably easier than this!
Fazel said: “One good thing about mules is that they’re pig-headed and don’t get easily frightened. We shouldn’t look down either when crossing it.” I gulped hard and pulled the mule’s tether. A few steps ahead, it started to shiver out of panic and screamed. The bridge was swaying with the mule’s movements from side to side. We were both holding the ropes tightly and screaming. Suddenly the mule had a stroke and died right on the spot, and its body fell down into the valley. We were still swaying on the bridge asking God to help us. Fazel yelled: “Get a hold of yourself. Don’t move!” but it was impossible. Even if I wanted to stop, the bridge wouldn’t. Eventually the bridge came to a stop, and we turned back. As soon as we set foot on land, we both lay on the ground panting, then we both broke hard into laughter. “You were saying that mules are fearless, right?” Fazel was in stitches. I said: “Poor mule. See how it had a stroke?” “Yeah, we even put the mules to shame.”
It was funny but we had to think of a solution soon. The next day, when we got to the bridge, we got another mule and covered his eyes with a piece of cloth and tried to cross the bridge hoping it would hold, which was like experiencing death itself, so I told Fazel jokingly: “Let’s go and surrender to the Iraqis. We would at least stay alive or return somehow.”
We later named the bridge “Dead Mule Bridge”.
When he opened his eyes, he found himself sleeping on a hospital bed. It was clean and white everywhere. his body was numb and he couldn’t see well with his eyes. He thought he had died and was now in heaven. He thought he was inches away from getting up and going out to see heaven’s gardens, eat its fruits and live in gold and silver palaces. A nurse came into the room holding a syringe in her right hand. The patient noticed the woman and narrowed his eyes and asked in a thick voice: “Are you an angel?” the nurse was overcome with joy and thought herself to be immensely beautiful and the man to be mentally ill. She giggled and said: “Yes, I’m an angel.” The patient said: “Then why are you so ugly?”
The nurse was up in arms and gave him a reckless shot. The patient’s wail filled the entire hospital.
Where’s Your Dad?
Never before had I seen him look so gloomy. He was always wearing a smile revealing his shiny white teeth. He was a true mood-maker and never gave up under pressure and in the battle. He was ruthless in attacking the enemy. As some of us said, dangers were afraid of him, and he wasn’t afraid of them. His name was Qasem. His father was in another battalion. Like father, like son! They were both lively and cheerful. Whenever we wanted to deliver the news of anyone’s martyrdom to their family and friends, we asked Qasem to do it.
– “Hey Ibrahim! What’s up?… by the way how many brothers do you have?”
– “Three, why?”
–“Nothing, now you have two! Your older brother was martyred yesterday.”
This was how he delivered the news. He used to joke around and make them forget the sad news for a bit. We criticized him a lot for his method, afraid that such bad news would shock the receiver, but he said: “What’s wrong with martyrdom? When did it become bad news?” “Okay, at least get them ready before saying it.” “You expect me to beat around the bush for an hour and ask them: ‘Do you have a brother in combat duty’ to have them ask why so I say: ‘Don’t worry! He’s slightly injured in his left toe’ and then tell him two hours later that he was martyred? No, this is absolutely not my style. I know the ropes better than you.” He stood his ground and it was impossible to change him.
This time it was my turn to give the news. I kept thinking how to comfort Qasem and give him the news. At first I wanted to delegate someone else to do it, but everyone believed that I –the commander- was supposed to do this.
I found Qasem sitting next to the water tap, washing his clothes. I sat beside him and started with the usual greetings. He stared at me for a moment and said: “Do I have to notify families again ?” I was startled. “Wow! Now you can read minds too? Are you an oracle?” we went and hanged the clothes on the rope. Then we moved near the river beside our camp. Qasem stood on the bank and said: “Bro, just tell me what’s up. If I have to notify someone, I’ll go and tell them in a second. I won’t let them shed a tear.”
“How would you have give them the news?”
“What kind of news is it?”
“Suppose it’s about the death of someone’s father.”
“Right! I’ve never had to do that before. I’d first go to the son and greet him and then praise his masculine body and say: “You just look like your late father! May he rest in piece.”…uh.. well, maybe no… okay this is better. I go and ask him if anyone one in their neighborhood has lost his father in the war and when he says no, I congratulate him for setting being the pioneer…. hmmm no or I ask: “are you the son of that martyr?”… not good either. I must give the news little by little you said. So I tell him not to worry and that his father has been hit by a tiny 10-kg bomb in the neck and only a bit of his upper body was cut off…or…”
I was flustered, he was speeding with his ideas and there was no stopping him, “Okay so I ask him: ‘Excuse me, is your father fighting in the war?” and when he says yes I tell him to hurry and go to the office to fill the forms to take a leave to attend his father’s funeral.”
My heart was in pieces. How fresh and cheerful he was. I wished I were him. A layer of tears filled my eyes. Qasem giggled and said: “It’s not about your father, so why are you crying?” I held his hands in mine. His were warm and mine were cold. He swallowed his laughter and asked: “What’s wrong?”
I took a breath and said: “I wanted to ask you if your father was fighting in the war?” the smile froze on his face. We stared at each other for a moment in silence. He got himself together in a bit and threw a stone in the river. Then he said in a husky voice: “So it’s my turn now. but you’re wrong. I won’t leave here,” with a faint smile covering his face…
His name was Yousef but we called him the colonel… We had been kept in the camp for two years now after being captured by the enemy. He begged us a few times to stop calling him the colonel. He was afraid of the consequences he might have to face. We tried to call him by his real name, but once in a while someone had a slip of tongue and called him colonel again. One day the ward’s door opened and a few armed Iraqi guards entered. Their commander yelled: “Who the hell is Colonel Yousef? Step forward!” Yousef was frightened out of his wits. He stepped forward. The Iraqi commander was a major and said: “Look who’s here! You were a colonel and yet you hid it.” Yousef tried to smile while crying inside and said: “There must be a mistake. I’m …”
“No more words. Take this clown.” They took him in the blink of an eye before we could say anything. A few days passed but we didn’t hear anything about him. We were worried half to death and cursed ourselves for causing him trouble.
A few months later one of our friends became sick and after we begged the guards, he was taken to the hospital to be treated. After he returned, he roared with laughter the moment he saw us. We were stunned and thought he had gone crazy ,then he said: “Guys. Guess what? I saw Yousef.”
“Oh God! Had they broken his legs and arms?” “Is he badly injured?” “Is he alive?” he was still laughing and said: “Wait. He sends you guys his best and told me to thank you.”
We were all looking at him with eyes wide open. He said that Yousef was having the time of his life after going to colonels’ camps. He was even learning English and French. He “admitted” to being a colonel after being tortured by the Iraqis, and afterwards he gained their respect. Suddenly one of us said: “You know. I was actually a general myself.”