The overland bus leaned into the mountainous turn, as if to give the passengers a better view at the steep mountain side. Desert dust, no plants, only a few large boulders pigmented the drab sight. Regardless, the class was cheery. The rare field trip let them see something other than a ruined city. Mountain peaks, drop offs, and large boulders were still a novel sight, despite their blandness.
Never less, the trip itself was exciting enough. The eighteen and nineteen year olds were on their bonding voyage at the beginning of college. Salahaddin University had sent them to befriend the other freshman students. A tradition that was uniquely Kurdish. Muslims outside of Kurdistan ran universities with strict rules and isolation among the students, if those areas allowed education at all. The world had changed a lot in the recent years.
Pekhat was the proud teacher sitting on the foldout seat next to the bus driver. Pekhat's hand clutched the microphone with great importance. His whole stature demanded importance. He wore a sports jacket with a hatched pattern. He wore glasses. He wore is clothes as neat, so that he stood out among everyone else dressed in overalls, dresses, robes, and clothes pieces wrapped around them.
However, his triumphant persona came with a quick eye that always checked his back side. His teacher's brief case did not carry books or notepads. It carried a white robe with a head covering that he could quickly throw over his clothes to disappear as a regular person. Being a teacher these days did not come with death threats by Muslim activists. Though, the majority of Kurds supported the last remaining university.
They were on their way to a lake high up in the Zagros Mountains. Pekhat promised the students that they would soon pass the tree line, where the dead desert would turn into a sparse forest of oak trees. He held up high a white paper with the drawn outline of an oak leaf. The driver held onto Pakhet's shoulder, while he vigorously rotated the steering wheel into the opposite direction. The Bus bowed again to the front and the outside of the turn.
The bus was a plain operation with the colors faded. Broken or damaged parts of the bus were diligently removed, yet not replaced. There were no more part stores, only well meaning bus drivers. A window panel was missing in the middle. A seat had lost its upholstery. Another chair was missing entirely. And, so was the third gear. It was missing entirely.
The college kids were the same drab rag tag troupe. The clothes were simple, often made by their parents or made by neighbors and sold on the black market. The cool and wild kids sat in the back. That's why Delal sat in the very first front row. The boisterous action of the cool kids always startled her. She was intrigued from a distance though.
Delal was a little on the small side. The top of her beige dress had pockets with covers. The pockets were stitched in a neat way that would have reminded you of a British tropical explorer, if you'd know Britain. Britain didn't exist anymore. The heavy fabric had a neat side slit to make walking comfortable. Underneath the clothes, you'd expect a trim body with small, yet firm boobs.
Her hair was long, black and neatly combed back into a pony tail. You could see the thick bundles of her hair clustering together. Her face was soft. She would beautiful and gently red lips and dark black eye lids. Her face was lightly brown. The black eyes tended to bat at anyone looking at her, while she was trying to understand whatever she was seeing.
Next to Delal on the aisle side sat Abda. The first thing you noticed about Abda was that she wore pitch black clothes. Then, you noticed that her clothes was one large robe that started at the top of her head and covered everything down like a makeshift ghost wearing a bed sheet. After you get over your initial startling, you realize that she is wearing face mask of equally black clothes, yet thinner material, so that her breathing air can pass in and out. Somewhere in the depth of the black mountain were presumably equally black eyes carefully eying everything that happened in the outside world.
"Is it permitted for me to talk with you," asked Delal respectfully.
"Hoo! I am sorry. You startled me. I am still not used to being in Kurdistan. Back home in Iraq, we all remain in silence in public."
"So, can we talk or does that get you into trouble."
"As long as my dad doesn't see us talking, it is alright. My dad has a rough time to adjust to the permissive Kurdistan."
"Is that why you still wear the strict Muslim clothes?"
"Yes, back in Iraq, pretty much the whole rest of the world, we have to live by strict Sharia law. My mother is very glad that my father moved us out here. For three years, he could not find any work at all."
"Is it really that bad outside of Kurdistan?"
"Yes, after Islamic Nations took over the world, strict sharia law was established. Freedoms were taken. There is a giant television cemetery near Baghdad for all the stoned television sets. Intellectuals were persecuted or driven to live in the remote desert with goats. With all the Western countries shattered, plumbing, streets, employment, everything started falling apart."
"Oh, that must have been so hard, you poor thing?"
"We do not talk about private family matters."
They silently surrendered to the nausea inducing motion of the bus and curious eyes not getting enough of seeing the new landscape. The film of perspiration from the hot air was touched by the cool caress of the 10,000 foot high mountain air. Depending on how the air blew out of the missing window, they either smelled the dusty fresh mountain air or the arm pits of the young bodies cooped up in a bus for hours.
BACKFLASH: DELAL'S HOME LIFE
Delal was a gentle girl. Her beige uni-color dress was neatly folded and tucked under her thighs. She was sitting on her knees on top of the white cotton rug with the bright red, blue, and green dots. The clean and soft white rug was the luxury in the bare single room hut.
The sun crept through a little glassless window and powered the whole room with its high desert intensity. Shadows and bright spots painted like an old world artist on the white washed wall that had turned to a light gray over time. The dust floating in the air peacefully reflected the sunlight as glares. And, a few sun rays illuminated Delal's hair to show vivid brown hues in what usually seemed black hair.
Delal caressed her little baby sister, who peacefully moved her lips in a suckling motion. The baby sister was packed into a tight bundle with a rag. Delal admired her sister's large eyes and voluptuous lips. Her mother was preparing rice and beans on the other side of the kitchen. The age hardened staples had to be nursed with much water and time to turn back into an edible stew.
Delal's father entered the hut. Everyone looked at him. The baby woke up a little bit to stir its arms in an aimless fashion in the air. Delal's father had a deeply red head. He had been in a fight with his boss. His boss had insisted that there were three lanes on the central square. Her father had insisted that there was a fourth lane, but the lane markers had been washed off years ago.
He worked in the city's department of transportation. His department managed whatever infrastructure had survived after the last dirt compacting machine had bitten the dust. Ever since the triumph of Islam over the world, everything had started deteriorating. Now, they only occasionally painted the streets to circle knee deep pot holes to at least give people a warning, before they fell in.
The issue wasn't so much the argument with the boss. It was that he had become totally absorbed in the emotion of it. His jaw was still shaking and wobbled each time that he wanted to say something. His face had pockets of bright red like the outlines of continents on the plant, when viewed from outer space. His hand held onto her mother's upper arm with such intensity and yet little heft that everyone felt the inner emotional stir in the slight man with the mustache and the prim slacks and collar shirt.
Over on the other side of the first row, was Talti. The other kids called him "Nail Head." He was hot headed. And, when his head exploded in anger, he'd drive his rage into whatever was in front of him like a nail is driven into wood. His facial expressions were as simple and plain as his mind – big cheeks, big jaw, and steady eyes looking out. His body was large, yet his muscles had little definition. He wore simple pants, a button down shirt, and workman boots.
Normally, he would have sat in the very last row. However, he had gotten into a fight earlier and the teacher had placed him into the front row. The other kids had called him "Lyssa." He didn't know what it meant. When he want on a rampage, the kids only loved harder at him. He did not know that Lyssa is the Ancient Greek goddess of fury and raging madness.
Now Talti was sitting next to Klaus, the German immigrant who was dressed in Islamic cleric garb and was more pious than piety itself. Klaus wore a black rolled turban. His body was in a black robe with buttons running down the front. Beneath the robe, he was wearing black tights that showed through the slits in the robe that went from the heels to the hip. Klaus sat with an erect spine twirling his mustache and diligently moving his eyes across the lines of a Koran. He also had a neatly trimmed blond full beard.
"Your holy act does not full me," blared Talti at Klaus.
"Indeed, I am unworthy in the eyes of thee. Though, my love for the glimpse of hope to one day kiss his feet keeps me steadfast," replied Klaus.
"You failed. A real religious man has to greet in the name of Allah before speaking of other matters."
"My apologies for being uneducated and not born into Islam. Hau Salami und Ei Krum," replied Klaus.
„What was that? You are supposed to say ‚As-Salaam Alaikum'"
"My apologies for my primitive pronunciation of your exalted language."
"So, you are only a half Muslim. You have to server all full Muslims."
"That is true, my benevolent master. How can I be of your service?"
"Bring me some water. I am too lazy to get up."
Klaus stood up and walked to the center of the bus. The other college kids were in a deep daze looking out of the window or in deep conversation with each other. In the middle of the bus was Sadiman. He was a foot taller than everybody else. He sat on an red and white ice cooler. His face was chubby and ruddy. His eyes were round and opened wide to show more white. He wore a vest to show of the good prosperity of his family.
Klaus politely asked for a cup of water. Sadiman smiled a big grin. Every time that his hot little hands got another silver coin for a cup of water, he grew an inch taller and his face glowed like a neon sign. That is, if the urban myths about the existence of neon signs in the past are true.
Upon receiving the white painted tin cup with the rippling water surface, he got on his knees and bowed over the cup to pray. His forehead rested on the hard rubber surface of the bus. The rubber surface had raised lines for water to run off. Partial dusty foot marks covered the floor. All that congregated on his forehead.
Behind his back, he could hear the guys laughing at him. "Oh, he is even blessing the water that he has to carry to Talti as a humiliation. That Klaus has no honor." The girls were silent, except for Meryem. She sighed deeply in empathy for Klaus. She got out of her seat and laid his hand onto Klaus' back, while Klaus recited the holy words. Sadiman whispered to Meryem: "I don't think the strict Muslims like women to touch them during prayer." Meryem's hand snatched back as if she had touched a hot stove. Her face looked at Klaus with sorrow.
Underneath the cover of his clothes, Klaus had pulled out his penis. He spilled a little of the water and replaced it with urine. All done a minute later, he got up on to his knees. He raised his body erect with a soft smile as if nobody had looked down on him in the bus around him. With confident strides, he stepped back to Talti.
"Talti, here is your water. I have paid extra to add the vitamin pack. That's why it has a yellow tint and my taste a bit dusty."
Talti raised his eyes in acknowledgment. Then, he took a sip to his lips. He immediately coughed from the vile taste. However, he held in every drop. His family was short on fund and had never given him a vitamin pack. He was going to drink every last bit of it and hide from everyone else that he was not used to it.
Klaus' finger followed the lines in the Koran. And, he silently began reciting the holy scripture with his thick German accent: "Du bist doch wirklich der groesste Dummkopf, den die Welt je gesehen hat."
BACKFLASH: TALTI – FAMILY FEUD
The kids in gray rags had called him "Lyssa." It sounded like a foreign and pretentious word to him. His face had grown blunter. It was as if his face had swollen up to take away the dimples, creases, and curves. Yet, he had remained silent. He had waited for them to throw the first punch. Something had held him back from charging. Seven, it was probably the number seven that had held him back, because there were seven of them and one of him.
On the way home, his breath had been heavy. And, his mind had clouded into a world of its own. His mind shut out the dusty streets and ruins of the Middle Eastern city that he passed. He did not notice the many wilted trees, nor the last remaining live one.
His mind was screaming propaganda. The impolite and rude bands are leading to the downfall of civilization. If we ever want to recover civilization, we have to clear out the bad influences. The family living across his family had long been marked as a dirty spot to be mopped up by his father, by his grand father, and all the uncles. He was going to restore the honor of his family within the hour that it would take him to get home and load his rifle.
"Die you damn bastards."
When he arrived in front of his home, he ran into the door without waiting for the door handle to depress. His home was a large barn that had held the farm equipment of his family. Now, half the rooms had been condemned, because the roof or the floor was at imminent risk of cratering.
"Talti, are you mad again?"
His mother yelled in a shrill voice at him from two rooms away. She could tell by the rough slam of the door what mood he was in. She had heard him open and close doors since he was a little boy. When he could barely stand on his own as a one year old boy, he had started reaching for the door handles.
"The Omers have done it. They ruined the last of our honor."
With three large steps in the main hall, he reached his room. The room was sparse: A straw bed with a sheet on top of it, a crate with his belongings, and a beautiful black rifle in the corner of the room. The black had been diligently polished each time he was mad. He counted the bullets into the magazine. He was a tall and buff nineteen year old. His body was only made larger by the simple, baggy clothes that he wore. His head was shaven bald to underline his resolve in life.
His mother appeared in the door, a large, overweight, and childbirth battered woman. A long sheet of clothes had been wrapped around her body, arms, and covered her head hair. Both her arms were raised to the ceiling and she wailed into a mourning yell that roused everyone in the house.
Soon, his father pushed the mother out of the door. The father was a man with a pronounced jaw line, a black and simple hair cut, and large hands and forearms from working every day. Talti froze for a second by the swift and deliberate movement of his father. The next second, he found himself lying on his straw bed. He recounted, what had happened to him: A smack to his cheek that had sent him across the room, his fathers unstoppable hand taking the rifle, and the door slamming close to shut out all his siblings from looking in with curious eyes.
"Nail Head. Son, I don't call you Nail Head for nothing. You are rash, impulsive like a nail head driven into wood."
"Lyssa is the Ancient Greek goddess of rage and fury. Don't you realize, how you make yourself the laughing stock of the street by reacting with rage and fury to the taunt. Your dumb action is bringing shame to the family, not their indignant rudeness."
Talti's father sat down next to Talti and patted his thigh friendly. "I hate those rubble rousers as much as you do." Then, they all sat silently, Talti, his father, and his mother. Everyone was left to stir feverish thoughts of their own.
Meanwhile, the outside of glaring bleached-blue sky was interrupted by the dark shadows of oak trees passing the mountain road. The bus worked itself in and out of side canyons on its way up, up, up. The side of the road had no railing. Occasionally, blocks of crumbling mortar signaled man made fortifications under the road. Most of the time, though only a mound of dirt lined the road. The pavement was still continuous from the little use it received after cars had slowly stopped functioning over the years. However, the dirt had four dry baked mud lines from the two sets of tires for traffic in both directions during the rainy winter season.
The air in their lungs grew noticeably thin. Ears popped from the lack of pressure. And, then they arrived on the high mountain plateau with the lake. The lake was a giant filled in dirt hole. The slopes were steep. All the water run off got trapped in the depression. There were no tries directly at the shores of the lake. The slopes were too steep. The green trees lined the lake slope a hundred yards above the water surface. Beneath the tree were steep compacted dirt slopes that crumbled piece by piece.
The road curved around the lake slopes at the same level of the trees. The bus stopped at a turn that protruded into the lake. Regardless of the abysmal scenic value, the college kids were still awed by seeing their first mountain lake. The teacher divided them into men to the left and women to the right. On either side of the bus were deep side canyons, where the college kids would be able to bathe gender segregated as the Kurdish morale demanded.
The young men swiftly threw off their clothes and kicked their shoes off. Split naked as Allah had made them and ignorant of Speedo commercials of the past, they ran down the slope. The slope crumbled under their feet. The ground frequently broke in a foot deep. The young men were undeterred by the precipiced slope.
Their bodies were stark naked. They all had different hues of light brown to light gray. Some had radiant brown skin. Others had more olive colored light brown skin with little saturation. They were mostly lanky youth. Some junior bellies popped here and there. A lot of biceps and strong thighs stood out in the naked stampede.
Their penises were flying up and down in front of them like a wild bird flapping around. Their scrotums were bouncing up and down like the wings of the birds. All of the penises were relaxed. Some of the penises were small inside of oversized skin pockets. Other penises are meaty handles with the classical silhouette of shaft and head.
They arrived at the water surface. Their legs tore into the water with the white splashes rising high. And, then their firm naked butts immersed into the water. Sadiman jollily floated on his back with his face, belly, and toes sticking out of the water. His arms stirred in circles underneath him to keep him up. The raw strength Talti plowed through the water. Alternatingly his strong back muscles appeared beneath the surface and then his fully sized butt muscles.
On the other side, the girls were a timid pack. They gingerly used a rope tied to the bus to lower themselves down the steep slope. The slid, rolled, and hemmed in between ginger steps. Finally, they all arrived down in the water. Morale law required them to keep their clothes on. They stood hip to chest high in the water. They splashed water onto each other and laughed.