Finally, at 11:50 on the clear desert night of February 26, his wife closes the door behind her and leaves the room. He remains motionless, sitting on the edge of the uncomfortable wooden chair, surrounded by semi-darkness, yet able to see through the narrow gap between the heavy curtains an airplane taking off from Amman International Airport. He could have been on that plane, Akef figures, on his way to London. Or maybe even to New York. And therefore to freedom. But instead, in exactly 10 minutes, the black telephone – resting so ominously beside him on the small Arabian coffee table – would surely ring.
“Five rings, no more,” his wife Layla had said before she left to her bedroom (where he is no longer welcome). She urged him to stay put, and alert, before leaving him alone. On purpose she did that, tightening the noose she had already looped around his neck beforehand. Five rings – enough time for him to pick up the phone and confirm the deal. And seal his fate.
At the other end will be her father, his father-in-law, and the father of all the people of Iraq. He would fulfill, by speaking to him personally, the one condition Akef had set and vehemently demanded. He had stood his ground stubbornly like his old village mule, refusing to budge on that. He wanted to hear his familiar voice, not that of his son, his sworn enemy – the head of the Ministry of Internal Defense – and the leader of all the murdering-squads. Akef will be able to deduce, he is still convinced of that, if her father would be lying to him; even without seeing his false, deadly smile. But, if Akef won’t pick up the telephone, if he will let it ring through – the deal will fall through as well, and he may never again see the sad old eyes of his mother; may never again kiss the full, warm lips of his mistress; may never again touch the hard, ancient ground of his beloved homeland.
It is now 9 minutes before midnight, and the perfect time for him to light a cigarette. Enough time, he is sure of that, to smoke it all the way through before the telephone would ring. He feels how his whole life – past, present and future – is crystallizing in this small Camel cigarette. An American cigarette it is, of course, yet depicting and selling the allure of the Arab world. The same cigarette he had smoked, he now shivers in remembrance, on that fateful morning, after he was jolted out of a terrible dream, covered with a blanket of cold sweat. In his dream, he was walking with Layla in the marketplace of Baghdad when suddenly – while she seemed to be gaining ground on him, chatting loudly with the other women there – someone touched his shoulder lightly. He halted and turned back, facing so very close to him her father: the Supreme Ruler himself. He smiled his big sinister smile at him, allowing the full effect of this shark-like smile to terrorize him for a long moment, before saying: “Meet me in Baghdad at sundown.”
And only after her father had turned and left, disappearing among the crowd at the marketplace like a phantom, that it became clear to Akef who in fact he was: The angel of death.
But as he kept lying in the big bed, awake and shivering with fear, careful not to wake up his wife – who slept peacefully beside him, oblivious to his tormented state of mind – he could’ve sworn that in his dream he was actually in Baghdad, in the marketplace, and couldn’t figure out this riddle. Yet it was then that the misty road ahead of him began to clear up, and together with the creeping morning light it dawned on him that the time had come for him to flee. He had to leave his beloved city behind, he felt certain of that, and head for the border.
Akef was, after all, the executioner of so many lives in Iraq. He had made his way to the top – heading the Ministry of External Defense – by stepping on countless of corpses. He knew too well, and too much, to be easily fooled. And therefore, he was absolutely sure that the Great Executioner himself, who was in fact the one to order all these killings Akef had carried out, had decided already whose head would be cut off next: that of his son-in-law.