I Came to See You

Karim Rashed

Artwork by Jiin Choi


MOKHLIS has just met SALIM at the Baghdad airport.  He starts taking pictures of SALIM.

MOKHLIS:  Salim. You haven’t aged at all.

SALIM:  What are you doing.

MOKHLIS:  A few photos for Instagram.

SALIM: Khalas. Stop. Put away your camera so I can see how much you’ve aged.

MOKHLIS (teasing him):  You’re just jealous of me. You always were.

SALIM:  Don’t you have a mirror at home?

MOKHLIS (laughs):  No. Actually I don’t.

SALIM:  Ha. So you’re not just old, you’re poor too.

MOKHLIS:  And you—what about you, traitor?

SALIM:  Coward. Get your ass over here. I want to teach you a lesson.

(They approach each other and pretend to fight, ending with an embrace that reveals their deep mutual affection. SALIM discovers that the large area of MOKHLIS’ face that was behind the camera is disfigured.)

SALIM:  What happened to your face?

MOKHLIS:  Ugh. You tell me: how come you came back here?

SALIM:  I came to see you.

MOKHLIS:  Ooooooooooh. Thanks so fucking much. I’m happy to hear it. Are you back for good?

SALIM:  Oof. It’s hot here. It’s like I’ve forgotten how . . .

MOKHLIS:  Are you back for good? It’s a simple question.

SALIM:  I’m here to see you.

MOKHLIS:  So this piece-of-shit country is about to start attracting planeloads of tourists?

SALIM:  I don’t see it that way.

MOKHLIS:  So what the hell do you see?

SALIM:  I see things you don’t.

MOKHLIS:  I have a feeling you’re back for good. You dumbass.

SALIM:  Maybe. We’ll see.

MOKHLIS:  Listen. Tonight you’ll stay over at my place. And first thing tomorrow I’m taking you back to the airport and putting you on the first plane home. Back to Sweden. You don’t know where you’ve come to.

SALIM:  Yes I do. I’ve come home.

MOKHLIS:  You don’t have an inkling what’s in store for you here.

SALIM:  You sound just like my wife.

MOKHLIS:  Okay. You can tell me all about her later. But first, my friend, we need to eat—and drink.


MOKHLIS’ apartment and studio.

MOKHLIS:  Here you go. Does the arak taste as good as it used to . . . or . . . ?

SALIM: Not bad at all.

MOKHLIS:  To me it tastes like photo chemicals. So what does life outside taste like?

SALIM:  Bitter as medicine. Sharp. And painful as treachery.

MOKHLIS:  What treachery do you mean? Betraying your friends? Your country? Your girlfriend?

SALIM:  What do you mean?


SALIM:  My only choices were to flee or die. I couldn’t take her with me.

MOKHLIS:  So you fled and played the victim.

SALIM:  Was I supposed to choose death instead?

MOKHLIS:  And you got all that respect and admiration.

SALIM:  And you stayed here and played the martyr. The most beautiful role of all.

MOKHLIS:  Only I’m not dead yet.

(Short silence.)

SALIM:  I heard she’s married with three kids. Is it true?


SALIM:  Holy shit.

MOKHLIS:  You used to stand in front of her house hoping just to catch a glimpse of her. What if she opened her window one day and winked at you?

SALIM:  But she never did.

MOKHLIS:  You kept doing it for months, sitting there and waiting.

SALIM:  Finally I got up the nerve to ask her. How come you never opened your window, even once?

MOKHLIS:  So what did she say?

SALIM:  She laughed and said . . .

ROAA’S VOICE:  You’ve been sitting there staring at the neighbors’ window!

(Laughter. They stretch out on the floor. Piano music.)

SALIM:  Is she happy . . . with that guy?

MOKHLIS:  Are you happy?

SALIM:  I need to see her. Does she still live in the same building?

MOKHLIS:  Dammit, Salim. Welcome home.

(Music. MOKHLIS shows him some of the photos on his mobile at lightning speed. Affecting photos from Iraq before and after the war. Photos of people happily looting state institutions. Terrorists. Bombings. Angry relatives of terror attack victims. Politicians moving about in large armored motorcades. Suddenly, darkness.)

MOKHLIS:  Don’t worry. I have a generator and a tank of gas.

SALIM:  No, no. Forget it.

MOKHLIS:  This always happens. Nothing in Baghdad works anymore.

SALIM (firmly):  No. I said, forget it.

MOKHLIS:  You don’t want to see my pictures. Or my face. Did I scare you? All these things scare you. Don’t they? It’s not the tourist paradise you imagined.

SALIM:  This isn’t a vacation.

MOKHLIS:  So why are you here?

SALIM:  I already told you. But you—why won’t you tell me what happened to your face?

MOKHLIS:  Why does it matter? Do you feel pity for me?

SALIM:  Why would I pity you?

(MOKHLIS comes back from the kitchen. They look at each other. MOKHLIS prepares to tell SALIM what happened to his face.)

MOKHLIS:  It’s the same nightmare every night. My old face comes off me. It walks around, stares at me, and screams out in fear. I see fragments of a bomb lodge in my face and then penetrate into my blood. The same thing every night. I put out my hands to feel my face and turn off the lamp. I hide my head under the covers and try to get back to sleep. But I never can.

SALIM:  Calm down. Calm down, my friend. Let’s go out on the balcony and get a breath of air. It’s stuffy in here.

(SALIM takes off his shirt and goes to the balcony. MOKHLIS follows.)

SALIM:  So beautiful, the Baghdad sky. Dark and pure and filled with thousands of stars. This city resembles me. It’s like . . . it’s like my soul.

MOKHLIS:  This city is dying.

SALIM:  Baghdad will never die.

MOKHLIS:  I hate it. Hate it with all my heart.

SALIM:  But it’s your whole life.

MOKHLIS:  I shit on it!

SALIM:  I don’t believe you.

MOKHLIS:  I shit on you, too. On everyone and everything.

SALIM:  Quiet! Please. The neighbors can hear you.

MOKHLIS:  Shit. On everyone and everything. Shit on all of it.

SALIM:  Shut up!

(Short silence.)

SALIM:  You’re drunk. Sakran!

(A song? Then silence.)

SALIM:  Horrible.


SALIM:  The photos. But artistically, technically, they’re amazing. Do you make a living as a photographer?

MOKHLIS:  People used to respect my work. Now no one cares.

SALIM:  So what do you do with these photos? Do you exhibit them somewhere?

MOKHLIS:  No one here wants to see my photos.

SALIM:  And abroad?

MOKHLIS:  I haven’t been abroad since that one trip to Jordan. You know that, you were there. My exhibition twenty years ago. They threw me away after that.

SALIM:  Because you failed at your assignment?

MOKHLIS:  What did you say?

SALIM:  I always wondered how you got permission to travel abroad back then, when no one could.

MOKHLIS:  What are you talking about? I got an invitation.

SALIM:  Bullshit. The show was just a pretext. The regime sent you to follow me and persuade me to return.

MOKHLIS:  Where are you getting this stuff?

SALIM:  From you. Your behavior. You don’t want me to come back here now, because I remind you of your betrayal.

MOKHLIS:  Enough.

SALIM:  So you think I can’t see it?

MOKHLIS:  Khalas!

SALIM:  Something was fishy. You suddenly turn up in Jordan to do this photography exhibit. The time, the place, your twitchy body language, and then your attempt to talk me into coming back. The trash you talked about the opposition. You wanted to talk me into leaving them, coming back to Baghdad.

MOKHLIS:  I never did that.

SALIM:  Just like you’re twitching now. Don’t lie, I know you too well.

MOKHLIS:  You’re an idiot.

SALIM:  Don’t lie. I know. You can’t lie to me.

MOKHLIS:  You know what they could have done to me. You know damn well.

SALIM:  That’s why you tried to get me to talk. So you could write your report.

MOKHLIS:  You don’t understand.

SALIM:  Oh god. I’ve been so stupid. It’s you. You’re the one who betrayed me.

MOKHLIS:  They knew everything about you already.

SALIM:  You recorded everything I said and gave it to state security.

MOKHLIS:  Salim, I’m really sorry.

SALIM:  Me too.

MOKHLIS:  It’s not like you think.

SALIM:  And fuck! Where were you hiding it?

(SALIM tackles MOKHLIS to the ground.)

MOKHLIS:  Salim. Listen to me.

SALIM: Take off your clothes, dog.

(SALIM wrestles with MOKHLIS and gets one of his sneakers off.)

MOKHLIS:  Khalas!

(SALIM stands over MOKHLIS and threatens to hit him with the shoe.)

SALIM:  A despicable spy. Tell me what you got for ratting on your best friend. How much did they pay you? Tell me.

MOKHLIS:  Nothing. I swear.

(SALIM throws the shoe.)

SALIM:  You expect me to believe that.

MOKHLIS:  Dammit, Salim. What do you want? If you’re going to hit me, do it already.

SALIM:  Fuck you, bastard. Fuck you.

MOKHLIS:  Hit me. As hard as you can. If it’ll make you feel better.

(Suddenly, the electricity is back. The lights come on.)

SALIM:  Now we’ll see if you can look me in the face.

(MOKHLIS avoids his gaze.)

SALIM:  Two weeks after you got back to Baghdad, they took my dad for interrogation. They tortured him. After a while they let him go again.

MOKHLIS:  You knew exactly what could happen to your family.

SALIM:  When he came home he was emaciated and couldn’t speak. He went to bed and never got up again. No one could find out what they did to him. Then my mom fell silent too and died of grief. My parents both died. They died because of me. I kept thinking about suicide.

MOKHLIS:  Salim, please. Say that isn’t true.

SALIM:  So your filthy soul can find relief from its guilty conscience?

(MOKHLIS gives SALIM the empty arak bottle.)

SALIM:  Just tell me they forced you. That they tortured you, threatened you. Raped you. Just so my parents can rest in their graves. Because I was their murderer’s best friend.

MOKHLIS:  I didn’t murder anyone. But what about you? You sent everything to hell. You took off and left all of us hanging. You left me. If it had been the other way round, what could you have done in my place? It was obey or die.

SALIM:  So you obeyed.

MOKHLIS:  You think I was supposed to choose death?

(Short silence. SALIM rises to go.)

MOKHLIS:  There’s curfew.

(SALIM looks at him. As though he hadn’t heard, he picks up his suitcase and heads for the door.)

SALIM:  I’ll leave you to those voices slicing open your head. I hope you never sleep. Die alone and take your bad conscience to your grave.


MOKHLIS:  You really hate me that much?

SALIM:  No, you just disgust me.

MOKHLIS:  But I do hate you. And I hate this cursed country you’ve come back to. (Comes in from balcony.) You know what it takes to burn down a whole city? One single person and a whole lot of hatred and anger. I’m going to burn it all down. There won’t be a single piece left. I promise you.

(MOKHLIS exits. Music signals end of scene.)

translated from the Arabic and Swedish by Margaret Litvin