"If you want a serious interrogation, you send a prisoner to Jordan.
If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria. If you want
someone to disappear - never to see them again - you send them to Egypt."
Bob Baer - Former CIA Agent.
* * *
Ahmed swiped off the counter one last time, then looked around the kitchen
to make sure everything was cleaned and in its proper place. Satisfied,
he left the small diner, locking the door securely. He dropped the garbage
bag into the dumpster in the alley and headed quickly to his car parked
in the little lot on the street. His was the only car left at two-thirty
in the morning. Another long day completed, he was happy to be heading
Since leaving Iran with barely the clothes on his back, he thought he
had done well in his adopted home. He did not care for the direction
that Iran was headed and had made the difficult decision five years
before. With his parents dead and him not yet married, he had no one
else to worry about. The arduous journey escaping from the land of his
birth had taken weeks. He skipped from one country to another until
he could seek asylum in a friendlier land.
He wasn't a political man, but Iran was one of the countries named as
an "evil empire," so getting a special visa was not difficult. It merely
took time and money. Fortunately, he had just enough money to complete
the process. He was luckier than most, he thought.
At first, he got the job washing dishes at the diner he now owned. The
old couple who owned it before him wanted to call it quits. They were
happy to sell out at a bargain price to their loyal employee. He had
lived cheaply, pinching pennies as the Americans say, and had saved
enough for a down payment. Now, he was close to paying the last of what
he owed. He began to think about marriage. Several decent young women
had cast eyes his way as he went to the mosque. He would see the marriage
The low voice surprised him just as he'd reached his car. "Keep your
mouth shut. Not one sound."
He couldn't make out the face on the dark figure, but saw the barrel
of the gun pointing at his belly.
Ahmed raised his arms.
"Good, you listen. That's good for you and me."
He had heard that mugging was common in the city, so it did not surprise
him. He was glad that he'd made the daily deposit earlier, so he had
very little money on him. Perhaps, it was enough to satisfy the thief.
"My wallet is in my back pocket," he said to the mugger.
Instead of an answer, somebody threw a bag over his head from behind.
More than one set of hands dragged away from his car and threw him into
another vehicle. He thought it was a van by the sound of the sliding
door. He was too startled to call out.
"What are you doing? Where are you taking me?" This was not a mugging,
he thought, but a kidnapping. Why? He was not a rich man whom they could
hold for ransom.
No one answered him as the van started to move. He felt a blow to his
head, then nothing.
* * *
He woke to the sound of dripping water. Tape wrapped around his chest
secured him to a wooden chair. Clenching and unclenching his fingers,
he tried to regain some feeling in them. The plastic cuffs that held
them so tightly cut off his circulation. Flexing his shoulders, he could
feel the bindings pull up on his feet. Trussed like a goat before a
butcher. Allah, what have I done to deserve this?
Ahmed heard the door open and the sound of booted feet walking across
the room. Without warning, he was jerked upright. Pulled from behind,
he felt his arm almost pulled from its socket. The pain was excruciating,
but only for a moment.
Still, the unknown figure said nothing. What do they want?
"If you'll just tell me what you want . . . " he began, but a blunt
fist smashed into the side of his head, silencing him. The guard grabbed
his tied hands and tightened the cuffs even more. Leaving Ahmed on the
floor, the guard left without saying a word.
Ahmed lay on his side in the dark listening. As before, he heard the
muted sound of traffic, but no voices or any sound that suggested that
humans were near. All he could do was wait. He wished he could sleep,
get some respite, but the pain and his fear left him awake, straining
to hear if his attackers entered the room again.
After what might have been hours, the door slammed open again and the
heavy boots crossed the room to where he still lay on his side.
When the sound of the boots stopped near his head, he cringed, waiting
for the blow he was sure would come. Instead, a hand lifted the hood
from his head. He blinked in the glare of a single lightbulb hanging
from the ceiling. The man who had removed his hood stood before Ahmed,
but he could not make out his features. He realized that the man was
wearing a mask or a dark cloth covering his face.
Ahmed decided to wait for the man to ask a question. Before, his attempt
to speak met with a beating; he didn't want to take that chance again.
Then, a voice spoke in Fârsi, "What is your name?"
"Ahmed. Ahmed Rafael Kalliaf." Was it something I've done, some disgruntled
customer I've offended?
"You are Iranian." It was a statement not a question, so Ahmed
simply nodded his head.
Is that was this was about? His former ties to Iran?
"Who do you report to? How do you transmit information?" the man asked.
"I work at a diner, I do not report to anyone, I do not know what you
mean," he said, but immediately he knew it was not the answer they wanted.
"You should not lie to me," the man said and punched him in the gut
"No, no. It is the truth," Ahmed cried out.
"Tell us the names of those you work with."
"I work only in my diner. I don't work with anybody." Again, Ahmed knew
that the kidnapper would not accept his answer. These men wanted to
hear something that he couldn't tell them. He was lost unless he could
give them what they wanted to hear.
He thought frantically. Maybe he could name Abdul? He didn't like the
man. No, no, Allah would most certainly see that as a sin.
He repeated, "I don't work with anybody." Another boot kicked his head
and he blacked out.
Sometime later-hours or minutes, he didn't know-he opened his eyes.
With relief at the respite, he attempted to find a more comfortable
position. He could not stretch his legs without hurting his arms, or
vice versa. He wished he was unconscious again. Then, he realized that
someone was in the room behind him.
The man put a rag soaked in something to Ahmed's mouth. He jerked back
as the liquid burned his nose. The man grabbed his head and forced the
rag into his face. Ahmed tried to hold his breath, but the man punched
him in the stomach, knocking out his wind. He gasped for air, forcing
him to breathe in the chemical.
When Ahmed woke again, he found that he was upright, but his feet didn't
touch the floor. They had replaced the hood, so he could not tell whether
the floor was a few inches or much more beneath his feet. He hung by
his bound arms, but his feet hung free.
Again, the footsteps.
"Why are you doing this?" Ahmed moaned, "I have done nothing."
"What is your name?" the man said calmly, even pleasantly.
"I have told you. My name is Ahmed Rafael Kalliaf."
Then the interrogator said, "Too bad, I thought you were going to help
us." Ahmed heard the man's departing footsteps.
Ahmed screamed after the departing footsteps, "I will tell you anything
you want. Just ask me the questions." He heard only the thud of a door
Ahmed had never felt so afraid in his entire life, even when he was
a boy and the Iraqis had bombed the cities. He had hidden in his mother's
arms while shells exploded around them. Even that fear was nothing compared
to what he felt now.
The interrogator came back into the room and said quite calmly, "Shall
we try this again?"
"Yes, please take me down." Ahmed felt as if they were pulling his arms
from their sockets.
The man lowered Ahmed to the floor.
"You see, if you cooperate, I'll help you out. Now, what is your name?"
Ahmed Rafael Kalliaf," Ahmed whispered, knowing that this was not the
answer the man wanted.
Surprising him, the interrogator asked, "Where were you coming from
when we picked you up? What were you doing in that diner?"
"I own the diner. I told you this before. Just check, you'll see what
I say is true," Ahmed said in misery.
"I thought we were doing so well. I know you. You can't lie to me."
The interrogator kicked Ahmed in the groin, stunning him. Ahmed already
had tears running from his eyes, but now he began to sob. He knew that
he was going to die. This man will kill him no matter what he answered.
He moaned in pain and was rewarded with a kick in his ribs. This doubled
him up again and he rolled onto his side, knees pulled up to protect
his testicles from another blow. The man left him lying on the floor
this time. Ahmed didn't try to get up. He was now too afraid to move.
A few hours later, they came again. They repeated the process as if
a loop of film was being replayed. They asked the same questions, kicked
him in the same places as he gave the same answers-the only answers
he knew. He did not know how long he could last without naming somebody.
The next time they came, he screamed names, anybody he could think of.
This seemed to satisfy them and they left. Ahmed cried from the pain
and his sin. He now wished they had just killed him. He was weak, too
He lapsed in and out of consciousness, perhaps even dozed for a while,
before he was jerked awake again. Why? He had named people. He had given
them what they wanted.
Two men, both larger than he, pulled him to his feet and walked him
down a long hallway. They got back into the van and drove for a while.
Ahmed was past caring what they did. Were they taking him out into the
countryside to kill him? Ahmed didn't want to know.
When they stopped, the men cut his hands loose and shoved him out the
"Go with Allah," one said, "we have discovered you are not the Ahmed
He heard the van drive away. Ahmed slowly pulled the hood off his head
and found he was lying in the parking lot next to his car, his keys
and wallet on the ground. He painfully pulled himself up, using the
car's side mirror. He eased himself into his car and sat for a moment
taking shallow breaths. He knew he had broken ribs, but he felt he was
a lucky man; they could have killed him. He started the car and drove
out into the streets of Cairo.
Marva Dasef is a writer living in the Pacific Northwest with her husband
and a fat white cat. Retired from thirty-five years in the software
industry, she has now turned her energies to writing fiction and finds
it a much more satisfying occupation. Marva has published more than
thirty-five stories in a number of on-line and print magazines, with
her stories included in several Best of anthologies. She has three books
in print. See a complete list of her published work at http://marvadasef.com/