The shallow woven basket jostles against my hip as I leave the market's careful arched covering, leaving the sound of the noisy merchants and hawkers and buyers behind in the dusty, dim, light of the open building behind and step out into the harsh light of the sun. I squint against the light, my eyes unused to its brightness after so long in the market and the burning of my eyes just reminds me of the burning on my arm as I hold the basket filled with the night's dinner; fish, vegetables, a few fresh herbs and a pair of lemons which I'd had to practically rip out of the merchant's hands for he was so hard to bargain with. I shift the basket across my waist to my other hip not even breaking stride and reach to adjust my hijab, eyes darting to assure myself no man can see below the bridge of my nose.
The streets are crowded and I try and be patient, but it is difficult. For the sun is hot and I stand right in the sun. The shade near the street I wish to cross into beckons to me but there are to many people. I pull my lips back when I see what is all the holdup: guards, a new check point has appeared on the street I use to get home. I feel my hijab flutter as I groan and move away from where I was going. I will be there for hours maybe if I wait for them and by then the fish will have gone bad in the sun.
I duck away from the crowd, carefully weaving through it and avoiding notice of the guards and the muscular, armed, hired hands who sometimes walk next to an employer, others walk behind; arms laden with goods from the nearby market. I adjust my own basket against my hip and finally break free of the mass of people which is no more quiet then the market that I had just left.
I try the other ways away from the market, but they are all now blocked by guards and they let only a few through at a time. I grow more frustrated and decide to finally take an alley. I know I shouldn't since I'm just a girl and easy prey, even I know this; my father and brothers tell me well enough as it stands, reminding me to be careful when I'm out alone. But my mother was firm, I was to be quick or I'd get no dinner myself.
But which to take?
I finally find a narrow street that intersects two main roads between two of the roads blocked by the guards. It was barely the breadth of two people and littered with garbage and smells of worse. I push my free hand under my hijab and hold my nose, breathing shallowly through my mouth and manage to maneuver through half of the alley without incident.
My head turns on its own as a shadow flashes in front of me on the filth ridden road and I look up. An eagle circls above and I breath. I had been so sure it it would have been one of the street rats who enjoyed prowling these dark parts of the city where even the harsh sun finds hard to grip in the narrow alleys.
I'm about to exit the alley when a new shadow flickers, this one much more solid and I stop dead as someone peels themselves away from the wall. I feel my hand clench around the edge of my basket and know they have turned white.
"Hey there little kitty," purrs the man and another melts from the alley wall as well. They're both tall and dressed in black and gray garb though only one wears a shirt and I can see a knife hilt on both of their hips. Dark red turbans are wound about their heads and, like their robes, the turbans are stained with some sort of filth. Even from their distance I can smell them and it is the same smell as the alley, only mixed with the smell of sweat and unwashed bodies and blood. I step back, my knees tremble under my jilbab,.They laugh. "Nothing to be afraid of," I don't know which one says it, they both stay to the shadows and I stumble back another step almost tripping over some garbage, they laugh again.
"Now now little kitty, lets have none of that," one of them moves forward quickly. I forget everything but the narrowness of the alley and the man in the red turban. I drop my basket and race back the way I came. I hear them give chase.
I stumble and slam against the rough surface of the alley wall, it grates against my cheek through my hijab and the sound of their boots are louder. I push away from the wall and run, but I know they are gaining. I make it to the street near the market and stop, for sure they won't follow me out into the light with all the people watching. I look back in time to see the one without a shirt reach me. He grabs my arm and pulls. I make to scream but he clamps his filthy hand over my mouth and as the other chuckles he pulls me back into the shadowed alley, towards where I had dropped my basket.
I struggle, use my hands to claw at the man's face, and manage to hook my fingers between his lips. I do not even think of how disgusting it may be and dig my nails in. He yelps and loosens his grip on me. I squirm free and am once more running, this time away from the market as fast as I can. My lungs and legs hurt from running, I'm not used to this much activity. My father prefers me to stay home, a place I wish I was now! An oath to Allah escapes my lips, almost a prayer but to violent for it to be anything less then a curse as I stumble over my own jilbab and I fall. Behind me the men are laughing and I try to get to my feet, but my had ankle twisted under me when I fell and when I try to stand all I can do is cry and sink back down to the filthy street.
One of the men grabs me by the shoulder as I stare down the alley. My mind registers my basket; waiting for me perfectly against the alley's wall as if I'd merely set it down and not dropped it. But the thought slips away when the shirted man turns me around. I scream and he claws away the veil of my hijab and smacks his hand over my mouth, the other gathers up my hands and clenches them. I continue to scream against his hand, fear and pain mingled, for his fingers are like iron shackles.
"My, we caught ourselves a pretty kitty didn't we, Majdi?" asks the one holding me leering into my face. Majdi only laughs, he seems more then pleased by my appearance and I try to squirm away. But the man holds fast.
"Yes," Majdi nods, "Haamid will be most pleased by this one I believe," he is still nodding. I tremble, I know of Haamid, all of the Pot knows of Haamid. He is a trafficker of girls to rich nobles who have nothing better then to have girls meet their every need. Girls from the Pot like me vanish all the times and no one bothers to ask what becomes of them, everyone knows they were taken by Haamid. My mother and father both always frightened me of stories that if I wandered to far from them Haamid would find me and I would be gone, it is a common story; one I did not believe. Tears gather at the corner of my eyes before I start to cry.
"Aww, look what you did Majdi, you made our little kitty cry," the man holding me seems to scold, but his voice is mocking and I know he is being sarcastic. It doesn't help me stop my tears. The shadow of the eagle flashes over my head, the two men do not notice.
Majdi goes to say something, his face a sardonic smirk when suddenly it becomes twisted with an agony, then the cool slacked grip of death. He sways and slumps forward, falling to his knees first before face planting into the rubbish strewn on the ground. I stare, my tears halted at the corners of my eyes, they feel they will slip from the sockets they are so wide as I stare at the strange white demon who has come from thin air, a blade protrudes from the end of his hand-less arm. The man holding me gives a tight cry of rage and releases me, as he does he unsheaths the blade at his side. It this as long as his forearm and rushes the demon who suddenly was holding a new blade, short and curved and looks very sharp.
I draw in ragged gasps as I watch them fight. My mother always told me stories of demons, how they come from the darkness to coax you to sin and suffer, how their eyes glow in hell fire and have such sweet promising smiles and tongues you will do whatever you ask. I remember those and know that demons come out in the dark and preen themselves in the shadows away from the eyes of the righteous. My heart is in my throat as I wonder how such a creature could come out and exist in the light. The sun may cast long shadows against the side of the alley, but there is still plenty of light and I suddenly have to shut my eyes as the demon slashes out and catches the man in the red turban across the throat with his knife, kicking him in the process and sending him flying into the all to close wall. The sound of bone and flesh being crushed reach my ears and I force my eyes open.
The demon stares at me and I nearly loose control of my bodily functions when he steps towards me. I scramble away from him but my back finds a wall. He does not more quickly and his white robes jingle with the sounds of armor and weaponry. A cold hand wraps around my heart and I wonder what sort of demon dresses in the garb of Allah's own scholars.
He crouches in front of me, his face is close. Up close he appears human; very human, but the low beaked set of his hood covers much of his face. Mother tells me demons appear in the guise of what we wish to see, for even under his hood I know he is handsome, the only deformation being a scar on the right side of his mouth. My breath is still ragged and I gasp when he reaches up to my face. I still my lungs as he grabs the loose end of my hijab and draws it across my face, effortlessly fixing it back in place. "Peace be with you," and he stands. I breath, my hijab flutters and I watch him take a few steps away from me and with hardly breaking stride reaches up to an invisible place in the wall and hauls himself up onto it as if he were climbing a ladder.
It isn't until he reaches the top that I think to say anything. I manage to get to my feet and strain my head back to look up and before the white tail of his coat vanishes over the lip of the building I call out. "Thank you amribn alas!"
He swings around at that and looks down at me. My lips curl slightly under my hijab, for he seems startled for a moment from my words before he smiles as well. With an inclination of his head he is gone and I just barely madk out the end of his tail coats as he swings back around.
I did not look back at the men though I did note that the smell of blood in the alley is stronger now. I walk down the way I'd originally been going and gather my basket into my arm, everything is in place and I smile before finally reaching the end of the alley.
Above I catch the flash of shadow and am in time to see the eagle wheel overhead from its perch on one of the city's many spires. I squint as the eagle lands on something other then its perch. The man in white is couched out on the eagle's landing, looking out across the vast expanse of the city and once more a smile comes to my face under my hijab.
I turned from the spire and continue on my way home hoping my mother won'tt scold me to much, but I do not dwell on it to much and my steps are light as I walk. Somehow I know I, nor any other girl would have to fear the monster Haamid any longer. For an angel had come to the city of Baghdad to rid it of the demons.