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One Foot In Front of the Other

Updated: Apr 8

Life Chapters, 2023

*Shortlisted for the 2024 FISH Publishing Short Memoir Award





20-October-2023

Iraqi Kurdistan


“Mr. Bond, we've received credible intelligence pointing to a serious threat against your safety and security in the region. We recommend you depart the country immediately.”


I clutched the phone tightly to my ear, my eyes vacantly staring out the balcony door at the deepening blackness pressing against the glass pane. Was this for real? I yanked the phone away and stared at the screen, as if to confirm that the United States government was truly calling me. Absently, my fingers fiddled with the rungs of the plastic shopping bag I’d dropped on the dining table only minutes before containing items purchased from a recent overnight trip to the region’s capital city. My hand jerked back in reflex as the corner of a cardboard price tag sliced through the thin plastic.


“Mr. Bond?” the voice on the line cut through the silence, asking, “Do you have any questions for us? I know this must be hard to process.”


Where do I even start? I thought. The State Department was on the line urging me to evacuate from my home in Iraq, yet my mind was still hung up on trivialities like where to mount the new coat hooks I’d bought for the entry hallway. “I’m sure I’ll have more questions,” I stammered. “But for now, what’s the next step?”


“Get yourself on the next available commercial flight out of the country. And stay in touch with the consulate. We’re here to support you.”


I thanked them, hastily jotting down names and numbers before ending the call. The room swirled around me as my eyes surveyed my life in progress: the peeling paint on the far wall, the wilting houseplants awaiting my attention, the half-finished novel sprawled spine-up on the coffee table. All frozen in time by a single, ominous phone call.


Seven years of my life had been spent building a career, a home, a community here. From a rat-infested shared house to a vibrant single apartment hosting events. From an under-qualified English teacher to a master’s degree-holding Academic Director. From ignorance of Kurdish culture to advocacy for the region’s marginalized. Kurdistan was in my blood.


Now it seemed someone else wanted my blood on their hands. Although the agents couldn’t disclose the exact nature of this faceless threat, the sense of immediacy was clear: Go. Now. A sudden tsunami of questions engulfed me. Was this a fallout from the Israel-Gaza conflict? Had I angered some student’s influential parents with a newly-written school policy? Did the recent publication of my book incense a more conservative faction of local society? For that matter, were other foreigners targeted or was this personal vendetta? And if I was the sole target, was I being tracked?


With panicked urgency, I seized my laptop and unpacked overnight bag from the hall. Keys and jacket were snatched up from where I’d dropped them — un-hung — on the entry table. Peering through the peephole of the front door, I exited into the night. The only sounds I heard were the familiar squeal of the door hinges, the quiet click of the latch behind me, and my frantic heartbeat as I rushed away with utter abandon.


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