I used to spend my free time hunting and would go out either with one of the villagers or alone. Once I learned some of the principles of hunting I preferred to go off by myself to enjoy the beauty of nature and to lose myself in my meditations without having anyone there to disturb me. Then I would forget my reason for going out while I sat in meadows gazing at the beautiful wildflowers that–with their yellow, red, and lavender colors–formed colorful segments in the distance as if they were luxurious carpets spread over the earth.
One day while I was teaching and the students were sunk into a profound stupor, a student suddenly rose, after holding up his hand, and said, “Sir, I love hunting too. I would be happy to go hunting with you some day.”
The other students were shocked by his daring and stared at him. More than one of them tried to hide a smile. One boy said, “Sir, there are no birds left in the Zab.”
Another student objected, “Two years ago he killed a boar he sold to a Christian for four dinars.”
I didn’t detect any sign of pride on my new friend’s face, but his narrow eyes in his long face, which the sun’s rays had seared, his unruly hair, and his calm gaze all made one think he was older than he seemed. He had actually entered school fully grown.
I said to him calmly, “Fine. As you like. Tomorrow we’ll go hunting after school.”
Before he sat back down, he said mischievously, “Sir, could you please ask Abd al-Qadir to carry my books home for me?”
He lived in a village half an hour from the village where the school was located. So I replied, “As you like.”
The next day each of us brought his rifle and some cartridges. When I asked him to follow the road to Kharabat Rut, where there were a lot of gazelles, he looked at me dismissively. After glancing away, he asked, “But have you ever bagged anything there?”
“So why would you try to take us there?”
“But I haven’t really made a successful kill anywhere yet.”
“That’s because the people who used to go out with you are novices.”
“What about you? Are you a novice hunter?”
With a sarcastic smile on his face, he turned to me and remarked, “I’ll give you the answer when we return.”
We followed the road leading to rows of green hills. He stopped suddenly and pointed at the ground. “These are the tracks of a herd of gazelles, but I feel really sorry for these poor gazelles. They have many enemies.”
“Why do you hunt them, if you feel sorry for them?”
“If it was up to me, I wouldn’t.”
“Who is it up to then?”
“So you take charge. We’ll go wherever you lead us.”
“I’d love for us to go to the river to hunt birds, because I hate them a lot.”
“Because they were the reason my father drowned.” He said this very emotionally.
“Your father drowned? God’s mercy on him!”
“Yes. My late father was a skillful hunter. All the people of these villages knew that he hunted wild boars and sold them to the English. They would even come to him from the Company and pay him in advance. He would always take me with him.”
He groaned deeply while staring off into space as if trying to collect his thoughts. “Yes, he died when I was ten.”
“How old are you now?”
“I’m sixteen now…I wish I hadn’t been with him at the time. My conscience always torments me for not being able to save him from drowning. In my dreams I frequently see him–with his wrinkled brown face and sparkling eyes–asking me: ‘Why didn’t you save me from drowning?'”
I noticed a large tear glistening in his eyes. “But how did birds cause your father’s death by drowning?”
“A pair of wild ducks–may God deprive them of offspring–were swimming in the river. It was winter, and the river was at flood stage. My father hit them with a single shot. When they both floated to the water’s surface, my father threw himself into the river. I never saw my father again. The waters eventually deposited his body on the bank, where birds ate it.”
“Why aren’t you angry at the fish too? Perhaps they were the ones who ate it.”
“No, there aren’t any fish in the river when it floods.”
“Where do the fish go then?”
“They swim up the tributary creeks, where the water is clear and warm or hide in the ditches beside the river or streams. Then they become easy prey for the damn crayfish. This devil spends all summer long preparing pits so he can fish in them during the winter.”
He was silent for a time, and we continued walking along the dirt road to the Little Zab River. Fields of wheat and barley spread before us, extending all the way to the river–a twisting ribbon glistening in the rays of spring sunshine. Beyond it successive mountains cast dark blue shadows that lent the view a splendid, misty quality.
There were some small burrows beside the road. When I asked him about those, he replied, while pushing dirt down one with his foot, “They’re jerboa holes. Jerboas dig them because they are afraid of crows and foxes. They dig themselves three holes. They leave two open and the third, their reserve hole, is nearby. They can open it to the air with one thrust from the head.”
After quite a hike we reached the river, and then he asked, “If I arrange for you to hit a large bird with your rifle, will you agree to visit our house? This is our village, and it is only a few steps from here. You would make my mother very happy.”
“What if I don’t hit any bird?”
“All you need to do is to follow my directions. When you see the bird crumpled up on the ground, no matter how wily it was, and you’ve made your first kill, there’s no way you’ll ever give up hunting. This hobby will keep you company even in your dreams.”
Then pointing to the left, he said, “Let’s go there…to a spring-fed pond where cranes come to hunt for frogs.”
He preceded me without waiting for a response. Then he leaned forward and gestured for me to imitate him. He whispered, “See that white thing? It’s a crane. But take care he doesn’t see us. His eyes are stronger than a wolf’s, but the idiot is hard of hearing.”
I said in a normal voice, “If he’s hard of hearing, why are you whispering?”
Trying to restrain his rage, he shot back, “Is it with behavior like this that you hope to become a hunter? Don’t let the prey escape from our hands.”
Then he scrutinized me as if trying to see whether his words had sunk in. He lay down on the ground and started to crawl forward. I had a lot of difficulty imitating him. When we neared the pond, he sat up and readied his rifle. He whispered, “Aim your rifle between his legs and beneath his belly. Don’t worry. He doesn’t see us. Brace yourself and pull the trigger.”
I pulled the trigger and that caused a frightful roar. The poor bird became agitated and rose into the air, without suffering any harm. Then another terrifying shot exploded near me and the large white bird fell to the ground without any resistance.
After slaughtering the bird with an old knife, he turned to me and said self-confidently, “I was sure you would hit him, but never mind; let’s go to our house.”
“But I missed the target. How can I come to your house?”
“Sir, I beg you. My mother will be delighted to see you. I’ll slaughter one of my rabbits. I’ll show my little fox, and you’ll see how cunning and cowardly he is. You can take the bird.”
Blood was still flowing from the neck of the dangling bird as we traversed the narrow road through the wheat fields to my new friend’s house.